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Friday, February 23, 2018

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are our genes in charge (of us)? + News

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Are our genes in charge (of us)?

But first a message from Miguel:
Estimado tertuliano:

Te anunciamos la siguiente conferencia: El Modelo del Grupo Genérico en
Criptografía: demostraciones automáticas, por Miguel Ambrona (IMDEA
Software/UPM) http://blogs.mat.ucm.es/doctorandosmat/
(Seminario 27 de febrero: Miguel Ambrona)

Saludos cordiales,

Tertulia de Matemáticas

Si quieres:
- impartir una conferencia en la tertulia envíanos un mensaje de correo
para tratar los detalles
- darte de baja en la lista de correo envía otro con "Baja" en el campo
"Asunto" del mensaje.
- difundir una noticia de contenido matemático puedes enviárnosla
----------

Back to our topic: Are our genes in charge (of us)?

This is an old problem in new clothes; precisely the clothes of
biological science and genetics. And the old problem is: do we have a
free will or are we determined? The "I" we talk about when we ascribe
desires, wants, mine, me, needs, choice and so on is the same I that
thinks that in many cases we are pursuing something we arrived at
without influence. Sure sometimes we have no choice in what we do or
what we want, but at the mundane level what I want is what I get. If I
want a chocolate ice cream that's what I get.

So why should genes make any difference?

Today we accept that indeed our gens play an important part in our life,
but not the whole part. We are as much determined by our genes as we are
by our environment. And whilst we have little or no option to change our
genes, we certainly have more scope to change our environment.

We don't need to know much to change our environment. A lung full wail
at night would bring one of our parents rushing to see what our problem
is. So it is quite justifiable that we should be concerned about our
genes, because if they do what they are supposed to do, then yes, they
are in charge of what we do. Or at the very least they are in charge of
some serious aspects of our lives. Sometimes the genes are in charge and
sometimes we (I) get to be in charge of some things.

But we can take a different perspective on this question. What if our
genes are some sort of evil deceiver? The same sort of evil deceiver
Descartes talked about. What if my genes are determined in such a way
that I think this chocolate ice cream is very good but in reality the
ice cream is contaminated with some dangerous bacteria? Why should our
genes able to "tell" us whether an ice cream is sweet and chocolate
flavoured but not whether our ice cream is contaminated with something?
There is impressive evidence that some dogs can detect some cancers in
people. Why can't we? At least with chocolate ice cream!

We can understand why we might like chocolate ice cream, it tastes nice.
But why are we unable to taste some sort of toxin, such as salmonella,
which in the scheme of things is more serious since it can kill us but,
not ice cream with a taste of chocolate. Sure salmonella might very well
be a very clever form of bacteria, but why can't we be sufficiently
clever to detect the bacteria before the damage is done. Today we are
able to discover what caused the food poisoning, but that is ex post.

We can argue that our genes are deceiving us in the part that they are
in charge of us by affecting that part of us that we are in charge of.
If genes are partly in charge, they are fully in charge of that part.
Let me give an example. I like oranges and by definition I enjoy orange
juice. So I once entered a pub with friends and asked for an orange
juice whilst at the same time I saw a large jug full of orange juice. By
the end of the evening I was rushing to the A&E with super cramps in my
stomach. It transpired I had a light form of the bacteria from the
orange juice; nothing that wasn't solved by the following day. Today I
know that citrus fruits are very susceptible to salmonella (similar
nasty bugs) and seeing a jug of orange juice in open warm air is an
alarm warning.

But this idea of the genes being some evil deceivers assumes that the
effects of genes are only negative. Sometimes the bit we are in charge
of, tells us to stay away from a certain type of food, but the part the
genes are in charge, maybe the emotions, they are telling it looks good.
And it happens to be true.

So far it seems that just because the genes are sometimes in charge it
does not automatically follow that this is bad for us. And sometimes we
override the genes and the conscious "I" goes against what the genes want.

But there is a problem here. We haven't established that the "I" part,
the part we perceive to be the home of free will, is somehow an
independent entity from our genes; the very same problem Descartes
identified. If we accept that whatever the "I" encompasses, there is
only one set of genes involved. But this implies that some genes get
their way one day and another group of genes get their way irrespective
of whether the "I" is also genes.

Therefore, are our genes in conflict with each other?

Best Lawrence


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from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are our genes in
charge (of us)? + News

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