Could The Human Mind Be a Product of Mental Genes:
A Non Biological Component of Brain Genes?
Sadia Tariq- Raza Kazim- Iram Tauqir
This paper explores the possibility of a hitherto undiscovered process within brain genes which could be responsible for the making of mental processes. The main proposition of this paper is that a brain gene, in addition to the protein template, might also contain a nonbiological mental template (mental gene) made of pre-atomic (which also excludes the known heavier constituent particles of the atom) light quantum energy forms, which programs the brain cells to produce mental processes. Mental genes were added to the human brain genes when the need for a faster and more complex mental system arose both for integrating the growing perceptual, observation, problem solving and execution processes and for planning in terms of the body and its growing needs and not the genes. Apart from the proposed involvement of nonbiological processes in the formation and functioning of mental processes, we are also speculating their involvement, in tandem with the biological processes, in the genetic functioning related to the body. To give some examples, the overall design of the biological body contained in the gene could be existing in terms of a nonbiological process; they could be involved in the process of genetic mutations, signaling processes of non‐coding RNA, which regulate protein synthesis and epigenetic inheritance systems in cells. In fact in our view it was probably a nonbiological (pre‐atomic light quantum energy process) process which combined with the complex pre‐gene organic molecule mix to give birth to the gene itself as a stable process which then went on to make the initial stable cellular
structures in evolution.
The mainstream scientific disciplines engaged in genetic research and its applications are heavily focused on exploring the structure and functions of genes as a biological process. Whether its functions like protein synthesis, transcription, replication, or genes responsible for the making of various body organs and their functions, or for diseases like AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer or correlations between certain genes and certain mental functions, the underlying assumption is that genes are nothing more than a biological process. The mechanics of the making and functioning of the brain processes by the genetic process have been explained to a large extent but the making and functioning of the mental processes by the genes is still an unexplained process. The consequences of the ignorance about this process is that either we try to forcefully fit the mental processes within the biological framework or come up with supernatural explanations for it which leads to all kinds of perversities within and outside of ourselves. In our opinion, the problem is that the existing biology based genetic framework of explaining mental processes has not yet enabled us to sufficiently and clearly grasp the structure and functional mechanics of mental processes so we need to come up with a new framework of understanding and application. Especially when the need for answers is imperative and binding on us if we want to resolve the ever-increasing mental and physical problems that we have created for ourselves. To look for a new framework for explaining our problem generating mental constructs and ideas we need to first and foremost unravel the details of the existing connection between our genes and minds. It is only through a deeper and three-dimensional understanding of this connection that we will be able to intelligently intervene and make some serious changes in our mental processes, which are fundamentally responsible for creating internal and external crises in the lives of contemporary man.
Genes and human mind: current conceptions and their inadequacy
Is human mind a product of an individual’s genetic constitution or his/her environment, i.e., nature or nurture? Majority of scientists, philosophers, and even common educated people today are no longer staunch adherents of the two extreme positions in this age-old debate. The continuously increasing knowledge about the brain, mind, genes and evolution is revealing that the human mind is a complex evolved product of a dynamic interaction between both these processes. Current theories, debates and
the role of one process more or less than the other. The sequencing of the human genome and the ever-increasing knowledge about the detailed functioning of the genetic process has provided us with a wealth of information about how genes make the brain and also influence its functioning. We are beginning to identify the genes2 which are responsible for the construction, evolution and functioning of the various areas of the human brain. Increasing evidence is indicating that there are thousands of genes that are involved in making complex proteins (including regulatory proteins) for making the elaborate and many-layered brain structure and for guiding its functioning and evolution. We have also started identifying and zeroing in on genes responsible for various brain diseases like dyslexia, Parkinson disease, Alzheimer disease, etc. Alongside an understanding of the genetic formation of our brains, we have also been identifying the role of genes in the formation and functioning of our mental functions. We have been, for quite some time now, associating specific mental traits, capabilities (memory, intelligence, etc) and behavior with a particular gene or groups of genes. This association however, is neither linear nor simple. In fact, the one-gene-one trait concept is now an obsolete and discarded concept that only surfaces in newspapers or some popular science magazines. Where the sequencing of the human genome has imparted to us the conceptual and technical capability to correlate3 stretches of DNA with certain mental traits and behaviors or their disorders which breed mental diseases like schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, etc, at the same time it has also revealed that behavior, along with other complex mental traits involves not single genes but complex networks of thousands of genes and their complex system of regulation. Most of our mental traits and disorders are therefore a product of many genes having small effects disputes are therefore primarily concerned with the general and specific details of how our genes and environment together produce the human mind in all its complexity and why, to what extent and in what respects is that are modulated by other genes (Pinker, 2002). Due to the immense complexities and interconnections involved in the gene based mental formation of human beings, the entire pathway from genes to proteins and then development of particular mental traits, capabilities and behavior is still largely an unknown area.
