Early experiences change DNA in children's brains

...further blurring the distinction between nature and nurture.


"In the perennial question of nature versus nurture, a new study suggests an intriguing connection between the two. Salk Institute scientists report in the journal Science that the type of mothering a female mouse provides her pups actually changes their DNA. The work lends support to studies about how childhood environments affect brain development in humans and could provide insights into neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia..."

"For at least a decade, scientists have known that most cells in the mammalian brain undergo changes to their DNA that make each neuron, for example, slightly different from its neighbor. [...] The team had hypothesized that such changes create potentially helpful diversity among brain cells, fine-tuning function, but might also contribute to neuropsychiatric conditions."

"Neuropsychiatric conditions" being dependent upon the many becoming the one -- and in this context, the activity of such concrete, microscopic components giving strange realization to abstract psycho-social attributes.

Instead of just absent qualia alone, the China brain thought experiment should as much reflect a query of how a multitude of individuals slash their actions can come to internally feel that they are "one". In contrast to an external or 3rd-person perspective of such, where any bewilderment as to how the many can function / behave as a single system was dissolved with the invention of the first complex machines.

"They then looked at DNA from the offspring's hippocampus, which is involved in emotion, memory and some involuntary functions. The team discovered a correlation between maternal care and L1 copy number: mice with attentive mothers had fewer copies of the jumping gene L1, and those with neglectful mothers had more L1 copies, and thus more genetic diversity in their brains."

Correlation status --> Underdetermination.[*] Even if parental attention was persistently fingered as the "culprit" in future studies... While it's nice when there seems to be a single cause for an effect, in biology however it's often plural contributing factors potentially outputting a broad or narrow range of variable results. Thus sometimes yielding conclusions about _X_ that are unstable / flip-flopping over the years.

- - - footnote - - -

[*] Kyle Stanford: At the heart of the underdetermination of scientific theory by evidence is the simple idea that the evidence available to us at a given time may be insufficient to determine what beliefs we should hold in response to it. In a textbook example, if all I know is that you spent $10 on apples and oranges and that apples cost $1 while oranges cost $2, then I know that you did not buy six oranges, but I do not know whether you bought one orange and eight apples, two oranges and six apples, and so on. A simple scientific example can be found in the rationale behind the sensible methodological adage that “correlation does not imply causation”. If watching lots of cartoons causes children to be more violent in their playground behavior, then we should (barring complications) expect to find a correlation between levels of cartoon viewing and violent playground behavior. But that is also what we would expect to find if children who are prone to violence tend to enjoy and seek out cartoons more than other children, or if propensities to violence and increased cartoon viewing are both caused by some third factor (like general parental neglect or excessive consumption of Twinkies). So a high correlation between cartoon viewing and violent playground behavior is evidence that (by itself) simply underdetermines what we should believe about the causal relationship between the two. But it turns out that this simple and familiar predicament only scratches the surface of the various ways in which problems of underdetermination can arise in the course of scientific investigation.


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