Thursday, April 01, 2010

intelligence is a process

Someone once said to me that process of beginning to understand about the actual nature of reality and how 'things' are, is more akin to a 'remembering' of stuff that's been parked in the corners of the mind than a 'learning' of new things.

This week I've stumbled across a few bits and bobs talking about epigenetics.

'the study of how the environment modifies the way genes are expressed.'

Epigenetics challenges the conventional view that DNA carries all our 'heritable information' and is not subject to influence of external effects or those effects being passed on to further generations.

In essence, a scientific explanation of an element of the buddhist concept of esho funi - oneness of self and the environment.

This extract from the NY Times review of David Shenk's book 'The genius in all of us' tickled me enough to get the book.

Shenk is an advocate of the epigenitics thinking.

'...we’ve tended to see genes as a set of straightforward instructions, a blueprint for constructing a person. Over the last 20 years, however, some scientists have begun to complicate that picture.

“It turns out that the genetic instructions themselves are influenced by other inputs,” Shenk writes. “Genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses and other genes.”

That means there can be no guaranteed genetic windfalls, or fixed genetic limits, bestowed at the moment of conception. Instead there is a continually unfolding interaction between our heredity and our world, a process that may be in some measure under our control.'

In other words, 'intelligence' is not a fixed thing, it's a process.

The first page of Shenk's book features the longer version of the William James nugget in the pic above.

'Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damp, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources...stating the thing broadlt, the human individual lives far within his limits'.

Having said that, James reputedly claimed that it was only when he was under the influence of nitrous oxide that he was able to understand Hegel.

HT to Notes in Samsara

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