Adonis Diaries

Genes: The Default program. And transformed by Nurturing

Posted on: May 11, 2012

Genes are transformed by Nurturing: Genes functioning as Default program

New experiments conducted since 2000 are overturning the old paradigm that says: “Nature/Genes are the main factors in a person’s characteristics for succeeding and prospering in life…Such as a person natural capacities (physical and mental), dispositions, evolutionary heritage…”

In the old paradigm, culture, nurture, experiences (personal history) were relegated to far lower status, and most psychology experiments neglected to include nurturing as a factor for the effects on a person characteristics…

The old paradigm says: “Innate faculties are the foundations for the evolution of any specie…”. This old paradigm follows the rationalist thinkers as Descartes and Leibniz…

Even the linguist Noam Chomsky took side with this theory by stating that language acquisition by toddlers is innate. Why? Because toddlers are unable to formulate the rules of language syntax to follow, and yet they learn to talk perfectly correct…Consequently, since there are scarcity of “stimuli” to induce the process of empirical practice of language…toddlers must be learning according to their innate faculties…

There are flaws in that logic and I will expand more later on.

The breakthrough came about a decade ago, as experiments demonstrated that genes function differently in various environments. The technology of brain imagery was an efficient tool in these experiments. For an example of such experiments:

The experimental group of rats that received maternal care and nurturing developed zones in the brain that grew faster and with more complex connections than the control group of rats. The experimental rats were secreting far less of the “stress hormone” such as cortisol.

Mind you that I am not attaching any connotation to the term Nurturing, even though people think it has a positive or good connotation.

Epigenetic study the influences of the environment on the expression of genes. The genes in the DNA dictate the synthesis of proteins that cells depend on. The way a gene is read, it can be modified by the environment. For example, chemical compounds modification may change how a gene responds without altering the DNA chain. Chemical modifications in a gene can be inherited (transmitted to offspring)

Jesse Prinz, professor of philosophy at New York City Univ., published a guide on the current state of research on nature versus nurture titled “Beyond Human Nature: How culture and experience shape our lives”. Prinz wrote: “A very few proportion of published articles in psychology magazines have considered culture as a factor in their studies…”

For example, even our vision of colors has evolved, and only sustained practice in tasks can change our genes functionality at a higher level of performance…

The group of scientists adopting the new paradigm says: “The capacity to practice on tasks requiring multiple functions (running, playing baseball…) in different environments is the guiding factor for the development and evolution of any specie…”

The new paradigm has the empiricist (experimental) thinkers such as Locke as mentor who claimed that experience (practice) is sufficient enough to endow us with the required capacities…

Prinz put forth the concept that it is the way our brain grossly “statistically” processes data and sensorial inputs that enhance acquisition of language. The more frequent in short time the events occur, the more “weight” are attached to the connections among the relationship of the events. The innate argument is the “black box” that scientists use to throw in whatever they failed to conduct in experiments…

Toddlers imitate and mostly extrapolate from data and inputs: They are constantly testing, evaluating, and comparing what structures come their way. The cluster of sensorial stimulus that exhibit trends of regularity and consistency are retained in the memory as good for saving, emulating, and forming the world model…

A toddler abandoned in nature, away from any human community with a verbal language, will imitate the voices of the animals around and manage to communicate with them…I conjecture that the toddler might acquire altered sensory capabilities than common people…

A toddler switched to a community not speaking the language of his original community, will speak the language of his adoptive community…

It is the social status-quo that gives the illusion of “innate” differences for justifying a political system…

We are born with a default genes program (what was acquired by successive generations of change and evolution) that is ready to compose with whatever environment is sent our way, and we have to struggle to either adapt, change our world model, or perish…

Actually, Prinz wrote: “Answers to questionnaires on mankind sexual behaviors and preferences are not to be taken seriously: We tend not to say the truth, even if we knew it. Those who would like to comprehend mankind sexual preferences ought to read history books, instead of watching the gorillas. Biology helps explain why we are more inclined to flirt with another person rather than a potato…But this is the beginning of history…”

All communities of living species , including mankind, had to relocate due to climatic changes and mankind furious interventions. Relocating to a different environment prime the default genes program to taking over our survival mechanism.  If the environment is not suitable to the default program, the community had to alter its “nurturing protocol” (daily life-style, culture, ceremonies, moral values, social/political system. community organization, institutions…), mostly by trial and error method, and reform to a nurturing program that works…

Every community reached a fork in its evolution, many forks at different periods, in order to consider which nurturing protocol to reform. Each time, the community has to make a choice : reform and adapt, or hit the wall.

As a community goes smack into the wall, the energy and imagination needed to backtrack and try another alternative are too high to grapple with, and the usual “let go and wait. Good things come to those who wait…” Eventually, the community disappear…the verbal language, the written language, the myths, the customs and traditions…they all disappear, and nothing is left to recall what this community did and believed in.

At many forks in the evolution of a community, a few “illuminated” persons (leaders, prophets, village fool…) ring the bell and sound the alarm for change…If the Timing is appropriate, the “illuminated” group succeed in undertaking the required reforms to survive…

Generally, the Timing or the Fool are not at the meeting, and the community resumes its life-style according to the default genes program.

It means, either the community believed that “Nurturing is not that relevant in the upbringing of kids so that the kids grow free on their own, as they feel like living…” or the community believed that the current and ancient customs and traditions are immutable and should not be interpreted and revised according to changing realities…

A couple of years ago, I have watched a documentary on twins relocated separately to different environments.  The cases are biased and confounded:

1. I don’t recall twins “nurtured” in very extreme different environments, like in a well-to-do and in a very poor, disfavored and crime-plagued neighborhood. The locations were in developed States and the general cultural climates were pretty much homogeneous to impact the general genes default program…

2. The twins were not assigned to countries with different languages and customs, such as western, oriental, Asian, Islamic environmental culture

Fundamentally, the history of a specie evolution is a series of transformation of the nurturing protocol (daily life-style, culture, ceremonies, moral values, social/political system. community organization, institutions…)

The last chapter of my autobiography tried to connect the nurture and the nature factors in my upbringing and development at critical period of my life. This could be an interesting personal case study to revisit as my comprehension of the topic evolves.

Note 1: For more references on experiments and research on Epigenetics: bit.ly/insermepi; and epigenesys.eu

Note 2: Post inspired from the piece of Simon Blackburn in the French weekly Corrier International # 1122. Simon Blackburn  is professor of philosophy at the Cambridge Univ. and published “Praise of sexual desire, 2009″

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