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Epigenetics: Nature vs. Nurture?

In yesterday’s inter­view with Michael Pos­ner, he says:

- “There is a grow­ing num­ber of stud­ies that show the impor­tance of inter­ac­tion between our genes and each of our envi­ron­ments. Epi­ge­net­ics is going to help us under­stand that ques­tion bet­ter, but let me share a very inter­est­ing piece of research from my lab where we found an unusual inter­ac­tion between genet­ics and parenting.”

- “Good par­ent­ing, as mea­sured by dif­fer­ent research-based scales, has been shown to build good effort­ful con­trol which, as we saw ear­lier, is so impor­tant. Now, what we found is that some spe­cific genes reduced, even elim­i­nated, the influ­ence of the qual­ity of par­ent­ing. In other words, some children’s devel­op­ment really depends on how their par­ents bring them up, whereas oth­ers do not — or do to a much smaller extent.”

Now check out this fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle in the Econ­o­mist:Domes­ti­ca­tion and intel­li­gence in dogs and wolves | Not so dumb animals

- “Monique Udell of the Uni­ver­sity of Florida … won­dered whether learn­ing rather than evo­lu­tion explained his obser­va­tions. Her team there­fore worked with a mix­ture of pet dogs, dogs from ani­mal shel­ters that had had min­i­mal inter­ac­tion with peo­ple, and wolves raised by humans.”

- “As they report in Ani­mal Behav­iour, the wolves out­per­formed both shel­ter dogs and pets. Indeed, six of the eight wolves fol­lowed human ges­tures per­fectly in more than eight out of ten tri­als. Only three of eight pets were as suc­cess­ful as that and, as with Dr Hare’s wolves, none of the shel­ter dogs per­formed bet­ter than chance. Far from being dumb, then, wolves are smarter than dogs. You just have to bring ‘em up proper.”

Which raises the obvi­ous questions:

- isn’t “intel­li­gence” more about “adapt­abil­ity to new envi­ron­ments” more than about IQ (IQ can be an impor­tant fac­tor in adapt­ing to spe­cific envi­ron­ments, say, engineering)?

- why do we keep talk­ing about nature vs. nur­ture, when they are obvi­ously com­pli­men­tary processes? time to focus on how to “bring ‘em up proper”…and even how to “bring our­selves up proper”

As men­tioned in the post Richard Dawkins and Alfred Nobel: beyond nature and nur­ture, Dawkins says in his great book “The Self­ish Gene” that:

- “We have at least the men­tal equip­ment to fos­ter our long-term self­ish inter­ests rather than merely our short-term ones…We have the power to defy the self­ish genes of our birth and, if nec­es­sary, the self­ish memes of our indoc­tri­na­tion. We can even dis­cuss ways of delib­er­ately cul­ti­vat­ing and nur­tur­ing pure, dis­in­ter­ested altruism-something that has no place in nature, some­thing that has never existed before in the whole his­tory of the world.”

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