Day By Day

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Genetic Basis for Complex Behavior

Also from the NYT, biologists studying the evolutionary determinants of social behavior have isolated genes that control mating responses in animals. It's an interesting article and it illustrates just how far we have come since the early days of "sociobiology." It is clear, for instance, that to some extent behaviors are genetically determined, but it also appears that in many cases the operation of genetically determined mechanisms is so complex and so sensitive to external conditions as to defy predictions. As one of the researchers put it:
"The genes provide us the background of our general drives, and variations in these genes may explain various personality traits in humans, but ultimately our behavior is very much influenced by environmental factors," he said.
The complexity of these interactions is such that genetic determinants in many cases have very limited predictive power. The old debate between determinism and free will is beginning to resolve itself into a muddle in the middle in which we can recognize and begin to define limits to both deterministic mechanisms and free will.

Read the article here.

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