Does Parenting Change the Development of the Brain?

Research suggests that parenting affects the molecular development of the offspring’s brain, at least in rats.

A decade ago Prof. Meaney noticed that newborn rats whose mothers rarely lick and groom them grow up… well, there is a fancy biochemical description for it, but let’s just say that they grow up a bit of a neurotic mess. Pups of attentive moms grow up less fearful, more curious, mellower.

Prof. Meaney and his team then showed that this wasn’t a case of mellow moms having mellow kids and neglectful moms having maladjusted kids, as the DNA-as-destiny crowd would have it. When the scientists switch around the newborns so that rat pups born to attentive moms are reared by standoffish moms, the pups grow up to be extremely stressed out, nearly jumping out of their skins at the slightest stress. Pups born to standoffish moms but reared by attentive ones grow up to be less fearful, more curious, more laid-back, taking stress in stride.

Rearing, it turns out, affects molecules in the brain that catch hold of stress hormones. Licking and grooming increases the number of these receptors. The more such receptors the brain has in the region called the hippocampus, the fewer stress hormones are released; the fewer the stress hormones coursing through its body, the mellower the rat.

It turns out that all newborn rats have a molecular silencer on their stress-receptor gene. In rats reared by standoffish mothers, the silencer remains attached, the scientists will report in the August issue of Nature Neuroscience. As a result, the brain has few stress-hormone receptors and reacts to stress like a skittish horse hearing a gunshot.

But licking and grooming by an attentive mother literally removes the silencer; the molecule is gone. Those baby rats have lots of stress-hormone receptors in their brains and less stress hormone, and they grow up to be curious, unafraid and able to handle stress.

Mellow or Stressed? Mom’s Care Can Alter DNA of Her Offspring, By Sharon Begley, July 16, 2004, Science Journal, Wall Street Journal

Changing Course in Business

Dave Pollard tells a story illustrating small business agility. This is from the series on Natural Enterprise.

When 9/11 happened, an entrepreneur in my community near Toronto, who makes modular portable buildings, knew what he had to do. He phoned up a couple of small trucking colleagues — not the big multinational truckers, but guys who, like himself, could turn their businesses on a dime. Within a few hours several truckloads of portable building components, with an assembly crew riding shotgun, were on their way to Ground Zero. Much of the paperwork was written by hand as they were driving. The truckers contacted their customs brokers at the border to tell them what they were doing. Not only were they not stopped at the border like everyone else, they had a personal two-country police escort to hustle them past the traffic jams and across into New York State. When they got to Ground Zero somehow the rescue workers knew they were coming, cleared them space, gave them masks and let them get to work. The buildings were constructed before any of the larger, local competitors had a chance to even react, and they were used intensively for makeshift housing, medical and supply depots for weeks. The company received a special citation from the City of New York. They got a ton of free publicity and their business continues to boom several years later.

Part altruism, part instinct, all improvisation. When interviewed, the president of the small company said “We didn’t even think about it. We just acted. We just kind of made it up as we went along.”

Traditional “strategic” business planning is a cumbersome process that large enterprises do because, if you’re steering a giant unmanoeverable oil tanker, you need to know hours, even days in advance precisely when and how much to turn the wheel or you’ll end up catastrophically off course. Natural enterprise needs to plan, of course, but it has the opportunity, and the strategic advantage, of being able to do so quickly, even spontaneously…. In natural enterprise, you’re not, except in rare cases for a very brief period of time, using other people’s money, and the process of Filling an Unmet Need eliminates almost all the risk of failure, provided you remain extremely agile and alert, draw collaboratively on the skills and judgement of your partners and advisors, and respond quickly and intelligently to changes affecting the business. That’s what improvisational planning is all about.

Link Natural Enterprise

Is Technology Failing Us?

Some excerpts from a magazine article by Chris Turner on a new direction for technology:

The degradation of the environment is the biggest problem of our age, but the high-tech industry’s primary focus remains on creating gee-whiz gizmos and applications – not green technologies. If as much time, energy and resources were devoted to green tech as they were to wireless devices and’s we could rescue a dying planet. And then we could truly call this a revolution

…Here’s what’s being missed: a cluster of problems that I’ll place under the rough heading “environmental degradation.” I’d hate to imply that any one aspect of the process by which we are making our planet unfit for human life is more troubling than any other, but the one in particular — the one that should really be keeping our engineers and genius inventors up at night, working on solutions — is global warming.

…Can I take it for granted that I don’t need to tell you why the degradation of the environment is the biggest problem of our age? That it is the threat to our livelihood — the World War, the Great Depression, the would-be Nuclear Winter — against which we need to mobilize the full power of our resources? I would like to think I can take this for granted.

