genes, memes and arts spots
Dr. Dean Hamer, director of gene structure and regulation unit at U.S. National Cancer Institute, wrote a book about the ‘God Gene’, trying to identify a gene responsible for religious beliefs. He was attacked by Barbara J. King, Professor of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, who said that “Hamer needs to find a gene for recognizing fiction masquerading as science”. This made me think that there could be a gene responsible for fiction and other works of art.
Could there be different genes in the human constitution, enabling some people to create fiction, others to paint or compose music? Or could there be an Arts Spot in the brain? After all scientists like Vilayanur Ramachandran from the University of California, San Diego have been searching for a ‘God Spot’ in the brain which controls religious faith. If so why not an Arts Spot?
On the subject of music, David Huron, Professor of Music, Ohio State University, suggests that a “Music Gene” would have in existed very early in the history of mankind, as the oldest known musical instrument the “Divje baby flute”, carved out of a bone, is 40,000 years old.
The thirst for knowledge and to find explanations for anything and everything is a part of human nature, which is probably the influence of another gene. Only some of this knowledge is useful to mankind, while some can be used to harm ourselves and others.
The U.S. government ran a Human Genome Project (HGP), to identify the 20,000 to 25,000 genes in human DNA, spending US$ 2.7 billion. Genes hold the information to build and maintain the cells in our bodies and pass genetic traits to our children. The HGP study poses many questions, due to the threat of misuse or exploitation of the data gathered. One of the goals of the HGP is to transfer “related technologies” to the private sector. What if a scientist or a business organization patents the creativity gene, and what if they claim royalty or patent rights for any novel, a painting or a song created by a person carrying this gene? Currently over three million genome-related patent applications have been filed.
At the same time other scientists are trying to map the brain, to find which part of the brain is responsible for each action or emotion. Neuroesthetics is a new term coined in 2002 for the scientific study of the neural bases for the contemplation and creation of a work of art.
University of Arizona neuroscientist Charles Higgins says “the idea of monitoring and influencing consciousness with a physical neural interphase is the most plausible”. He was commenting on the sci-fi thriller, ‘Source Code’, where a computer program enables one person to cross over into another man’s mind. There is on-going research to develop equipment for mind reading. This could enable someone to steal a new creative idea from an artiste and get away with it, because the victim would not be able to establish a claim.
Man is developing technology to enable the human brain to control his computers and his machines. He would soon be able to communicate on social networks like twitter or facebook, directly by the brain. This technology perhaps could be used by others, to hack into the human brain, like they hack into computer systems today. Then the hackers could take over our brains and our lives.
If genes are not responsible for creative works of fiction, art or music, then perhaps ‘Memes’ are responsible. Richard Dawkins used the term ‘Meme’ in his 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene’, to mean a contagious information pattern that replicates by symbiotically infecting human minds and altering their behavior, causing them to propagate the pattern. Meme Central defines the meme as “the basic building blocks of our minds and culture, in the same way that genes are the basic building blocks of biological life.” Genes leap from body to body, while memes leap from brain to brain.
According to Liane M. Gabora, a research fellow at UCLA, memes, unlike genes, do not come packaged with instructions for replication. The brain plays with the memes, suggesting that creativity is strategic – not random.
All these developments bring up a horrifying vision that in the very near future artistic creativity will be monitored and controlled by scientists, and their instruments, in their laboratories. Whether they are called Memes or Genes or Spots in the brain, scientists are trying to interfere with nature and with human freedom, in the name of progress.
If we can Genetically Modify plants today, there is no doubt that scientists in the near future could Genetically Modify human beings too. ( a genetically modified human embryo has already been created by researchers at Cornell in 2007, which they claim was destroyed after a few days). They could soon be making military personnel to fight our wars, and cricketers to win our matches. Further manipulation could make the human being to be pre-programmed to create what the scientists, or those who are paying the scientists, wanted. Needless to say, they could also make creative writers, poets, artists or musicians.
What would be the fate of creative arts in the future?