Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nature vs. Nurture

This will seem like a very strange posting, but try to stay with me.  I found a brass bolt in the back of my truck this morning.  It was stripped and had fallen out of a tool that I had repaired some months ago.  I started to throw it away, but then I heard my Dad's voice, and my Granddad's voice, saying "Save that for scrap - it's worth something."  My Granddad had a salvage yard in Southern California after World War II.  My Dad was an auctioneer - he has a barn full of great things that he's saved over the years.  Needless to say, I couldn't bring myself to throw away the bolt.

This made me think - is there something genetic in the Macon clan that makes us hang onto things?  Are we genetically inclined to being pack rats, or is this a learned behavior?  I don't know.  It also made me think about our livestock and our dogs.  Our sheep learn to eat certain plants - the lambs seem to learn from their mothers and from each other.  The ewes eat a more widely varied diet than the lambs.  Do they learn this, or is it genetic?  Our border collies possess tremendous instinct to go around the sheep, which seems to be genetic.  Some handlers I know, who speak without an accent in most cases, have a Scottish burr when they are working their dogs.  Is this because these dogs evolved on the border between Scotland and England and have heard a brogue for many generations?  My friend Roger has a border collie that came from Argentina.  She will sit when given the command in Spanish, which Roger has never used himself.

I've concluded that we learn much of our behavior, but our ability to learn and the ways in which we learn best are genetically coded in some way.  It's fascinating to watch.  Most ewes, when they have their first lambs, know exactly what to do.  Those that don't know how to be a mother don't last long in our flock - we need sheep that know how to do their jobs.

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