Globe, Latin America, Migrants, Multiculture, Uncategorized, United Kingdom

An open future: epigenetic and environment

In his recent book, Professor Jan Baedke (“Above the gene, beyond biology”) criticises the acclaimed Richard Dawkins for being unidirectional and too simplistic.

Nigel Pocock

Reality, as least at a genetic level―is not unidirectional, made up of a simple cause and effect along an evolutionary and seemingly deterministic line. It is, instead, fundamentally unpredictable, random, and highly complex.

Because gene expression is profoundly affected by social impacts (both good and bad in terms of health and pathology), these impacts cannot be predicted.

Who can tell what is round the next corner? Who can tell what difference an 8 second delay might have on life’s outcomes? Who can tell whether this will be good or bad?

Dynamic social interactions make all the difference, with constant such events happening every day, profoundly affecting whether a person will be permanently traumatised (and pass this trauma down the generations) or find release from such devastation.

This pulls together many seemingly totally incompatible bedfellows, for example, theocrats such as Calvinists and the Taliban and ISIS, together with secularists such as Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Ideologically they are completely opposed, but methodologically united in holding to a unidirectional and deterministic view of science and biology.

Science is not random and fundamentally unpredictable, but can be harnessed to a specific socio-pragmatic or theocratic agenda, which is all but certain if it is faithfully adhered to. These are political and ideological issues. They are not biological, as their adherents mistakenly believe. Why is this? Baedke argues that the answer lies in epigenetics, and, more specifically, epigenetic complexity. Complexity here means two things: complexity at a structural (molecules) level, and at dynamic (electrical and chemical impulses) level, and the constant interaction of these, caused by stimuli from the physical and social environment.

The level of complexity is such that the outcomes of these dynamic interactions are fundamentally unpredictable, although they may be channelled, at least to some extent (e.g., in reducing social trauma) thus reducing epigenetic socio-pathologies, in the form of gene expression which may be fatal, or health-giving and prolonging and increasing the quality of life.

The concept of phenotypic plasticity (a web of causes effects a single change, such as size and colour) can be seen in a number of animal species, and are attributed to population density, the degree of predation by aggressive others, and the quality and quantity of food, and seasonal variables, such as temperature.

Epigenetics is not new, going back at least as far as the 1940s. In the last twenty years it has captured the public imagination, and may well be the most important paradigm changer in biology in recent time.

At the heart of epigenetics is the discovery that gene expression is constantly being modified by chemical attachments to the gene, both for good (health) and bad (pathologies/illness), itself caused by an environmental stimulus.

This environmental impact is potentially transmissable down the generations, although in some cases a pathology can be reversed by epigenetic attachments. One cause can, further have multiple effects, and multiple effects might have only one cause, all of which are in principle, unpredictable. In this technical sense, complexity is an adaptive system, which can ‘canalize’ changes towards stability in the face of changes without.

All of this sounds completely unmanageable, and therefore unsettling. People yearn for stability and control, a monoculture, even if they deny this.

They will try to enforce this through the use of law and language, ‘hate speech’ and ‘silent spaces’, whether that of secularists or the Taliban. Unpredictability is the enemy!

What then happens to unpredictability? Quite simply, martyrdom. An open future is exchanged for a closed one.

Adaptation is to the life of a revolutionary guerrilla living in the jungle, not to that of a peacemaker.

Adaptation will have epigenetic costs and benefits, which in some senses are predictable (‘sleepers’ will rise to the top, usually meaning the most violent and ruthless), but many other variables are involved, genotypes and their adaptative phenotypes (e.g., physical and mental strength, single-mindedness, and more), all of which are unpredictably affected by methylation and other chemically facilitating or inhibiting mechanisms on the gene.

Rosalbina was a member of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) when, in 2006, she became a Christian, and starting telling people about Jesus, and that she wanted to leave the FARC.

She was then executed in front of her daughter. Such unpredictability cannot be tolerated; it is far too dangerous and subversive! It is an adaptive behaviour that would have undermined FARC’s ethos of violent revolutionary overthrow, for another kind of warfare, one, indeed, that cost its Founder his life.

“What I have written, I have written!” the prosecuting Roman Governor remarked.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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