Why the contemporary mind is a gene based mental system
Gene as a product of the guideline (emotional) process in living cells
To acquire a deeper and more detailed understanding of mental processes we need to go back and revisit a crucial connected area briefly touched upon in the previous chapter—the origins, functioning, evolution and modification of genes. In our view the origins of mental processes lie in the genes, and it is only by exploring the genetic beginnings of the mind that the current working and parameters of our mental processes will become sufficiently tangible for us. So that we can intelligently restructure them to produce new mental capabilities and functions (perceptual, cognitive, emotional, intellectual and doing).
At the outset we would like to express some broad observations regarding the hitherto knowledge about genes and why we think it is inadequate in providing us with a more micro understanding of mental processes. We have a fairly developed understanding of genes and their functioning mechanics in terms of molecular and atomic processes, i.e. protein coding DNA and RNA molecules, non-protein coding regulatory DNA and RNA, proteins, the bases A,C, T, G, and atomic bonding between these bases, determining the coding properties of DNA. Broadly speaking, this is where our existing understanding of genes has reached. Of course there are still some least known areas like the ‘junk DNA’, noncoding RNAs, etc., which are now being explored and associated with the regulation of genetic expression and mechanism but these are still explained primarily at the molecular and atomic levels.
We have discovered the above knowledge through our laboratory tools, techniques, computational methods, and theorizing and have been applying it in genetic engineering to tinker with, and replace genes at the molecular level and consequently modify and also create new biological organs, clones and more recently synthetic life forms. So all this knowledge about genes and its current applications can be designated as the biological role of genes, which is just one of their roles.
There is another facet of genes which will become clear if we zero in on brain genes, which are involved in the making of brain cells and other brain processes. In the brain we find that their role no longer remains only biological, as in other parts of the body, but also starts going beyond biology to produce post-biological functions, i.e. mental functions and processes. So these new functions have their origins and mechanism (many-layered) within the gene. Which means they would be inherent at the time of the formation of individual cells and become manifest later.
In order to understand the nature of these new post-biological mental functions and the increasing role they began to play in living forms we need to explore the hitherto process of the origins and modification of genes themselves. At present microbiologists, geneticists, cell biologists and other scientists working on this area do not have any definite knowledge about the origins of genes. There has been a narrowing down of some theories which have been gaining acceptance in scientific circles but it is still an area in which no sustained, rigorous and large scale inquiry has been undertaken by scientific researchers. Their emphasis is still on discovering more and more micro details of the functioning of the genetic mechanism and how it can be manipulated, controlled, corrected, etc. So the area of their origins has been comparatively sidelined and neglected so to speak.
Before exploring this area we would first like to tackle the two basic positions existing theories take which we differ with. First, the process of the formation of genes is biological. Second, the emergence of gene was an accident of evolution.
We would like to begin with the latter because it is necessary to clear up the concept of the accidental emergence of the gene. We know there are trillions and zillions of energy particles or other energy forms in motion since before the big bang, and in the course of their motion they interact. What is vital is the manifold ways in which specific energy interactions take place and their corresponding consequences, which will vary with each interaction.
When we take up the stance that the different ways in which these interactions happen; at what angles of incidence and with what force certain particles interacted, is an accident then we are really saying two things. One, this happening is beyond our capacity to fathom. Two, for our purpose it is sufficient that it did happen that way. So we see nothing useful coming out of establishing the various ways in which energy forms and particles interacted. In reality however, there would have been some causation or logic which resulted in certain energy forms and particles interacting in a certain way. The reason being that their existence and functions are logical. Their actual behavior (in terms of specific interactions) may appear to have random results but the behaviour itself is not a product of randomness but of the logic of their particular properties and the specifics of their interactions.
Of course it is possible that today we are not in a position to understand or establish that causation and logic but we can at least admit to not knowing how this happened. Using the word ‘accident’ to explain this is not appropriate because that seems to be a positive statement implying the absence of logic. ‘Accident’ seems to be an antonym of ‘logic’. It is this implication that makes us shy away from the concept of accident. Our admitting we do not know is not a problem because there is so much we still do not know even in relation to the known and manifest phenomena. But if we describe our lack of knowledge in a way that we start implying something other than logic or objective reality then that is a serious matter. Because then we are actually opening the doors for a dogma based line of thinking. If today we describe it as an accident then tomorrow we are likely to explain it in supra-natural terms. And then we would be conceding that it is not only beyond our knowledge but also beyond logic.
In view of the above we cannot accept the emergence of genes as a mere accident. There would be a logical process behind the birth of the gene. Let us trace a possible scenario of that process.
