Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human

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9780060006785: Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human

Acclaimed author Matt Ridley’s thrilling follow-up to his bestseller ‘Genome’. Armed with the extraordinary new discoveries about our genes, Ridley turns his attention to the nature versus nurture debate to bring the first popular account of the roots of human behaviour.

What makes us who we are?

In February 2001 it was announced that the genome contains not 100,000 genes as originally expected but only 30,000. This startling revision led some scientists to conclude that there are simply not enough human genes to account for all the different ways people behave: we must be made by nurture, not nature. Yet again biology was to be stretched on the Procrustean bed of the nature-nurture debate.

Acclaimed science writer Matt Ridley argues that the emerging truth is far more interesting than this myth. Nurture depends on genes, too, and genes need nurture. Genes not only predetermine the broad structure of the brain; they also absorb formative experiences, react to social cues and even run memory. They are consequences as well as causes of the will.

Published fifty years after the discovery of the double helix of DNA, ‘Nature via Nurture’ chronicles a new revolution in our understanding of genes. Ridley recounts the hundred years’ war between the partisans of nature and nurture to explain how this paradoxical creature, the human being, can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. ‘Nature via Nurture’ is an enthralling, up-to-the-minute account of how genes build brains to absorb experience.

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Review:

Nature Via Nurture follows on from Matt Ridley's bestselling Genome. He takes on a centuries-old question: is it nature or nurture that makes us who we are? Ridley asserts that the question itself is a "false dichotomy". Using copious examples of human and animal behaviour, he presents the notion that our environment affects the way our genes express themselves.

Ridley writes that the switches controlling our 30,000 or so genes not only form the structures of our brains but do so in such a way as to cue off the outside environment in a tidy feedback loop of body and behaviour. In fact, it seems clear that we have genetic "thermostats" that are turned up and down by environmental factors. He challenges both scientific and folk concepts, from assumptions of what's malleable in a person to sociobiological theories based solely on the "selfish gene".

Ridley's proof is in the pudding for such touchy subjects as monogamy, aggression, and parenting, which we now understand have some genetic controls. Nevertheless, "the more we understand both our genes and our instincts, the less inevitable they seem". A consummate populariser of science, Ridley once again provides a perfect mix of history, genetics, and sociology for readers hungry to understand the implications of the human genome sequence. --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com

Review:

‘“Nature via Nurture” sets the modern terms for an ancient debate, and at the same time delivers a superb tutorial on contemporary genetics; the feedback loop that embraces genes and environment is generally not well understood. And yet this plasticity, this elegant mutuality, seems crucial if our new understanding of human nature is to inform public policy. These times need a book like this.’ Ian McEwan

‘Lucidly explains the most recent discoveries on what makes us what we are, and how we should think about these discoveries as we ponder who we want to be...A treat, written with insight, wisdom, and style.’ Steven Pinker, author of ‘The Blank Slate’

‘Bracingly intelligent, lucid, balanced – witty, too. “Nature via Nurture” is a scrupulous and charming look at our modern understanding of genes and experience.’ Oliver Sacks

‘A real page-turner. What a superb writer he is, and he seems to get better and better.’ Richard Dawkins, author of ‘The Selfish Gene’

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