Is Heredity Destiny? A Matter of Family Ghosts and Genetic Memory...

An overview of the structure of DNA.Structure of DNA Image via Wikipedia
Heredity haunts us and genetic memory is an intriguing notion: it is based on the idea that fragments of memory could be handed down to us through our DNA. Many of the things we know and think we have learned are actually innate

We are born not only with genetic physical traits, blue eyes and red hair like Grandma, but with specific knowledge and skills. 

We are not a virgin slate on which Education and Life draw our Character. Much of it (if not all) is already there from the start. 

Heredity is Destiny. 

Or is it?

How Much Do We Inherit from our Forebears? 

Are we the product of heredity? Are we the prisoners of our genes? Do DNA strands determine how we act, how we feel? That's a highly debatable question. And it gets the proponents of the virgin slate (usually educators) really angry: they are firm believers that what we are is the result of education or experience. 

I lean in another direction. I like to believe in free will. I like the notion that we can choose, that we are not beholden to either our genes or our education. That our life is in our hands. Each one of us is a unique individual and not the replica of some forgotten forebear, nor the product of principles taught by family and school! 

On the other hand, I can accept the notion that, as a minimum, we are predisposed towards certain values and skills. Some of us are naturally generous, others short-tempered and egotistical. Some have a talent for music, others are tone deaf. For instance, I'm a hopeless mathematician and a great doodler - always was.

I recently googled the notion and was amazed to read the results (no, I didn't read all 12 million of them!). The subject seems to inspire an astounding number of complex theories. There were obscure references to difficult notions such as Carl Jung's archetypes and Sheldrake's "morphic fields". 

Fortunately Wikipedia (ah, what would we do without it?) was reassuring on one point. It reported that scientists now generally consider genetic traits as "dispositional", that is they encode the way one reacts to stimuli, and they do not transfer the actual memory or experience. 

Phew, that's reassuring, isn't it? 

Some Strange Results of Genetic Memory Tests...

But tests have been carried out on animals and the results can be worrying, to say the least. 

There was this particular one that caught my attention. A first generation group of mice was taught how to get through a specific maze, and it took them weeks or months to learn. A year later, the offspring were made to go through the same maze, and it took them half the time. 

The next generation was even faster and several generations down the road, they managed it in 30 seconds, without ever having seen the maze before.


Are We Conditioned by our Family's Past?

So are childhood memories and teenage experiences not quite the maturing events we think they are? Is whatever we're good at something we've inherited from our forebears? Are we not responsible for our successes and also for our failures?

The notion of heredity implies that we are not responsible for our talents (or our shortcomings) anymore than for our blue (or brown) eyes. We just drew the lucky ticket in Life's Lottery - or the unlucky one!

I am not me, you are not you, we're both the results of genetic chance

The notion is terrifying...or is it? 

You could look at it another way. What if it only meant that we're part of one great family - the human family - past and present? But isn't that a little abstract? How can we handle this terrifying notion?

What's Your Opinion? 
I've worked on this notion for years - as a novelist. In fact, genetic inheritance is the issue at the heart of my trilogy  Fear of the PastFor the protagonist, meeting the ghosts of his forebears is a traumatizing coming-of-age experience. Unlike us (we don't normally meet the ghosts of all our forebears going back 900 years!), he is in the unique position of finding out exactly who he takes after. That's hard to recover from, particularly as he learns how his look-alike forebears lived, how they handled their work life, their loves, and in particular their failures...He eventually realizes he's been dealt the same genetic cards, but how he plays them is up to him. 

And I think that you'll agree that by the third book, the protagonist finally reaches maturity, not without having first gone through some harrowing experiences!

Take a look, I'd love to know what you think! Do you agree that heredity deals you your cards, but how you play the life game is up to you?

Book 1, FEAR OF THE PAST, is available on:

The sequel, RECLAIM THE PRESENT is due out shortly, and Book 3, REMEMBER THE FUTURE comes out in November. 

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