Books such as Richard Dawkinss The Selfish Gene have aroused fierce controversy by arguing for the powerful influence of genes on human behavior. But are we entirely at the mercy of our chromosomes In Are We Hardwired, scientists William R. Clark and Michael Grunstein say the answer is both yes--and...
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Books such as Richard Dawkinss The Selfish Gene have aroused fierce controversy by arguing for the powerful influence of genes on human behavior. But are we entirely at the mercy of our chromosomes In Are We Hardwired, scientists William R. Clark and Michael Grunstein say the answer is both yes--and no. The power and fascination of Are We Hardwired lie in their explanation of that deceptively simple answer. Using eye-opening examples of genetically identical twins who, though raised in different families, have had remarkably parallel lives, the authors show that indeed roughly half of human behavior can be accounted for by DNA. But the picture is quite complicated. Clark and Grunstein take us on a tour of modern genetics and behavioral science, revealing that few elements of behavior depend upon a single gene; complexes of genes, often across chromosomes, drive most of our heredity-based actions. To illustrate this point, they examine the genetic basis, and quirks, of individual behavioral traits--including aggression, sexuality, mental function, eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse. They show that genes and environment are not opposing forces; heredity shapes how we interpret our surroundings, which in turn changes the very structure of our brain. Clearly we are not simply puppets of either influence. Perhaps most interesting, the book suggests that the source of our ability to choose, to act unexpectedly, may lie in the chaos principle: the most minute differences during activation of a single neuron may lead to utterly unpredictable actions. This masterful account of the nature-nurture controversy--at once provocative and informative--answers some of our oldest questions in unexpected new waysfrom via
The notion that our chromosomes might dictate some of our behavior makes DNA a four-letter word to strict nurturists. Yet there is strong evidence that genes do exert an influence over some part of nearly of our personalities. Immunologist William R. Clark and biochemist Michael Grunstein tackle this sticky issue in Are We Hardwired The Role of Genes in Human Behavior, an evenhanded explanation and critique of current thinking on the topic. Exploring twin and family studies, biochemical research into the nervous systems of humans and less complex animals, and specific qualities like aggression, eating, and sexual preference, the authors show that as with most other phenotypic expression, genes interact with each other and with environmental factors to produce tendencies toward behavior. Their thinking is more complex than the journalistic attachment to aggression genes and other such simplifications. They would rather see and understand the intricate array of genes and the proteins they help to create than blame Johnnys brutality on a particular lonely stretch of his Y chromosome. This is exemplified by their refusal to use the word intelligence except when required for historical accuracy; this single concept has caused much more trouble than understanding since its inception. The prose is quiet and easygoing, the scientific explanations are clear but pull no punches, and the authors take great pains to expose the tremendous dangers of eugenics, making Are We Hardwired one of the clearest, most useful books yet published on the nurture-nature debate.