New blog about Dr. Heine’s book on DNA. Really timely.
In a new book, DNA Is Not Destiny: The remarkable, completely misunderstood relationship between you and your genes, UBC Psychology Professor Steven Heine debunks the hype surrounding DNA testing and puts to rest our mistaken anxieties about our genes. He explores how our psychological biases make us fatalistic about genetics, and how these biases intersect with such hot-button topics as race, sexual orientation, crime, disease, eugenics, and genetic engineering.
While I was reading this book I felt as if somebody had removed my dark shadow glasses. How relevant is Heine’s study at this time in cultural history: Transformative.
I wish to share with you the information that he studied carefully and at length.
There have been shifts in attitude towards groups of people based on the science of genetics that have driven entire cultures in their choices.
The first stage of DNA study was to invest DNA with some sort of magical, fated imprint that individuals were confined within. Epigenetics became the following field of study. But basically the Nature or Nurture pendulum choices have driven hundreds of years of scientific study.
New experiments have demonstrated that mice who are trained to fear the smell of cherry blossoms will pass the phobia on to proceeding generations.
“A specific phobia learned by one generation was passed in the sperm to the next generations.”
Sir Francis Galton in 1869 became interested in the shared script of twins. He studied 35 sets of identical twins and 20 sets of fraternal twins. His discoveries created an opening in the structures of belief that were shocking to scientists of his day.
One set of twins developed identical tooth aches at the same time in the same tooth. Both needed to undergo extraction. Identical twins who lived apart reported the same dream at the same time. Identical twins selected the same jobs, bought each other the same gifts.
What Galton found in his studies and what more recent experiments have found is that the following things were inherited by individuals who share identical DNA even if they are apart.
belief in a God
belief in racism
love or hatred of jazz
amount and type of passive watching of entertainment.
belief in euthanasia
being a bully
being a hoarder
volunteering to give blood
how happy or content
love of science fiction
likelihood of being mugged (yep true story)
Eric Turkeheimer discovered the “First law of behavioral genetics” which is to assume by default that a trait is inherited until proven otherwise.
However, studies also indicated the environment can contribute to an individual growing to be 11 inches taller than relatives simply by living in a culture that offers more nutrition in childhood.
One definite proof is that contemporary Americans are no longer growing taller each generation simply because of the prevalence of fast food. Their eating is making them less healthy.
People who share the same inherited DNA also respond to the environment in terms of skin color. Descendents of the same family will have lighter skin in Seattle and following generations will have darker skin living in Los Angeles.
An additionally inherited trait is what has been labelled “Cognitive Misers.” These are families that have the trait that causes fear of making an effort. When an individual is caught up in this web he or she needs to work to consciously adopt heuristic methodology. Being aware of how a particular event or opportunity fits into our over existing belief about the nature of reality, allows an individual to move out of past patterning.
In ancient time Hippocrates in 5 BCE structured his belief pattern on the cosmology of the four elements: Phlegm; blood; yellow bile; black bile. This was in the school of thought of essence or essentialism: Things are as they are because of their underlying essence.
Essentialism lead to the craniometrists in the 19th century stating that criminal faces such as “jug ears” demonstrated without need for further evidence that the individual was not to be trusted.
The Japanese belief in blood types is another example of essentialism which reverberates through out our contemporary culture.
The following beliefs are or have been shared in cultures:
deep down and within the body are aspects that cannot be changed.
what a person is is entirely visible on the surface.
“You are what you eat,” belief lead to cannibalism of individuals that were admired in enemy tribes.
essence is perceived to be “natural” or correct in nature.
1/3 of heart transplant recipients felt that they had taken on an aspect of the donor… been transfused with the donor’s essence.
wealthy people, the uber rich and corporate heads belief more completely in essence based thinking. Some people have power essence. Some people have “slave” essence.
So throughout the cycles of exploration of the individual in society there have been shifts in focus from a complete belief in the imprint of nature. The questions of is it a life sentence, or of individual choice keep arising.
(essence) and nurture (environment). The four elements; the idea of soul personality; blood types are all space holders for the concept of essence.
Historically the gene has come to take the place of essence. James Watson declared that, “Our fate is in our genes.” And it has lead to what the author calls the “switched on theory.”
A gene is either switched on or switched off. Genes are “natural” and from God. This line of thinking is what has lead to recent socially held beliefs such as there is an infidelity gene; that divorce is heritable: that I.Q is attached to race.
The difficulty with essence thinking is that it becomes attached to social topics. Gender for instance is imbued with essence thinking.
To be male is inborn, clear, an action driven preordained path.
To be female is to lack power, to be internalized (as their sexual organs are internalized).
The countries in the world which are the most gender neutral and egalitarian are the Netherlands, Finland and Germany. Nigeria and Pakistan have an over arching essence based thinking. And in some of the most economically developed countries in the world, women are still restricted from access to power.
In today’s world 47% of those who are transgendered are fired. The commonly held belief is that they cannot be trusted because they do not accept their fate.
Many political analysts see that George Bush was re-elected primarily because of the same sex issue. The belief in the “un-naturalness” of some people. It was a stereotyped threat to the beliefs of a particular segment of society.
It was also discovered in test studies that those who were lead to believe that homo-sexuality was in the DNA were less likely to condemn individuals. Those who believed that the subjects were making an “un-natural” choice were condemnatory.
So social attitudes towards homo-sexuality depends on the concept of essence. The switch is on. Or the switch is off. It is simplistic thinking at best.
Men with a lot of older brothers are more like to be gay. Is there something in the environment of the mother’s womb that is at work? There are more questions than answers.
In the legal system in Tennessee in 1910 one drop of black blood made you and your off spring black. Classifying people as of higher essence than other people based on their DNA inheritance has lead to eugenetics.
Eugenetics means “good at birth. Certain individuals have been born with a more perfect essence than others. One of the belief systems in North America that is still in place is that intelligence is an inherited “essence.”
Other nations such as Japan believe that skill, intelligence are qualities that a person can build through hard work.
In fact, the intelligence indicators in young children is only 5 points variant different in the entire tested group. This grows to 17 points in adult hood depending on a number of factors. The evidence is that intelligence is not a genetic gift; it is not a sign from God; it is not an essence; it is not a life sentence.
“Intelligence emerges from what we learn about our environment, ” the author reminds us.
The information in this book is absolutely relevant in today’s world where the uber rich see themselves as somehow genetically superior. Those who believe that essence is the divide between people need to know that the switch is not “turned on” for white people, powerful people, successful people. The study of DNA and environment is much more complex. I will go on to present the studies about Eugenics and the horror of cruelty that was enacted in societies across the world based on simplistic construct. Next time!!