Matt Ridley · 344 pages
Rating: (20.3K votes)
“A true scientist is bored by knowledge; it is the assault on ignorance that motivates him - the mysteries that previous discoveries have revealed.”
“The fuel on which science runs is ignorance. Science is like a hungry furnace that must be fed logs from the forests of ignorance that surround us. In the process, the clearing we call knowledge expands, but the more it expands, the longer its perimeter and the more ignorance comes into view.”
“The genome is a book that wrote itself, continually adding, deleting and amending over four billion years.”
“The genome that we decipher in this generation is but a snapshot of an ever-changing document. There is no definitive edition.”
“Simple determinism, whether of the genetic or environmental kind, is a depressing prospect for those with a fondness for free will.”
“Ecology, like genetics, is not about equilibrium states. It is about change, change and change. Nothing stays the same forever.”
“In a massive, long-term study of 17,000 civil servants, an almost unbelievable conclusion emerged: the status of a person's job was more likely to predict their likelihood of a heart attack than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure.”
“Life is a slippery thing to define, but it consists of two very different skills: the ability to replicate, and the ability to create order.”
“simplicity piled upon simplicity creates complexity.”
“Stress can alter the expression of genes, which can affect the response to stress and so on. Human behavior is therefore unpredictable in the short term, but broadly predictable in the long term.”
“What is truly revolutionary about molecular biology in the post-Watson-Crick era is that it has become digital...the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.' -Richard Dawkins”
“Imagine that the genome is a book.
There are twenty-three chapters, called CHROMOSOMES.
Each chapter contains several thousand stories, called GENES.
Each story is made up of paragraphs, called EXTONS, which are interrupted by advertisements called INTRONS.
Each paragraph is made up of words, called CODONS.
Each word is written in letters called BASES.”
“The gene contains a single 'word', repeated over and over again: CAG, CAG, CAG, CAG ... The repetition continues sometimes just six times, sometimes thirty, sometimes more than a hundred times. Your destiny, your sanity and your life hang by the thread of this repetition. If the 'word' is repeated thirty-five times or fewer, you will be fine.
Most of us have about ten to fifteen repeats. If the 'word' is repeated thirty-nine times or more, you will in mid-life slowly start to lose your balance, grow steadily more incapable of looking after yourself and die prematurely.”
“In the beginning was the word. The word proselytised the sea with its message, copying itself unceasingly and forever. The word discovered how to rearrange chemicals so as to capture little eddies in the stream of entropy and make them live. The word transformed the land surface of the planet from a dusty hell to a verdant paradise. The word eventually blossomed and became sufficiendy ingenious to build a porridgy contraption called a human brain that could discover and be aware of the word itself. My porridgy contraption boggles every time I think this thought.”
“Yet the evidence, from twin studies, from the children of immigrants and from adoption studies, is now staring us in the face: people get their personalities from their genes and from their peers, not from their parents.”
“The genome is as complicated and indeterminate as ordinary life, because it is ordinary life. This should come as a relief. Simple determinism, whether of the genetics or environmental kind, is a depressing prospect for those with a fondness for free will.”
“No horoscope matches this accuracy. No theory of human causality, Freudian, Marxist, Christian or animist, has ever been so precise. No prophet in the Old Testament, no entrail-grazing oracle in ancient Greece, no crystal-ball gypsy clairvoyant on the pier at Bognor Regis ever pretended to tell people exactly when their lives would fall apart, let alone got it right.”
“I think knowledge is a blessing, not a curse. This is especially true in the case of genetic knowledge. To understand the molecular nature of cancer for the first time, to diagnose and prevent Alzheimer’s disease, to discover the secrets of human history, to reconstruct the organisms that populated the pre-Cambrian seas – these seem to me to be immense blessings.”
“Uniqueness is the commodity of glut.”
“If, as a professor, you ask four men and two women each to wear a cotton T-shirt, no deodorant and no perfume, for two nights, then hand these T-shirts to you, you will probably be humored as a mite kinky.”
“Yet to define genes by the diseases they cause is about as absurd as defining organs of the body by the diseases they get: livers are there to cause cirrhosis, hearts to cause heart attacks and brains to cause strokes. It is a measure, not of our knowledge but of our ignorance that this is the way the genome catalogues read. It is literally true that the only thing we know about some genes is that their malfunction causes a particular disease. This is a pitifully small thing to know about a gene, and a terribly misleading one. It leads to the dangerous shorthand that runs as follows: ‘X has got the Wolf-Hirschhorn gene.’ Wrong. We all have the Wolf-Hirschhorn gene, except, ironically, people who have Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. Their sickness is caused by the fact that the gene is missing altogether. In the rest of us, the gene is a positive, not a negative force. The sufferers have the mutation, not the gene.”
