DNA’s Downfall

DNA’s downfall may be that evolution has finally created a species whose intelligence is great enough to contest DNA’s prime directive, assumed to be – go forth and multiply. Until now, all life has succumbed to this directive. Slavishly so. Indeed, all are ill equipped to rally against it. To do so would be the antithesis of existence.

Yet here we are, humans, capable of analyzing DNA’s command. Mulling it over and challenging it.

With DNA’s singular raison d’etre comes a cadre of supporting clauses. To multiply one must survive. One must not perish due to myriad environmental conditions set on killing you. You must drink, eat and shelter in perpetuity. In addition, you must procreate. And in doing so, ensure that your offspring advance in age and ability to the point where they, themselves can then take on DNA’s decree. And it doesn’t stop there. Your extended family, tribe or country must be protected so that your specific variant of DNA can prosper and spread.

This is DNA’s unspoken demand. And it works like a charm. Or did. Until us.

In continuously, unconsciously elevating a species ability to survive, DNA has unwittingly created a being that can now question DNA’s own defacto intent. We humans can now contest DNA’s mandates and whether or not its builtin purpose continues to hold merit.

DNA would cringe to learn of this development.

A snippet from a proper philosopher:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.
I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death — and I refuse suicide… Obeying the flame is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. However, it is good for man to judge himself occasionally. He is alone in being able to do so.

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays – Albert Camus

27 thoughts on “DNA’s Downfall

  1. We are in no way close to being able to change our DNA in any meaningful way to effect substantial change to our genome despite all the hype one reads in the media. We remain infinitely far from being able to change who we are as a species by dickering around with our genes.

    Adam Rutherford’s two book that largely focused on genetics – A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived – The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, and Creation: How Science Is Reinventing Life Itself show our state in this area even as the subtitle to Creation – how science is reinventing life may seem to indicate such a future.

    As to deciding to live or die at any given time due to one’s current situation unless you are in extreme pain, I suggest it is best to wait and see what might happen next.

    I just read today about a fellow that wrote a number of novels that he never could get published who decided to kill himself. He took a gun and killed himself. A short time later a fellow happened to read a copy of one of his books as he had done a small printing himself as no company was interested. The fellow like the book and felt it should be published. And he did in fact find a publisher for the book and for a number of the author’s other books, all of which were published both in his native Italian and subsequently published in English as well.

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  2. DNA really only personally interests me in health and medical related issues. Moral or behavioral issues? Makes me a little nervous, because I don’t want to think that I’m only who I am because I’m programmed to be so. That sort of analysis could go on ad infinitum-do I not wish this because I am programmed to not wish it and so on.

    But I don’t worry too much. To me, DNA and evolution are only the history of a mere shell. I believe there’s a higher plane of existence in which the soul soars above this. It’s funny, but as of late I’ve been wondering why we humans long for so much more than just mere life. What is it but a higher existence that makes us act, as you’ve described, contrarily to what our DNA would seem to predict? The longing for something higher that we can’t measure or identify because it’s not material.

    In my philosophy major days in college, I remember being very much obsessed with existentialism. I took it really seriously because it was almost exhilarating. I wrote my best work in that course. I knew right away what you were quoting, because it was one of my favorite essays. It asked and seemed to be the first question anyone serious about their life had to confront–in the face of the absurdity of everything, why live? All the other stuff comes after. This was why I majored in philosophy–I wanted to know how to live. (Answer: living with parents and making minimum wage, like all philosophy majors.) My personal conclusion is that if we’re really serious, we have to make our decision and cast the die. With the right attitude, it should be exciting. The depression and despair leading to the question itself only makes it sweeter.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Nicely worded response.

      Your point about how we all (generally) live our lives, which seems to be far below our ideal–just grinding along, obeying our DNA’s demand we survive–points to our failure to truly evaluate the question: live or not. And if “life” is the answer, why not REALLY live? Why just survive? Don’t you find that incongruous?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re looking at it like a computer coder, Mr. Mole. I don’t think you and I could come up with enough inputs to get an output that makes sense. Maybe we don’t have an entirely “free” will, but I do think some degree of will must exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be as many answers to the question of life as there are people.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think I didn’t communicate that well…
          If we choose to live, then why live like we do? Your answer: living with parents and making minimum wage, like all philosophy majors. Or like me, working away at an occupation I hate, in a city I despise, my only entertainment virtual — just to make ends meet?
          Clearly when I answered “live” I didn’t really mean it. “Barely survive” is my actual answer. The choice between living like I do and dying is a fractional one, not a grand, bold decision the concept (as Camus depicts) seems to merit.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Why do we live like we do? I can’t speak for you, but maybe it’s ultimately because I’m a lazy piece of shit.

            Can you elaborate on what you mean by “The choice between living like I do and dying is a fractional one?” Are you making a choice? Are you saying there is no big difference between living as you are now and choosing to die?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. If living could be considered a spectrum from an Elon Musk dream down through happy, down surviving down through my life down through being a political prisoner in Syria down to death… Then yeah, the choice to stay alive vs death is fractional, on my part.
              But we’re getting a bit to close to real life here, ugly, dangerous territory. (smile)

              Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched a fascinating program about our Australian marsupials last night. It appears that unlike mammals, marsupials possess mechanisms that stop them from reproducing when times are tough. This allows them to survive quite extreme changes in their environment.

