Yikes Wow!!

Note:  I drafted this post while fact checking several articles on epigenetics, and then thought I had lost the post when my computer crashed.  Now that I discover a draft of the post was saved, I can’t retrace my steps to the links that gave me such an electrifying view of the subject.

So you probably bought the notion that we are organisms physically crafted by DNA’s direction of protein assembly, whose memories, habits, and character are encoded in the electrical “wiring” of our brains.

It goes even deeper.

Turns out that the expression of our genes is almost certainly shaped and reshaped throughout our lives by our own experiences and choices.  It’s beyond neuroplasticity.  The very stuff of ourselves in in play.

Two paradoxically related and stunningly powerful insights spring from this.  One is how profoundly life experience shapes us, and not only us:  many “epigenetic” changes, as these modifications of DNA expression are called, are (are you ready?) heritable.  Lamarck is smiling in his grave, and the Biblical patriarchs who noted “The father has eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” are looking smarter than we thought.

The companion astounding fact, however, is that many of these epigenetic changes are reversible, or further modifiable.  That means that by changing our behavior (not that this is easy, but it is possible) we can not only change the wiring of our brains, as my friend Jeffrey Schwartz has long asserted; we can change our very substance.  As profoundly as experience shapes us, that deeply can our own choices reach into ourselves and change what we’re made of.

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Author: amba12

Continuing the conversation that started at AmbivaBlog ...

21 thoughts on “Yikes Wow!!”

  1. [So you probably bought the notion that we are organisms physically crafted by DNA’s direction of protein assembly, whose memories, habits, and character are encoded in the electrical “wiring” of our brains.]

    No I didn’t buy it. Matter is Mind.

    “Lamarck is smiling in his grave”

    I read a book a long time ago about the horrible and unfair way Lamarck and his ideas were treated. He actually killed himself because of it. I have thought Lamarck’s theory was better than Darwin’s for a very long time. And Lamarck’s theory came before Darwin’s. Yet Darwin is considered the great discoverer of evolution.

    The real reason Darwin’s theory was preferred is that, supposedly, it validates materialism.

  2. If science is honest, it will keep blowing itself out of the water like this. Quantum physics, dark matter, dark energy, epigenetics — the belief in a comfortingly concrete little Newtonian material world hasn’t got a chance.

  3. ‘If science is honest’. Darwinian theory is as entrenched as flat-earth theory was at one time. You are right. Quantum physics has certainly blown materialism out of the water and we can hope for similar results with epigenetics. Interesting stuff, though largely beyond my comprehension.

  4. I LIKE this idea. I suspected for a long time that something like this went on, but this is the first time I’ve heard anything about it. It quite possibly explains a lot.

  5. Very cool, thanks for posting this!

    Poor Ezekiel. He would be chagrined by this news, as he quoted that popular proverb about sour grapes in order to refute it!

    Ezek 18:2-3: “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb in the land of Israel, saying: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.” The rest of the chapter is a stern warning against the idea that anyone can bear the guilt of anyone else.

    Then again, Ezekiel is talking about guilt, and the epigenetic studies are talking about genes — very different things! In fact, this idea might shed a new light on the old sticky problem (for believers) of harmonizing Ezekiel 18 with the Decalogue, in which God declares that He “visit[s] the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me” (Exod 20). I have my own apologetic take: Ezekiel, I would suggest, speaks of moral guilt — as befits the interpretive and moralizing tone of a prophet — and rules out any moral transference over generations. God on Mount Sinai, on the other hand, speaks of practical consequences, rather than guilt. Sin has consequence even for those who do not bear actual guilt.

    Epigenetics, then, might be seen as the mechanics by which God visits sin unto the third and fourth generations (as well as “kindness unto the thousandth generation of those who love Me”).

  6. “Ezek 18:2-3: “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb in the land of Israel, saying: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.” The rest of the chapter is a stern warning against the idea that anyone can bear the guilt of anyone else.”

    But we all bear the sin [and guilt] of Adam, either literally or metaphorically.

  7. mockturtle: “But we all bear the sin [and guilt] of Adam, either literally or metaphorically.”

    So says Christian doctrine, indeed, and I respect that. But as a traditional Jew, I personally reject it. We do read the fall of man as having a monumental impact upon the nature of the world, but not in the form of a moral debt to be paid by the primeval couple’s descendants. We believe all people are born with a state of moral neutrality, with free will to gain merit by good deeds, lose merit by sin, and/or regain merit by personal repentance and reconciliation with God and whomever we have wronged.

    For Christians this view would be problematic, as it rejects any need for Jesus’ atonement. I am sure we could both throw verses at one another in a vain attempt to convince one another, but really, why bother? We’ve both seen this before, right? All this, like much else, must be a matter about which we agree to disagree until some messiah or another arrives to solve the dispute. (May it be today!)

  8. I don’t see it so much as a ‘moral debt’ as an inherited flaw.

    As a product of an agnostic/atheistic upbringing, I felt Christianity creeping up on me in my late twenties [ironically, I first became interested after reading ‘The Passover Plot’] and then it pounced on me in my late thirties. Though this is not the place for theological discourse, I can only say that I believe science and theology are closer than we might think and will become closer in the near future.

