24 March, 2005 at 18:30 Leave a comment

Genes, Brain, Wiring, Mind, Pre-Determinism

From The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought by Gary Marcus:

“It is popular in some quarters to claim that the human brain is largely unstructured at birth; it is tempting to believe that our minds float free of our genomes. But such beliefs are completely at odds with everything that scientists have learned in molecular biology over the last decade. Rather than leaving everything to chance or the vicissitudes of experience, nature has taken everything it has developed for growing the body and put it towards the problem of growing the brain. From cell division to cell differentiation, every process that is used in the development of the body is also used in the development of the brain. Genes do for the brain the same things as they do for the rest of the body: they guide the fates of cells by guiding the production of proteins within those cells. The one thing that is truly special about the development of the brain—the physical basis of the mind—is its “wiring”, the critical connections between neurons, but even there, as we will see in the next chapter, genes play a critical role.

This idea that the brain might be assembled in much the same way as the rest of the body—on the basis of the action of thousands of autonomous but interacting genes (shaped by natural selection)—is an anathema to our deeply held feeling that our minds are special, somehow separate from the material world. Yet at the same time, it is a continuation, perhaps the culmination, of a long trend, a growing-up for the human species that for too long has overestimated its own centrality in the universe. Copernicus showed us that our planet is not the center of the universe. William Harvey showed that our heart is a mechanical pump. John Dalton and the 19th century chemists showed that our bodies are, like all other matter, made up of atoms. Watson and Crick showed us how genes emerged from chains of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus. In the 1990s, the Decade of the Brain, cognitive neuroscientists showed that our minds are the product of our brains. Early returns from this century are showing that the mechanisms that build our brains are just a special case of the mechanisms that build the rest of our body. The initial structure of the mind, like the initial structure of the rest of the body, is a product of our genes.”

The above is an excerpt from the page – Edge: LANGUAGE, BIOLOGY, AND THE MIND – http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/marcus03/marcus_index.html
which beats me. Totally. Who the f* hell did think for once that our brains are nothing more than a muscle/tissue like everything else (the heart, liver, pancreas). Someone has to write a book on this, eh? Whatever it is, should try to see if this guy argues that there is a correleation between genetic make-up and the wiring of the brain which seems to me to be yet another case of pre-determinism. As in, if there is a sequence in our genome at some location, then the structure of the brain could be such that we would react to certain “themes” in a certain way.
Any case, the wiring of our brains changes all the time depending on nurture. But it still could be that the tendency to wire or the ease to which it could be wired when we experience something in the future could be biologically pre-determined. For example, if we are a violent person (by birth) and see a guy being mugged, then maybe the areas of our brain that are getting wired more strongly than others are the robbery zones (that mugging is an easy way to make money out of helpless people). Hmmm… if a pyschologist can write a book on the brain, hell yeah, I can write it too πŸ™‚


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