Thursday, 5 May 2011

Deterministic genes

The belief that genes are somehow super-deterministic, in comparison with environmental causes, is a myth of extraordinary tenacity, and it can give rise to real emotional distress. I was only dimly aware of this until it was movingly brought home to me in a question session at a meeting of the AAAS. A young woman asked the lecturer whether there was any evidence for genetic sex differences in human psychology. The woman seemed to set great store by the answer and was almost in tears. Something or somebody has misled her into thinking that genetic determination is for keeps; she seriously believed that a "yes" answer to her question would, if correct, condemn her as a female individual to a life of feminine pusuits, chained to the nursery and the kitchen sink. But if [unlike most of us?] she is a determinist in that strong Calvinistic sense, she should be equally upset whether the causal factors concerned are genetic or "environmental".

From "The extended phenotype" by Richard Dawkins

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