Saturday, March 13, 2010
(from Geist & Gehirn, episode 22)
There is quite some debate about whether our personality is determined by our genes or by our social conditioning. The answer is more complicated than just saying it's a mixture of both at a certain proportion, and also more complicated than saying it's a mixture of many mixtures. (Referring to the fact that there are many different genes that encode our organism.)
The following has to be considered. Experiments have shown that for three different genetic variants A, B, and C there exist two different surroundings S and S' with the following surprising relationships: Gene A is better for surrounding S, but worse in the case of S', whereas gene C is better in S' but worse in S, while B performs more or less the same in both.
The funny thing here is that in this particular investigation the genetic variants refer to the serotonin level in the brain, the surroundings refer to the amount of stress in the childhood, and the distinction better/worse refers to the likelihood of developing a depression later on. Meaning, some people will get a depression much easier when there was stress in their childhood, and they will almost never get a depression when there was no stress. But the other brand of people, those who are more robust, those who will not so easy become depressive as a reaction to early stress, this brand of people is more likely to get this disease in the case of no childhood stress at all!
Imagine: The simple view would say, depression (or any other trait of personality) is determined at x % by nature, and at y % by nurture in everyone, but in reality it's determined much more by nurture for the first brand of people than for the other brand. So the overall influence of nature actually is bigger than you might think at first glance, since it's the genes which decide in the first place to which of these two brands of people we belong.
In any case, childhood stress has a negative influence on the mental health as an adult, and stress has a negative influence on health generally, and therefore should be avoided as much as possible.
An interesting conclusion on my part is the following. The judgment of whether a certain genetic predisposition is to be called sick or healthy depends on the surrounding. An example. In the Stone Age, males with a tendency to competitive violence were perfectly healthy and very successful. When you were aggressive you were a better hunter, and you also were better in oppressing other males, which gave you the power to make more sex to more women than them, which made you the father of more children who also had these genes of aggression, which by the way is an automatic mechanism for the procreation of such genes.
If you were a peaceful guy, in the Stone Age, you first of all were lowest in rank in the horde (remember, the rest of the men was aggressive), and most likely not allowed to have a woman. Second, if there was a fight with the neighbor horde you were the first to be this time's loss, because you were worst at smashing brutal heads with a bludgeon. And third, you also were the one whom the lion preferably ate because while the others instinctively either ran or fought you rather wanted to think about the problem and find an elegant solution.
Okay, in the end the elegant solution indeed came in the form of civilization, but it took quite a long time to get it, and it'll take another long time to get it fully, since if we extend our example of the two brands of males, the aggressive competitors and the peaceful collaborators, into an utopian New Age where the highmost intelligence is necessary to live in a complex society surrounded by an ever-aware technological infrastructure, we see the following.
The two cases are a nation UA where most of the males (and those females who mimic them) are very competitive, and violence and aggression is socially accepted, judged from the content of media products. The other nation is CE, and there people don't even know what it means that people could harm each other, the last recorded incident of a person killing another person, known only by a handful of historians, stems from 20.000 years ago, and everyone lives in peace and harmony with everyone, and people are wicked crazy from nowadays' perspective in their drive for the most intense experiences that are always changing and always new and always the same and beautiful at once. So fast and so slow at the same time, you can't imagine.
Well, I think I don't need to explain my example further, nation UA as a whole is completely inferior to nation CE, the defective way people treat each other and themselves when they're possessed by the hierarchy instinct (which is the only reason why competition exists in the first place) gives lots of material for humorous and illustrative stories I might invent later on, but is too sad and boring for a serious investigation like this one.
Another remark I have to make is about certain mental diseases only being a disease because the social surrounding nowadays being such that people of this brand aren't allowed to develop normally, and that these people in other surroundings would be perfectly sane and hmental. See.
(Geist & Gehirn is a German television feature series by Prof. Dr. Dr. Manfred Spitzer, psychiatrist, psychologist, neurodidact, and author of a couple of widely translated books about brain science. All the episodes can be watched here.)