Friday, March 12, 2010

Beyond the Gene

Although I finished teaching my seminar on philosophy and genetics (and am now teaching on physics and metaphysics), my attention continues to be drawn to examples of how medical outcomes and behavioral tendencies are reported as being determined by genetics even when environmental influences are obvious and even predominant.

Presumptions of singular causation are so deeply engrained in our habits of thought, that I found that even after several discussions and relevant readings, students would easily fall back on talking about nature vs. nurture. In response to a direct question, they would be able to describe that environment and genetics interact in such complex ways that it doesn't make sense to attribute some aspects of behavior to one and some aspects to another. And yet...just minutes later the same old, engrained, dichotomy would reappear.

Evelyn Fox Keller, in some of her recent work (book and video), has argued that we need new language to express interactions, and in particular, interactions between genes and the intracellular environment. Though this is true, I think we also just need practice. We need to hear more complex descriptions, and we need exposure to these ideas so that they can work their way into our culture.

To that end, I'm looking forward to reading David Shenk's new book, The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told about Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong.

More here.

1 comment:

Khadimir said...

I concur on the needing practice. Needing a new vocabulary might not be necessary; try the extant ones.