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DNA & Identity--Philosophy

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  • DNA & Identity--Philosophy

    I'd like to toss out there a simple idea that the genome is not the end of the story with respect to the identity of the individual.

    Here's the problem: if DNA is taken to be the code, the sole code, for the individual, then, strictly speaking, that individual is fully determined, in a philosophical sense. Free will cannot be derived from a material property such as DNA (at least, not currently).

    Accordingly, either DNA is not the whole story, or in a sense, we may be biological robots.

    The reason I'm throwing out this topic for consideration is that DNA doesn't strictly provide identity in a sense that I would subscribe to.

    This is really a post to stimulate a little questioning of the idea that I=DNA, when the result of that thinking is strict reductionisn.
    Last edited by jloe; 20 September 2007, 11:06 PM.

  • #2
    A counterpart to your philosophical point is twins. Homozigous twins are genetically identical. Nobody would describe them as being the same individual.



    • #3
      Identity is such a incredibly complex psychological occurrence. Although there are some indubitable elements to it, it is mostly formed and held in place by social constructs.

      DNA is likely one of the biggest threats to unravelling existing constructs, despite the fact that many people who are the most adamant about preserving these constructs are drawn to DNA genealogy.


      • #4
        As I see it, DNA is like a foundation or blueprint. But by the time a human has become conscious he has become so complex, and the ways in which his environment will affect him have become so complex, that there must certainly be MANY other complex factors that come into play in determining who he is.

        If everything is somehow predetermined, we will never be able to comprehend all of the exact conditions that led to our selves. Our brains are too small. Most of us will always be more comfortable using simple models to explain who we are.


        • #5
          I'm just going with this idea, that DNA is a blueprint as suggested above, but that there's a bit of error that occurs in thinking that it is the primary factor.

          If DNA not = self, then we should be a little leery of equating DNA results with our own sense of self.


          • #6
            This is a very interesting question, because it touches on the heart of why so many people are interested in science and genealogy. I figure that a large part of it is our human fascination/fear with the unknown.

            One response is to acquire more knowledge in order to engage more fully in the wonder of the vast complexity of the world. It just seems cool to learn something new and make connections between our day-to-day social experience of family and the wonder of biological life embodied in DNA.

            Another response is to try to use the new science to reinforce the social bonds that give us a sense of stability and security. Many of us are driven to close gaps in the social histories of our families through DNA and establish links with long-lost kin.

            But one thing that seems, to me, well-nigh to impossible is to claim, is that genetics represents the totality of the "self". Even considering that the "self" may be such a dynamic and diffuse concept as to defy empirical definition, almost every one is well acquainted with examples of individuals who are very close genetically but whose social character could not be more different. If genetics represented such a complete part of the "self", how could Bill have been such a jerk and his ID twin Tim been such a cool guy back in primary school?

            So, while genetic genealogy may help us reinforce familial bonds, be medically useful (e.g., help screen for hereditary conditions), or merely be interesting to us, the one thing I figure it can't do is give us an iron-clad outline of our destinies.



            • #7
              Originally posted by jloe
              I'd like to toss out there a simple idea that the genome is not the end of the story with respect to the identity of the individual.
              Well, that stands to reason. From DNA-testing I have learned that my paternal line is R1b1c, which goes back to the aboriginal European population that survived the last Ice Age, and my mtDNA test shows that I am descended from a woman who lived in what is now Syria 10,000 years ago. These characteristics I share with untold millions of people.

              But before venturing into this field I spent about 20 years assembling a "paper trail" of all my ancestors over the last few hundred years who could be traced by conventional means, and the fisherfolk, farm labourers, country craftsmen etc. that I have discovered, in particular locations on the map of the British Isles, are far more important for my sense of identity than anything I have discovered from having my DNA tested.



              • #8
                In my case, my identity is not and could not be based entirely on my DNA, as I descend from a diverse array of peoples and cultures from very different parts of the world. Nevertheless, I am fascinated with both conventional genealogy and population genetics and driven be my love of history and desire to learn as much as I can from the experiences of those individuals who came before me. Relatives, no matter how close or distant, don’t make us who we are, true, but they have each contributed in their own way. I only wonder whether they would be proud or disappointed in how we turned out.


                • #9
                  going with the flow

                  When I researched my "paper trail" genealogy, to go along with my DNA testing, I am in awe of those who have gone before me and who obviously struggled to make it in their world. Even when I went down the wrong trail, and was led to believe that my maternal ancestry was ultimately French canadian, those people too were just awesome. So many tragedies in their short lives. I may still have gone down the wrong trail, however, beyond my great grandmother.