Nature vs Nurture: What makes Brazil so good

Pele celebrating the 1970 Brazil victory
Reading through Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman’s work, of selectional theory of brain development, he postulates that at birth the genetic instructions in each organism provide general constraints for neural development, but cannot specify the exact location and configuration of each cell.
After birth innate “values”, i.e. adaptive cues (such as “looking for food”), generate behavior and therefore feedback from the environment, which in turns helps “select” the neural configurations that are more suitable for survival. During this on-going process of “learning” the brain develops categories by selectively strengthening or weakening connections between neural groups. Experience “selects” one configuration of neural groups out of all the configurations that are possible.
The functioning of the brain can be explained as resulting from a morphological selection of neural groups. Neural groups “compete” to respond to environmental stimuli. Each brain is therefore different, depending on the stimuli that it encounters during its development.
Adhesion molecules determine the initial structure of neural groups, the “primary repertory”. Behavior determines the secondary repertory. Repertories are organized in “maps”, each map having a specific neural function. A map is a set of neurons in the brain that has a number of links to a set of receptor cells or other maps.
Maps communicate through parallel bidirectional channels, i.e. the “reentrant” signaling. Reentry is not just feedback because there can be many parallel pathways operating simultaneously. The process of reentrant signaling allows a perceptual categorization of the world, i.e. to relate independent stimuli. This ability enables higher level functions such as memory.
In Edelman’s view brain processes are dynamic and stochastic.
The brain is not an “instructional” system but a “selectional” system. It evolves not by changes in a constant set of neurons but by selection of the most valuable neural groups among those that exist since birth. And the elementary unit of this process is not the single neuron, but the neural group.
So in a less fancy way, we can say that it is the interaction between nature and nurture that provides that basis for human development and skill formation. So an Indian might be born with the same set of precursor genes or set of genes as a Brazilian, but with the specialization through experience and innateness taught by the Brazilian way of viewing soccer as a means to a “life solution,” says journalist Lito Cavalcanti, the Brazilian expresses this selection through soccer and an Indian to software.
Many of Brazil’s greatest footballers grew up in favelas – the shanty towns in its sprawling cities. Here, life is hard, and football offers an escape from the crippling poverty. Andrew Benson and John Sinott try and demystify the phenomenon called Brazilian soccer. But maybe somethings are not supposed to be deconstructed and the only appropriate reaction is to lie back and say “Wow.”

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One comment on “Nature vs Nurture: What makes Brazil so good
  1. One important factor and I think, the most important one, is it’s a huge country, not just in area, but the population is ? 180 million! Big number and if it is the major sport there, that’s quite an advantage. And the “myths” article above discussed, playing football as an escape from poverty. There is probably some truth in that and if I am not mistaken, people like Ronaldo don’t care to return to Brazil. I don’t know if Brazil can be called a poor country but it does have a lot of poverty; and fine Englishmen like reknown guitarist Jimmy Page; who was in Led Zeppelin got a medal from the Queen for aiding the poor homeless children of Brazil. We won’t see the shoe on the other foot.

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