… beyond nature & nurture – the epigenome …

There are days when I can’t decide whose eyes to look through. You might ask, ‘has she got multiple personalities? Yes, in a way, I have a crowd inside. Haven’t you? My philosopher has been plaguing me all month, parenting on her mind, so I’ll let her mull over the stuff she tries to make sense of in the hope that peace returns and my poet can smile again.

Yew at Waverley Abbey

Yew at Waverley Abbey

Research in the field of epigenetics validates that experience is trans-generational.  In other words, the trauma and bliss of parents, grandparents … is marked in ways that switch gene-activity on and off, and can, given the right triggers, reactivate dispositions in future generations.  The genetic motherboard, as it were, is continuously over-written by what happens to us in our lifetime, and, based on my understanding, by how we process, interpret and assign meaning to events.

Re: the epigenome, and the power of environment over gene expression– quoted from an article by John Cloud in Times Magazine, Jan 2010

At its most basic, epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed down to at least one successive generation. These patterns of gene expression are governed by the cellular material — the epigenome — that sits on top of the genome, just outside it (hence the prefix epi-, which means above). It is these epigenetic “marks” that tell your genes to switch on or off, to speak loudly or whisper. It is through epigenetic marks that environmental factors like diet, stress and prenatal nutrition can make an imprint on genes that is passed from one generation to the next.
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1952313,00.html#ixzz1VeKwJ9M0

Research focusses on medical benefits, but it would take a blinkered mind not look at the psychological and social factors this research also highlights, a correlation demanding a closer look at initial imprints –the environment in the womb – at birth – and in the early home, including the emotional state of mothers. Improving initial environments for the new-born would reconcile reason with intuition and gradually repair dysfunctions, though healing of any kind and at every stage in life needs re-framing – the healing attitude, glance, voice, and the aesthetics of our surroundings.

The opportunity to tell one’s story can highlight patterns in one’s family. A story lives by its interpretation, which brings its own counsel. And there are creative methods that uncover dynamics based on fears, some stemming from pre-verbal experiences. Each time a person becomes emotionally and cognitively aware of a habitual relationship pattern, a kind of ‘aha’ moment happens that shifts perception, and with it behaviour, which in turn changes future experiences. Better still, if one person in a family (or group) becomes aware of a previously unconscious habit and behaves differently, subtle changes take place that lighten the structure of the whole group. Spooky, you might think. Not so. Meaning changes, a node dissolves, a pattern is released.

Within nature’s unconscious force everything is symbiotically connected to everything else, and it leaves a record of imprints, as in layers of rock, as in the slice of a tree trunk whose rings reveal the weather of many seasons, as in our body tissue. Many people are hesitant to admit their intuitive knowing of another record, one that mirrors the physical – a psychic record – structured outside space and time, and held by meaning.

Not even quantum mechanics has changed our culture’s material attitude. It seems only direct experience will convince the rational mind that we are psychological beings who will continue to energise what has meaning for us. Stories, dreams and myths inform every human ideal, until it requires adjustment, at which point tradition is often fiercely defended.  Science, too, needs to adjust its ideal, and stop functioning as a defence against the collective shadow. We must uphold our relationship with nature and individually face its dark side, listen to how it speaks of the fear we suppress, which usually finds a violent outlet.

As children and teens we are defined by others, first parents, then groups we belong to. Many people are content to belong and thrive. But many more are on the move and live several lives in one lifetime. We grow psychologically faster than our parents. Those who develop the ego-strength to define themselves individually and commit to a purpose are challenged towards self-knowledge, which calls for differentiation, focus, self-analysis, tolerating inner conflict, empathy, humility, discipline … and lots of humour …   It is a process towards psychological integration, and, amidst all the chaos of transition today, a way towards the realization that we and the universe are one, not only one body, but one unified consciousness.

These are my ramblings, inspired by resonating minds. Maybe the funders of molecular biology will widen their perspective and read our genome in a more dynamic way.  As ever, nature is the book, though much depends on the interpretations of its text. I suspect the larger part of any living system needs to be unconscious in order to self-organise … for all of humanity to become conscious would require a collective self that was capable of standing outside of itself, integrated enough to overcome its hubris.

And it does not make one dot of difference if we believe consciousness to be a by-product of the brain, or the brain to be a by-product of consciousness, what matters is that they function together.

*    *    *    *

If you’re interested in the scientific theories that go beyond the selfish gene you might want to explore epigenetics. Here are a few links:

Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb is a lucid book that restores subtlety to evolutionary theory, says Steven Rose


Evolutionary theories are changing …


And the article from which I quoted …



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2 responses to “… beyond nature & nurture – the epigenome …

  1. Absolutely fascinating and such a massive subject really that it is hard to fathom in many ways. There is, I believe a programme on the television this week about the influence of life in the womb I should think that will be interesting. I will read this again because I did feel that it sparked many little things in my brain that I would like to think more about. Thanks for this. – Diane


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