…I’d like simply to assume that you know that it — this degradation, this destruction, this systemic poisoning — supersedes the current or near-future state of any national economy. That it is an unfolding calamity far greater than a wave of new tensions in Sino-American relations or another round of violence in the Middle East. That it is not an “issue” the way, say, the balance of powers between federal and provincial governments is an “issue.” That it is a cluster of events — events resulting from human activity on this planet — that are demonstrably, measurably happening. That it is not, therefore, an ideological construct. That while it might be possible to assemble an argument or voice an opinion about clean air and water, and fertile soil, and a habitable climate, that these opinions are not right or wrong so much as utterly irrelevant. That, for example, the sun’s ultraviolet light, when it reaches the earth without being filtered through a layer of ozone, is capable of producing malignant melanoma in the skin tissue of any person, totally regardless of that person’s opinion about the relative importance of “environmental issues.” Can I take all of this for granted?

…There is a high-profile but somewhat superficial reason to posit the idea that green tech (for desperate want of a better catch-all term) could become the elusive Next Big Thing in the high-tech world. That reason is this: Both Bill Gates and Paul Allen have invested heavily in renewable-energy companies. Also, like the various communications technologies before them, green technologies have the potential to create an enormous re-ordering of the business world. “I believe fuel cell vehicles will finally end the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine” — that’s how one starry-eyed evangelist phrased it.

…And because, most of all, these are the things we actually can’t live without. Peer-to-peer technology, the wireless web, Super Bowl commercials starring sock puppets-the relative merits of all of these are open to discussion. Here’s something that isn’t: the absolute, bottom-line necessity of clean air, potable water, fertile soil, climactic conditions favourable to human survival. It’s not debatable, not something to be put off till we all have more time, not a luxury or a lifestyle choice. Surely you understand that. This is the revolution we need.


via Will Pate

Ranchers who practice Holistic Resource Management

Some positive news about the environment.

The palette of the High Plains is subtle. From the moment the sun rises in the enormous sky until the moment it sets in the mountains, the land is flooded with sunlight. As the light hits it wrings out the reds and the greens, drains even purples and oranges into submission. There is color here, but no contrast.
The valley known as Iron Creek would be no different were it not for the fence that runs down its center. The pasture on either side is as muted as the rest of Wyoming; if you saw only one of them, it would blend into the hills without remark. But here, side-by-side, the two places are like night and day.

Undeniably better looking is the east side, Jim Gould’s land. It is thick with native grasses, and the field they make is bumpy and golden. They even wave in the breeze as if consciously trying to look idyllic.

The west side is gray. Its surface is dusty dirt checkered with dried manure and big sage, the official plant of parched lands. Jim tells me that in summer the cows there poke through the barbed wire to drink from his side, for the springs on their land have gone dry. “It’s really that bad,” he says.

Jim calls himself an environmentalist. As caretaker of this land, he values the individual plants, the wildlife, and even the predators that most locals loathe. Yet if he had to choose, he’d call himself a rancher first. His family arrived at this spot in Meeteetse, Wyoming, in the 1870s, and they have raised livestock on it every year since. His work is the same as the guy’s on the west side of the fence; what’s different is how he does it.

A new way of understanding rangelands

Jim Gould practices Holistic Resource Management (HRM). (HRM is also known simply as Holistic Management, or HM.) The first word is meant less metaphysically than literally: cattlemen like Jim think of their ranches not as commodity-producing businesses but as entire ecosystems—wholes. With HRM, cows go from being the sole focus, the raison d’etre, to being tools that serve a larger system. The land does the inverse: it goes from being merely a place to grow cattle to an end in itself. HRM practitioners often call themselves grass farmers rather than cattle ranchers, but really what they are growing is nature.

It is a slow process. The changes begin as soon as you take action, but before you can do anything you must understand the concept. This takes more than reading books; it requires learning to see the land differently. All four ranchers I visited in Wyoming this spring told me it was several years between when they began studying HRM and when they actually changed their operations.

Link GRASS FARMERS: Seeing the big picture

A Good Life: Mountain Guide in the Alps for Seven Decades Dies at 103

ENEVA, June 16 – Ulrich Inderbinen, a Swiss mountain guide who made his last ascent of the Matterhorn at 90, died on Monday in Zermatt. He was 103.

Called King of the Alps by admiring foreign tourists, Mr. Inderbinen died in his sleep at home, according to a family announcement in the daily newspaper Walliser Bote of Brig.

Mr. Inderbinen stopped work only at the age of 95. Even in his 90’s, he regularly climbed peaks of more than 13,200 feet, and estimated that he had stood on the summit of the Matterhorn, which he called “the most beautiful mountain in the world,” at least 370 times. “I have never felt bored,” he once said in an interview with The Associated Press. “That is, unless my clients walk too slowly.”

