Friday, September 25, 2015

On DNA And Traits And The Murder Of The Mind

One of the great things that happened in the past forty or so years is the preservation, revival and promotion of old varieties of apples.   The FEDCO coop, here in Maine was involved with a lot of that effort, as it happens I just got their annual tree and plant catalog in the mail the other day, even as I was contemplating the issues of DNA, traits and associated things.   And as I've been picking apples from the trees we planted from their catalog.   The wonderful sweet, dry chestnut apples, classified as crab apples but bigger than any crab apples I've ever seen have been coming in for a while, the great fameuse apples from an old Quebec variety are at their peak right now, the late black oxfords from a very old tree my own Oxford county have yet to turn black - some of them really do look black.  All of them with their own, subtle and not so subtle qualities that vary from year to year, rivaling the subtitles of wine varieties.   I would think that organized apple tasting parties could be a thing, a table, perhaps of four, quartering, tasting and making artistic, adjective and adverb laced comments on the various varieties.

Anyway, apples from a single tree are a good example of why just saying "DNA" doesn't tell you nearly everything about even one organism, not its physical aspects, certainly not everything about our minds.

Apples from a single tree will produce an effective infinity of  different skin color patterns, you will get different patterns from apples growing right next to each other on the same tree.  Apples growing right next to each other will be of different sizes and shapes, as well. Sometimes you'd be hard put to come up with a reason for that, though reason there must have been to create the difference even though the DNA is the same for both apples and, presumably, the biological function of the apples is the same.  Since the function of an apple (in so far as human beings have discerned) is to make and carry seeds, the reproductive function of the tree, the fate of those apples and their seeds would be a rather important aspect of the evolutionary place of that tree and its potential offspring.   In that case the different appearance of different apples might be quite an issue.  Which apple will be attacked by various parasites could be an issue of appearance, some insect parasites of apples being attracted to red, perhaps.  Which apples will be chosen to be eaten by which mammal after it falls to the ground, perhaps, has a role in which seeds will be moved from under the shade of the mother tree.

Is the appearance of the apples a biological trait?   If it is one that trait exists in a range of possibilities on any given tree, all of those possibilities produced by the same DNA in one tree, under varying conditions and as a result, I would guess, of many random factors that the DNA doesn't have anything to do with.  How can you discern which part of those ranges of factors will account for what happens to the tree and its fruit and the seeds in those apples?    I don't think it makes any sense to talk about "DNA" as an explanation of what is seen on the tree and as an explanation of the enormous range of factors in determining which seed, out of the thousands that tree may produce in its lifetime will, on average, grow in the wild and pass on its line of life into future generations of trees, if any of them do.   It would be interesting to know what the rate of that biological success is for any given apple tree in the wild, in central Asia where apples are believed to have originated where enormous numbers of cultivars grow in the wild,  not waiting to be discovered by human beings but living for whatever reason those apples and their ancestors lived entirely unnoticed by human beings for millions of years.

I really wonder why the fact that "traits" are a matter of human perception and articulation, trying to dissect those out of the vast myriad of aspects of the whole life of a tree and its potential and actual, surviving descendants, which trees continue in the line of life, which don't, doesn't seem to be considered.   None of those "traits" exists apart from any of the other "traits" known and unknown in any given tree growing in its particular location, subject to enormous numbers of possible, decisive, events and actions by other organisms which will determine which "traits" lead to which trees reproduce successfully and which don't.   I doubt to talk about any "trait" as decisive in that happening across an entire variety of apples in the wild makes much sense, never mind across the entire Malus genus with its many, varied, named species.  

And that's only a tiny range of visible, physical "traits" in apple trees that would have to be teased out and for which our explanations are a spotty, vague, and probably deceptively, hopefully and wrongly regarded complete explanation of.   If apple trees have any kind of purpose, it is quite likely to never be translatable into our animal consciousness, appearing invisible and non-existent to us.  We can't even admit to the more obvious purposes of our own lives, scientifically, pretending that has nothing to do with anything because the implications are intolerable to our modernistic, scientistic sensibilities.  Fashion, really.

We throw terms like "trait" around and think we've come up with far more of an explanation of reality in doing that than we really have.  We're fooling ourselves about the completeness of our knowledge because it sounds far more impressive to think we've more than scratched the surface and we like feeling impressive to other people who are impressed by such talk.  In subjecting life to the same habits of thought that so successfully - though still partially - treated inert objects in motion and combination, we've overlooked how vastly complex life is.  That habit has also led us into denial of the simple fact that living beings are far more than mere non-living objects.  Doing that is what a career in the life sciences has devolved into.  And what they insist on in their professional lives extends to human and, certainly, animal minds, which must be defined out of anything not of a physical character.   But it little profits a thinker to gain the world and lose their mind, which is what that problem I've been dealing with this week amounts to.  The materialist program of radically reducing everything to things so the materialists can gain status by seeming so sciency forces the reduction of the mind doing it to nothing.  There's a story about the consequences of eating of the tree of knowledge producing death. I fear that metaphor was one of the more apt ones created by those derided and mocked "goat herders".  I suspect as goat herders they knew their apples a lot better than the guys who buy them in the grocery store and never look at them on the tree.   Or whatever fruit it was.  They were looking at real, living organisms, experiencing them in their real lives, not trying to shoe horn them into a narrow enough frame to get published in Nature or some other magazine. They're the ancestors of those farmers who cultivated and propagated the huge range of old varieties that were almost crushed out of existence by scientific agriculture in the past century.   Lord help us once they start engineering the DNA of apples for commercial purposes.

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