Work in the laboratory mouse has identified a group of genes, called metastable epialleles, that are informing us about the mechanisms by which the epigenetic state is established in the embryo. At these alleles, transcriptional activity is dependent on the epigenetic state and this can vary from cell to cell in the one tissue type. The decision to be active or inactive is probabilistic and sensitive to environmental influences. Moreover, in some cases the epigenetic state at these alleles can survive across generations, termed transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Together these findings raise the spectre of Lamarckism and epigenetics is now being touted as an explanation for some intergenerational effects in human populations. In this review we will discuss the evidence so far.