Link Anita Sharpe

A Good Life: Ray Charles

RayCharlesAndJohnBryantI always felt like I had inside information on Ray Charles from the stories that childhood friend John Bryant told. Ray was a true American success story. Where else could a blind boy from rural poverty rise to a multi-millionaire musical force by combining great talent with hard work?

The plane was about 30,000 feet in the air when John Bryant leaned up in his seat and peered in the cockpit. And there sat his pilot — Ray Charles.

It sounds like the punchline to a tasteless joke, but this was no joke to Bryant. Back in 1975, it was just another concert date to the then-23-year-old drummer and the blind pianist.

“Ray was always good with machines,” Bryant said nearly 30 years later, from his music studio in Dallas, Texas. Bryant recalled how Charles often would direct his private jet in the air while licensed pilots would direct the musician.

Bryant, a Martinsville native, still chuckles at the memory, one of hundreds he has of his former boss who died Thursday at the age of 73.

Charles, the raspy-voiced soul icon behind such staples as “Hit the Road, Jack,” “Georgia on my Mind,” and “What’d I Say,” died of complications from liver disease.

Link Drummer recalls life with ‘The Genius’

Holocaust Survival in a Cave

Off the Face of the Earth By Peter Lane Taylor, National Geographic Adventure Magazine, June/July 2004

Over a decade ago, cave explorer Chris Nicola began his investigation into a little-known tale of Holocaust survival. What he uncovered involved 38 Jews, one of the longest caves on Earth, and 344 days without daylight.

In the spring of 1944, a group of 38 Ukrainian Jews emerged weak and jaundiced from a cave they’d used for nearly a year to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. Nearly fifty years later, one caver began his quest to bring their story of survival to life.

In 1993, veteran caver Chris Nicola became one of the first Americans to explore Ukraine’s famous Gypsum Giant cave systems. While there, during an expedition into the tenth longest cave in the world, his team came across two partially intact stone walls and other signs of habitation. Local residents, who revere the Gypsum Giants as national treasures, told Nicola that a group of Ukrainian Jews spent months in the cave evading the horrors of the Holocaust. No one seemed to know who had survived, however, and some questioned whether any had seen daylight again. Fascinated, Nicola grew determined to learn how people with no prior caving experience or specialized equipment were able to live in such a hostile environment for so long.

Ten years later, after an extensive search, Nicola located six of the cave survivors, most of them members of the extended Stermer family. The story they told was even more remarkable than the legend Nicola had heard while in the Ukraine, involving not one cave hideout, but two, and nearly two years spent underground.

By piecing together interviews with the survivors and artifacts they found while in Ukraine, Nicola and Taylor were able to develop a clear picture of the Jews underground life.

Link National Geographic Adventure Magazine: Holocaust survival

Life, Experience, and Adversity

Rajesh Jain writes:

…we use ‘crucible’ to refer to an intense, meaningful and often transformational experience.”

That is the context for a “crucible experience” – something which transforms us, and shakes and shapes our lives. We have all gone through these experiences in our life – some of these experiences last a short time, others much longer. Either way, they help change us in some way. More often than not, these are intense and deeply personal experiences, which we would rather not talk about. Even thinking about these experiences makes us want to purge them from our memories. But whatever happens, they leave an indelible mark on us for the rest of our life.

Crucible experiences have a way of testing us. They bring out aspects of our personality that we did not know existed. We can think of them in other words (for example, adversity). In each case, they help build our character – be it as an individual or in the workplace. These events can be voluntary – for example, a difficult and dangerious trek we decided to take. At other times, they just happen – leaving us rushing to react. It is also at times like these that we realise whom we are really close to. All in all, the crucible experiences are character-building. While we are going through these experiences, we may wonder why is it happening to us. But later (sometimes much, much later), when we reflect back, we realise that there was definitely some good that came out of it.

Each of our lives is the sum of our experiences. As Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Add to that Benjamin Disraeli’s quote, “There is no education like adversity.” Take them together and you can think of crucible experiences as life’s step functions: each taking us to a new, higher level, as long as we are willing to learn.

From E M E R G I C . o r g

Switching Momentum

I experienced an interesting series of events while playing golf this week. On the third hole, I missed a three-foot birdie putt and went to the next hole angry with myself. Lots of negative thoughts were flooding my mind (how can I play good golf if I miss short birdie putts, I have to take advantage of great opportunities, etc.)

On the next hole (a par 4) I had hit two good shots and I was walking onto the green for a ten-foot birdie putt. I didn’t have a positive attitude about making a ten footer after just missing a three footer. As I walked onto the green, I looked into the deep bunker at the front of the green. Someone had walked into the trap, dug in, hit a shot, and walked out without raking the the trap. I found a rake and smoothed out the deep foot tracks left by the slacker. I felt good about fixing the trap and preventing someone from getting a terrible lie in the trap.

I made the birdie putt.

My next shot on the next hole was a hole-in-one.