[xmca] epigenesis

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at umich.edu>
Date: Thu Oct 25 2007 - 11:52:10 PDT

Of course this epigenetic perspective is
important, but it is far from new in
developmental biology. I recall reading about it
and citing it in my very first work on learning
back in the 70s. It was new then in biology as
well, articulated and developed especially by CH
Waddington and adopted and applied by a wide
variety of mavericks and more radical thinkers in
the inter-disciplinary series of workshops known
as the Serbelloni Symposia after the town in
Italy where they were held. Stuart Kauffman,
later well-known for his work on complex systems
theory and evolution presented some of his early
ideas about self-organization there and linked them to the epigenesis model.

I recall saying to people back then that the
implications bordered on neo-Larmarckian
inheritance of acquired characteristics, which
made a lot of people nervous, but few disagreed.

So why is the model of gene-determinism so
appealing, almost a religion today, both among
molecular biologists and the lay public? Why has
it been so easy for the media to spread this gospel?

Does it perhaps have something to do with our
cultural disinclination to accept responsibility
for inequity? "It's not my fault. It's all in the
genes. There's nothing I can (or need to) do about it." ??


At 12:27 PM 10/25/2007, you wrote:
>I echo Martin's comments on the epigenetic
>system. It supports an assumption long shared by
>people on this network about the unification of biology and culture.
>Martin Packer wrote:
>>Fascinating PBS documentary a few weeks ago on the 'epigenetic' system -
>>that environmental events during an individual's life, while they don't
>>change the structure of the genome, have a direct impact on the expression
>>of genes, and that these changes are passed down (via their effect on
>>formation of eggs and sperm) to the next generation, and even to
>>grandchildren. If my grandfather lived in a time of famine, my likelihood of
>>developing diabetes is much increased. As David says, something can be
>>heritable but not genetic (in origin). The inheritance of acquired
>>characteristics, no less.
>>On 10/22/07 4:08 PM, "David Preiss" <davidpreiss@uc.cl> wrote:
>>>The Steve Connor comment you send us (second link below) tells
>>>exactly why JW was not doing science at all. Particularly, why you
>>>can't infer from an heritability ratio a conclusion about the
>>>intelligence of people that works with you (as Watson say). On the
>>>other hand, something can be statistically heritable and not genetic
>>>at all. A nice explanation is in the Sternberg, Grigorenko and Kidd
>>>paper I sent before.
>>>On Oct 22, 2007, at 3:16 PM, E. Knutsson wrote:
>>>>JW's comment (http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/
>>>> >>>article3075642.ece)
>>>>concludes with this request: "[W]e as scientists, wherever we wish
>>>>to place
>>>>ourselves in this great debate, should take care in claiming what are
>>>>unarguable truths without the support of evidence."
>>>>Some of the other comments also seem to give a more balanced view:
>>>>"Curtailing free debate is almost always a mistake. Allowing
>>>>scientists and
>>>>individuals to air their theories openly does not validate them. On
>>>>contrary it allows them to be refuted."
>>>>On 2007-10-21, at 01:26, Amanda Brovold wrote:
>>>>>Just for the record, it sounds to me as if Watson has suggested he
>>>>>may have
>>>>>been misquoted. In the article linked to 3 messages below he
>>>>>says: "I can
>>>>>understand much of this reaction. For if I said what I was quoted as
>>>>>saying, then I can only admit that I am bewildered by it. To
>>>>>those who have
>>>>>drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is
>>>>>genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. This is
>>>>>not what I
>>>>>meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no
>>>>>scientific basis
>>>>>for such a belief." I am not sure why the first two sentences of
>>>>>this quote
>>>>>are generally left off when it is repeated. Such common
>>>>>occurrences though
>>>>>(even on this very list) lead me to believe it is plausible that
>>>>>what Watson
>>>>>said my not have been as appalling as what has been passed around
>>>>>makes it
>>>>>seem. I agree that it seems certain he has a view I very much
>>>>>disagree with
>>>>>and seems to be contradicted by the preponderance of evidence.
>>>>>However, I
>>>>>find un-thoughtful knee-jerk responses to such views to be at
>>>>>least as
>>>>>dangerous as the views themselves. I have heard people stress
>>>>>that it is
>>>>>important for academics to respond appropriately to events such as
>>>>>these. I
>>>>>very much agree, it is important for experts in the relevant
>>>>>fields to
>>>>>correct any misunderstandings that stories like this are likely to
>>>>>perpetuate. It is also extremely important though for the academy to
>>>>>remember that academic freedom is absolutely vital. As appalling
>>>>>as views
>>>>>expressed by one academic may be, the expression of controversial
>>>>>points simply cannot be allowed to threaten the protections
>>>>>necessary for
>>>>>inquiry to be carried out.
>>>>>Something else to consider, phrased a different way, I feel
>>>>>confident that
>>>>>many people outraged by Watson's remarks would agree that in fact
>>>>>there are
>>>>>differences in the intelligences of different people, often
>>>>>correlated with
>>>>>differences in culture. These are not differences in terms of one
>>>>>overall superior to another, but I do not think that reading is
>>>>>forced by
>>>>>the words that have been quoted without context, even if they are
>>>>>It is at least possible that Watson, as he now seems to claim,
>>>>>really meant
>>>>>to refer to differences without evaluating them. And isn't the
>>>>>of the complexity of intelligence one of the things that makes
>>>>>many of the
>>>>>outraged so upset about IQ testing?
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>David Preiss, Ph.D.
>>>Subdirector de Extensión y Comunicaciones
>>>Escuela de Psicología
>>>Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
>>>Av Vicuña Mackenna 4860
>>>Macul, Santiago
>>>Fono: 3544605
>>>Fax: 3544844
>>>e-mail: davidpreiss@uc.cl
>>>web personal: http://web.mac.com/ddpreiss/
>>>web institucional: http://www.epuc.cl/profesores/dpreiss
>>>xmca mailing list
>>xmca mailing list
>Vera P. John-Steiner
>Department of Linguistics
>Humanities Bldg. 526
>University of New Mexico
>Albuquerque, NM 87131
>(505) 277-6353 or 277-4324
>Internet: vygotsky@unm.edu
>xmca mailing list

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Email. JayLemke@UMich.edu
Website. <http://www.umich.edu/~jaylemke%A0>www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
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Received on Thu Oct 25 11:56 PDT 2007

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