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6/11/13

Sparrows, Nature & Nurture

I walk among the shadows of my memories and in the distance I see a boy playing in the hay mow of an Iowa barn built over a century ago by his ancestor.

With his cousins the boy catches sparrows and holds them. The air in the hay mow is sweaty, filled with hay dust, and his skin itches, but the desire to clutch and caress a creature so small makes all that unimportant. They are easy to hold in the hand, their tiny hearts beating against his palm. He lets one go and it flutters up into the loft, then out the winch window and over the pasture. He and his two cousins want to make pets of them but they won't stay, won't cuddle and, he finds, are frightened. The discovery is new for the boy. He instills fear in another creature. As the boy grows he understands that for human society the sparrow represents the beginning of what he calls The Gaps--the disjuncture between what he feels and intends toward another person. He meets people who do not care about The Gaps, what others feel, and do what they want to do anyway. Some of these people, he learns, are brutal, and some of the brutal are psychopaths. The psychopaths see others as sparrows to be crushed in the palm rather than set free.

Like psychopaths, we are all creatures of memories, some good, some bad, and we are all their hostages. We are shaped by environmental memories embedded in us with our lives becoming indebted for better or worse, and we are lucky if helped by our biological memory, our DNA, to flourish in the world. If bad environmental memory and bad DNA get together a bad life has a good chance of resulting, so that it cannot be said biology is destiny but, rather, biology and nurture are destiny. Destiny, not in the metaphysical sense, but in the way that lives go when a fork in the road is taken.

To what extent is destiny a function of biology? and to what extent a function of nurture? Some people are blessed with good nurture, despite the DNA crap shoot, and as Robert Frost wrote about the road not taken, that has made all the difference. This applies to scientists, attorneys, CEOs, school teachers, and bus drivers alike.

In the DNA-nurture mix, an individual was fortunate to have the one offset by the other, and in this video we follow an interesting account of how this offset happened. Sorting through brain scans of his family, he spotted a strange scan, one that didn't belong.  It belonged over in the psychopath pile.



More on this here.

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