My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Imagining a world where heredity is in control

One can argue that for the period of 3.7 billion years, for which life has existed in our planet, evolution through natural selection has largely shaped our history. The effects of our genetic traits remain strong, especially when it comes to our behavioral patterns. An unconditioned child, yet to be trained on proper behavior by parents, is the best example. It is concerned only with its own survival, is fiercely territorial, and doesn’t respect private property; characteristics not very different from other animals. Genetic factors also determine many of our emotional responses. We still lend ourselves fully to emotions that are result of genetic traits favored by natural selection: love for our own children, attraction to opposite sex, self-interest and general competitive spirit. Genetic traits (nature) also a play a role (together with nurture) in determining our intelligence. An evolutionary explanation is available for even our cravings for fatty food.

However, it is probably the case that the process of evolution through natural selection has become very slow for humans. With reasonably abundant supply of food for many and advances in healthcare, “survival of the fittest” is hardly linked to our biological construct. Parent’s background and nurture through education has emerged as a more potent tool to determine economic and physical well-being of a person. Female literacy and higher education are having worldwide impact on population growth, child-health, sex ratios, and child’s education level and thereby its future.

This process of limiting the role of natural selection is only going to pick up pace in the future. An ever deepening “understanding” of effects of linkages between genetic construct and our lives is helping us “control” restraints imposed through genetic traits. An example of growing “understanding” is research revealing how intelligence is affected by interaction between breast-feeding (nurture) and genetic traits. An example of “control” is how rational drug design methodologies are seeking to provide personalized medicine with an ability to be effective irrespective of genetic differences between patients, thereby eliminating any genetic advantage of a population group.

So how will we react when we have almost completely “understood” how genes affect our lives? Given the challenges anticipated in achieving this, we can expect that by the time scientists have gained full understanding, the general world population would have become largely literate, able to appreciate the implications of such developments. So how will we react then when everyone understands that current haloed norms of meritocracy rest on highly unfair foundations once the relationship between intelligence and genetic traits are firmly established? Will we get alienated from emotions like love for one’s own child, once we understand that these emotions are forced onto us by evolution? Remember, given that wealth is highly unequally distributed today, love for ones own child leads to highly unequal distribution of resources towards development of children from different economic classes. What will be our acceptance of other such evolution induced emotions like competitive spirit? And what if we are able to “control” these hereditary restraints? Will we be able and willing to create a population that starts from an even base with no genetic advantage whatsoever over one another thus finally realizing the Marxist vision? Or will we accept Huxley’s vision of a new caste system where people are factory-produced and stratified based on genetic construct and accordingly assigned a role in society? Interesting times lie ahead, only that we probably won’t live long enough to see how it unfolds.

1 comment:

Regina said...

yeah it's a cause of wonder thanks for posting this!