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14 November 2002 @ 10:30 am
Consciousness and Genetics (MLP)  
Once again, in the interest of Mindless Link Propagation, two stories from Kuro5hin.org - one about genetic determinism and consciousness(The Blank Slate), and the other about understanding autism and cognitive "disabilitiy" ("Geek Pride" misunderstandings...). Enjoy!
Current Music: Yoko Kanno - The Real Folk Blues
Dierindierin on November 14th, 2002 09:55 pm (UTC)
It seems that, thus far, I have found your links dangerously interesting. I just read through the genetic determinism piece... While I'm not a computational functionalist I agree with his position that genetics have very little to do with human capabilities and behavior (given a "normal brain").

After having a class where the professor continually rants about cannibalism (today's QOTD: "so how do you make human meatballs?") in the context of Chinese fiction, and admonishes us moralistically not to drink and drive, these links are often the most intellectually stimulating part of my day (Cthulhu included)
lyght on November 15th, 2002 05:55 pm (UTC)
As someone who knows just enough about computers to be dangerous, and more than enough about genetics to be cynical about it, I have to say that the Blank Slate dude really doesn't know his shit about genetics. He pissed me off on a couple of other counts, but I'm too lazy at the moment to take him up on anything that I don't feel I have a moral obligation to correct for the sake of my friends' brains.

1) The brain-computer comparison he uses is fucked up, because the bits he explains about how a computer works are analagous to ion channels and action potentials -- waaaay molecular shit that's pretty damn boring but really easy to explain. But he's comparing it to whole-level brain functioning. It's like saying that cookies turn into cookies because you put them in the oven vs. cake turns into cake because you add x amount of flour, y amount of eggs, etc.

2) Secretariat had a heart twice the size of a normal horse's heart. I've never heard anyone mention his gait.

3) Down's syndrome actually is a nuke because they have an extra copy of an entire chromosome. This is not some little accident where one letter in the code screwed up. It's not an atom releasing piles of energy, it's a sledgehammer being taken to a wall.

4) Likewise, the part of the brain that's highly developed in humans relative to other organisms probably had jack shit to do with any such point mutation, or else there'd be brainy kangaroos in austrailia, brainy fish in Lake Superior, and brainy squirrels at Macalester. My theory is a QTL (quantitative trail locus) -- essentially it's multiple copies of a single gene that has a lot to do with how big something gets. In plants they're really important for fruit size, in all organisms they probably have a lot to do with overall size. As a side note, it's also REALLY easy to selectively breed QTLs, so if this is true, getting Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis together created some hardcore intelligence in Dorion Sagan. Which is why he's a magician and poet and not a scientist. :-p

5) I'm not so sure about the overall brain mapping that he talked about either. I've never taken a neuroscience course, though, so I'd probably ask Norsk. My guess, though, is that if people really had as good an idea about those maps as he seems to think we do, there'd be a lot more of this talk going on in the scientific community, since those are the people who kind of spend their lives thinking about it.

All in all, incredibly interesting ideas though that definitely have utility. The order-of-complexity issue is definitely a huge problem that most biologists are currently shying away from. And it's really easy to do when you've just mapped a genome or ten and have some huge bioinformatics processing to do for the next couple of decades. These people just really aren't going to have *time* to think about entire brains when they're so busy naming all the different proteins inside our neurons. This is precisely why I *hate* the current genetics obsession. It gets us off track from how the environment affects life, and everyone knows our surroundings are way more interesting than four letters repeated endlessly. Anyway, I probably would've received it better had he been less blatant about trying to sound scientific, and utterly failing.