the G- word, reply to Whitehead

Mike Lieber (U28550@UICVM.BITNET)
Fri, 16 Dec 1994 08:58:44 CST

Neither I nor anyone else that I know of are trying to read genes out of
anthropological or any other sort of discussion. Genes code essential
information in the operation of cells and are responsible for the operation
of any organism's ground plan. It is the promiscuous, undemonstrated use of
DNA as an explanation for the operation of the highest levels of the
organism-environment relationship that has been rightfully under fire.
If learning bias explains anything, it will explain not only inter-species
differences, but also intra-species differences as well, but not in any
straightforward way. I have in mind some striking differences in various
breeds of dogs, in particular differences in what each breed attends to
in its environment and the sorts of relational structures it forms with
other dogs, trainers, and things in the environment. Clearly, the nervous
organizations of these breeds are different--how different I do not know. I
suspect that it doesn't take all that much of an organizational difference at
the nerve net level to get pretty big differences at the behavioral level.
What I want to know is if there is some good neurobiological work on this
kind of thing. Surely genes must be involved in such differences, but the
gene action could be extremely subtle at a lower level and still produce
a less subtle variation in nervous organization at a higher level. There
is nothing subtle, however, and how a Basenji relates to its environment as
contrasted with how a spaniel relates to its environment. These are
consistent differences over the entire breed. I'm not ready to dismiss gene
action as explanatory. But I want to know precisely how gene action
operates in nerve net formation and which alleles operate to form which
differences in which populations. Let us not throw out the baby with the
bath water.
Mike Lieber