Nature via Nurture: Genes, experience and what makes us human Paperback – 4 May 2004
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Nature Via Nurture follows on from Matt Ridley's bestselling Genome. He takes on a centuries-old question: is it nature or nurture that makes us who we are? Ridley asserts that the question itself is a "false dichotomy". Using copious examples of human and animal behaviour, he presents the notion that our environment affects the way our genes express themselves.
Ridley writes that the switches controlling our 30,000 or so genes not only form the structures of our brains but do so in such a way as to cue off the outside environment in a tidy feedback loop of body and behaviour. In fact, it seems clear that we have genetic "thermostats" that are turned up and down by environmental factors. He challenges both scientific and folk concepts, from assumptions of what's malleable in a person to sociobiological theories based solely on the "selfish gene".
Ridley's proof is in the pudding for such touchy subjects as monogamy, aggression, and parenting, which we now understand have some genetic controls. Nevertheless, "the more we understand both our genes and our instincts, the less inevitable they seem". A consummate populariser of science, Ridley once again provides a perfect mix of history, genetics, and sociology for readers hungry to understand the implications of the human genome sequence. --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘This clever and ambitious book is full of novel insights and reflections.’ James Le Fanu, Sunday Telegraph
‘Ridley belongs to the coterie that truly pushes science forward and brings it within the broader purlieus of “culture”. Nature via Nurture is another fine contribution to an already outstanding oeuvre.’ Colin Tudge, Independent Magazine
‘An unrivalled view of cutting-edge research into the roots of human behaviour.’ Clive Cookson, Financial Times
‘A balanced, entertaining gallop through the world of environmental influences and genetic impulses.’ Robin McKie, Observer
‘Eminently readable.’ Dylan Evans, Evening Standard
‘Profoundly intelligent and persuasive.’ John Cornwell, Sunday TimesSee all Product description
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Here he selects 12 'Hairy Scientists', some famous (eg Freud, Pavlov, Darwin), some not so famous, and weaves a wonderful story as he takes us through the highs and lows of their research & that of their contemporaries, bringing us right up to date with the Genome. With interesting anecdotes he brings each individual to life.
The 7 moral conclusions at the end were particularly useful, especially No. 2 'being a good parent still matters.'
Given I'm now in the process of reading a similar book with some very poor illustrations, it was only afterwards looking back, that I see that I was entertained & educated without the need for any sketches or diagrams, and yet didn't feel cheated, deprived or confused.
Perhaps this is obvious from the available information, but since I managed to miss it, I thought it was worth warning others. I love Matt Ridley's books (hence the 5), but not enough to want two copies...
In Ridley's view, the striking differences are due to "word order" contained in the genome. All the words are essentially the same, but different locations and different interactions produce different characteristics. Including behaviour. In the six or seven million years since the chimpanzee-human line diverged, lifestyles, diet, social structure and living environment have helped guide how the genome produces a body and how that body will likely act in a given situation. Environment and the genome, then, are in a constant interactive flux. They feed signals through the organism to determine whether the organism will survive and reproduce. Nature isn't in the driver's seat, and if we fail to learn or adapt to the vagaries of environment, we won't survive to have descendants. Nature, then, is achieved via nurture.
All this should seem self-evident in today's world, but Ridley shows we have yet to fully understand and accept our role in Nature. There are few writers as articulate and expressive in dealing with these issues as Ridley. His grasp of the science involved is firm, yet he maintains a conversational tone throughout the narrative. While you will encounter much that is new to you in this book, you may close it [the first time], confident that his explanations have neither overwhelmed you nor left you unsatisfied. Of course, as Ridley points out, there is much work remaining in understanding the genome's impact on life. With luck, this book may impel others to follow his lead and uncover more of life's mysteries. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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