In the recent New York Times article entitled: You Are Shaped by the Genes You Inherit. And Maybe by Those You Don’t, author Carl Zimmer discusses a recent Study of how the human genome (nature) and the environment (nuture) work together to shape not only who we are, but who we become. The Study referenced in the article was published in Science and is entitled: The nature of nurture: Effects of parental genotypes.
This study follows an amazing line scientific work that continues to provide further insight into the underlying biology that is at-work and in-control of so much of our lives. The New York Times article does not reference epigenetics, but any almost conversation of genetics and environment must include the science epigenetics. See the TED Talk conducted by professor Moshe Szyf, whose research focuses on understanding the broad implications of how epigenetic mechanisms are at work in human behavior, health and disease.
The nature of nurture: Effects of parental genotypes focuses on how genetic variants in parents may affect the fitness of their offspring, even if the child does not carry the gene. Researcher’s call this indirect effect “genetic nurture” and studied the presence (or absence) of a particular genetic code’s impact on educational attainment. The research found that genetic nurture is ultimately due to genetic variation in the population and is mediated by the environment that parents create for their children.
In other words, genes may help determine how long children stay in school, the researchers found, but some of those genes operate at a distance — by influencing parents.
Think of the implications of the above quote – the fact that your underlying genetic code (or even the code you don’t have) is somehow implicated in how long you stay in school is unsettling at best. Since learning of epigenetics, and beginning a journey of better understanding my own biology, my interpretation of my human experience has changed at a foundational level. Read between the lines of science, or just read the lines as to what science is telling us about our own human biology, and you begin to understand that everyday life may be more about your molecular-self than your determined-self. Once you start to understand that your molecular-self is really an organism at work seeking to survive, evolve, and reproduce you gain a better understanding of Elon Musks’ famous 2016 quote: “There’s a billion to one chance that we’re living in base reality.” In other words, the world we live in is not what we commonly perceive it to be.
Relate Elon’s hypothesis into what we now know about the realm of genetic and epigenetic biology, we begin to see the factual evidence of molecular activity that controls (in-part) “what we do” and “why we do it.” Watching the video simulation of the molecular activity at work that builds our proteins begins to look an awful lot like consciousness (or intelligence) occurring at a level and scale we normally do not consider. Science is now demonstrating that this molecular biology is not only be instructing us on what we eat, how long we go to school, but how long we will be alive.
Follow the line, and there is only one inevitable conclusion that our own consciousness is a by-product of the molecular activity underlying our human biology. While that may be obvious to some, this new awareness has had an impact on me of late as science is providing us with insights into our root biological make-up.
Understanding that how much “say” I have in life is up for debate, and it appears that debate favors my molecular-self, more and more each day. Perhaps only now does the philosophy I studied in college reading Albert Camu’s “The Stranger” and Rene’ Descartes “I think therefore I am” have the scientific context to be fully appreciated.
Now lighten up and enjoy the debate, in a classically portrayed setup: