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EJ's Remedial Education Program


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#61 Boethius

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Posted 12 March 2008 - 09:39 PM

I don't know that we're necessarily in the business of discussing reductionism around these parts. You might be able to coax some answers out of the Benefactors' Bar though.

#62 Necromantis

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 10:22 PM

Are our genes responsible for all of our choices?


Short answer: No.
Long answer: Yes with a but.

Its a common misunderstanding to assume that genes are in-charge of all animal interactions. Genes do not have a mind of their own, they cannot directly manipulate anything beyond the cells they occupy. Genes work by controlling protein synthesis, a powerful but slow process, far too slow to make any successful interaction with the outside world.
In order to survive, a biological system must work on a time scale of seconds and fractions of seconds. Genes just dont have reaction-times like that, they can only do their best in advance by creating a fast computer for themselves to live in and programming it in advance with rules on how to cope with as many eventualities as they can anticipate. The computer in this sense is of course the nervous system.

This leads us to an even greater problem. How can a programmer ever hope to predict each and every eventuality? Thankfully there is an easy answer. They can't. What they can do is make general rules and strategies which have been filtered through time with the help of natural selection until they reach a point where almost every interaction with the external world produces a response. To over simplify (mostly to save alot of time) there are two types of response, good and bad.

Bad reponses include pain, loud noises and sentences ending in "innit".
Good responses include orgasms and light breezes and sweet tasting foods.

The general idea is that you repeat anything which produces a good response and cease doing anything with a negative response. This not only reduces the number of detailed rules required in the initial programming (and thus the length of DNA), but also allows the resulting system to operate in a changing environment.

An unforuntate concequence of such generalising is that many sense stimulations or "inputs" are similar and so produce similar responses.

An example of this is sex. Sex is good because it results in reproduction and increases the number of genes in a given area. The programmed response to sex is an orgasm (thankfully). But as we all know (you too girls) sex can be immitated in the form of masturbation which yields almost equal rewards.

Sweet tasting food indicate sugar. Sugar is benificial to the human body because it is made up of relatively short chains of glucose, the starting block of respiration, producing energy for movement and more importantly mitosis, again increasing the number of genes in a given area. An unfortunate by-product of sweet taste is that many sugars and additives leave harmful chemicals in the body actually restricting its function. But these foods taste good, and so we continue to eat them in large quantities in various different forms in an environment where it exists in unnatural plenty.

You eat oreos because they taste good. Surprise!

#63 Rhaegal

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Posted 11 June 2008 - 08:12 PM

Sweet tasting food indicate sugar. Sugar is benificial to the human body because it is made up of relatively short chains of glucose, the starting block of respiration, producing energy for movement and more importantly mitosis, again increasing the number of genes in a given area. An unfortunate by-product of sweet taste is that many sugars and additives leave harmful chemicals in the body actually restricting its function. But these foods taste good, and so we continue to eat them in large quantities in various different forms in an environment where it exists in unnatural plenty.

You eat oreos because they taste good. Surprise!


And there's little-to-no motivation for genes to change the "yay!" response to sweet foods. The harmful effects of eating too much candy (assuming good dental hygiene, anyway) tend to be late in life, and manifest as heart disease or some other problem. However, anything post-reproduction is invisible to genes--all they know is that in their current incarnation, they survived long enough to reproduce.

That's actually a little too simple of a view, to be fair. Technically, genes directly respond to things that affect our ability to reproduce, and indirectly to our ability to raise our offspring to independence. That's why late-life genetic disorders like Alzheimer's, etc., don't get weeded out very efficiently--they generally set in not only after the mating age, but 18+ years after it. Many of them are there in the first place because they are the result of a gene mutation to combat some common ailment in a population. Sickle-cell anemia (okay, so not an example of a late-life disorder, but it's the first thing that popped into my head), for example, is thought to be an "intentional" mutation that effectively immunizes the carrier from malaria.

Wow, I've digressed a lot more than intended. Oops!
Stand back! I'm going to try SCIENCE!




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