Last night’s Cafe featured an introduction from Dr Anthony Isles to some of the epigenetic mechanisms currently being studied by scientists, and their possible effects on gene expression, together with a talk from Dr Michael Arribas-Ayllon on some of the potential social implications of epigenetic phenomena – for our understanding of gene-environment interactions, a renewed appreciation of the significance of class, and for our sense of intergenerational responsibility.

Streamed MP3s of these talks can be listened to by clicking on the ‘play’ arrows below.

Dr Anthony Isles:

Dr Michael Arribas-Ayllon:

Alternatively, downloadable MP3s can be found here and here.

UPDATE: Copies of the speakers’ presentations can now also be downloaded (click below, Powerpoint format, 1.91Mb/3.0Mb):

Dr Anthony Isles

Dr Michael Arribas-Ayllon

6 thoughts on “Epigenetics Cafe: Audio Available”

  1. [I lost my whole post again and must rewrite it after the request to fill in the required fields]

    The talk gave a list of intriguing facts about epigenetics, genetics, and environment though it can be argued, against the speakers, that none of these facts could inform us of what it is to be human.

    Epigenetics, genetics, and environment are facts that are manifested, identified, and assembled as physical facts from the working concept of what it is to be human. They cannot, therefore, inform us of what it is to be human. They can, however, fix our image of what it is to be human and give us the technical ability to coerce or persuade particular groups or individuals to conform to that image.

    And for this attendee, that’s the very real danger that can come from misrepresenting these studies, a danger that runs through the whole shipwreck of presumptive claims made on behalf of this science. Some heat was generated on the night because of this. I suggested that the speakers were misrepresenting these studies but, it must be said, that is par for the course in this field.

    There is the danger of eugenics of course, of misapplication of these studies. But my point wasn’t limited to a mere misapplication. It is logically impossible, from the argument above, for these studies to be informative about who we are. To suggest otherwise, as the speakers did, is radically, seductively dangerous, and bad philosophy. A stimulating night again, though.

    1. I have no idea what you are talking about John, but the talk was on epigenetics not what it is to be human. Maybe that was an earlier talk?

  2. Epigenetics, like neuroscience and genetics, is a tool that can be used to physically alter us according to our preferences and needs.

    But, I was arguing, it cannot be used as a source of information on human behaviour, values, or experience. So we can’t really ask how epigenetics challenges our view of what it is to be human – it doesn’t challenge it.

  3. Ah so you were thinking that epigenetics ” cannot be used as a source of information on human behaviour, values, or experience”.

    I don’t think this is the right way to think about it.

    My understanding of the talks were that:


    1: Epigenetics can identify specific environmental factors (smoking, drugs, nutrition, stressors) that contribute towards certain heritable disease states (depression) or difference in brain functioning


    2: Certain disease states and differences in brain functioning have consequences for behaviour and experience


    3: Epigenetics has consequences for behaviour and experience.

  4. Epigenetic chemistry, like genetics, takes its examples from human behaviour, it does not provide us with examples of human behaviour. So it can’t provide us with new information about human behaviour.

    For example, disease brain states aren’t classed as diseases on the grounds that the epigenetic brain chemistry (or some such) informs us that they are diseases. We take what we see as the disease first, and then describe its chemistry. We then call the chemistry a disease state.

    The idea that brain diseases have consequences for behaviour leads us astray. It’s not quite the right way to look at it; here’s the right way: the behaviour is classed as disease behaviour in the first instance, and THEN the brain chemistry associated with it is called a disease “state” (a hybrid term of physics and morals).

    This is why I said that epigenetics cannot tell us what is a disease or not a disease. In fact, one of the visiting prof’s in another cafe event admitted as much.

    My view is that genetics, psychology/psychiatry, and the neurosciences generally, provide fictitious, damaging, accounts of human nature that are intellectually shored up by bad philosophy, driven by contemporary taboos and traditions, sustained by chemical entrepreneurialism, and enforced by clinicians acting as a moral arm of government. Skewed reductive reasoning, particularly the confusion of cause with association, is one of the main ploys of, what shall we call it, this moral feudalism. It won’t last, you know.

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