Steven Pinker on the Genome and Self Discovery

pinkerThe New York Times has a fascinating article by Steve Pinker called “My Genome, My Self“.  Pinker wonders whether advances in personal genomics, which will increasingly become cheaper and more accessible, will really yield any deeper knowledge about our selves.  

Pinker himself is participating in the Personal Genome Project (“the latest high-tech way to bare your soul” as he describes), which means he’s having his genome sequenced and will allow it, and his medical history, to be posted on the Internet.  His article is a timely and trenchant “what will happen when” investigation about the consequences of having ones biological, and eventually psychological, makeup out on the table.  Where will this lead us?  Will we find answers to some of the big philosophical questions about being human, or will we just have a lot more data about our bodies and brains?

 From the article:

Even if personal genomics someday delivers a detailed printout of psychological traits, it will probably not change everything, or even most things. It will give us deeper insight about the biological causes of individuality, and it may narrow the guesswork in assessing individual cases. But the issues about self and society that it brings into focus have always been with us. We have always known that people are liable, to varying degrees, to antisocial temptations and weakness of the will. We have always known that people should be encouraged to develop the parts of themselves that they can (“a man’s reach should exceed his grasp”) but that it’s foolish to expect that anyone can accomplish anything (“a man has got to know his limitations”). And we know that holding people responsible for their behavior will make it more likely that they behave responsibly. “My genes made me do it” is no better an excuse than “We’re depraved on account of we’re deprived.”

Link to full article


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