  9. ” I believe science and theology are closer than we might think and will become closer in the near future.”

    I have always thought so, and it seems we are getting very close to the time.

  10. Amba, the honest questing, the sincere asking, seeking and knocking I find in your posts is the main reason I continue to return, to read and wonder.

    For me, the formation of a response to what I read here involves recognizing and regarding the dissonance between the rigidly held, right /wrong Christian beliefs which were my first filter, my lived experiences and current spiritual awareness, and new information/insights which invite consideration.

    My response today is more a validation of the nature of the post than the topic itself. But It fits with the quote below which I came upon this week, along with my personal beliefs and regard for one often referred to as Good Teacher, and my enjoyment of Yikes Wow insights.

    “”In the realm of soul and spirit, there are not really answers as much as there are answering persons. The important thing is not to settle the dust and respond to the ego’s need for closure and satisfaction, but in fact, to lead one into a vital relationship. The ego so demands immediate satisfaction that it will almost always settle for satisfying falsehood rather than remain on the search for often unsatisfying truth. Jesus keeps us on the necessary search.

    I am told, for example, that Jesus only directly answers 3 of the 183 questions that he himself is asked in the four Gospels! This is totally surprising to people who have grown up assuming that the very job description of religion is to give people answers and to resolve peoples’ dilemmas. Apparently this is not Jesus’ understanding of the function of religion because he operates very differently….Jesus’ questions are to re-position you, make you own your unconscious biases, break you out of your dualistic mind, challenge your image of God or the world, or present new creative possibilities. He himself does not usually wait for or expect specific answers. He hopes to call forth an answering person. He wants to be in relationship with a person, with the idea as it informs the person, and with the process of transformation itself.”

    Richard Rohr, in a foreword to ‘The Questions of Jesus’

  11. Yet Darwin is considered the great discoverer of evolution.

    Wrong again. Darwin posited a method by which evolution might work. Evolution as an idea predates Darwin. Details matter, especially important ones like who did what and when,

  12. Quantum physics has certainly blown materialism out of the the water and we can hope for similar results with epigenetics.

    Wow. Welcome to the 1920s. Very up to date of you to notice.

  13. Well, Icepick. If you actually read my post, you will note that I did not say that it ONLY RECENTLY blew materialism out of the water. But, then, your goal is to jab [hence your name, presumably] rather than to comprehend. Like Nietzsche, I don’t see truth as something only just discovered in our own decade, century or millennium.

  14. “Yet Darwin is considered the great discoverer of evolution.

    Wrong again. Darwin posited a method by which evolution might work. Evolution as an idea predates Darwin. Details matter, especially important ones like who did what and when,”

    I don’t consider Darwin the discoverer of evolution. but there are many who do. Because I was interested in the subject of evolution, I read about it, so I knew that Darwin did not come up with the theory. It is very well known that the theory of evolution was around a long time before Darwin, and that Darwin’s grandfather believed in it.

    You just look for any chance to jab like an icepick, without reading our comments carefully enough to understand them. I said “Darwin is considered to be …” NOT “I consider Darwin to be …”

    These days, Darwin’s theory about how evolution might have happened is considered THE theory of evolution. They do not teach about Lamarck, or guided evolution or (heaven forbid!) intelligent design.

    “Details matter, especially important ones like who did what and when,”

    Oh we are so grateful to you icepick for telling us. We could never have figured that out. We thought it didn’t matter who did what or when.

  15. Real, you have been very careless with scientific matters in the past. For example, you stated that variations on the many worlds hypothesis were created so that materialists could explain how life came to be. You have in the past made many statements about physics that were completely bogus. You take EVERY opportunity to talk about how awful the materialists are, whom you largely define as everyone that doesn’t think Sheldrake is the bee’s knees. Mostly, you have run down the scientific establishment because they don’t see the world the way you want them to. After all that why should I assume you know what the Hell Darwin was doing? As it is, complaining that “Darwin is the great discoverer of evolution” at the end of that paragraph doesn’t mesh with the idea that you are complaining about ignorance. It does mesh with the idea that Lamarck was robbed of his due as the discoverer of evolution. You wrote what at best was a sloppy paragraph.

  16. But, then, your goal is to jab [hence your name, presumably] rather than to comprehend.

    Then presumably you job is to mock? Keep trying.

  17. Lamarck wasn’t the discoverer of evolution either, but only now does it turn out that he wasn’t all wrong as science has assumed.

  18. The theory of evolution was around for a long time. I think Lamarck was more than not all wrong. His theory is compatible with guided evolution and Sheldrakes explanations. In other words, not materialist.

    Icepick is obviously here to defend materialism and is obviously very irritated by anti-materialist comments. No one gets every detail perfectly correct at all times. It is also very easy to misinterpret.

    So if you want to call someone ignorant, you can always focus on their tiny mistakes, instead of noticing when they are right.

  19. That’s rather Zen-koan-like, reminding me of the claim that the 12 years we don’t know where Jesus was, he was in India.

    He was being outsourced?

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