Everything you have been told is wrong

Reading the Guardian this morning I realised what I find the most exciting in life. It is when I happen upon one of those “everything you have been told is wrong” pieces of knowledge. Today it seems to be in the field of Epigenetics which Wikipedia explains is the study of

anything other than DNA sequence that influences the development of an organism.

In the Peter Forbes book review of “Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey” he explains the puzzle as to why bees have remarkably good memories for an organism so small. The Carey book suggests that:

It is almost certain that memory – a classic nurture problem: we learn something and it becomes biologically encoded – involves epigenetics… some epigenetic changes are so long-lasting they cover several generations: they can be inherited. This flouts one of biology’s most cherished dogmas – taught to all students – namely that changes acquired during life cannot be passed on – the heresy of Lamarckism.

If true this really is a revolution in the making. It means that genes can somehow learn. Learning (by the organism) can somehow be stored around the gene and then passed on down the generations in a form not as a genetic mutation as such but as a regulated control of how the each gene exerts its influence.

It also means that genes have cracked the ‘organisational knowledge management’ problem of how to share learning. Somehow you have to capture the learning, especially if survival depends upon it, and transfer it to the next generation so that they imagine that they have come up with that idea for themselves. Brilliant. Only downside is that we are passing our learning onto our children not our work colleagues.

A final thought, this means that our children may have inherited our traits, values and beliefs not from when we are mature and thoughtful but when we were in our early twenties, making rash decisions, thinking we had complete control of cause and effect and believing that a mechanistic model was an approximation of the world. If we want a better world we should wait till we are in our fifties to have children.

Final finally: there is something familiar in this concept of meaning surrounding the gene in Epigenetics which has parallels with capturing stories in SenseMaker. We used to assume that the story was all that existed to transfer knowledge but now we know that the meaning and intent of the storyteller, the context of why the story was told, is just as (and some may say is more) important and is why a self-signified story is the ultimate aim when exploring the stories of a community.

Now the dilemma, do I buy the hardback or download it at half the price on the kindle?


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