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

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

Book rating: 05 Paperback

By (author) Matt Ridley

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  • Publisher: HarperPerennial
  • Format: Paperback | 352 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 196mm x 24mm | 200g
  • Publication date: 4 May 2004
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 1841157465
  • ISBN 13: 9781841157467
  • Illustrations note: port
  • Sales rank: 48,803

Product description

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. 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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Author information

Matt Ridley received his BA and D Phil at Oxford researching the evolution of behaviour. He has been science editor, Washington correspondent and American editor of The Economist. He has a regular column in the Daily Telegraph. He is also the author of The Red Queen (1993), The Origins of Virtue (1996) and Genome (1999). Matt Ridley is currently the chairman of The International Centre for Life.

Customer reviews

By Julie 29 Sep 2010 5

I know this has been said a hundred times about this book, but it really does make a complex, scientific topic extremely accessable to an average Joe lacking a PhD in Human Genetics! It is humorous parts, although this does not in any way take from the seriousness of the topic at hand.
It does not provide all the answers to age-old genetic questions, but will certainly stimulate your internal dialogue and allow you to make your own conclusions.

Review quote

'This clever and ambitious book is full of novel insights and reflections.' James Le Fanu, Sunday Telegraph 'Ridley belongs to the coterie that truly pushes science forward and brings it within the broader purlieus of "culture". Nature via Nurture is another fine contribution to an already outstanding oeuvre.' Colin Tudge, Independent Magazine 'An unrivalled view of cutting-edge research into the roots of human behaviour.' Clive Cookson, Financial Times 'A balanced, entertaining gallop through the world of environmental influences and genetic impulses.' Robin McKie, Observer 'Eminently readable.' Dylan Evans, Evening Standard 'Profoundly intelligent and persuasive.' John Cornwell, Sunday Times

Editorial reviews

More on the ongoing debate of whether heredity or environment is in charge of who we are, from the assertive but knowledgeable English science writer Ridley. Rather than just another exercise in stating the mutual dependence/interaction of genetic and environmental factors, the author provides examples of new-found genes that may turn on or off, may be more or less active, may or may not trigger a cascade of other gene actions, depending on circumstances. Nor is "the gene" always well-defined, he states. It can often be spliced in multiple ways, using alternative forms of component parts (the exons) with variable effects in various tissues. So, on the gene side, much variety, and on the nurture side, contexts galore, creating circles of complexity and feedback that render cause-effect statements (a la determinism) moot. Ridley's examples and inferences include genes and their mutations in the course of evolution that influence brain size and neuronal connections, personality, sexuality, language, culture, aggression, and nurturance, but still operate as cogs in the wheel of experience. Ultimately, he declares in favor of free will. He avers that we must replace linear with circular causality, "in which an effect influences its own cause"-sounding just like a physicist talking about quantum mechanics. Before reaching that point, Ridley cites a dozen graybeards over the century who have kept the N/N debate alive, with some kind remarks for Boas and Durkheim, even Lorenz and Tinbergen, but excoriation for Freud, Skinner, and Watson. Trouble is, for all Ridley's celebration of mutuality, some of the evidence he cites, such as twin studies, comes down strongly in terms of genes determining personality; while other data suggest that prenatal and infant experience (albeit via environmental influences on genes) are irrevocable. Certainly not the last word, but a lot of interesting turns of phrase and provocative findings to enrich the all-absorbing study of genes and behavior. (Kirkus Reviews)