10/15/2007 12:46 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Genes and the Black Box (Part 3)

To date, genetics has been acclaimed for discovering "the code of life," and by taking significant steps like mapping the human genome, every detail of the code will inevitably come into view. However, one crucial link remains almost completely unexplained. That link connects the material and the intangible. On one plane of exploration science can delve into the molecular and sub-molecular structure of DNA. But life proceeds on another plane, marked by intelligence, beauty inspiration, art, love, and truth -- things impalpable and invisible, seemingly disconnected from DNA. To claim that genes are the controllers of everything, which amounts to meta-materialism, is willy-nilly, crude reasoning.

Consider the invisible connections between twins. Recently a TV news magazine told the story of two women, identical twins separated at birth, who found each other decades later. They felt an immediate kinship at the emotional level, which isn't a surprise. But how do you account for the fact that both had gone to graduate school in film? In other twin studies it's common to find that twins separated at birth wind up marrying women with the same name, have the same number of children, and pass through various life stages, such as graduation from college or getting married, on the very same day? Getting down to tiny details, how can two people with the same genes have different fingerprints, a trait that twins never share? Separated twins show enough similarities in likes and dislikes to indicate that genes are involved, but which of us thinks we like baseball as opposed to football because our genes pre-ordained it?

Right now the connections between the visible and invisible domain remain sealed inside the black box. I doubt that anyone will seriously investigate this mystery until there is a practical application. For centuries in India the contents of the black box have gone under the label of karma. Karma is an invisible explanation for why things happen the way they do. In many ways the doctrine of Karma has been of practical use. It maintains that the universe exists in a balanced state, that every action leads to a reaction, and that cause and effect come under human control. As you sow, so shall you reap is elevated to a spiritual law. In addition, karma holds that your present actions are guided by actions from the past and that memory plays a huge part in your construct of reality. Almost all of these things are attributed to genes in the Western scientific model.

Yet for all that, karma hasn't emerged from the black box any more than genes have. Karma is individual, unpredictable, seemingly mechanical in its operation yet radically uncertain when thousands of karmic influences are mixed together. As with genes, some aspects of karma seem totally fixed (predeterminism); other aspects are changeable (free will and choice), while a final portion is so hidden and uncertain that nothing reliable can be said about it (accident and chance). Whatever the final tale turns out to be, genetics is going to have to enter the field of karma, each explanation learning form the other, because the need to explain free will, determinism, and chance won't go away. To claim that invisible connections don't exist is unacceptable. To claim that life cannot be fundamentally understood violates the human urge to know who we really are. For the moment, excitement over genes is justified in that the urge for self-understanding has found a new source of satisfaction. But the urge isn't quenched, and one can predict that genes must merge with mind before the next great leap is made. Our source in consciousness and our source in genes must find a common ground.