Inheritance of acquired characteristics?

I am not surprised at what information-source pops up when I am pondering a question of deep interest to me. Years ago, in a small library which I had never used, when I was researching an issue for one of my books, I happened to turn mistakenly into the aisle next to the one I needed. Just then, incredibly, a book ‘pushed itself’ out in front of me. (This is a statement of complete truth.) It was just the book I needed. How does something like that happen? Has anyone explained satisfactorily the phenomenon known as synchronicity?

This week, while pondering Lamarck’s theory of “organic evolution by inheritable modifications produced in the individual by habit, etc.” (refer Concise Oxford Dictionary), I received the ‘Monash Magazine’ for October 2013. There I found an article by Dr. Gio Braidotti on ‘cell reprogramming’ and ‘epigenetics.’ Cell programming refers to “learning how to switch the identity and function of cells obtained from the human body. … This amounts to the ability to take human cells such as skin cells and, for example, turn them into light-sensitive nerve cells like those in the eye’s retina … “ Isn’t this skill absolutely fantastic? Does my experience also demonstrate that we are somehow enabled to learn that which we want/need to know about?

According to the article, “epigenetics is not an actual entity. Rather, it is a way to organise ‘entities’ – genes, DNA, chromosomes and genomes – in response to biological and environmental cues.” Could this mechanism explain how something learnt through many generations may be subsequently reflected in the structure (eg. the knee pads on camels) or behaviour (monkeys avoiding snakes) of successive generations, apparently without genetic structures being altered, but possibly involved?

Could this mechanism for inter-generational transmission (or inheritance) of acquired characteristics (such as learnt behaviour) now replace an assumed inbuilt purpose? Or, do they work together?


Can we humans ever know?

With only 5 senses and their ‘processor’ the brain, we human are obviously limited in our capacity to perceive this exceedingly complex world in which we live. For instance, there may be maths ‘out there’ which even the best minds may not be able to access. Further, when more than 90% of the known (estimated?) matter in the universe is said to be dark matter/energy, of what use is the Hubble Telescope in seeking to peer into infinite visible space?

I conceive the scope of Hubble’s vision to be equivalent to the size of my little fingernail, relative to (at minimum) the totality of all the space in this our own universe (assuming that one could place a defining perimeter to infinite space).

Then, from our new learning from quantum physics, when a particle can apparently be in more than one place at any one time, and an electron can be both a particle and a wave (so I have read), what can one say about matter, non-matter, and all the other unknowns on the dance floor, in terms of the symbolic and ritualistic relevance of the dance being performed?

Then, from a Western cultural point of view, Plato suggests that what we perceive is not really what is being observed (that is how I understand this great philosopher). As well, the ancient Hindus have postulated that our perception (not the object observed) is (normally?) maya – neither real nor unreal. I am inclined to disagree with both views. When I stub my toes on a near-buried seaside rock, both the material and my pain-filled perception of what happened are quite real!

However, as a simple speculative philosopher myself, I applaud all those – including the scientists who tell us that what they know is what is – for attempting to perceive reality as it might be! But then, in this perceived universe of fog and mirrors, should one listen to those ancient thinkers who profess that, only in deep meditation could one experience Reality?

Regrettably, the bottom line here is that, when those who have thus come to know what Reality actually is, cannot tell us, because such an experience as theirs is beyond words! How frustrating for us Seekers! Of course, those who seek to tell us about the same Reality cannot thereby possibly know. Quo vadis?

Mankind in the universe: can science help?

 During my youth, when I remained curious about what human life is all about, the scientists offered us a stable and durable universe. It was good to know that. Life for an immigrant family in a British colony was somewhat hazardous. Psychological stability can be a relatively scarce commodity.

Then, however, came the Big Bang Theory – effectively something from nothing! There went all that stability and durability. This was followed by the possibility of a Big Crunch, as well as mini-Bangs and mini-Crunches. To me, this is a ghost-like version of the Hindu cosmology, except that we now have complex maths backing up some scientific observations and deep speculations, whereas the more complex Hindu version cannot be tested. It talks about cycles of 8.64 billion years, and even a bigger cycle of 3.11 trillion years. I am left in wonderment.

One can surely ask how some ancient peoples came up with such complex thoughts, as well as measures of the cosmic world which have reportedly varied little from recent scientific observations. See chapter 10 in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ (On the Cosmos).

Modern science is, to me, so full of speculative and tentative conclusions. How useful is it in telling us about all that which encompasses us? Surely we have a long way to go, in the reported light that only about 4% of all matter in the Heavens is visible. Dark matter and dark energy are postulated as representing the rest. If matter is convertible to energy and vice versa, what is this 96% doing?

Then there is the Hubble Telescope. There is much reliance on what it shows us. But, what if what it shows is equivalent to the size of my thumb nail against the totality of all the surfaces on Earth? (Yeah, yeah, I do realise that infinity cannot be so circumscribed.)

So, can we really claim a place, or a role, in the universe we cannot even describe?