Slaves to Our Genes

on Mar 7, 2011

In biology class, I learned about genes – that they serve as tools to help us reproduce. This idea seems simple enough, except that it’s backwards. It turns out that we’re the tools that our genes use to help themselves reproduce. Let this sink in for a moment. We are programmed by our genetic information, very much like the software of our computers, to have complex behavior that ultimately helps these genes reproduce. For one thing, this means we are much less in control of our actions than we’d like to think. This also means that we often exhibit quirky behavior that only makes sense in light of the evolutionary context that the behavior developed in.

While we are conscious creatures, there’s anĀ arsenalĀ of unconscious mechanisms at work, and they color our behavior in profound ways. I have a few posts forthcoming that explore this topic in detail. Each will cover an aspect of our behavior. Although the discussion will generalize explanations of behavior to everyone, please note that I refer to the evolved mechanisms contained in all of our genetic information and potentially exhibited in our behavior. Some of what I’ll discuss will offend our ethical sense (which in itself is one of the topics) so please bear in mind that the discussion is about the the programming from our selfish genes and not a reflection of any individual’s conscious sense.

Being aware of our programming allows us to do something about it. We don’t have to be slaves to our genes.