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.