December 28. Genetics, Evolution and Consciousness.

Ok so let’s start heavy. I’ll add older ideas and theories I’ve had as I remember them, but for now this one came today. My husband and I were discussing the changing brain and the adaptability of humans. And I wondered:

Could conscious thought and adaptation be the biological stimulant to the evolutionary process? 

My general opinion is that the brain is highly adaptable, including the way we think and while there are extreme examples of post-trauma changes (reading about brain plasticity is worthwhile if you’re interested in that kind of thing) and the way the brain can be ‘rewired’ to do old things in a new way, I believe that overall it works on a priority system. We can change the way we think if it’s important enough for us to do so. Sure, if war and strife suddenly hit a previously peaceful society, people have to adapt and change how they think in order to protect their survival. This is again an extreme example. But are the ones who do this successfully the ones who place more weight on that change? Are the people who do seemingly unthinkably silly things and end up victims of their new environment just those people who didn’t put enough value in changing the way they thought about their world? Look at changing your mood – becoming more optimistic is all about changing thought. It’s a change of thought that allows us to change the perspective with which we look at things, after all. If this is important enough to us – then I believe that is all it takes.

*Please note I’m not talking about mental illness, depression or other scenarios that are like that. We’re working off a basis of healthy mind. I do believe the ability to change is within those with some mental illnesses, but I believe it is a different process, and one that really is about changing thinking in order to accept help to recover when that is an option.

I don’t have many answers, so you’ll see a lot of question marks. I’m always interested in what anyone else might have to say.

So following that original discussion, I started to consider evolution. Along with that I thought about things like medication.

What’s the connection?

Well, some medications affect your body at the DNA level. They change your DNA – usually this is in a bad way and as a result they will be marked as pregnancy category X, they may cause massive impairments or deformity to an unborn child, because the DNA you’ve provided them in your half is different – altered in some way or another to deal with whatever ailment you’re on the medication for. My husband is on methotrexate which does this.

Our bodies are really just a series of chemical reactions – as are medications and the way they work is about their chemicals interacting with our chemicals – and so on, chemical levels rising and falling. Our thoughts and desires can be reduced to nerves and neurons and pathways – so what if some of these chemical changes also alter our DNA? What if our conscious choices, changes in how we think, what we do – what we THINK about doing – also alters our DNA? Perhaps these changes could also then lead to a passing on of this new, so very slightly altered DNA – leading to slow, marked changes as we evolve, that have actually all come from conscious thoughts, changing how we think and what we do and therefore reprogramming our DNA in the process.

Essentially – the stimulant for evolution is not just survival of the fittest but survival of those more adaptable – which I have read before (I’m not educated enough to be proficient with sourcing so I’ll leave it as it’s not my idea the adaptable part being more important than fit) – but perhaps being adaptable is in the way we think, rather than just what we do. Perhaps it wasn’t just that the early humans rubbed on trees to remove excess hair in warmer climates (I’m making this up – I don’t know what they did or even if they did this at all) – but instead, the fact that they were thinking about it, and added it into their conscious routine, their thoughts changing and adapting to come up with the idea and execute it regularly. Perhaps that is how we are now almost hairless in comparison?

As a side note:

There is a saying within the parenting community that goes something along the lines of ‘you only get the child you can handle at any particular point in life’. My husband asked me, “What if that changing DNA meant that our children, depending on when in our life they are born, all have minutely different DNA information from us, based more on who and what we are at the time of their conception?” If this were the case, that saying may be more accurate than the wise parenting advisors trying to comfort the parents of a difficult, unusual or high or special-needs child ever thought. As we change and our thoughts and goals and so on change with us, perhaps the child we have at 20 would be quite different to the child we have at 40. I know the two children I had as a teenager, close together, are vastly different to the one I had aged 29. They all have the ‘same’ DNA – they have the same two parents. And while a lot of this can be explained away in genetics and recessive/dominant traits, nature/nurture and every other theory of reproduction – what if part of the puzzle is a change in DNA, perhaps one so slight we can’t even see it at our current level of technological and scientific discovery?

Just a thought. Or few.

So that was lunchtime!

– Audrey

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3 thoughts on “December 28. Genetics, Evolution and Consciousness.

  1. Your thoughts on this are remarkably Lamarkean. In a very limited way, this has come back into fashion as work is being done to understand epigenetic changes – these are modifications of DNA, such as adding chemical cues to turn certain genes on or off. – These changes have been shown to get passed over several generations of cell division, and can therefore be considered to be somewhat heritable.

    However, it is important to know that these changes are not consciously driven, they tend to be temporary in many cases (except in some cells of the immune system that retain these changes throughout the life of the cell), and there is not (to my knowledge) any evidence of these changes occurring in germ cells (egg and sperm).

    It’s an interesting topic and you raise some good points that many geneticists have considered and even found (limited) evidence for. I expect that the lessons that you teach your children have a much greater effect on them in a cultural manner than a genetic one. Keep exploring! The coolest thing about science is that the more you ask, the more you learn and the more you learn, the more interesting your questions become.

    Best

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    • Who knew, there is a whole term and school of thought for my musing, thanks for that it is interesting reading. Also thanks for answering some of my points, I do appreciate that. I’m just a girl who didn’t finish high school wondering about things in a fairly aimless and entirely uneducated way – feeling my way through, without back up or evidence so I’m definitely keen to hear other views as well as what is already out there that may support or disprove my own questions.

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    • I’ve learnt a little more about this since I wrote that post and you replied. I think that the main one that got headlines was the idea that ancestral experiences – or the result of such I would suspect – can be passed genetically? Transgenerational epigenetics I think I refer to, I’m not up to date with the terms just the pieces of information.

      I can’t recall if the musing was borne out of my partner being on a DNA-changing medication or not. But knowing that it changes DNA – and more and more we’re seeing this occur – they’re just seeing pharmacologically more and more drugs previously unknown to change DNA actually do.

      I can say that if it means anything (one anecdote must be concrete proof, right? LOL) the child I had at 29, I’d not have managed to have at 17. They are worlds apart in every way. So I wonder if my DNA only allowed programming of offspring I was capable of parenting – sending out one set of genetics and heritable strengths and weaknesses from my ancestors to one child, while giving a completely different collection to another child, when my DNA was in a position to know I could raise it.

      Probably getting far into evolutionary biology for my liking or understanding, there!

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