If one were to go back to the period of the formation of a cell from organic matter under certain conditions one would find early cell-like structures or proto-cells having short life spans; they would come into being and then disintegrate. The process of repeated production (rather than reproduction) and disintegration of such cells would have continued for a long time. During this period these cells must also have undergone modifications depending upon the circumstances of their creation. It is unlikely that there was only one precisely specific and common (same for all) condition, which was both sufficient and favorable, for producing these cells. There were probably a band of such conditions and circumstances. This means those cells were also not identical but of different varieties and specifications. Thus, in a given set of circumstances a number of cells (and not one) must have been produced in the same place and at the same time and with a variety. So in the case of organic matter and cells we must have had a logic and situation analogous to the early universe (immediately after the big bang) stage of production of particles and atoms as the building blocks of inorganic matter.
It was probably an interaction between the cells of different varieties within the same time and place, which resulted in the creation of an additional (to the chemical factors responsible for production) circumstance and a dynamic factor in the process of cell formation and production. And that was the formation of a bigger and more complex cell, with more capabilities and functions. With this the period of these more advanced cells would have commenced. Although even at that stage we would still be in the period of production and not reproduction of cells.
Once these cells acquired more functions, they could now interact with the environment by themselves and acquire more things or elements from it and thereby extend their lifespans. The original lifespan of these cells must have corresponded to the resources within them, and now with greater complexity because of their size and functions, they could consume things from the environment and extend their life span. Hence they were able to give themselves a much larger area in which to operate. Once the time dimension of their life span increased they could perform even more functions. It is worth noting that the number of functions a living thing can perform does not depend only on its constituents and mechanics but also the available time. If more time is available then it can do more things and explore much more the potential of its functions. So these complex and bigger cells must have tried to manipulate and replicate those conditions which produced the cells in the first instance. Being a larger cell having more time, they were now better positioned than pre-cellular Nature to produce cells.
They no longer remained dependent only upon the pre-cellular natural circumstances for their production but upon a more developed Nature in which the developed cell was also a part. So they became partners and participants in the production of cells, which must have further extended their life spans and functions. Gradually the balance must have shifted more and more in favour of the cell leading the process of production of cells. We are not suggesting that cells could exclusively be produced by cells only, but they began to form the larger part of that process and their own functions became the pivot of this cell production process.
As a result this whole process came very close to the reproduction of cells. Reproduction to us means nothing more than the role of the cell becoming primary in the production process. One can see this in any and every form of reproduction (even at the most developed level) in Nature. Of course there is still the need to take things from the outside because there is no such thing as an exclusive reproduction but now the process is more centered upon the thing itself. Take the example of DNA. It has to interact with things outside itself but the process of protein making is driven and led by DNA itself.
At this point due to the growing capability of taking things from the outside and incorporating them in the process of producing cells, the mechanism of cell centric production becomes more elaborate and begins to develop. A part of the development of functions and capabilities centered around this process would be perceptual and physical capabilities of appropriating something from outside and making use of it.
At this stage of development, the cell is no longer the simple cell that it was when it first came into being as an “accidental” production in Nature. By now it is an operating process connected with taking things from outside, using perception and physical capabilities, and then reproducing.
At this juncture, logically, another process must have emerged within the cell to integrate and manage this complex of functions and mechanisms that it had already acquired. This would be a sense of dislike, failure, pain or aversion and a corresponding sense of like, preference or attraction. Something like what one observes in magnetism of iron where we have the process of like poles repelling and unlike poles attracting each other. One can see this sense of attraction and repulsion in lots of other things as well, like salt, and even in the motion of heavier and elementary particles. So repulsion and attraction are commonplace in Nature.
In living cells this basic process of attraction and repulsion becomes what we are calling the ‘emotional process’. The emotional process is nothing more than the cellular form of the process of attraction and repulsion. Except that here the attraction and repulsion is not a simple one step thing but performs the function of management of all the other faculties, capabilities and functions and in many different ways. It is because of this complexity that we are using the term ‘emotional’ rather than ‘magnetism’ for it.
As a part of a cell and its complex functions, the attraction and repulsion mechanism no longer remains mere attractions and repulsions as in the case of pre-cellular Nature but actually assumes the role of a guideline for the cell’s complex functions. So the emotional process is actually nothing more than a guideline process which channelizes and integrates the various capabilities and functions of the complex cell.
Once the guideline process emerges it enables cells to get organized and integrated within themselves on the basis of those operating guidelines, for repelling and attracting. Of course the direction of the guidelines was coming from the processes and functions going on in the cell right before they came into being; the processes of taking things from the outside for consumption, trying to extend its life span and acquire a greater role in the process of production of new cells, approaching reproduction. It was the need of these guidelines to produce a mechanism like the genes to put the entire function of management and production of cells onto a better and firmer footing and make it a more efficient process. That is when the process of gene-based reproduction of cells as the next more complex and mature stage of the production process began.
