BIOLOGY 103
FALL, 2003
FORUM 9

More on Genes, and How to Think About Them


Name:  Talia Liben
Username:  cele19@aol.com
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-17 16:47:16
Message Id:  7294
Comments:
People are always saying that science is objective, as opposed to social sciences and history, which are almost certainly, invariably subjective in one way or another. However, I see science to be very subjective. For example, with all of the talk lately about finding genes for things such as being gay and being obese. Though it is possible that the study that goes into it is unbiased, just the questions of what we research and what we don't is a matter of bias. Why do people care whether or not there is a gay gene? Because it will help people to understand what the do not understand - psychologically and socially. I also wonder sometimes, how much of the "facts" discovered are tweeked so that they represent what the scientist wanted to believe? This is a huge problem in Sociology, for example, when trying to make sense of sociological findings. I think the problem holds true, also, for science.
In the end - the only thing that it completely unbiased fact is the universal language of mathematics, a language I will never comprehend.
Name:  Katie Ottati
Username:  kottati@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-17 18:33:56
Message Id:  7295
Comments:
I was thinking about what we were talking about in class today - the idea that there is most likely a gene that codes for obesity, and also about the idea that genes are not THE determining factor in most cases. I think that obesity is a good example of the role environment plays in the way people are. If there is a gene related to obesity, it most likely codes for fat retention, not for a dangerously high weight. We don't live in the environment we evolved in - we live in one full of refined sugars, desk jobs, cars, and high-fat snack foods. A gene that may have been adventageous several hundred years ago could result in life-threatening conditons today. I guess this sort of plays into Talia's point about objectivity. A gene that codes for fat retention would be a good thing in the environment humans used to live in, and would be considered a bad thing today.
Name:  Flicka
Username:  fmichael
Subject:  science and social biases
Date:  2003-11-18 00:18:47
Message Id:  7302
Comments:
I was thinking about Talia was saying about how science is never really objective, and I agree. I think scientists try to focus more on the summary of observations they gather rather than on their social biases, but they are always there. To some extent, there is, as Nancy said, a feeling that science needs to explain socially unacceptable subjects such as homosexuallity. However, I think what makes a good scientist is someone who can distance themselves from these biases as much as poosible.

And to comment on what Manuela and Natalya were discussing:
I don't think a person can blame the way they act on their genes. Genes can affect things such as your physical appearance. However, I think that the behaviour of a person depends mostly on the way they were raised, their past experiences, and other outside factors. Genes don't determine who you are as a person; they determine how you look physically. This all goes back, of course, to the nature vs. nurture debate. But if a homosexual gene was found, it would change the conception that social behaviour is not a cultural adaptation, but rather a bilogical inevitability for some people. And I think that is the major implication of this possibility. . .


Name:  Patty
Username:  ppalermo@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Nature and Nurture
Date:  2003-11-18 20:41:28
Message Id:  7319
Comments:
I know that this is a very popular additive to any discussion that brings up nature VS nurture, but I just found it important to say it again: We are clearly dealing with Nature AND Nurture. People may be predisposed to become or suffer with any number of things. People are also often in control of the onset, extent, severity, and overall effect that these "things" have on their life. It's so stressful to have two rational for one occurrence (i.e. obesity, homosexuality, etc.) that are both equally important to the discussion. We have SOME say over our lives, but not complete. Some things "just are the way they are," but never entirely independent of environmental factors. Accepting a stance that satisfies both the nature and nurture arguments and does not force them to oppose each other is a quicker way to find solutions that suit our lives.

As far as the argument of Nature Vs Nurture, which may always come up when trying to assign genes to very specific human issues, I find myself compelled to quote Jitendra N. Mohanty, a phenomenological rationalist philosopher. What he describes about diffrent world noemata, (or what can be applied in this case as diffrent ways of looking at the same problem within any relm of undersanding, is this:

" In the first place, there is no opposition between diversity and unity. Unity is being worked out rather than being a preexisting metaphysical entity. The process is gentle and tolerant rather than violent and imperious."

