You’re a sane, rational person with a mind of your own. Sure, your genes may determine how tall you are or whether you can taste PTC (you did that test with PTC papers on your parents and siblings for high school science class, didn’t you?)
But surely, your tastes in foods come from your sophisticated lifestyle. And your taste in politicians from a hard-nosed study of facts and social morality.
Our actions are governed by hidden biological forces—which is to say that we have little or no control over our personal tastes. Our behaviors and preferences are profoundly influenced by our genetic makeup, by factors in our environment that affect our genes, and by other genes forced into our systems by the innumerable microbes that dwell inside us. nationalgeographic.com
You and I are a couple of meat robots. We are our genes, but not in the old nature versus nurture dichotomy. It’s complicated. Our environment effects how our genes operate, and environment includes the microbes that call our bodies home. I love this quote*:
Genes are the piano keys, but the environment plays the song.
Nature and nurture are thoroughly intertwined.
Even in politics, genetics is close to your decisions. Do your neurotransmitters reward novelty? You’re more likely to be liberal. Is the amygdala structure of your brain relatively large? You’re more likely to be conservative.
That’s what I learned, and it leaves me with the question of, how much of me is my choice? My fault? Maybe I shouldn’t have laughed at you.
Genetics don’t mean I inevitably hunker down in a foxhole with my genetic friends and prepare to do battle with everyone else. Most of these statements come with qualifiers: More likely, tend to, generally.
If you ever took one of the popular people-sorting personality tests like Meyers-Briggs, you know there’s a benefit to understanding that other people are not being stupid or malicious when they see the world differently. They can be valuable teammates who spot problems and opportunities you overlook.
Besides, you also have that big wad of gray matter in your brain that lets you think about things. Learning is part of the environment. So step outside your foxhole with hope. It takes a little effort to keep an open mind, but it also helps you keep an open heart.
Thanks to Bill Sullivan, professor of pharmacology and microbiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, for the lovely quote above (*) and for his article.