Hidden Logic of Genes In Genesis?
Scarcely noticed in the Eden story, there lurk fruitful scientific ideas about why biology generated morality.
1. Scientist Loren Eiseley saw fruitful science in Genesis (in the exile, not the creation): “The story of Eden is a greater allegory than man has ever guessed.” It can be read as being about biology begetting morality.
2. Eiseley described how through natural selection, “good and evil would enter and possess the world.” He grasped how evolution generated non-genetic ethics.
3. Eiseley contrasted instinctive life versus social-learning-structured life. The former needs no meaningful morality, the later uses the logic of forbidden fruit (of “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”).
4. Updating Eiseley’s case, the “world of instinct” is entirely genetically programmed. All traits have fixed genetic scripts, changing only slowly, intergenerationally (phenotypes = subsets of genotypes).
5. But social non-genetic inheritances radically changed the game; in uniquely human ways behavioral and cognitive traits weren’t as genetically determined (phenotypes wider than genotypes, see praxotype + cognotype).
6. Eiseley notes our social transmission-based life strategies need unique adaptive changes (e.g., postnatal brain size trebling, much longer immaturity, persisting parental bonds).
8. It’s obvious how tools are adaptive, but languages and cooperation rules are non-material social tools.
10. That’s the missing link to nature’s moralities—no humanlike creature thrives without received knowledge and rules about “good and bad” choices. The “sapiens” in homo sapiens means wisdom, i.e. choosing well (from Latin for taste, judgement). Our key trick is acquiring the wisdom of others.
12. So all humans face Eve’s dilemma—born with behavioral freedom and curiosity into risky environments, with socially punishable received rules. Rousseau’s we’re “born free” but everywhere in chains is the human condition incarnate (with inalienable social chains, see “relational rationality”).
13. Harold Bloom notes that the earliest Genesis texts depict humans as theomorphic (“god-shaped,” in god’s image as moral choosers and creators). Leon Kass agrees, deeming Eden’s exile a rise, not a fall.
17. Eiseley saw unnaturally selective thinking about evolution as mirroring elite Victorian biases. Dawkins later amplified the same adamantly competition-centric view, but we’re on the eve of grasping how much of life features cooperation (every I is a we, Ed Yong).
18. Darwin called unmoral humans “unnatural monsters,” and out of Eden came not only “endless forms most beautiful” but also endless strategies intertwining competition and cooperation.
PS Hat Tip to Ross Andersen aka @ for tweeting that key Eiseley quote.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?
There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.
An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.
- "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
- "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
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