Monday, September 12, 2005

Evolving as We Speak

Everybody is talking about a new finding in human genetics. Some papers by Bruce T. Lahn, Ph.D., have been publicized in the BBC, as well as elsewhere. Dr. Lahn thinks that we are "still getting smarter". Two genes in particular have been tentatively traced back to date and place of origin. The first, a brain-related mutation occurring 37,000 years is now represented in 70% of the human species. This is big for two reasons. 1) There are 30% of us who do not carry the gene, and 2) the speed of uptake by the gene pool indicates it is something that makes an impressive difference in fitness.

The second gene is even more interesting. It will make for a lot of very disturbing speculation. It appeared just 5,800 years ago, about the time that civilization began to take off, and is now distributed among approximately 30% of the human population. The related eugenics issues have got to push a lot of hot buttons. Social Darwinism is always lurking in the wings. Moreover, the coincidental time of the gene’s appearance will provoke fundamentalist Christians in unpredictable ways.

The deeper the scientists dig, the more they find. There will be more and more emotionally challenging findings as time goes on. Will we respond with denial and taboo, or with fascination and adaptation? Will we be using this knowledge to modify our society, economy and environment in an inclusive way, to get the best from all, or will we continue to emphasize estrangement from one another, contest, competition, winners and losers?

I believe we are indeed getting smarter, but it’s certainly not completely, or even substantially, a genetic issue. These differences exist, but are not nearly as important as what we choose to do.

9/12/2005 2:46 AM

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At Monday, September 12, 2005 8:28:00 AM, Blogger mal said...

WOW,,,,that blog is loaded with Bombshells! The topic of genetics and eugenics is probably one place where the PC left and the religous right can find common ground, for the wrong reasons. It will be interesting see if eugenics is ever rationally discussed again or if it will automatically be trashed because of its original proponents

as far as getting smarter, consider the impact of "social memory" or the things that we learn as individuals and pass on to the common pool of knowledge that society has. The internet has radically expanded its speed and capacity

We do live in interesting times

At Monday, September 12, 2005 3:32:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Yes. And we all know about interesting times.

At Monday, September 12, 2005 8:59:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...


You should expand on the first paragraph idea. What are those common grounds, and why are they wrong?

At Monday, September 12, 2005 9:05:00 PM, Blogger mal said...

mmmmm, can we just settle for "mildly" interesting, or do we have to interesting or "real" interesting? I can live with a mild curse I think *S*

At Monday, September 12, 2005 9:10:00 PM, Blogger mal said...

JJ, I think the idea of Eugenics has merit. The problem is that the whole idea was so polluted and associated with the Nazis and the holocaust that I am not sure anyone can discuss it rationally

At Tuesday, September 13, 2005 1:12:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I don't know whether its a good idea, but I can tell you that people are going to do it anyway, mostly to themselves. In China they already choose to eliminate girl babies, a eugenics program which will cause them great problems in the future. People in the US sometimes choose to abort fetuses with certain genetic diseases. People today are also very apt to choose their mates, at least partially, for conscious reasons of perceived fitness. You may love someone, but you might choose not to reproduce with them. These things would not have happened as easily before birth control and genetics technology were available.

How to evaluate these choices depends on the particular values that you find appropriate. Personally, I see anything that reduces the universe of variety within the gene pool as very suspicious. Measures to reduce suffering may possibly be considered justifiable. Measures to increase attractiveness or IQ are going to squeeze the normal curve to one side, reducing our collective ability to respond to unforseen circumstances. Measures to preserve unusual characteristics, however, could work to our advantage.

Whatever we may wish, people can't be stopped from taking steps to "help" their children. Our biggest social input is to make sure they are educated enough to make wise choices.


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