My review of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, Carl Zimmer‘s wonderful new book on heredity, just appeared in the latest number of The Atlantic. The book casts a long shadow, covering history, science, medicine, and agriculture, all woven together by Zimmer’s energetic yet reflective reportage.
My essay plucked just one theme out of many in the book— Genotopia readers will recognize my interest in destabilizing the textbook gene as the self-evident foundation of all life. Zimmer does this beautifully, describing not just one heredity but many, interwoven, flowing in many directions at once. It helps put heredity on a more equal footing with environment and experience; something that seems to me both politically important and profoundly true.
She Has Her Mother’s Laugh earns the Genotopia Anti-Deterministic Seal of Approval!
2 thoughts on “Your DNA is Weirder than You Think”
“Evolution is cleverer than you are,” says Nathaniel in his Atlantic article. But human cleverness is a product of evolution Nathaniel. Evolution has wired us to reproduce, but evolution has also made us clever enough to use contraceptives. If we were to design a giraffe from scratch we would cleverly draw a nerve going directly from its brain to its larynx so that it could give alarm calls. Evolution has sent the nerve down its neck to the thorax and then back up the neck to end up in its larynx. Fortunately so far evolution has not produced a predator that is so swift that the few microseconds delay in giving the call has mattered.
Yes of course: The giraffe’s neck, the vertebrate eye, the vestigial floating hipbone of cetaceans… there are perhaps infinite examples of evolution-the-tinkerer, not evolution -the-designer. But that doesn’t discount my point that we constantly overestimate our own cleverness and underestimate that of Nature–and that we do so at our peril.
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