Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mind over Matter

Sometimes science comes up with stuff that's weirder than religion. It seems we can influence our DNA in order to teach our offspring what we have learned, as if we're able to reprogram our genes by will-power. Like magic.

A US neuroscience study found that rats conditioned to fear a certain smell (to avoid pain), changed the DNA of their sperm so that their offspring got the same fear – although completely lacking the painful experiences. BBC writes about it here, and here is the scientific report in Nature.

It seems too absurd to be true, as the paradigm of genetics now stands. Generally, genetic change is supposed to happen only by chance, through the time consuming process of mutations, rarely leading to something lasting, even less so to something improving the species. So, we should wait for confirmation from other research, before accepting the above mentioned discovery. Still, it opens for interesting speculation.

The researchers have not yet been able to decide how this reprogramming of the DNA is done in the bodies of the rats, but I'm reminded of a pet theory of mine since many years: the idea that DNA can be altered by will-power.

That would indeed be a tremendous resource in the Darwinistic rat-race of the survival of the fittest, the evolution of the species by natural selection. Being able to stimulate genetic adaptation based on experience, from one generation to the next, would be a wonderful resource for survival of the species. So why would it not have evolved sometime during the billions of years that life has existed and regenerated itself?

It's a bit like the question of life elsewhere in the universe. With so many planets out there, why not?

Maybe evolution has many such surprises in store for us. We've barely more than scratched its surface. Considering the time it's been around, and the countless creatures it has created for countless generations, there's no telling what it has accomplished.

Maybe first of all we need to change the paradigm of Darwinism that states it as a partly passive thing: we may choose with whom we procreate, but we have no way of influencing the traits we duplicate in our offspring. Perhaps we do. Perhaps there's no end to what we can accomplish for the sake of the survival of our species.

And perhaps the very source of that capacity is in the greatest mystery of our being: the conscious mind. Anyway, it's great material for all kinds of fiction.