Tuesday, July 19, 2005

You are a robot

A Gene for Romance? So It Seems (Ask the Vole) - New York Times

Yes, you are a robot. Perhaps not even conscious in the simplistic way some think of consciousness. This NYT article provides a good update on the way behaviors are coded and executed in fruit flies and voles; an execution as structured and predictable as that of your desktop computer -- including a sort of modular software architecture.

It's extremely likely the same mechanisms program us. To me the most extraordinary finding, however, was how early life experience can alter temperament through persistent changes in gene expression:
A remarkable instance of genome-environment interaction has been discovered in the maternal behavior of rats. Pups that receive lots of licking and grooming from their mothers during the first week of life are less fearful in adulthood and more phlegmatic in response to stress than are pups that get less personal care. Last year, Michael J. Meaney and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal reported that a gene in the brain of the well-groomed pups is chemically modified during the grooming period and remains so throughout life. The modification makes the gene produce more of a product that damps down the brain's stress response.
So a gene can be modified such that it permanently alters temperament, eh? Hmm. What possibilities does that suggest? How about a gene bearing virus that renders a population permanently ... cooperative ...

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