The assertion made in the final sentence of the previous blog, may appear to run counter to the view that seemed to hold for a time, i.e. to the effect that the brain’s development is “genetically ‘hardwired’”. In one important sense of course this is true, in that genes do direct much of the brain’s initial development. In other words, although the basic wiring ‘plan’ of the brain is unquestionably shaped by proteins supplied by genes, other factors – experience especially – dictate how our genes are ultimately expressed. Thus – as in the cases of illness such as cancer – genes alone by no means possess a final or absolute power to determine or predict the onset of malignancy. This is most likely due to the involvement of other influential factors, such as diet, exercise, bodyweight and other behavioural and environmental inputs and consequences.
It is worth pausing briefly to interpret this into a real life scenario. The fact that one may have been found to be carrying a gene for – say – breast cancer in no way means that breast cancer will inevitably ensue. Rather and only does it heighten the risk of such an illness, given the presence and input of predisposing behavioural/attitudinal/ psychosocial factors and influences, e.g. diet, life style etc., some of which it is relatively easy to sufficiently modify or change altogether. How we are coping at this precise moment in time is not only a function of what has been given in our genes, but also of previous and present responses, via learning, attitude, belief, conviction etc. The past has undoubtedly shaped how we were and continues to shape how we are; but only in so far as our present responses continue to follow in the same train as those in our pasts. On the other hand, if my present views, opinions, beliefs and attitudes altar significantly, my state of mind and ensuing coping behaviour will – must – reflect that change. This is the measure of how free we are.
Written contributions such as these (in whatever form) represent no more than an attempt (admittedly at times in a schematic and therefore a wholly inadequate way) to “pay tribute” to, if you like, the “ancestor” in us of every succeeding generation. It was William James who maintained that there are at least three persons in every individual, namely, the person we see ourselves to be, the person that others believe us to be and the person we actually are. Charles Handy, in his volume entitled “MYSELF and other important matters” (published by Arrow Books, 2007) tells of an occasion when, at an Art Festival, a stranger who had been looking at the entries approached him. “I understand that Charles Handy is here “, he said: to which CH responded; “ Indeed he is…I am he”. Apparently, the stranger looked at him somewhat dubiously for a moment before further enquiring, “Are you sure?
The absolute truth is however that in some sense and form however, we represent – albeit at times to the remotest degree – every individual from the very beginning of man, with whom we have shared and continue to share our heredity. Yet all of this and more of this potential ‘treasure store’ will, in terms of today’s requirements, be at least partially wasted, unless and until we come to perceive something of its true purpose and potential for broadening and strengthening our adaptability and hence our capacity to cope with whatever life may ‘throw up’. (C)SB.