Thought Experiment 3 – Genetic Memory

(by John Foxx)

We are beginning to map the human genome and this is leading to exciting discoveries of genes responsible for a predisposition to various illnesses and even behaviours. I think the genetic system is fascinating.

It seems to operate as an incremental biological recording system which gathers and stores useful information from direct experience, then uses this as a fund of information from which to instruct each being and its descendents on how to adapt to new circumstances, how alter our physical shape if necessary, how to evolve and survive.

It has been doing this since we were single celled amoebas in the early oceans. Without it, we could not continue because we would succumb quickly if, say, temperatures dropped or rose, or new diseases struck. With it, we have an invaluable fund of possible solutions to survival problems which may have occurred previously.
This system can even transmit behaviours. Some of these we know as ‘instinct’ – the innate, perhaps unconscious, knowledge of how to perform an activity.

Examples of this are the flocking, swarming and migration patterns performed by many animals, birds and insects.
So this system can be considered as a sort of memory – but one which is transmissible and which extends further than the individual life of any single organism.

The implications of this are many – posing several interesting questions around notions of individuality and freewill for instance.

But the aspect of this I want to address here is:- Since we are constantly distilling information from significant events into this system, where does the information stop?
Is it possible that actual memories might accompany the other information? Can we possibly be inheriting fragmented memories from our forbears?

Perhaps some unexplained instances of experiences – from the dramatic – Déjà Vu, visions, ghosts, visitations, etc., – to much more subtle and barely noticed sensations, such as those of familiarity with new places and inherent recognitions of culture, social situations, cultural patterns and individual people, may be instances of such a genetic memory in operation.

I think it may be possible that certain memories or impressions may be transmissible, and that we may inherit these. Their function may be to allow empathic recognitions of types of activities, people, cultures or circumstances, but some of them may also be more elaborate or specific.

Thursday, May 12th, 2011 JOURNAL