Any claim that behaviors are hardwired in genes is bluster

Generative mutuality in human relation depends, amongst other things, on an assumption that the elements of psychic life and their different functions are held in common – Christopher Bollas (1989)

It’s interesting to think about how different the Bollas quote is from saying, in the current fashion, “Altruism is a strategy hardwired in the genes.” — Iain Boal (pers.comm. 2012)

Moreover, any claim that behaviors are hardwired in genes is bluster. The opposing point is not “trait X of interest is not hardwired in genes.”  The opposing point is that the writer or speaker lacks a method for showing that trait X is associated with some gene Y (or set of genes Y1, Y2, Y3…) and for showing that this association is not modulated by any non-genetic factor.

For the poster-child of genetics, PKU, there is an association between homozygosity in a specific autosomal recessive gene and lack of function in the hepatic enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase.  However, if the trait of interest is mental retardation, the effect of preceding association is modulated by an ongoing struggle in the USA to secure health insurance coverage for the special diet and to enlist family and peers to support PKU individuals staying on that diet through adolescence and into adulthood.  For less specific medical conditions, such as diabetes 1, no gene has been shown to have an association with increased risk of more than a % or two. By extension, for unspecific traits such as altruism, genetic associations are fantasies—promissory notes that cannot be cashed in on.


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