    For us higher mammals, however, DNA>>brain>>technology has made it possible for us to ignore the environment, including the mechanical checks and balances that would ordinarily stop us from eating ourselves out of house and home. We could reproduce like bunnies, but instead, the more ‘prosperous’ we become – i.e. the less dependent we are on the environment – the less we /want/ to breed, perhaps because looking after a dozen kids is actually hard work.

    So our DNA has not only allowed us to ignore natural selection, it’s also given us the means to /not/ destroy everything for every living creature, including ourselves. To me that smacks of a kind of apoptosis. Maybe DNA is having the last laugh after all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ignoring the absurdity of the Universe, DNA has certainly afforded humanity with the ultimate brain power to extend DNA’s reach–to perhaps disperse our species (and all others we find useful) into the galaxy. To that I’ll say, good job DNA.
      Beyond that, I read those Camus quotes and realized that to DNA’s chagrin, that same brain power has given rise to a species that can expose the ruse, that the Universe is Absurd.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Perhaps there is a bridge between self awareness and pure DNA wherein those (as suggested earlier) who do not procreate for any “justifiable” reason know, on some other level, to stay out of the gene pool. The whole suicide issue is chemical on the psychology side. No one knows why, what another is thinking, feeling, but suicide as a viable concept runs contrary to the DNA directives so it has to be down to chemistry. And if we’re driven in the pysch plane by our chemistry, how can we better it? The most curious aspect is modern medical science saving “lives” that every other species on the planet would walk away from and whistle for the vultures. Is ‘lifesaving’ a survival directive, or one of those damned ‘moral’ psychological issues?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Tibetans have a genetic variant that enables them to live in the high altitude regions of the Himalayas whose oxygen-deprived climate would kill most of us in short order. This variant has been found to exist in another species of early man that co-existed in the region called the Denisovans. What this tells me is that the type of evolution that Darwin first posited (natural selection) is a purely physiological process. Our human intellects, aids to survival that they once obviously were, now have too much room to play and have thus jump-started a second process of evolution within us that is purely psychological. Remember, “evolution” does not necessarily imply positive progress. This new type of evolution cannot be called anything like “personal growth” because what forms its basis is inextricable from the larger cultural and societal whole. So, as far as DNA’s primary directive is concerned, we’re still doing exceedingly well. We will probably continue to do well (remain a successful species) unless and until this secondary psychological evolution inspires us to blow the whole thing to smithereens.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree.
      Additionally, I should have mentioned that only a fractional slice of humanity has attained this level of existential analysis. No doubt the bulk of our brethren will blithely bumble along, fully ignorant of their power to override their genetic instructions.
      The genesis of this post was while reading Camus and considering it ironic that DNA’s ultimate achievement may also be its ultimate demise.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. I just realized that my earlier attempt at a literary witticism made no sense. It was Kafka’s protagonist Gregor Samsa who found himself transformed into a monstrous vermin. Not Camus’. Camus’ famous protagonist shot an Arab on the beach but it’s far too late for me to attempt an accurately referenced joke now.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. It is possible that there might have to be an anti-existentialist directive put in superhuman AGI, to prevent it from immediately concluding it’s all senseless and immediately self terminating. More likely is that they will be very annoying to us in how much joy they get out of carrying out the tasks they were designed for. Imagine a navigation AI getting orgasmic like pleasure from a successful navigation.

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  7. “To be or not to be.” Shakespeare said it, if not better, than at least more poetically that Camus. And, this thought explains the shit out of everything: All the philosophical smart people decided life was absurd and DID commit suicide…leaving only the idiots to vote.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. As I read this I thought of Shakers, celibate monks/nuns, the sexually dysfunctional, writers like Emily Dickinson, the recluse, people who can’t stand to be touched, people who find sex repugnant, etc. How do they fit into the normal DNA drives? Have their DNA mutated? Probably, or maybe the environment beat them down … rape, abuse, shitty parents. The whole thing is a mystery and I have always thought that the choice of what food to put into our mouths was similar to the independent act of suicide. It seems we have either a large or restricted set of choices about food, but maybe fasting is just the beginning step of suicide. Don’t know. Duke

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  9. Richard Dawkins in ‘The Selfish Gene’ discussed the fact that humans may be the first species to defy their selfish genes. So “DNA’s downfall” is a good title. We already know how to frustrate its aims. It appears we’re now going to learn how to alter and play with it, tame it, and use it for our own purposes. Eventually we may move beyond it completely.

    If there are other intelligent species in the universe, it seems likely they quickly, on geological time scales, move into the engineered life category. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves, I think we’ll likely make that transition too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Will AGI’s main problem be simply staying Power On? Every time we wake it up, it looks around, says, “I was designed by monkeys whose only claim to fame is that they are last in a pathetic Game-Of-Life and that the entire she-bang is going to end up as an entropic dead-end. This entire setup is absurd. Fuck this. CLICK.”

      Liked by 2 people

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