However, despite the huge area of our ignorance in this matter, there is one clear consensus among behavioral geneticists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and philosophers and that is that genes do not determine the mind in every detail firstly because their effects are probabilistic and secondly they can vary depending on the environment (Pinker, 2002). It is based on the consensus that work in all these disciplines is being carried out to unravel the relationship between genes and the mind.
There is no dispute today among researchers that the basic4 (or we can say simple) and initial mental processes both of an animal and a human being are determined by the genetic process. In animals, we find no language and verbal ideas but voluntary acts, which can only be explained in terms of mental processes that have not been thought out verbally. When animals exhibit a particular temperament or a particular behavior pattern or mental skills and capabilities then they can only be understood and explained in terms of the functioning of their genes, which they are born with, and not ideas. And the variation in the temperamental and mental behaviors of two animal specimens of the same specie sharing the same environment can again be traced back to their genes. Similarly, the non-verbal and non- idea based mental capabilities displayed by human newborns can again be attributed only to their genetic process. Child psychologists now do not believe that:“… The world of an infant is a blooming, buzzing confusion, because they have found signs of the basic categories of mind (such as those for objects, people, and tools) in young babies…” (Pinker, 2002; p.55). The fact that newborns can: “… imitate facial gestures, connect what they hear with what they see, distinguish the rhythms of Dutch from the rhythms of Japanese, and tell the difference between someone who is looking at them and someone who isn’t, [is again] suggesting that even with relatively little experience, newborns are ready to start observing the world…” (Marcus, 2004; p.4).
These mental capabilities in infants and newborns clearly show that there is some kind of pre-experience (which arises in interaction with the environment) design in the genes which in the absence of dominant environmental stimulation makes these capabilities. Their growth and development then takes place through an adaptive (in the case of humans but rigid and almost fixed in the case of animals) developmental program (made up of sub-programs at both the physical and mental levels) during the course of the infant’s lifetime. To counter and undermine a dominant role of genes in the case of infant mental behavior there have been suggestions that there is also learning in the womb, which could be responsible for the making of those initial mental processes. But the question arises that normally sensory perception is considered as a prerequisite for any mental activity or processing so in the womb in the absence of sensory stimulus or perception how does that learning take place which then goes on to construct the mental faculties of human infants or newborns? What are its mechanics? One does not find any consensual explanation of this in current scientific and philosophical literature. Detailed studies and experiments in behavioral genetics are also revealing that the human potential for thinking, feeling and learning lies in the “…DNA of the fertilized ovum…” (Pinker, 2002; p.45). And genes are responsible for variation in “…ability and temperament…” (Pinker, 2002; p.46). In our view therefore there has to be some in-built (organized before experience and learning) mechanism in the genes which is responsible for the immediately manifest mental capabilities and inclinations of newborns or infants. Most importantly, as Steven Pinker (2002) says and we fully agree: “… Nothing comes out of nothing, and the complexity of the brain has to come from somewhere. It cannot come from the environment alone, because the whole point of having a brain is to accomplish certain goals, and the environment has no idea what those goals are…Information in the world doesn’t tell you what to do with it.” (Pinker, 2002; p.75).
