“The entire scheme represents a hierarchically organized system of increasing size, differentiation, and complexity, in which each component affects, and is affected by, all the other components, not only at its own level but at lower and higher levels as well.  Thus, the arrows in Figure12-2 not only go upward from the gene, eventually reaching all the way to the external environment through the activities of the organism, but the arrows of influence return from the external environment through various levels of the organism back to the genes.  While the feedforward or feedupward nature of the genes has always been appreciated from the time of Weismann and Mendel on, the feedbackward or feeddownward influences have usually been thought to stop at the level of the cell membrane.  The newer conception is one of a totally interrelated, fully coactional system in which the activity of the genes themselves can be affected through the cytoplasm of the cell by events originating at any other level in the system, including the external environment.”  (G. Gilbert, Individual Development and Evolution (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 145.)

The article appearing in the 11/8/09 BBC News, “Early Life Stress ‘Changes’ Genes“, sent to me by reader Jon Gluckman, calls attention to evident changes in the genetic structure of mice genes as a result of stress just after birth.  The article wasn’t very specific except to note that changes were observed to occur at the molecular level by researcher Christopher Murgatroyd.  Watson and Crick’s Central Dogma has been adjusted to a less certain position of authority by a number of studies over the last 20 years.  Their discovery of the double helix was astonishing and beautiful, but not as easily understood as was first believed.  It’s looking like DNA is not the code of life, but the score.

When a current composer creates a symphony, he writes or types the notes to appear in a visual format to be provided to the various musicians by the conductor.  The composer does not “code” a symphony; he creates a score that then provides an idea of what the composer had in mind.  Musicians then marshal their assignment into existence by leveraging their skill with the instrument, paying attention to their own feelings, listening to their colleagues, watching the conductor and responding to the audience all at once.  There are at least these five variables impacting each individual performance.  Multiply that by the number of performers in a symphony and we begin to understand the subtlety, complexity and sophistication of DNA.  It’s as much about the environment as it is about the score.  That is the nature of art.

I hypothesize that music is not only a better metaphor than machinery or code for communicating how the genes and the environment relate, but music itself approaches the actual structure of the womb or egg environment engendered to produce an individual.  Art is a peculiarly human undertaking.  Its origins are explored far less often than language or culture, it being assumed that art is a contingent result of language or culture.  Even though art as it manifests in female sexual selection proliferates across the planet in the form of (usually) males displaying features that females like, art is not often explored as that which compelled humans to evolve.

The reason I state that art (in this case, music) was not only instrumental in how humans evolved but is a direct reflection of how evolution operates is because neoteny, the prolongation of ancient ancestor embryo features into the adults of descendants, not only made contemporary adult humans more like our chimpanzee-like embryo progenitors (as in large head, big brain, small jaws, hairless skin, head back on shoulders) but made humans behave like an embryo behaves.  Human adults make art and revel in environmental information to inform inspiration to create.  This is exactly what I hypothesize embryos do.  Embryos take their DNA score and proceed to proliferate growth based upon instructions from the environment.  Just as an audience informs production, the environment guides growth or ontogeny.  Art is not only integral to what it is to be human but is perhaps the most integral feature of what it is to be human.  In addition, art may be also how humans, and life, grow.

In other words, art may not only be the best way to represent those subtle and unique experiences that make life make sense, art may be the best way to understand how life actually unfolds.  Science, seeking to make an experience reproducible by making the number of variables so few that the outcome can be controlled, may be doing the opposite of what life actually engages in if life is to be understood.  Audience and performer, gene score and environment may be central to understanding not only evolution but ontogeny, individual experience and social relations.  Maybe it’s time science allies itself with art and makes itself part of an ensemble.

DNA’s Central Dogma, a great name, created with sensitivity to religious lines that science, with awareness, seeks to cross, needs a new name.  I would suggest Immanent Nature.  DNA’s Immanent Nature instead of Central Dogma suggests porous boundaries with continued awareness of the spiritual connotations.

If what makes humans human is that we directly reflect the processes engaged during earliest ontogeny, and our reflection of those processes compels us to create, then perhaps the unique self awareness also evidenced by humans is a feature of earliest ontogeny.

Immanence may be a feature of the system.


This entry was posted on Thursday, February 4th, 2010 at 8:36 am and is filed under Art, Biology, Neoteny, Ontogeny, Play, Society, Theory, Unconscious. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
2 Comments so far

  1. Mark Stairwalt on February 4, 2010 3:12 pm

    I’d suggest that immanence is even more a feature of jazz improvisation—especially the polyphonic sort heard in New Orleans and later in the avant-garde pioneered by Charles Mingus—which is described by nothing so staid or authoritative as a score delivered from an absent composer, but rather a melody and its harmony being interpreted without a leader, via a shifting set of realtime feedback loops which provide for endless night-to-night variation, all within a self-sufficient, living tradition that unfolds over decades. (As I think saxophonist Phil Woods pointed out regarding the need to at long last move beyond the conventions of European Art Music, “George Washington *won* the war!”) Anyway, the score analogy de-literalizes DNA somewhat the same way jazz de-literalized the melodies, harmonies, and lyrics of Broadway show tunes — and that can only be a good thing, I say.

  2. Andrew on February 4, 2010 3:20 pm

    Indeed! Evolution is nothing but a dance! Perhaps DNA are only the footsteps left after the dancers have moved to another party.

    Your jazz interpretation feels right.

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