I feel this also need apply to haw we look at the role of science in relation to the role of all other ways of rationalising the world. It is not a factual approach, but just another explanation to be tolerantly and gently campared and contrasted with the religious and the cultural and so on.


Name:  Christina Alfonso
Username:  CAlfonso@BrynMawr.edu
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-19 23:45:24
Message Id:  7342
Comments:
I don't think it's fair to say that scientists and researchers today simply "blame" everything on genetics. With new technology, they have been able to gather that genetics DO in fact play a very large role in determining many of a person's traits (both internal and external). Therefore, it is legitimate to form hypotheses that revolve around genetics as the "cause" of something. However, I feel like everyone is assuming that genetic factors and environmental factors are mutually exclusive in determining things such as homosexuality and obesity. I think it's often a combination of both. People with a "certain gene" may be more likely to become obese or live a homosexual lifestyle, but I think the environment in which these people live has to foster that as well. For example, there are significantly more obese people in the United States than say, Japan, due to the clear differences in diets. People in this country eat too much "fast food" and too many snacks that are very high in fat.
Name:  maria
Username:  mscottwi@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  yeast
Date:  2003-11-20 15:49:32
Message Id:  7347
Comments:
In an exciting linguistic development during this week's lab a new world was created: alloquat. Apperantly it can also be spelled with a "c"...which is the Native American spelling. But I also thought it was an interesting lab from the scientific standpoint. Unlike many labs, where the whole process was so complex that by the time the lab was finished I had forgoten what I was trying to do, I actually had a sense of purpose throughout the entire lab this time. Though I must say that I felt quite bad for the Lysed yeast. It seems to have gotten roughed up quite a bit.
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Username:  nkrimgol@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Nature and Nurture
Date:  2003-11-20 17:51:31
Message Id:  7348
Comments:
Something that occurred to me in considering the Nature vs. Nuture and Nature AND Nurture arguments is that it is all about the extent of our personal control over our lives. This may seem obvious, but there are many situations in which the control we exercise over what happens to us in life is ambiguous. In the context of an audition, for example, one has no direct control over whether or not one is picked for the part/solo, but one does exercise control over how much one practices one's craft and to a certain extent, how focused one is in the audition. So who is really in control, the auditionar or the evaluator, and to what extent? Similarly, which genetics, there are genetic obstacles that people overcome in miraculous ways. I can't remember exactly who it is, but there is this world-class African-American female sprinter who was in a wheel-chair until she was twelve. Our genes may control our destiny to some extent, but to what extent can we master our gene and/or genetic defects, and control our own destiny, or conversely, to what extent can we lose control, despite our genetic advantages?
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Username:  nkrimgol@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Behavior and Genetics
Date:  2003-11-20 17:56:49
Message Id:  7349
Comments:
In response to Flicka's comment that genes influence only our physical appearance and not the way we act, I profoundly disagree. Behavioral patterns like depression, mental illness, and even eating patterns are extremely heritable on a genetic basis. There is a great deal of behavior and psychology that is beyond one's direct control and often not related to one's experiences or advantages at all, but most probably, by genetically influenced if not predetermined neurobiology.
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Username:  nkrimgol@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Behavior and Genetics
Date:  2003-11-20 17:57:00
Message Id:  7350
Comments:
In response to Flicka's comment that genes influence only our physical appearance and not the way we act, I profoundly disagree. Behavioral patterns like depression, mental illness, and even eating patterns are extremely heritable on a genetic basis. There is a great deal of behavior and psychology that is beyond one's direct control and often not related to one's experiences or advantages at all, but most probably, by genetically influenced if not predetermined neurobiology.
Name:  Nomi
Username:  nkaim@brynmawr
Subject:  Nature/Nurture, Free Will/Predetermination
Date:  2003-11-20 20:16:33
Message Id:  7353
Comments:
"Something that occurred to me in considering the Nature vs. Nuture and Nature AND Nurture arguments is that it is all about the extent of our personal control over our lives." - Natalya