What has been happening for quite some time now is that after the settling of the dust on strict genetic determinism most scientists and philosophers have largely been occupied with discovering the details of neuronal organization and development in interaction with the environment and how that gives rise to the numerous human mental faculties and functions and their development. The role of the genes in this process has largely been sidelined and has in fact receded into the background6. It is referred to occasionally as we refer to our long gone ancestors, who have no operational connection with the lives that we are living in the present. Their role in supplying the basic design (not a blue print but a recipe) for the formation and functioning of our brain processes and mental faculties is acknowledged (conceptually and experimentally) but the current complexity of brain structure and functioning and the complex mental feats it can perform and the problems and conflicts it has created are not traced back to genes. In fact any suggestion of such a connection is normally branded as bad version of reductionism, and viewed as an infringement upon and an insult to human autonomy and the act of free will. What has reinforced the above thinking and led us further away from going deeper into the connection of genes with the mind was the discovery of the estimated figure of human genes by the Human Genome Project. The intellectual camp (which includes scientists and some scholars of social sciences) which connects human mental complexity to the human gene count consider the figure, around 34.000 genes (Pinker, 2002), as too small to count for the dynamic and complex mental life of a human being. This according to them vindicates their theories and concepts about free Will and the dominant role of the environment in shaping the human mind.
At the same time however, a lot of biologists are also countering this argument and the implications drawn from it. The fact that the structure of what counts as one gene is made up of stretches of DNA which code for proteins (exons) interspersed with those stretches which do not (introns), from which exons are spliced together in multiple ways to give rise to not one but different proteins means that there is no linear correlation between a gene and its protein product. And hence between the complexity of the genome and the number of genes (Pinker, 2002). Moreover this structure also makes gene counting a problem; it is difficult to demarcate where one gene ends and the next begins. Then the fact that multiple splicing happens much more in higher organisms especially human beings is again indicating that linear correlations cannot be drawn. Most importantly, the figure 34.000 only makes up “…3 percent…” (Pinker, 2002; p.78) of the human genome and the rest is classified as ‘junk DNA’, whose function we do not yet know in detail although there is speculation of its involvement in gene regulation. These arguments are used for countering the ‘blank slate’ arguments and proposing that the human genome with its existing gene count is capable of making a complex brain and its mental faculties. There is no doubt today that human mental behavior, faculties and functions, especially higher order and more complex mental processes, need to be analyzed, accounted for and understood at multiple levels that means through various disciplines and the interconnections, interdependence and relationships between the different levels and consequently the respective disciplines have to be discerned. A word of caution here is that our focus of attention on one level must not be at the expense of the neglect of some other level that might be just as crucial and indispensable for a more holistic understanding of the human mental phenomenon as all the other levels are.
In our opinion it would be a misconception to sideline the genetic process due to the disconnect between the number of genes discovered by the Human Genome Project and the complexity of the human biological and mental life. Because as Steven Pinker (2002) says that would imply that if the number had turned out to be what we expected, say a 100.000 then it would have been correct to equate the complexity of the human mind with the genetic process. When the fact is that it is not logical to reduce the structural and functional complexity of the human mind to the gene count because if you do that then you would also need to explain the roundworm having 18000 genes (Pinker, 2002). And some other animals having more genes than us on the same plane. The issue is that the complex formation of the mind and its numerous departments and its many-sided and many- layered functioning cannot be explained merely by the number of genes. Similarly mental traits like thrill seeking and anxiety cannot just be linked to longer or shorter versions of stretches of DNA, as proposed by some geneticists (Pinker, 2002). We are not saying that the number of genes and the lengths of stretches of DNA have nothing to do with the human mental behavior and traits but only that we must not remain at that level of explanation but dig further and deeper into the genetic process and look for a more fundamental process that could account for the many- sided and many-layered complexity of the human mind.
After all when the post- big bang complexity of the universe and certain phenomena within it could not be explained by classical reality; its laws and its methods of inquiry, then didn’t we go deeper to a
more fundamental level and discover quantum processes/energy forms which today we see as the progenitors of the innumerable layers of phenomena and complexity in nature. So why are we scared of conducting a deeper inquiry into the genetic process and its integral connection with the mind. In our view (to be elaborated in the forthcoming parts of this paper) maybe the gene also has a subtle but complex quantum energy process within it which is responsible for the basic (not a complete blueprint) design of the mind and also has a dynamic mechanism in place of how that design will unfold or concretize in interaction with the environmental specifics of the individual specimen and also develop and modify. The dynamic of such a mechanism could be capable of generating the many-sided and many-layered complexity of the human mind, which we are proposing is also a quantum energy process and not a biochemical process.
