Re: [xmca] epigenesis

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 25 2007 - 21:21:29 PDT

Fascinating question Paul.
My two-penneth worth.

Firstly, I think that there is a close correlation between the strain
positivist philosophy dominant at any given time (genetic determinism at
the moment) and the position of the contemporary frontier of natural
science (molecular biology). The retreat of this frontier follows a kind of
logic of its own doesn't it, as is well known, beginning with mathematics,
followed by mechanics, etc. I am inclined to think that the flood of funds
into biochemical-type disciplines at the moment needs to be explained to
some extent by the logic of natural-scientific research, and not just by
economic interest, which would create a circular logic. When I was at
University it was still physics, before that it was chemistry, now its
biology, ...

Secondly, I think there is a definite pendulum at work on the
nature-nurture issue. Each generation seems to swing in the other direction
to counter the over-emphasis of the previous generation. We are currently
in a strong "nature not nurture" point on the cycle, but it was not always
so. There is of course always a struggle going on over this line, but I
think since Konrad Lorenz and Robert Ardrey the pendulum has been swinging
their way. I suspect that there is a correlation between the position of
the nature/nurture struggle and the global economic cycles of reproduction.
After WW2 there was a strong swing towards rebuilding and the establishment
supported nurture over nature even whilst building atom bombs. This
hypothesis would require work to verify. Nature vs nurture has surely
always been a political battle hasn't it?? But I bet John Maynard Keynes
was for "nurture not nature".

Thirdly, while we have a coincidence of upsurge in bio-science with a phase
of decline in the Empire, we have also, I think, the culture wars.
Capitalism won the political war and isolated the Soviet Union; they won
the economic war, with unions on the decline and poverty increasing again,
now the war is on the culture front. So the gene-warfare is being played
out on the arena of culture.

All guesses of course. :-) But damn annoying, isn't it?


At 07:04 PM 25/10/2007 -0700, you wrote:
> Any possible answer your question " . . . 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?" would seem to require an adequate theory
> of why any "knowledge system/ideology" is dominant in a given society at
> a given time. From the perspective of the classic Marxist model, i.e.,
> "dominance of the ideas of the dominant economic forces" , the dominance
> of the genetic metaphor in contemporary capitalist societies seems to
> provide a text book case. The primary client for the products of
> the bio-technology and pharmaceutical industries in which most
> geneticists is the health care industry (15% of US GDP) , then there's
> the GMO dominance in capitalist agriculture. Along with cybenetics ,
> genetic technologies , suffuse the fabric of modern economic activity.
> But that's only a formal cause and although probably a necessary
> condition for the ideological dominance of some branch of knowledge,
> still insufficient to answer your question. I think one of the
> effective causes at the psychological level , might have to do with the
> utopian futures genetics provides the "cult of eternal youth" , likewsie
> a root metaphor of popular consumer culture. The promised developments
> of genetic technologies certainly have that Utopian dimension, better
> futures quality that makes of good ideology.
> Paul
> Jay Lemke <> wrote:
>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.
> >
> >Vera
> >
> >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.
> >>Martin
> >>
> >>On 10/22/07 4:08 PM, "David Preiss" wrote:
> >>
> >>>Eirik,
> >>>
> >>>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.
> >>>David
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>David
> >>>
> >>>On Oct 22, 2007, at 3:16 PM, E. Knutsson wrote:
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>>Amanda,
> >>>>
> >>>>JW's comment (
> >>>> >>>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
> >>>>the
> >>>>contrary it allows them to be refuted."
> >>>>
> >>>>Eirik
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>
> >>>>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
> >>>>>somehow
> >>>>>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
> >>>>>view
> >>>>>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
> >>>>>being
> >>>>>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
> >>>>>accurate.
> >>>>>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
> >>>>>recognition
> >>>>>of the complexity of intelligence one of the things that makes
> >>>>>many of the
> >>>>>outraged so upset about IQ testing?
> >>>>>
> >>>>>-Amanda
> >>>>
> >>>>_______________________________________________
> >>>>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
> >>>Chile
> >>>
> >>>Fono: 3544605
> >>>Fax: 3544844
> >>>e-mail:
> >>>web personal:
> >>>web institucional:
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>_______________________________________________
> >>>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:
> >---------------------------------
> >
> >_______________________________________________
> >xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
>Jay Lemke
>University of Michigan
>School of Education
>610 East University
>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>Tel. 734-763-9276
>xmca mailing list
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  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Thu Oct 25 21:29 PDT 2007

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