Out of the Past
(Some thoughts on genetic memory. Flat Earthers and anti-science adherents might want a stiff drink before continuing)
Insects have long fascinated me with their demonstrations of intelligence. How is it that a fly seems aware of the swatter in one’s hand, or the occupation of both hands preventing a swat? If our elected officials displayed such intelligence something might get done in the Senate. How do ants know how to perform their specific jobs without formal training classes? We rarely see one walking across a college campus with its nose in a Chemistry textbook. And yet, it is adept at the formulation and use of formic acid. A bee colony is a very complex community. Hives are designed and constructed with incredible acumen to the point of bee-coming architectural marvels. So how do we acknowledge this? Simply by saying, ‘It’s nature.’ That may be enough understanding for some people, but although I have never bought a National Inquirer I have an inquiring mind that wants to know.
Some time ago a now famous experiment was done with flatworms. Scientific nomenclature has been abandoned here in the interest of global understanding, i.e. simplicity. The flatworms were trained using, I believe, starvation techniques to navigate a simple maze. Sort of ‘learn where the food is or become fertilizer.’ Perhaps a bit of fun for the researchers, though less so for the worms. But the experiment did result in a very interesting finding, genetic memory. This next part may be a little distasteful, especially if you have just finished a slice of pizza. The educated flatworms were then ground up and fed to an uneducated group of the same species. Sorry, sometimes science is not appetizing, except to the well-fed worms of course. The amazing result was that the uneducated flatworms could navigate the maze as easily as their last meal did, only without a trial-and-error learning period. They had genetically absorbed, sopped-up as it were, the knowledge of their predecessors.
Although this seems to be a fairly clear-cut paradigm, many people continue to disbelieve in genetic memory, much as they disbelieve in global warming, human rights and the existence of dinosaurs. Yet they still manager to breathe in a rhythmic manner and feed themselves, which I find even more astonishing.
But now let us explore this extraordinary function of amino acid alchemy (genetics) in more biologically advanced creatures. If insects and planarians (flatworms) can do it, why not …, let us say dogs.
Something tells me you are way ahead of me on this one. How does one explain the ‘instinct’ of a sheep herding or cattle herding dog to do its basic job without training. Notice ‘basic.’ Although the dog will not respond to specific commands by its handler, it will perform the herding and/or guarding function even as a puppy.
A ‘cutting horse’ that has been bred through a line of ‘cutters’ will set you on an E-ride if ridden into a coral with a calf, even having no formal training in the past.
My personal experience with both cattle herding dogs and cutting horses exhibits this completely.
And now on to one of my favorite animals of amazing instinct, the pussy cat. Big or small they are all marvels of intelligence, beauty and grace. A simple furry pull-toy dragged, almost silently, by a sleeping tabby will instantly cause Miss Puss to leap into action and attack the toy with a vicious accuracy unparalleled by any other creature in your living room. With the exception of Grandma ‘resting her eyes’ when a pot boils over. This attack-and-kill instinct is even observable in young kittens. With no mother present to act as teacher the cat is a born survivor. With a mother to teach the finer arts of stalking and killing a cat becomes the master it’s domain. The genetic demand for this behavior is so strong that many a bicyclist or jogger has become an unwitting target simply by passing an unseen mountain lion on a forest trail.
By now you must be wondering how this phenomena might relate to humans; to you in particular perhaps. If you go to a ‘past life’ therapist, or crystal ball gazing granny she will undoubtedly tell you that you have memories of past lives. In your past life you can choose from being such high dignitaries as Cleopatra, Napoleon, Richard the Lionheart, Joan of Arc or a number of other favorites. It is amazing that no one is ever told they were a scullery maid or stable groom. Past life regression and genetic memory are totally unrelated, much like comic book heroes and (real life hero) American soldiers.
Let us all share a moment for those who did not return.
The subject of genetic memory in humans is a hotly contested one. In Jean Aul’s wonderful book “Clan of the Cave Bear” genetic memory is used to explain how the Neanderthal learned to survive. It was a theory, and a very good one, especially for a work of fiction.
In fact, the Neanderthal had a high sloping forehead, thus limiting cranial space for a frontal lobe. This is where imagination and creative thought take place. Without a fully developed frontal lobe problem solving and invention are seriously inhibited. The individual lacks imagination and their personality falls flat. The famed ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ operation of times past was used to control mental patients who were a bit overactive by detaching the frontal lobe rendering it useless. That elicited a comic to comment, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than to have a frontal lobotomy.” I agree.
On the other hand, the occipital lobe of the Neanderthal brain was quite large. Guess what happens there. You are so right, memory. Did you remember that from biology class? It is very true and quite possibly speaks to the idea that the Neanderthal lived more on ‘instinct’ than invention. This could also, in part, account for their demise, while the Cro-Magnon (with a large frontal lobe) who lived at the same time flourished and continued.
Think about things in your life that have evoked unexplained feelings, preferences or abilities. There have been many in mine. Since childhood I have loved the smell and feel of wool, felt a serious romantic attraction to mist and fog, as well as to women of strong character. As I got older I learned that most of my heritage is Celtic, explaining each of these things, if I had ever lived in Wales, which I have not. So how is it that these foreign traits of my ancestors are natural to me?
If you consider your life from the outside looking in, try to discover how your ancestry relates to who you are now. You might be surprised, and you might find the answer to a question or two that has eluded all rational thought. Happy hunting, for yourself.