Making the Mind
January 17, 2004 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Making the Mind. "The general outlines of how genes build the brain are finally becoming clear, and we are also starting to see how, in forming the brain, genes make room for the environment’s essential role. While vast amounts of work remain to be done, it is becoming equally clear that understanding the coordination of nature and nurture will require letting go of some long-held beliefs."
posted by homunculus (16 comments total)
It's interesting, but isn't it ascribing functions to genes that can't be proven? If it's about how they interact to form possibilities then why aren't more people born with birth defects as well as brain defects, (or develop bodily defects the same way brain defects develop)? Or are they? (correct me if i read it wrong)
posted by amberglow at 7:21 PM on January 17, 2004

per the article

[There are] many hints that genes must be important for the brain: identical twins resemble each other more than nonidentical twins in personality as well as in physique; mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression run in families and are shared even by twins reared apart; and animal breeders know that shaping the bodies of animals often leads to correlated changes in behavior. All of these observations provided clues of genetic effects on the brain.
posted by stbalbach at 7:31 PM on January 17, 2004

but we've known that for ages, stbalbach (the breastcancer gene is a good example)--this article seemed to be ascribing far more than that to genes.
posted by amberglow at 7:37 PM on January 17, 2004

about things running in families, and genes being responsible for that, I mean--it's true of brain things as well as body things.
posted by amberglow at 7:38 PM on January 17, 2004

If it's about how they interact to form possibilities then why aren't more people born with birth defects as well as brain defects, ... ?

To hazard a guess, I'd say because evolution has insured that there is redundancy and error-checking in the system. Organisms that don't have such redundancy and develop defects at a high rate simply don't survive over generations.
posted by moonbiter at 8:15 PM on January 17, 2004

that makes sense moonbiter (i'm in over my head in this) : >

I wonder if spontaneous abortions are the body's way to deal with those? but whether that's known by the genes can't possibly be, can it?
posted by amberglow at 8:20 PM on January 17, 2004

This was a fascinating FPP homunculus.
posted by MidasMulligan at 8:22 PM on January 17, 2004

I wonder if spontaneous abortions are the body's way to deal with those? but whether that's known by the genes can't possibly be, can it?

Hmm, I don't know about that. I mean, people are born every day with mental and physical traits that are not adaptive to their survival. It's pretty clear that genes are not completely redundant or error-proof. Still, the process of evolution seems to ensure that in most case such individuals do not reproduce at the same rate as more "normal" people, so they are selected against in the long term. You still have instances of people being born with defects because the mother that had one child with problems may have had several others without, and passed her genetics on to those seven offspring. However, you generally wouldn't expect a general increase overall -- that is, the people with the unadaptive traits tend not to reproduce for a variety of reasons.

As far as what genes know: they don't, at least not any more than a computer program knows things. Still, they do react to conditions based on physical processes and can change the development of an organism in response to environmental factors.

Of course, I am not an expert in this field at all -- it's been a long time since I got my psychology degree, and I've pursued a completely different career path since then. So take my explanations with a grain of salt.
posted by moonbiter at 9:23 PM on January 17, 2004

It's interesting--thanks moonbiter--we still don't know so much about ourselves.
posted by amberglow at 9:42 PM on January 17, 2004

While interesting, it seems to me that the author is saying something very obvious. We know brains can be created using the instructions in genes. Every human born is proof of that. The nature/nurture question is, in essence, an attempt to understand just how generalized the computing of the brain is, not whether the brain arises from the same processes as the other organs--we know it does. Am I missing something important? Because it seems like I might be.
posted by Nothing at 1:45 AM on January 18, 2004

peple might be interested in this site (w h calvin) which i found via another mefites web log (can't remember who, sorry, but a name something like "geek girl"). if you scroll down far enough you get to books - which can be read online.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:48 AM on January 18, 2004

As one whose talents lie more in the arts than in the sciences, I still feel it's incumbent upon me to at least try to understand this sort of stuff; so while I make only half-assed attempts to grok quantum theory, I really enjoy reading about evolutionary psychology and a few other related fields. This is pretty interesting.

I also learned - this from someone who avoids buying new software cuz I can't make it work and I have to grovel on the phone to a support guy - how compression (and decompression) works!
posted by kozad at 9:16 AM on January 18, 2004

It's time to lay the "Nature vs. Nuture" debate to rest, once and for all.
posted by troutfishing at 9:54 AM on January 18, 2004

I wonder if spontaneous abortions are the body's way to deal with those?

I've thought of spontaneous abortions as fetuses that failed their initial checksums for a while now. Though as moonbiter notes, lots of things can mung up the fetus without it affecting whatever the spontaneous abortion mechanism "looks at."

By the same analogies, humans have a loooong boot time. 12-18 years, and some people never seem to really boot up all the way (or end up running in a Safe Mode with some of their services turned off).

And realistically, I'd guess that spontaneous abortions mostly kick in when the fetus is sufficiently messed-up that it stops acting like a fetus -- fails to send the right chemical signals, or sends actively wrong ones, or can't form a placenta properly, etc.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on January 18, 2004

Researchers have been able to grow mice with abnormally large brains...

now why'd they have to gone do that? see, that just ain't right. not only ain't it right, it's unnatural. and not only ain't it natural, it's god's special way of lettin' us poor folk know it's not.
posted by kliuless at 10:57 PM on January 18, 2004

troutfishing: "lay the N vs N debate to bed?" Not only would you be defenestrating all those academic disputes, but you would be dynamiting current dynamite familiy disputes like: "your daughter's just like you..feisty and illogical and contrary"...No, the Nature vs. Nurture dispute will never go away.

Academic or personal or both, this will be a perennial dispute..
posted by kozad at 7:53 PM on January 19, 2004

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