Sunday, October 12, 2014

The intersection of genetics and environment

We recently had a dinner involving some extended family members. The conversation ebbed and flowed as it often does. Somehow the topic of particularly gullible people came up, and my older son, now age 24, launched into the tale of a former classmate who was particularly prone to believing whatever she was told, but also decidedly non-curious about the world around her.

To give you but a small glimpse into just how unlikely she was to investigate the workings of the big bad blue orb.... this was a teenager (at the time) in the Internet age who thought that Alaska is an island. Why? Because she and her family had taken a cruise there, and, you know, after all, cruise ships go to islands.

Yes, really.

Anyway, the story, as my son told it, was that there was a high-school class trip to one of those amusement parks that also has a safari park attached. You know... the ones where the animals run relatively free and the customers drive through in a bus, observing the wonder of the African savannah and the like.

The non-curious girl said something like, "Oh wow! Look at the ostriches!"

This caused my son to launch into the following: "Ostriches! Awesome. They are really interesting animals, you know, because of the way an ostrich's life progresses. These ones are big. They must be very young."

"What do you mean? Very young?" she asked.

"Ostriches are the only animal that is born at full size. That's why their eggs are so huge.  They spend the rest of their lives actually getting progressively smaller until, by the time of their deaths, they are relatively small. It's almost like that movie about that Benjamin Button guy. I always figured the author of that book got the story idea from how ostriches are. "

Apparently she sat enraptured with the whole tale, buying into every word.

She then, over the next few days, learned the truth, mostly as a result of earnestly recounting the Amazing Facts About Ostriches that she had learned at the safari park, and facing the appalled reactions of others.

But that's not the good part of the story. Here's the good part. When Kevin retold the tale at dinner, someone said, "How.... OK, never mind how. Why in the world did you make up that elaborate story?"

His answer, pointing to me: "You're kidding me, right? I'm his son. And I learned long ago the comic value of the preposterous story couched as believable fact. This is the man who got me at age seven to eat a roasted-chicken dinner that I had no interest in by telling me the chicken's body was a baboon head."

So proud. So. Fucking. Proud.

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