Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Genetic Mechanism By Which Love Conquers All

Looking for an article posted online because I had browsed it in a waiting room in a paper copy of DISCOVER magazine, I got stuck reading this article:


See, that's the problem with being "a reader" -- doesn't much matter what words are stuck in front of one's nose, you'll read them. Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, 3 thousand year old grocery lists, doesn't matter. Everything is fascinating to a writer.

That's one of the ways you know you're a writer. Everything implies something that could make a story.

So I got stuck on this article on mental illness, a subject which bores me stiff, so of course I got all excited about the Romance story potential in it.

------Quote From Discover--------

Each of our brain cells contains the same set of genes we were born with and uses those genes to build proteins and other molecules throughout its life. The sequence of DNA in those genes is pretty much fixed. For experiences to produce long-term changes in how we behave, they must be somehow able to reach into our brains and alter how those genes work.

Neuroscientists are now mapping that mechanism. Our experiences don’t actually rewrite the genes in our brains, it seems, but they can do something almost as powerful. Glued to our DNA are thousands of molecules that shut some genes off and allow other genes to be active. Our experiences can physically rearrange the pattern of those switches and, in the process, change the way our brain cells work.
------END QUOTE-------------

So then I read the beginning of the article which explains how lab experiments with mice show that a baby mouse that got attention from its mother (licking its fur) grows up to be harder to startle and more willing to explore while a baby mouse that didn't get attention grows up to be a scaredy cat.

Receiving affection changes you. 

I haven't found experiments on how giving affection changes you but I bet it does.

The article does describe how certain proteins stuck to or surrounding certain genes control whether that gene expresses in your body, or not.


Genes may set up the dropdown menu from which your life-choices are made, but experiences can "gray out" items on that dropdown menu.

In other words, they are getting close to solving the problem of "Nature vs. Nurture" and the solution they see right now is the one I've always thought the most likely -- it's not either-or, it's both-and.

Nature (your genes, your astrological natal chart, your starting conditions you can't change now) does set up parameters which govern the shape of your life. But nurture - the things that happen to you, that you draw from your environment by dint of being you - can alter the way your Nature expresses itself.

Then I saw this article on a Discover blog taking another "discovery" to task for being ill designed and executed:


----QUOTE blog--------

that around ~30% of the outcome of financial decisions are heritable. That is, that ~30% of the variation in financial decisions within the population can be accounted for by variation in genes within the population.

-----END QUOTE-------

The blogger challenges the connection between genes and financial decisions, and I don't buy that connection either.

BUT WHAT IF....?????

It makes a great SFR premise, doesn't it?  Your wealth is genetic? 

-------Quote blog--------
Over time shared home environment, what your parents model and teach you, tends to wear off, and gene-environment correlation increases the correspondences between particular genetic makeups and behaviors (i.e., identical twins resemble each other more at maturity than in their youth). For most behavioral traits heritability increases with age.
-------End Quote---------

The idea that your original nurture effect wears off with the years does not correlate well with the idea that these proteins wrapped around your genes can cause the genes to express or not express, and that can be determined by nurture - and changed later by experience or therapy.

In other words, human personality remains PLASTIC through life.

If that's true, then love counts. Finding your soul-mate can change everything. Finding your connection with the Divine can provide the strength to kick an addiction and change your life.

Back to the Discover article on mental illness.

Look at the last page of the article. "Epigenetic" is the term for the proteins bound around genes that control whether the gene expresses. 

-------Quote Discover---------
Depression, for example, may be in many ways an epigenetic disease. Several groups of scientists have mimicked human depression in mice by pitting the animals against each other. If a mouse loses a series of fights against dominant rivals, its personality shifts. It shies away from contact with other mice and moves around less. When the mice are given access to a machine that lets them administer cocaine to themselves, the defeated mice take more of it.
--------End Discover Quote------

The article then describes work on brains of deceased humans, some who lived out normal lives and some who committed suicide, showing a difference very similar to the differences found in defeated mice. The article ends with work done on mice that were depressed by being defeated. An injection into the brain caused the symptoms of depression to dissipate even in adulthood by changing the epigenetics. 

Now, nobody is going to investigate whether finding love in adulthood can change the brain chemistry of humans enough to vanquish depression or other such illnesses.

Nobody is going to investigate the effects on humans of just plain acceptance by others, or niceness in society.

But what is here does suggest that the great dust-up over bullying in school yards may have substance behind it. Being beaten up by mobs of kids can really change you and your chances of success in the world.