In our view therefore, the genes were primarily a product of the emotional process at an advance stage in the life of the cell. Due to this, there must have established early on an operating connection between the guideline or the emotional process and the process of the production of a gene within the cell. Therefore, contrary to mainstream thinking, the gene did not come into being only as a result of external interactions between organic forms of Nature but was mainly caused by the needs and dictates of the pre-existing guideline process within a cell.
Since the earliest times, therefore, the gene has been an appendix or a creature primarily, not wholly, of the emotional or the guideline process. In other words, the making of the gene has been required, and superintended by the emotional process. So while this connection and mechanism is in place this remains its basic character. Whenever genes are reproduced today they have that character of their natal cord (which is the emotional process) within them which remains operative throughout the existence of every gene. Hence we are unable to see the gene as being some autonomous thing in itself.
In the area of genes the conceptual issue one confronts is whether to look upon the gene as a biological device or as a biologically autonomous building block, which is the starting point of the biological process. In our opinion, it is neither the starting point nor is it autonomous. It is nothing more than a biological device to ensure better and more efficient management of the biological process of survival and reproduction. But what lies behind every gene, whether born yesterday, today or tomorrow, is the guideline of the emotional process of aversion/repulsion or attraction.
How the brain evolves and produces mental processes in accordance with the guideline (emotional) process in the genes
As the biological process developed from one cell to a complex of cells and eventually became a biological body, having different biological parts, which were capable of many more functions, then there emerged a need for a correspondingly extended range of guidelines. Because an increased range of functions in a dynamic environment means an even greater need for a management system, which can cope with that dynamism in changing situations, (internally within the biological body and externally also).
Here we need to note that the objective constraints in installing this management system come from the limitations of the capabilities of cellular elements, which gave birth to or produced the gene. Because any process which produces something is only able to do so within the limits of its possibilities. That is why we do not have perfect or ideal genes.
This fact gives rise to additional complications of the inadequacy of every gene. And we know that any inadequacy, whether conscious or unconscious, generates an aversion to it. Similarly, in the gene we find repulsion of inadequacy and an attraction for adequacy. Which is another indication that the gene is far from being autonomous, or a thing in itself. It is stretched to its utmost limits and that too in a situation in which it finds itself squeezed by the pulls arising out of its inadequacies and all other factors. It is a rather ‘tense’ gene, so to speak.
We can therefore say that there is no perfect gene, but only the possible gene. We must not expect from it a perfect template or complete answers. The secret of the life process lies in the gene’s imperfection and the problems connected with it.
When the biological process reached the stage of a developed body the complex of functions became so extensive that the existing relatively simpler management modes were no longer enough hence the guideline or emotional process required the genes to produce brain cells. These cells were a new kind of mechanism, which specialized in producing mental processes to enable the same guidelines to better handle the complexity of a much greater level of division and specialization of functions.
Once the mental functions emerged out of the brain of a developed body then authority, which at the pre-body level was primarily reactive, had to be delegated to them. Because after the emergence of the body the reflex reactive mechanisms of the cell were no longer sufficient to handle the emerging complexity of physiological functions, so the authority (or guideline capability) in the cell had to now be transferred to the mental processes. And along with this the exercising of this authority in accordance with the structure of mental processes was also transferred.
The emotional guideline process, acting through genes produced brain cells, which give rise to mental functions. These then became the focal point or the primary residence of the emotional process. So new guidelines for biological and mental functioning started coming from the mental processes and this was an evolutionary change. Genes delegated their functions to the post-biological mental processes to be exercised at the level of mental processes rather than the biological process. Because as mentioned earlier the biological process was no longer adequate for coping with the complexity of the body’s life, in which the brain and mental processes had now begun to play a growing and critical role.
When genes transfer their authority or their function to the mental processes then the genes have to while producing the brain cells also tell them what functions to perform. During the process of reproduction the brain cell genes impart the guidelines contained in them to the brain cells. Since these guidelines are not to be exercised at the biological level but at the level of mental processes so they are not given in a biological form but in the form of a software. Thus the relevant genes producing a brain cell contain two software within them. One, for the biological construction of the brain cell. Two, for producing specific mental capabilities and functions in line with the guidelines now operating through the mental processes. Which means that there is already a step telling the brain cells how they should produce mental processes. And this is incidentally what separates the brain cells from any other cells in the body.
To sum up, it is through the above interactive dynamic between genes and the brain that both the simpler mental processes in post-brain species and our complex mental systems have been formed.
Consequences and implications
The above elucidation can do three things for us. One, it enables us to look afresh at the origin and causation of the gene itself as an objective process and phenomenon in Nature like all other phenomena. Two, we can become a bit more intelligent about the fundamental connection and the structural and functional relationship between genes, brain and mental processes in all living things. Lastly, it enables contemporary man to get a better grasp of where his own mental processes are coming from and how they are unconsciously existing and functioning within the basic framework made by our gene-based mental processes. That is why we refer to the existing human mind as a gene-based mind.
