THE GENOME CHANGES EVERYTHING (p4)
fit into the wars between people on the nature side and the nurture
side very easily, and one of the things I've tried to do is to get
away from the idea of the nature-nurture debate being a simple pendulum
from one side to the other. The important point about this argument
is that it's empirically driven. It starts with molecular biology.
It starts with Seymour Benzer and other people discovering the genes
involved in learning and memory; it starts with the discovery of
real genes, and what they're actually doing—the work of someone
like Cathy Rankin, a brilliant young scientist in Vancouver who has
essentially observed in real time the changes in the nematode as
it learns a new experience. She's done so by getting the genes to
light up, literally. The cells that are expressing this process light
up. She's also finding that those who have had a social upbringing
behave differently than those with a solitary upbringing—in
other words if they've been to school or been brought up at home,
if you like. These are worms, remember, nematode worms with 302 neurons.
Total. Maximum. No brains. And yet you can see an effect of developmental
upbringing, social upbringing, etc., and it's these same synapses
that are involved in the process of learning and memory. Discoveries
like that are driving this new way of seeing the world, not theories.
And to some extent the theories have got to be a bit humble before
the new data. That's my epistemological position.
What I find happens all the time in this debate is that you say that there are genes involved in, let's say, sex differences, and people say, "Oh no, no, no. Sex differences are social. They've done an experiment that shows that sex differences are socially caused." And I say, yes, sure, sex differences are socially caused. I never said they weren't. I just said there are genes involved too. Indeed, there are genes involved in the social causation. That's the whole point. I don't actually know how sex differences and behavior come about, and I don't think anyone does yet. But it's pretty likely that what happens is a form of prepared learning, whereby there is an instinct for boys to end up one way and girls to end up another. But the way that instinct works is for boys to have an instinct to pick up from the world what boys do, not to arrive in the world with a program in their head saying, "Pick up a stick and go Pow! Pow! Pow! with it." It's "Ah, I like it when people go Pow! Pow! Pow! with sticks. That fits with my perceived way I'm heading in the world." Or I don't, according to which gender I am.