Re: We are our genes

Robert J. Bradbury (
Tue, 7 Sep 1999 18:12:02 -0700 (PDT)

On Tue, 7 Sep 1999, Clint O'Dell wrote:

> True, but
> Actualy you have more control over your personality and thus what you do
> than you seem to let on.

I will agree, that humans have an active "self-editing" option as part of their "conscious" mind that will prevent some thoughts from being "actively" entertained.

> It's what you do that differs from what someone
> else does in the same situation which we may see some control.

Yes, if you can restrict conscious thoughts, you can restrict the action pattern as well. Much of what raising children is involves trying to *constrain* the brain to only entertain specific "safe" or "accepted" thoughts and actions.

> But it's what you do about it that is absolutely not genetic.
True. Doing involves an actor, that *almost* always is the conscious mind. The only exception being those cases where you do something that "you knew better than to do". Those cases where you catch yourself momentarily after the fact saying -- "I shouldn't have done that. I *knew* that was a stupid thing to do...", etc." Sometimes there are parts of your brain that do a run-around of your conscious mind.

> Also thoughts and experiences do change brain hardware. You don't
> have to do that with surgery.
This I *agree* with.

> Because new thoughts create new links you can completely rewire 'parts'
> of the brain totaly by thoughts and conditions you set up.
I disagree with the term "rewire", that implies that you remove the old connections an replace them with new connections. I don't think that happens *if* you can remember that you once had the old connections. You can alter the weights that the conscious mind gives to the proposed behavior patterns. "... I used to think driving recklessly was fun, but now as I've gotten older and value my life more, I almost always drive very safely..."

> If you know enough about what kind of memories are stored where and
> exactly what happens as new connections are made you should be able
> to control this rewiring by thought and controlled events.

I would argue that any significant event with any high level of emotional content, especially fear, drama, etc. *will* be stored in your memories whether you like it or not. I argue this based on the fact that the brains *must* be wired to retain memories that have the potential for survival value. Those memories don't undergo a process of "Gee... should I remember this or not remember this?". Now, later, consciously, may you go back and "catagorize" a memory as insignificant (lets say, because you saw it in a movie). But I'm not so sure that that doesn't keep other less sophisticated parts of your mind from accessing those memories *with* the frame of reference -- "its only a movie". I had a girlfriend once who categorically refused to see violent films because she did *not* want to have those pictures in her mind, in part because she did not want those images to occupy her dreams.

Given the amount of processing power that the brain has, it seems to me that a *huge* amount of stuff is thought about that we are never aware of. Some tiny fraction of it gets brought to our attention. I agree that we have the power in almost all cases to focus our attention and actions on specific things. I would maintain my position that the underlying experiences and drives affect and influence us in very subtle ways. As Anders pointed out, the more we know about what these drives and influences are the greater should be our skill in managing them.