Gosh, I agree that this whole Nature and Nurture, Free Will / Responsibility and Predetermination discussion is really complicated! I have always wondered, for example, what role the SELF plays in the Nature-Nurture debate. Are we a part of Nature because we are, at bottom, genetically constructed beings? Or do we constitute a piece of the Nurture, of our environment, because our feelings and actions inevitably influence our later feelings and actions? Is it reasonable to assume the Self can even be placed in this dichotomy? Is the line between nature and nurture that clear, or does Self constitute the foggy middle ground?

Another big question -- one I won't even pretend to answer here, much as I'm tempted! -- is that theme of responsibility. It's all very well to say, as the therapists do, that there is no FAULT: fault, after all, leads to feelings of guilt, which are destructive and ineffective in the healing or "recovery" process ... and I agree with this. I argued before that blame and fault are mostly useless, and I still think they are.

BUT ... on the other hand, if we dismiss fault, what happens to control, to responsibility? If I kill someone, I should take responsibility for it and not do it again! Without free will, there can be no responsibility; without responsibility, there can be no control, no positive change. We might speculate about it, but if we really did not believe in free will, society would go AMOK! I believe in free will!

But, I concede, free will and fault must go hand-in-hand.

Okay, back to functionalism! There are no right answers, no truths, no clear divisions, even. So what is most useful to humanity? Clearly (to me), we should take responsibility for our actions but not dwell on fault or other things that induce too much guilt.

And nature / nurture? Just tell me, where do I (myself) fit in?


Name:  Sarah
Username:  skim@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  Nature/Nuture Stuff
Date:  2003-11-20 20:56:02
Message Id:  7354
Comments:
Okay, so in reading some of your guys' comments, I noticed that the idea of control and blame came up. My first web paper was Why Stress Affects Everybody Differently, and one of the main reasons it does is because of the individual person's personality traits. A very important trait in determining a person's level of stress is locus of control/chance. This is basically whether the person thinks they can control the situation or not. People who have a belief that they can influence their internal states and behavior and influence their environment and bring about desired outcomes are much less susceptible to stress than those who simply give up and think that they have no control over the situation.

I think this is relevant because I think that in recent years, there's been a tendency to well...blame things on genes. I'm not saying that there aren't strong genetic links in certain cases, I know that there is some VERY strong evidence for certain genetic links. What I'm saying is that while it may be in PART genes, it's ALSO partly the nurture side of the debate. And to neglect the nurture side, and say that "oh it's all genetic" is a very bad mistake to make. By blaming it all on genes, the person's locus of control is completely skewed. This might even lead to a lot more stress in that person's life. I just think that recently people have been putting more than deserved emphasis on genetics, and this could prove to be detrimental in the future.

Also, like, for example, there are biological differences in the brains of people who have depression and people who don't. But I saw a commercial once where they said basically, "Depression isn't your fault. This is a biological disease. You can't be blamed for it; it's purely genetic." And though I do know that there ARE strong genetic links with depression, I think this may lead to an overdependence on pills. People might just think, "Oh my brain's biology isn't quite right, so I'll just take a pill to fix it." But that's assuming that depression is due to the biological differences in the brains of people with depression, not that the biological differences are due to depression! Another factor to consider is that maybe depression runs in families because the living environment predisposes them to depression! Overall, I guess I just think that recently people have been overemphasizing the role of "nature" in the nature/nurture debate.


Name:  enor
Username:  ewagner@brynmawr.edu
Subject:  one more time
Date:  2003-11-21 02:27:51
Message Id:  7358
Comments:
I was just reading Nomi's posting concerning 'fault' and 'responibility'. In response to her question about biological predisposition and where free will comes in to play, I have decided to bring up once again the tiresome argument about serial killers. It is a statistical fact that most or many serial killers have damaged frontal lobes in their brains. Psychological studies have shown that damaged frontal lobes tend to lead to aggression and poor judgement (the possibility of their not knowing right from wrong or not caring about the difference is a valid issue also). This damage may be caused naturally (predisposition), or by abuse, or by other circumstances. Should we excuse the behavior of serial killers if their have an unstoppable biological urge to kill? I think no for a few reasons - first of all, not all people with damaged frontal lobes kill - second - not all serial killers have damaged frontal lobes. But this debate does raise some interesting issues about anatomy/ biology and responsibility.