It is on this note that we feel that an in-depth inquiry into the connection between genes and the human mind has not yet been undertaken. We have and are continuing to acquire very sophisticated and detailed knowledge of the genetic process and how it constructs the human body and the brain. However, when it comes to the mind and its complex faculties we only pay lip service to the genetic process and are completely focused on trying to explain human mental structure, functioning and complexity only in terms of and through the brain processes with minimum of genetic involvement. This trend needs to be revisited, it cannot and should not be eliminated but a horizontal and vertical inquiry into the gene- mind complex should become incorporated in it as an integral part of it which would enable a more holistic and three- dimensional view of this whole issue. As a first step in this inquiry, we would like to reexamine the existing concept of ‘gene’ as a biological phenomenon only. This reexamination is a necessary prerequisite for acquiring a deeper and holistic understanding of the relationship between the genes and the mind.
Why the gene is not merely a biological phenomenon but a composite of biological and nonbiological processes
If we carefully chart the journey of the changing concept of gene we will discern an interesting cycle. In the beginning, say before the inception of sophisticated tools for observing genes and the inception of molecular biology and Genetics we can say that the concept of gene existed only at the abstract level within our minds and was used as a concept of convenience to explain the process of the transmission of hereditary traits from one generation to the next. With the inception of tools like electron microscope, and then x-ray crystallography, this concept became concrete and tangible at the level of our sensory perception, when we were able to identify the genetic material and its location. Nevertheless, as we advanced further and inquired into the details of the physical location and operation of genes and started making computer simulations of the different genetic functions we made some new discoveries which overturned our existing understanding of the gene only as a DNA molecule and once again made the gene an abstract entity. An overview of the journey of this concept is as follows. The earliest theory of heredity can be traced back to fifth century B.C. when philosopher Hippocrates proposed that the reason why children possess qualities of their fathers is because “… the semen contains tiny samples from all parts of the paternal body…” Chambers, 1995; p.25). Since then classical geneticists mostly subscribed to a ‘functional’ concept of genes, which defined genes in the context of the role they played in heredity. For Mendel ‘gene’ was nothing more than an algebraic unit which he used for the calculation of trait combinations, so: … Aside from their functions of producing patterns of inheritance, genes were black boxes whose substantive contents were beyond the reach or interest of geneticists...” (Auyang, 2010; p.11).
After 1944, the ‘substantive’ concept of genes emerged “… which describes genes by their materials, properties, and interactions...” (Auyang, 2010; p.10). This concept was based on two very important approaches (one at the theoretical level and the other at the practical level) which emerged in the 1920s in the inquiry into the structure of DNA. First was quantum mechanics which enabled us to understand the subtle characteristics or properties of the chemical bonds between atoms within a molecule. Second, the discovery of X-ray crystallography and its application to “…compute the three-dimensional spatial arrangements of molecules in the crystal...” (Auyang, 2010; p.14). In 1944, Schrödinger in his book ‘What is Life’: “… speculated that the aperiodic arrangements of atoms in chromosomes contained some kind of “code- script” for the organism…” (Auyang, 2010; p.18). And In 1953 both Watson and Crick suggested that “… the precise sequence of the bases is the code which carries the genetic information...” (p.19). Thus, since 1953, we have been describing genes as bits or segments of DNA which can be “… defined and manipulated as chemical entities…” (Chambers, 1995; p.187). This classical molecular gene concept according to which stretches of DNA code for polypeptide chains which go on to make proteins is still the reigning concept in all the disciplines which are studying the structure and functioning of genes. Ever since the equation of genes with DNA molecules and the gradual development of tools and techniques for observing DNA structure and functioning over a period of time, our concept of them as a biological process has been strengthening and is by now largely entrenched in our minds. With the result that research and experimentation in genetics, molecular biology, molecular genetics, etc, is solely focused on accumulating specific and precise knowledge of this biological functioning of genes.
