Monday, January 24, 2011

"It's in your genes" theory fading in the wake of epigenetics?

In "Getting Over the Code Delusion" (The New Atlantis, Summer 2010), Steve Talbott
muses on the mystique around the genetic code in past decades, especially in the light of modern findings:
Meanwhile, the epigenetic revolution is slowly but surely making its way into the popular media — witness the recent Time magazine cover story, “Why DNA Isn’t Your Destiny.” The shame of it is that most of the significance of the current research is still being missed. Judging from much that is being written, one might think the main thing is simply that we’re gaining new, more complex insights into how to treat the living organism as a manipulable machine.

The one decisive lesson I think we can draw from the work in molecular genetics over the past couple of decades is that life does not progressively contract into a code or any kind of reduced “building block” as we probe its more minute dimensions. Trying to define the chromatin complex, according to geneticists Shiv Grewal and Sarah Elgin, “is like trying to define life itself.” Having plunged headlong toward the micro and molecular in their drive to reduce the living to the inanimate, biologists now find unapologetic life staring back at them from every chromatogram, every electron micrograph, every gene expression profile. Things do not become simpler, less organic, less animate. The explanatory task at the bottom is essentially the same as the one higher up. It’s rather our understanding that all too easily becomes constricted as we move downward, because the contextual scope and qualitative richness of our survey is so extremely narrowed.

The search for precise explanatory mechanisms and codes leads us along a path of least resistance toward the reduction of understanding. A capacity for imagination (not something many scientists are trained for today) is always required for grasping a context in meaningful terms, because at the contextual level the basic data are not things, but rather relations, movement, and transformation.
It could be pared down to a long inscription in marble, and worthy a monument too.

I, for one, believe that the pop gene revolution has been socially harmful. To the extent that people look for the "infidelity gene", the "violence gene", the "religion gene", the "altruism gene", they are refusing to explore the actual ways they made up their minds about things. Like all junk psychology, it's way too easy to be true.

I wonder what nonsense will grow from epigenetics.


Your friends? You pick them by the cut of their genes, not jeans. You didn't know?

In "Friends connect on a genetic level: Social scientists reveal genetic patterns in social networks," Amy Maxmen reports for Nature,
Groups of friends show patterns of genetic similarity, according to a study published today in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings are based on patterns of variation in two out of six genes sampled among friends and strangers. But the claim is a hard sell for some geneticists, who say that the researchers have not analysed enough genes to rule out alternative explanations.

[ ... ]

"If this was a study looking for shared genes in patients with diabetes, it would not be up to the standards of the field," says David Altshuler, a geneticist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge. "We set these standards after 10 years of seeing so many irreproducible results in gene-association studies."
Evolutionary psychologists have jumped on this "friends 'r genes" thesis because it shores up their slender database, but if it is true it probably means that humans have "jumping genes" and perhaps that there is a shared gene field, similar to Rupert Sheldrake's proposed morphic fields. But, to the extent that the proponents of evolutionary psychlogy would be strict Darwinian natural selectionists, they can't now break the rules and accept this without courting even greater disrepute.


Younger scientists more religious than older ones, study finds

At Canadian Christian thinkmag CARDUS, we
learn, via Point of view author Milton Friesen (January 21, 2011), "What scientists believe." Some interesting observations emerge from his review of Elaine Ecklund,'s, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:
Younger scientists are more religious than older scientists—the inverse of the general population, where older people tend to be more religious than younger people.

[ ... ]

There is indeed a very real clash of cultures born of different ideas, different ideologies, and different practices. While these variances are deep and persistent, Ecklund argues that the tone and nature of the exchange must change. Scientists need to understand far more about how people experience and practice religion and spirituality. They need to be much more skilled in translating what they do for public consumption. If religious scientists don't open up about their religious and spiritual experiences and convictions, colleagues will continue to assume (incorrectly) that these things are absent from their professional circles.
My own view is that no one came through the age of materialism unscathed and too many of the older scientists are simply avoiding contention by not counting the cost of the imploding materialist paradigm.

If one either practises or is familiar with any actual science, why pay any attention at all to the tidal wave of nonsense from "evolutionary psychology" purporting to explain religion, when the nonsense vendor is tone deaf to any experience that might actually explain it, and refuses from the very beginning to consider such experiences possible?