I have another question too. If someone commits a crime then loses conciousness, say from amnesia, and then they live their lives as a new person (I know this sounds like the plot from A Long Kiss Goodnight) should they be held accountable for a crime they have no recollection of doing?

This issue might be cutting too close to neurobiology, but I still maintain that responibility and biology are relateable aswell, even if it does involve the brain.


Name:  
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-21 02:35:40
Message Id:  7359
Comments:
how do we access the "does science matter?" article? I am the only one who couldn't access it? It said I needed to pay 2.95? huh
Name:  Julia
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-21 10:48:13
Message Id:  7361
Comments:
Enor - I'd like to think the purpose of the justice system is to improve society, not to punish. When I was little and hit my sister, my mom put me in timeout in hopes I wouldn't do stuff like that anymore, rather than because I was somehow criminal and needed to be punished. (I don't know that this mindset is actually present in the justice system, but I'd like to think it is.)
So maybe people who commit crimes and then have amnesia, or who commit crimes and have frontal lobe damage, should still be punished to a reasonable extent as a warning to them and other people. I mean, even if you're biologically predispositioned to cancer, obesity, or serial killing, you should do your best to prevent those things. You should wear sunblock, eat your broccoli, not kill people, etc.
Name:  Megan
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  nature vs. nuture
Date:  2003-11-23 20:57:17
Message Id:  7377
Comments:
If we regard genes simply as coding for proteins, doesnt that kind of flush the whole idea of nature vs. nuture down the tube? Biological predisposition, or "human nature" now seems dubious to me. I thought that theorists kind of came to a conclusion that it was a combo of nature and nuture that determines how people turn out, whether it is psychology or sexual preference or a multitude of other things. Example, people say things like, oh he got his mean streak from his dad's side of the family, which seems like it is genetic. Obviously there is no gene for meaness, so it must be nuture?
Name:  Justine
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-23 21:16:17
Message Id:  7378
Comments:
I don't know about all this stuff. I guess in my opinion at least I fine nurture to have a little more weight. I think that even though a certain part of the body may have certain methods of performing certain activities it all really depends on the individuals. For example one might say that one type of a creature behaves in such a fashion because of how its body works, chemically and anatomically but that does not necessarily in my opinion explain the variety that exists in different species. I find that there are 2 conflicting messages in dealing with biology and what this class discusses. First biology is based on diversity or so I think we stated in class. Second we also say that there are certain fundamental things associated with certain species types of people whatever. So does that mean that diversity only derives from a fluke a that creature's/ object's genetic make up? Does diversity only come about because of some mistake or can it be influenced by how that certain creature grows up?
Name:  Justine
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  
Date:  2003-11-23 21:26:32
Message Id:  7379
Comments:
Sorry another quick thought. Genes = protein coat. Alright then, I'll go with it but why then is there such a focus on genetics and research. I know this is probably simplifying the issue but if as a society we focus on fixing genetic dilemas by changing someone's genes does that essential mean we are changing the coat of a protein. If it were that easy doesn't seem like we would be able to fix the problem then? So, I guess what I'm suggesting is that the reason why we don't know is because there are other things that make a person who they are. This could be on the biological level as well as the spiritual level. Also, does that mean if you happen to have a thicker protein coat or a longer one your hair will be brown or that you may have some sort of genetic problem? What I don't understand is why everything has to be simiplified into one thing. If we like diversity so much then why when there's a problem does it mean that there has to be one solution even though the problem in itself may multiple orgins and we as a society can't be ok with that.


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