At present, the existing mind of man is a battlefield where the conflict between the existing gene-based and the emerging intelligent process based mind is being played out. The issue we confront today (as mentioned in our earlier pieces) is of transition from the former to the latter in which the primacy is of our mature intellect and developed sensitivities instead of gene-based emotional and mental processes.
In order to become intelligent about this transition and to play an active role in it we need to first of all become intelligent about the existing relationship and communication between our genes and mental processes and qualitatively upgrade it. Because the problems we have created for ourselves today cannot be resolved by our existing gene-based mind. Our elaborate mental complex with a highly developed and complex system of aversions and attractions or pain and pleasure is only generating more pain, conflicts and contradictions in human life, both individually and socially. So we need a new mental operating system which can handle this situation. And that system can only be made from new mental processes, which do not come into being and operate with the guidelines of the gene-based emotional and mental processes but guidelines coming from our mature intellectual and emotional processes produced by the intelligent process.
The above might give the impression that we are proposing to do away with genes. No we are not! Because at the moment we need the software process to make and manage the biological processes of the body and even the brain. We are only saying that they should no longer remain in the driving seat when it comes to our minds but take up a secondary position instead. So that we can move onto an intelligent mental operating system as opposed to being stuck with a gene-based mental system.
i. Here we would like to for the moment sidestep those ideas which propose that there is no need for a deeper understanding of genes in order to understand mental processes, especially of contemporary man. Because in their view there is no direct connection between the genetic process and human mental processes. Gary Marcus has very aptly described this attitude in the following quote. According to him“… The molecule that Crick helped to decipher just over fifty years ago has had an enormous impact on science, medicine, even law. Yet it has had almost no impact on theories of the mind.” (Marcus, 2004, p. 2) He also gives a plausible reason for it “…People don’t want to accept that genes play an important role in our mental life because this notion challenges our sense of being able to shape our own destinies.” (Marcus, 2004, pp. 2-3)
ii. Here we would like to share with the readers the following link of an article on this area. (Mattick, 2001, Retrieved from: http://www.imb.uq.edu.au/download/large/EMBO_Reports.pdf )
iii. Any further thinking and explanation in relation to them is also sought in atomic and molecular terms.
iv. The two broad conceptual frameworks within which most of these theories fall are ‘RNA world hypothesis’ and ‘Metabolism first’ hypothesis. To read up further on these hypotheses please see the following link (Shapiro, 2007, Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-simpler-origin-for-life)
v. Here we are referring to the first elementary cell-like structure which would have a kind of wall to separate it from the outside environment.
vi. If there was a variation in the conditions, which gave rise to them then it stands to reason that there was a variety in the structure and the objective character of the cells themselves within that range.
vii. The living cell guiding and channelizing the production of more cells.
viii. We are of the view that there is no clear cut dividing line between production and reproduction. We cannot say that production is one process and reproduction is another process. Production is the simpler process, while reproduction is a more complex process in which the role of the thing itself becomes primary.
ix. From the word tension commonly used for inorganic and organic entities.
x. This can be seen from the fact that genes are not blueprints, or exact recipes for the making and functioning of the biological body and the brain and mind. Genetic expression is influenced by and dependent on many factors which are external to its own structure and code.
xi. Due to its inadequacies and its general program for ensuring the survival and evolution of the biological body, which in turn requires the process of mutation or alteration in the gene’s structure.
xii. The broad division of the mind is based on perception, cognition, processing and execution. All the various mental functions and processes fall broadly in these categories.
xiii. In Nature, chronologically speaking, mental processes are post biological. Just as biological processes are post-organic processes, organic processes are post-inorganic processes, inorganic processes are post atomic processes, and atomic processes are post-particle processes. Mental processes constitute the next stage in the evolutionary process, of being a post-biological process. We are saying post-biological because we are talking of post brain cell mental processes. As mentioned earlier mental functions are present even in cells but in an embryonic form, at the level of the gene. Where they exist in the form of the basic emotional process of attraction and repulsion. But in brain cells we find a more advanced or the next evolutionary stage of this emotional process, i.e. mental functions.
xiv. In our view, the mechanism of the brain cells is quite different from that of other cells. The protein part would be similar to what exists in other cells of the body but then we find something more than proteins in them also. And it is not something out of the ordinary. All other genes of the body produce different things; the different components and parts of the body.
xv. Our mental operating system (of mental functions, processes and their products) dominated at the root level by the gene-made framework and not our intellectual functions. Even the use of our intelligent functions is in the hands of gene based emotional and mental processes. And our intellectual functions which have transgressed beyond the mental software have to again operate within the same basic mental operating system because they do not yet have a system of their own.