Some other kind of experience may predispose humans to diving into a cycle of poverty, gambling, or being unable to hold a job.

There may be more kinds of "assassination" than simply murdering someone, or "character assassination."

It may be that simple unkind words can destroy a life.

Speaking unkindly about anyone may in fact be an act of aggression that has dire consequences.  Maybe it might have consequences to the speaker.

If that's true, then a kind word may save a life, perhaps your own.

Do any of the writers here see the PNR applications to the novel structure element called CONFLICT?  If you write Urban Fantasy with magical rules, this kind of "magic" can make a great conflict source, thematic source, character quirk, or plot.  And we're not even touching on love potions and the ethics behind that.

Faith Healing is for real?

Can you heal yourself by changing your opinion of yourself?

How do you go about that? Do you need help from outside? Can the help of a clinician really do the trick? Or do you need true love?  Or will you resort to an injection into the brain? 

Is the real barrier to finding true love somehow in your brain chemistry itself? Do you need an injection into the brain in order to be capable of pair-bonding?

The SF possibilities for SFR are endless here.

What about kids decanted from artificial wombs then raised in a creche among mostly other kids?

What about kids raised in total isolation from other kids?

If you've been following the developments in nano fabrication, you can see how close we are to having brain implants that can do things like fix blindness and deafness caused by brain malfunctions. All kinds of nano-implants for various purposes are ridiculously close. Research money is currently pouring into projects to use nano-tech to bring solar-power up to where it's cheaper than say coal-fired power plant power.

The spinoff from that power research could be the brain implants, and other nerve replacements that could cure, say, paralysis.

Between implants and chemistry -- personalities can be engineered so that people grow up to have a "talent" and ability for specific jobs.  Do you want government deciding your career before you are born and tailoring you to it? 

Maybe stupidity can be cured? Maybe we can all be engineers?  Who decides? 

The question is, do we want these things imposed from outside, or are we as a society going to get busy and cure most of it with love?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Omigoodness, I could go on discussing this for days! Maria Montessori, Romanian orphanages, Reactive-Attachment disorder, and the love hormone, oxytocin, only scratch the surface.

    "I haven't found experiments on how giving affection changes you but I bet it does."

    Oh, I've read about it and have seen it, but I don't have the source material right here.

  2. "Maybe stupidity can be cured?"

    Yes, because in order for a child to learn she must believe she CAN learn. She cannot believe she can learn unless she believes she's a worthwhile human being. She cannot believe she's worthwhile unless she is loved.

    I recently watched J.K. Rowling interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and she mentioned something a reader once told her that stunned her. The reader said, "You were my childhood."

    Decode that one!

  3. KimberAn:

    Yes, I do think "stupidity" can be cured -- but I'm leery about the cures that might be "sold" or distributed through the current promotion-driven marketplace.

    Also one person's stupidity is another person's "talent" -- i.e. kids who refused to work the fields but sat around reading or making up stories were considered "stupid" because they'd never be able to feed their families.

    It wasn't just the hardness of fieldwork, but training to be able to raise a crop, knowing a sick plant, knowing a weed from a food plant, knowing what to plant next to what to keep bugs off. Farming has always been high tech. So it was "stupid" to refuse to bend your back, to prefer reading BOOKS or writing stories to mucking in the dirt.

    So the question is, do we really want to cure stupidity? How do we define "cure" and how do we define "stupidity?" And should those definitions be a "we" decision, or is it every one for him/herself?

    Oh, we have so many topics to discuss yet! Don't let me forget the list of requests posted on a previous blog post!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. "It may be that simple unkind words can destroy a life.

    Speaking unkindly about anyone may in fact be an act of aggression that has dire consequences. Maybe it might have consequences to the speaker."

    As Suzette Haden Elgin has maintained repeatedly in her "Verbal Self-Defense" books and many other contexts: Toxic language is a health hazard; it does concrete,measurable harm to both the perpetrator and the victim.

  5. "So it was "stupid" to refuse to bend your back, to prefer reading BOOKS or writing stories to mucking in the dirt."

    Oh, yes, I've encountered this attitude before. This brings up something which has always baffled me. I understand it intellectually, but emotionally it baffles me. Parents who believed themselves incapable, who were in fact brilliant, but then encouraged and supported their brilliant children, yet never tried to attain education or whatever they wanted for themselves, always believing themselves to be incapable.

  6. Margaret -- oh, yes, I sing the praises of Suzette Hadin Elgin, (and she's a great fiction writer too).

    KimberAn: a marvelous cliche about twigs and bending comes to mind.