ME and Ophelia

Monday, November 14, 2005

Epigenetics - The Ghost in Your Genes

On Sep 14, I emailed a non-blogging friend a copy of Norm's interesting post entitled 'Anthropickled.' This morning, I received his reply. My first reaction was to post an excerpt here at a later date but I've decided to interrupt my blogging break to leave it at the top of this page for a while.

14 Nov 2005 email excerpt - Subject: Anthropickled

I like very much your title, Ingrid, which punctures the solemnity of the anthropic gang. I draw only four conclusions from what I know so far about the linear chain of evolution that stretches from the Big Bang to me.
1)  Unlike all my ancestors, I am extremely lucky to be precisely aware of my antecedents, which are no more than the result of gravity continually rearranging the finite number of atoms that inhabit this particular universe.  Like Richard Feynmann, I'm not worried because I don't know what existed before the Big Bang, or (for instance) where gravity comes from.  I am statistically highly improbable, and I'm delighted with that -- I can live very happily not knowing the rest.  I detest all assertions of certainty.
2)  Yes, the extreme improbability of my conscious/intelligent existence -- even after 14 billion long years of cosmic juggling -- seems to imply that there are 'somewhere else' other versions of a larger cosmos in which life didn't occur, because it couldn't. Those were the universes in which Martin Rees's Six Numbers didn't match each other.  I observe his measurements, which are certainly correct.  I note his deductions arising from those measurements, but I don't waste too much time considering them, other than as an encuragement to my gratitude.   [For further amplification, read Paul Davies: The Accidental Universe].
3)  It seems to me that all life forms have to be predatory in some way or other in order to expand their domination of the niches into which environmental pressures have thrust them.  After experimenting with bacteria, fungi amd algae for a couple of billion years (including the creation of mobile cilia and flagella, which now perform other functions) evolution eventually produced in the water multicellular predators which were capable of sensing and approaching food sources : quite a long time after plants (non-mobile predators) appeared. 
4)  It must surely be clear to everyone that a pre-requisite for truly effective predation is the kind of ingenious intelligence that goes with the evolution of a large neo-cortex in an unusually large brain.  I don't see any way in which that logical development (6.5 billion greedy humans are briefly the exemplars) can be rationally twisted into a belief that a universe was created (God save the mark!) in order to demonstrate our obvious imperfections.  That's arrogant and hubristic nonsense, of a kind that is sadly attractive to humans, as we see all too well.  We are creatures of mere chance and there are already too many of us. [End of item]
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Note to self about Epigenetics - The Ghost in Your Genes

The Ghost in Your Genes

Photo: The scientists who believe your genes are shaped in part by your ancestors' life experiences.

A few weeks ago, I watched an awesome Horizon documentary on BBC TV about epigenetics and a team of scientists who believe our genes are shaped in part by our ancestors' life experiences. BBC review excerpt:
"Biology stands on the brink of a shift in the understanding of inheritance. The discovery of epigenetics – hidden influences upon the genes – could affect every aspect of our lives.

At the heart of this new field is a simple but contentious idea – that genes have a 'memory'. That the lives of your grandparents – the air they breathed, the food they ate, even the things they saw – can directly affect you, decades later, despite your never experiencing these things yourself. And that what you do in your lifetime could in turn affect your grandchildren."
# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 11/14/2005
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