Biological determinism

Sorry, Asylum Seeker, I have to touch on this a bit; and a comment just couldn’t convey quite how incorrect all of you are. Developmental plasticity only goes so far to explain the spectrum of observed personalities. We have, almost certainly, a degree of influence from our genes. This comes from the fact that genes don’t just “make the body” and then “stop working.”

Allow me to explain this further: genes and environment are not separate entities, but part of the same puzzle when it comes to behaviors. Given a very specific set of parameters, each neuron will always give the same outcome (from here comes determinism). The problems arise when you look at ALL of these neurons in a gradient of hormones, signaling agents, and neurotransmitters, the gradients make neuronal firings probabilistic rather than straight forward. Another aspect which takes a corner off of determinism is that gene activation is responsive TO the environment. This allows for individual or sets of genes to be turned on or off, as well as having varying levels of expression. While the most extreme individuals require a combination of genes AND environment to give such a result, most individuals receive one or the other to varying degrees.

As for the deterministic nature of observing a single neuron, when you look at the entire context which it is located, as well as the environmental signals it has received and is currently receiving, one must look at behaviors as a probability. Hence we do not have nature vs. nurture, or genes vs. environment, but rather a complex interplay of the two which yields the behaviors of the individual.

As for the diminished empathetic response, that can be a learned behavior associated with attenuation to a given reflex. There may be a genetic component, but we cannot, currently, conclude either way.

Some genes are known to affect behaviors, but not to the extent that you will get violence or obsession, instead, you see tendencies which can result in positive feedback mechanisms: more violence leads to empathetic attenuation, which results in more violence.


6 Responses to “Biological determinism”

  1. February 24, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Well, this is odd. Since I agree with what you’ve said here, I am not quite sure what I said that you are responding too. Give me a minute…have to re-read my own post.

  2. February 24, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Okay, I think I’ve found the relative passages in the main post. For everyone else’s edification:

    “We are affected by a wide variety of environmental factors as well as pure genetics, whether it is in the form of chemical intake, specific non-chemical stimuli, or subjective psychological experiences (emotions, stress, usually associated with another environmental factor), which all shape our development, our minds, and consequently our behavior.”

    “As for his last rant, about being genetically predisposed towards aggression: your predispositions towards certain behaviors do not make them acceptable behaviors. Sure, we can still pity you for having that aggression to begin with and having to deal with it, but having aggression is an entirely different animal than actually acting upon it. All that you are is not genetically determined (even if a good chunk of it is)….”

    And I see your point: the environmental factors act upon genes (as well as biological networks whose functions are facilitated by genes), and are pretty much only of relevance due to that fact. I suppose I meant to distinguish this from the “it’s in my genes” idea in the popular conception of this matter, which implies that your personality traits are static and determined from birth, rather than things that can fluctuate and change due to other factors, even if those things do ultimately act upon, well…genes.

  3. 3 Mariano
    February 24, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Jared, I believe that the fact that there are many neurons, or cells, or whatever particle you want to stop at, it doesnt mean that as a group they dont work in a deterministic way.
    In other words, if there are a huge amount of variables we cant control because of our own human scale, it doesnt mean they wont behave in a certain, determined way. Probability is just an accurate way to avoid “surveying” each result, so as to predict a near result with much less information.
    So would it all come down to the amount of information we can handle?

  4. 4 jaredcormier
    February 24, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Mariano, unfortunately, even IF you were to go down to the molecular level of an in situ neuron, you would still be dealing with probabilities since you begin dealing with “if” interactions of low-density influencing agents (some hormones, for example). For example, we may be able to say that IF interaction x happens, and IF interaction y does not happen, then result z will occur, but since interaction x depends upon the likelihood of a low concentration hormone from interacting with its receptor, and interaction y is in high concentration, you can assume that in most cases, z will not occur, but it can, and occasionally does. Many of these activities regulate many others, only compounding the problem of determinism.

    I do, however, see where you are going, that, given all the relevant information, it is deterministic, but this misses the point that many of the biochemical interactions are not deterministic in nature, but probabilistic in nature; i.e. with a known concentration of a signal molecule and it’s receptor.

    Additionally, for biological determinism to be true, all external factors must have a negligible effect on the organism’s behavior. There is absolutely no evidence for this and a large deal of evidence to the contrary, as I have previously explained: environment influences gene expression.

  5. 5 Mariano
    February 25, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for your reply. I am an Engineer and not so familiar with the Biological world, though i guess that from the Biological point of view, we could see this processes as probabilistic. But, on the other hand, if we go a step lower, these proceses made out of electrons, protons, quartz and who knows what other particles yet to be discovered, complex at an incredible level, could work in a deterministic way. If a chemical reaction occurs, and we had a superb microscope and time freeze machine, we could see each “particle” colliding with another and from the speed, mass, and characteristics of both particles, we could determined where they will end up. Just like the pool table example, often used.
    Going back to the “human level” i find it hard to address free will since there is no single event that isnt affected by previous events. As you say, everything we do is a result of previous genetic information, environmental effects, and our own molecular structure; millions of variables have made us who we are, with the set of values we have, that will affect our decisions and choices about life & about what to pick at McDonalds.
    Cause & Effect are, from my point of view, the reason of everything we see, thats why i have a really tought time accepting free will and “randomness”.
    Thanks for your time!

  6. 6 jaredcormier
    February 25, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I understand you are, in fact, an engineer, and could, I am sorry to say, sense that in your writing style. You think in absolutes: a+b=c; c-b=a; c-a=b; and so on. The problem with biological systems is, as I mentioned, when you rely upon probabilities of reactions, rather than actual reactions, you lose the whole “determinism” reference. Determinism, in itself, deals with absolutes set forth via innate DNA responses; the nature vs. nurture argument. What we find, instead, is that it is more nature via nurture; environment effect gene expression and reactions, at a level far more complex than either of the proponents of nature or nurture thought possible. “Free will,” however, is another matter. Neither side argued for this, it is purely a philosophical and metaphysical idea. This, I think, is where you confuse determinism for a lack of free will and non-determinism for free will. It is, in fact, a completely different idea which I shall discuss later.

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