“TP53 seems to encode the greater good, like a suicide pill in the mouth of a soldier that dissolves only when it detects evidence that he is about to mutiny.”
“The mind drives the body, which drives the genome.”
“Few debates in the history of science have been conducted with such stupidity as the one about intelligence.”
“In Bletchley, in Britain, in 1943, in total secrecy, a brilliant mathematician, Alan Turing, is seeing his most incisive insight turned into physical reality. Turing has argued that numbers can compute numbers. To crack the Lorentz encoding machines of the German forces, a computer called Colossus has been built based on Turing’s principles: it is a universal machine with a modifiable stored program. Nobody realises it at the time, least of all Turing, but he is probably closer to the mystery of life than anybody else. Heredity is a modifiable stored program; metabolism is a universal machine. The recipe that links them is a code, an abstract message that can be embodied in a chemical, physical or even immaterial form. Its secret is that it can cause itself to be replicated. Anything that can use the resources of the world to get copies of itself made is alive; the most likely form for such a thing to take is a digital message—a number, a script or a word.”
“É claro que não há um único gene, mas há algo infinitamente mais enaltecedor e magnífico: toda uma naturza humana, flexivelmente pré-ordenada em nossos cromossomos e indiossincrática de cada um de nós. Todo mundo tem uma única e distina natureza endógena. Um self.”
“The conclusion that all these studies converge upon is that about half of your IQ was inherited, and less than a fifth was due to the environment you shared with your siblings – the family. The rest came from the womb, the school and outside influences such as peer groups. But even this is misleading. Not only does your IQ change with age, but so does its heritability. As you grow up and accumulate experiences, the influence of your genes increases. What? Surely, it falls off? No: the heritability of childhood IQ is about forty-five per cent, whereas in late adolescence it rises to seventy-five per cent. As you grow up, you gradually express your own innate intelligence and leave behind the influences stamped on you by others. You select the environments that suit your innate tendencies, rather than adjusting your innate tendencies to the environments you find yourself in. This proves two vital things: that genetic influences are not frozen at conception and that environmental influences are not inexorably cumulative. Heritability does not mean immutability.”
“Studies of criminal records of adoptees in Denmark revealed a strong correlation with the criminal record of the biological parent and a very small correlation with the criminal record of the adopting parent – and even that vanished when controlled for peer-group effects, whereby the adopting parents were found to live in more, or less, criminal neighbourhoods according to whether they themselves were criminals.”
“An extraordinarily nimble synthesist, Ridley leaps from chromosome to chromosome in a handy summation of our ever increasing understanding of the roles that genes play in disease, behavior, sexual differences and even intelligence. More important, though, he addresses not only the ethical quandaries faced by contemporary scientists but the reductionist danger in equating inheritability with inevitability.” —The New Yorker”
“Perhaps the heritability of IQ implies something entirely different, something that once and for all proves that Galton’s attempt to discriminate between nature and nurture is misconceived. Consider this apparently fatuous fact. People with high IQ s, on average, have more symmetrical ears than people with low IQ s. Their whole bodies seem to be more symmetrical: foot breadth, ankle breadth, finger length, wrist breadth and elbow breadth each correlates with IQ. In the early 1990s there was revived an old interest in bodily symmetry, because of what it can reveal about the body’s development during early life. Some asymmetries in the body are consistent: the heart is on the left side of the chest, for example, in most people. But other, smaller asymmetries can go randomly in either direction. In some people the left ear is larger than the right; in others, vice versa. The magnitude of this so-called fluctuating asymmetry is a sensitive measure of how much stress the body was under when developing, stress from infections, toxins or poor nutrition. The fact that people with high IQs have more symmetrical bodies suggests that they were subject to fewer developmental stresses in the womb or in childhood. Or rather, that they were more resistant to such stresses. And the resistance may well be heritable. So the heritability of IQ might not be caused by direct ‘genes for intelligence’ at all, but by indirect genes for resistance to toxins or infections – genes in other words that work by interacting with the environment. You inherit not your IQ but your ability to develop a high IQ under certain environmental circumstances. How does one parcel that one into nature and nurture? It is frankly impossible.”
“Indeed, no one should see too much of their own history or future.”
“...and time thickened so that the seconds passed like years.”
“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.”
“For two years, I haven’t given anyone the time of day. Now, here I am, day one into our new life, and I’m ready to straddle this guy on the washer.”
“There is really no such thing as a secret; everybody likes to tell, and everybody does tell.”
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