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Book Review: The Epigenetics Revolution, Nessa Carey

February 26, 2020

The Epigenetics RevolutionThe Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot of useful information and good attempts made to focus on the purely observational phenomena and not get caught up on parroting Darwinian theoretical dogma, which makes many other mainstream books on biological and evolutionary topics so off-putting to me. The book even suggests in some of the chapters areas where epigenetic influences and modifications can be inherited, opening up the debate about Lamarkian inheritance. To my mind, it is obvious there are going to be such factors as these, and the idea that there are not any and that we can reduce to the theoretical extreme position of the likes of Dawkins is ludicrous. These kinds of positions held purely on dogmatic theoretical grounds are in fact going to block progress in understanding epigenetics, because they insist on a model that makes the epigenetic modifications almost like an epiphenomenon to the fundamental reality of the genetic code, and so we get unnecessarily complicated layers of theory and models to explain these things, akin to Ptolemy’s epicyles all that time ago for an explanation model of the solar system, where the saving of a theoretical dogma, leads to an overly complicated model that becomes a hinderance to furthering our understanding of the reality.

The reality here is perhaps that epigenetics is showing us that there are some deeply involved interactions between organisms and their environments that simply cannot be reduced to random mutations and pure natural selection, but must include an understanding of organisms as agents working to some purpose, rather than in line with a blind mechanism. I am not saying epigenetics shows this to be the case. You cannot get a scientific confirmation of things like this. What I am saying is that the complications presented to us, by this reality of intricate epigenetic modifications clearly suggest to us that we need to think outside the strictures of the Darwinian dogma, to better understand ourselves and all living organisms on this planet. To give one example of this point. The book talks a lot about the influences of diet on epigenetic expression. Now diet is something we can take some control over in our own moral decisions in life, and it can then potentially influence the genetics of our progeny, through the inheritance of certain epigenetic markers. Something like this only makes sense against a back drop of human agency. If we deny human agency, we effect peoples diets badly as they feel they have no influence over their state of being. If we accept a reality of human agency it changes the whole approach to life potentially of millions and billions of people, compared to adopting the creed of neo-darwinism, where we are claimed to be the victims of random mutations and selfish impulses.

So, are we victims of our genetic make-up, or do we have some level of control and responsibility in relation to it? The former opinion had held the field until the emergence of epigenetics, which has now made the latter opinion seem much more likely as the truth. Naturally, our control is limited to certain specific areas, but any level of control is a much more responsible doctrine to be teaching people, growing up trying to make their way in the world, than infecting them with a doctrine telling them they are powerless and hopeless. Such promotion of fatalistic doctrine is irresponsible and is the failing of one generation in our recent past that we need to put right.

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