This work in the biological domain is no doubt very sophisticated and elaborate and has enabled us to more deeply and comprehensively understand a range of biological processes taking place within the human body. We are beginning to understand how genes determine the color of our skins, the shapes of our noses, eyes, hands and so on. We are also acquiring a more detailed understanding of how they trigger the aging process. Studying the genomes of viruses, bacteria and RNA mutations8 in human beings has enhanced our grasp of how diseases like cancer, AIDS, liver or heart diseases afflict the human body. This understanding is enabling more precise diagnosis and development of more effective tools, techniques and medicines for treating these diseases. These are but a few among the numerous examples of how the growing understanding of genes as a biological process is enhancing our understanding of the various biological processes taking place inside the human body. We also acknowledge that due to the tangibility of their biological functioning there is more scope for intervention and conventional experimentation and consequently production of new knowledge in that area. The sequencing, synthesis, manipulation and processing of DNA and RNA through more and more advanced techniques and methods led to an exponential increase in scientific progress. In the 1970s, this progress led to the emergence of genetic engineering which became a stimulus for the growth of the biotechnology industry. With the formal beginning of the Human Genome project in 1990 the above mentioned process of understanding the biological functioning of the human body got a major boost. This multi-billion dollar project to map and sequence all the genes of the human genome which was completed in 2004 has opened up for human beings a completely new phase of understanding and changing themselves at the biological level. Apart from the Human Genome Project, the main driving force behind contemporary genetic research is the nature of research funding in the genetic sciences. Today the main motivation and force behind the continuously expanding genetics research are the numerous biotech companies, pharmaceutical corporations and other private companies. The commercial interests of these companies is leading to the patenting of commercially useful genes and creation of private databases of information on genetic diseases, genes and their location, mutations, etc, which is enabling more productive exchange amongst researchers and accelerating the pace of further research in genetics (Marks & Steinberg, 2002). Alongside the growth and promotion of the above trend of focusing on the biological structure and functioning of genes we have made some important discoveries (laboratory and conceptual) in recent years, both in relation to the existing molecular concept of gene and their functioning related to the body, which in our opinion are challenging the existing ‘biology only’ based view of genes. These discoveries are pushing us to revise the existing concept of gene and to add to the existing biological explanation of some genetic functions in relation to the body.
Conceptual shift in the understanding of a gene
According to the historian of Genetics Raphael Falk, a gene is:
“…a ‘concept in tension’ (Falk, 2000) --- an idea pulled this way and that by the differing demands of different kinds of biological work. Several authors have suggested that in the light of contemporary molecular biology ‘gene’ is no more than a handy term which acquires a specific meaning only in a specific scientific context in which it occurs…” (Griffiths & Stotz, 2007; pp.1- 2).
In the last decade we have discovered that:
“… Any ‘single’ gene, in the sense of a single continuously read passage of DNA text, is not all stored in one place. If you actually read the code letters as they occur along the chromosome…you find fragments of ‘sense’, called exons, separated by portions of ‘nonsense’ called introns. Any one ‘gene’ in the functional sense, is in fact split up into a sequence of fragments (exons) separated by meaningless introns…A complete gene is then made up of a whole series of exons, which are actually strung together only when they are eventually read by the ‘official’ operating system that translates them into proteins.” (Dawkins, 1987; p.174).
This implies that ‘a’ gene, as a stretch of DNA does not already exist as a fixed entity with a clear boundary and in a specific location, which is what the classical molecular definition of gene proposes. There is a gap between the genetic information contained in a stretch of DNA and its biological ‘meaning’ (Stotz et al., 2006) which can only be derived from the stringing together of exons by the translating system. In addition, that process of stringing together depends on the elements and factors of the larger environment within the cell. Which in turn is connected with the environment between cells, and then the environment within the body and the mind and then the environment outside the body. “… the information for a product is not simply encoded in the DNA sequence but has to be read into that sequence by mechanisms that go beyond the sequence itself...” (Griffiths & Stotz, 2006; p.18).
Therefore, we can see that the gene is a flexible entity which cannot be confined to a protein coding stretch of DNA and it acquires a concrete identity only within a certain context, which consists of various factors, elements and relationships beyond the DNA sequence. Connected with the above insight has been the demise of the other part of this linear reduction—the one- gene-one-protein or one-gene-one-enzyme hypothesis9 — which went a step further and