Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review: 'Super-Genes: Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being'

Review by NearlySilentBob (nom de plume)

Evolution is such a cold subject; it's deterministic, slow, heartless, impersonal and random. Is it any wonder then that fully fifty percent of the population of 'Merica do NOT believe in evolution? Perhaps the way to change all that is to adopt the slogan: "Adapt first, mutate later..."

One thing most people don't know is that Charles Darwin is not the first to write about evolution and the inheritance of adapted traits. It was an idea whose time had come; most scientists knew it was coming so the race was on to figure out exactly HOW is was happening, and HOW THEY COULD PROVE their answer was the right one.That being the case, perhaps we should visit an alternate reality where LaMarck was the father of evolution, instead of Darwin...

In this universe, Darwin published first. When his thoughts on the mechanisms of selection and adaptation were peer reviewed, all the other scientists laughed and said, "We are expected to believe that not one, but two random coincidences are occurring simultaneously? There is a random change in the environment, AND a random mutation that matches the change, both at the same time? And you also claim this happened not just once, but millions of times?" And since Darwin had rushed out his findings so soon, no one really had heard of Gregor Mandel and his new science of genetics. Therefore they rejected Darwin's ideas, stating that they found them to be "unrealistic".

Then along comes Lamarck, with a different mechanism for inheritance. Here's the Wikipedia definition: "Lamarckian inheritance is the idea that an organism can pass on characteristics that it has acquired during its lifetime to its offspring" ,,,, Here is a scenario he might have presented as part of his proof: The Evolution of Longer Beaks in Isolated Finch Populations...

In this scenario, a group of finches have moved into a new territory where the trees have much thicker bark than the trees in the area they originated from. This makes it harder for the birds to find and reach the tasty bugs that live in the tree bark. The birds first learn this harsh fact, and then one by one, they begin to "wish" for longer beaks. This becomes a communal desire in general for the population, and soon almost all of the birds are wishing for longer beaks and learning new methods to use their beaks more effectively. Soon, female birds begin to choose their mates based on beak size and learned abilities..... a few generations pass,...and wham-slam-blam, relatively quickly you have a new population of longer beaked finches who have individually chosen the direction of their own evolution. Instead of waiting for random chance to come up with a solution to their problems, they used sexual selection, learning, and the natural variability that was already there in the population.

Scientists who had been using microscopes to study life quickly devised experiments and confirmed that yes, even bacteria and single celled organisms have the ability to "learn" behavior after a fashion .... Who knew? And so evolution became a science of self-determination where traits were "acquired" and oh, [by the way] some random mutations were probably happening also, but that wasn't considered to be too important...

What happens in this alternate universe after that is anyone's guess. Maybe medicine never declared war on bacteria and antibiotics never got over-prescribed and abused. Perhaps fascism and eugenics never gained much popularity and World War II never happened. Maybe there was some other catastrophe that was even worse for humanity like a Malthusian crisis due to overpopulation... who knows? The point is, here are the roots of the Nature vs. Nurture debate. We know that in THIS REALITY, nature won the argument for most of the twentieth century. Whether the results of that were good or bad is up to the individual to decide. All I'm saying is that perhaps it is time for us to give nurture a little more credibility.

Book Review of "Super Genes" by Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Rudolph Tanzi, PhD

"I've just been plagiarized by a new age doctor and a professor of neurobiology..." was my first thought as I read some of the passages in this book. Which is an odd enough thing to ever have to think, and was quickly followed by my second thought, "now if they would just get off this fixation with health, well being, and longevity they might have something!"

But that's just me, health and longevity were never that important to me, but I know it's a big fad for almost everyone else nowadays. I just can't even tell you how much innovative thinking and new studies are documented by this book without plagiarizing myself and typing out pages of tips and mounting evidence. So here's my review of the book: Buy it!  Don't just rent it from the library, you're going to want to dog ear lots of pages and underline the phrases and ideas you find! The beginning chapters and the end are about theories and new studies. The middle chapters are the ones with the health tips.

For the sake of completeness, I will include here some of the passages that confirm the beginnings of my thoughts on evolution. There is so much more that needs to be changed in our thinking about this subject, but here are some of the points where the authors agree with my original thesis:

"First, evolution must be driven by more than random chance. Second, evolution has to drastically speed up, able to bring changes not in hundreds of thousands or millions of years, but in a single generation.Third, evolution must be self-organizing and thus mindful, allowing for the influence of choice making, learning, and experience."

This book is literally the best thing I have read in this century and is full of science that is explained in easy terms. In addition to the health tips, there is cutting edge research and more great information about the microbiome inside of us (gut bacteria), and how they affect our health. Epigenetics (how genes get turned on and off) and the mind/body connection are also explored and documented. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here

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