Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mind Your Brain

Leave it to the American Association for the Advancement of Science  - www.aaas.org - to tackle one of the most debated questions of the moment: "Are We Only Our Genes?", sponsored by the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. It was a call-and-response scenario between Dr. Denis Alexander of Cambridge, England, and  American author-journalist Steve Paulson, known for his public radio program "To the Best of Our Knowledge,"  the respondent.

Dr. Alexander's wry approach included some subtle disclaimers about the plausibility of any sort of dichotomy. Genes, the blueprint of life, are so integrated into our environmental surroundings and inheritance that he felt 'driven' to create a new slogan he calls DICI - for Developmental Integrated Complementary Interaction. (At that point, the audience was warmed up enough to laugh along with him, because of the seemingly limitless implications of those word.) New mutations constantly change the original blueprint, he asserted. He also tackled the word 'heritability' by saying this "relates to variation in the traits but is not what causes traits themselves."  No single gene encompasses any single form of behavior and the there is  also the issue of  RNA, the switching mechanism whereby "genes function according to the company they keep."

Determinism is a very slippery concept, indeed. The gene stew is just that, a nearly indecipherable melange. Bacterial genes in our bodies also influence us.

Who are we, after all? And what is the mind - if not "consciousness' and a property of nature? Mr. Paulson is producer of a forthcoming series on just that subject. Stay tuned.

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