Buying and unzipping your genes – Steven Pinker + Design darwinisim

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University explores the field of genomic consumption in an NY Times article and magnificently discusses ways of buying info on your personal predisposition from everything to being an outgoing person to likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s. For $399 you can now check yourself for disease risks and ancestry data, but on the flip side, more complex things such as knowing if you will find happiness, wont be disclosed. Pinker makes the admirable effort of presenting a sane and in depth view of behavioral genetics and implications for the search of our self, an endeavour we both have been pursuing and fearing since the early days of humanity. In the pursuit of who and what we are there is always the will to simplify things: Famous plaeontologuist Stephen Jay Gould was later in his life asked the origins of his interest in biology and could with accuracy pinpoint it to the time his father took him to see the dinosaurs when he was 5.

Bullsh**, says Pinker, it is only the human being trying to understand itself. The real deal is: we have really no idea what constitutes our current personal traits, although genetics is a major part, no doubt. But the nature-nurture matrix is necessary to delve into, since we never really know when and how culture really affects a personal trait or decision we make. Psychologist Judith Rich Harris have, for example, stressed the random ”accidents” in life, dropping a ball or getting dumped by your high school sweatheart. This then translates as an event that catered to your genetic predisposition making you forget some things and remembering other, more vividly.

But important is also to stress the academic fallacies sneaking into this discussion, Pinker mentions a few and but let me also add one important fallacy theory – the Winner’s curse in academic publishing as John Ioannidis writes in PLoS. This principle uses the economic notion of the Winner’s curse looking at the possible exaggeration by researchers when seeking to publish their stuff. By then overselling themselves they might be trumpeting dramatic results that might sound very good, but later prove to be false. the truth might not be as likable or sellable as the exaggeration.

design darwin

Linda Rapell goes Darwin

From the other side of the ring, Swedish design historian, Linda Rampell, offers an interesting freestyle of the commercial and aesthetic components of who we are, or would like to be, in her book The Design darwinism. In it she surfaces the consumption of design as an important formation of homo kapitalismus, the new humanoid she tries to delineate. The most interesting notion of Rampell is that we are producers as well as consumers of the self: we buy our identity, skin color and cultural status, but we likewise try to sell this product that is me, to our peer group and the surrounding society. She also does a little Deleuze-hating by interpreting his his notion of the ”self as becoming” as a fact that further iterates today’s consuming of multi-identities. Wonder what Gilles would think of that!

Anyway: Looking forward to read her next books on the subject, even though this first one was a bit basic. Ending here with a comforting paragraph by Pinker:

Forget the “Gattaca” corporations that scan people’s DNA to assign them to castes, the employers or suitors who hack into your genome to find out what kind of worker or spouse you’d make. Let them try; they’d be wasting their time.

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