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The Trouble With Genes (Part 2)

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The mystery of life cannot be solved without answering one essential question. Why are human beings intelligent? In common understanding, we are intelligent because of our brains, our brains are intelligent because of the operation of brain cells, and brain cells operate because of genes. By this reasoning, either genes must be intelligent in their own right, or by some magic of chemistry, molecules that lack intelligence produce it when combined in various ways.

So, is this whole line of thinking false? To a materialist it must be true without question, and any attempt to find intelligence outside the brain--meaning outside DNA--is preposterous. Except that it isn't. Consider the now-famous and much replicated studies at Princeton in which ordinary people were asked to sit in a room with a computer that generated a random string of zeros and ones.

They were asked to try and will the machine to produce more ones than zeros or vice versa. In trial after trial the subjects succeeded in this challenge (on average, the machine produced extra ones or zeros about 2% more often than random), and there was no need for the subjects to have ESP or any paranormal abilities. This is a primary example of mind operating outside the brain. We also have numerous examples of patients who died after cardiac arrest--to the point of exhibiting no brain function--only to be resuscitated and tell vivid accounts of the afterlife. They had mental experiences--seeing light, hearing voices, feeling emotions-- without brain activity. Are these cases to be denied wholesale?

Then there are the 2,500 children documented by researchers at the Univ. of Virginia who recall past lives in vivid detail that can often be independently verified. Or consider the entire scientific field of sociobiology founded by Edward O. Wilson of Harvard that is based on DNA's ability to respond to the outside environment. How does a fixed, static chemical 'know' how to develop such complex behaviors as altruism and self-sacrifice? In short, even in the ranks of materialism there is intriguing speculation--and hard evidence--that DNA's role in human intelligence is far more mysterious than often supposed.

Possibly the single most intriguing research concerns identical twins. To fully understand the role of genes, one must account for certain well-documented phenomena:

--Twins who are separated at birth but later discover that they had the same life experiences, including marrying women with the same name in the same year, holding the same jobs, having extremely similar families, giving their offspring the same names, etc.

--Twins who know what the other is thinking, who feel physical pain when the other is injured (at a distance, out of sight), or who sense the moment the other is killed.

--Twins who develop different diseases from the same genetic basis.

--Twins who develop one half who is heterosexual while the other is homosexual.

--Twins who develop schizophrenia in one person but not the other (or obesity or any number of psychological behaviors that are currently theorized to be genetic in origin).

Genes cannot 'explain' these anomalies, and trying to backfill the argument to say that genes make us 'susceptible' seems only partially convincing. To be susceptible to homosexuality, obesity, cancer, and so forth begs the question of what causes these things. The common answer, as regards homosexuality, is that experience also plays a part. Does this mean that one twin's DNA can be seduced, abused, tempted, turned on, or coaxed into deviating from the result achieved by the other twin's DNA?

Again, one is not trying to undermine genetics, only observing that 'cause' is a tricky business. The truth is that if experience does cause behavior A in one twin and its exact opposite, behavior B, in the other, that's the same as doing without genes altogether. I can be susceptible to overeating, for example, without needing a gene for it.

In earlier posts the non-materialistic view has been stated often: intelligence is innate in nature. It gives rise to consciousness in myriad forms. The brain--and DNA--are agents of this underlying intelligence. They embody it, give it flesh and physical experience, carry out its activity mechanically, and so forth. The materialistic worldview rejects such assumptions categorically, but in doing so, it turns life into a random chemical reaction, which will never suffice. When there is a credible answer to why human beings are intelligent, we may discover that we are the means whereby DNA has learned to discover who it really is. And how did DNA come about in the first place? It came about when the universe wanted to watch itself at play. DNA has served that function for around 2 billion years and shows no sign of stopping.