Cause and effect

Issue section: 
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Parrington’s article in my view suffers from two main weaknesses.

One is his attack on what he calls “the standard view that the genome changes only very gradually”. Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel says that experience does have an effect on genes, but solely within the brain, and quite categorically rules out experience being carried over to the next generation through the genes.

Kandel, like so many others, sees no problem in accepting both tenants: conservatism when it comes to DNA reproduction and extreme flexibility within one’s own life span.

Contrary to Parrington Kandel expressly rejects any kind of Lamarckism. If Lamarck were in any way right, this would represent an open door to racist ideas.

So if a population had lived for many generations under very oppressive conditions, you would expect them to be incapable of revolution and very different from other populations who had lived under less repressive regimes.

Second Parrington mixes cause and effect. As materialists we take it for granted that thoughts, experience and memory must have a correspondence within the brain. Some of this can even be located within different regions of the brain and new connections between nerve cells actually observed and even manipulated.

But even if useful in medical research this is not the same thing as actually understanding the brain. It’s our active participation in all aspects of social life, including the physical, which shapes us, and any understanding of humans must start from there.

David Paenson, Frankfurt, Germany