an opportunity to explain a bit more about the DNA strand
(originally entitled “future generations won’t read blogs” and posted 12/22/2012)
Bored? Go out and buy a snake. Bring it home and let it bite you. Now you’re not bored.
Let me be clear lest I open myself up to lawsuits. Make sure it is not poisonous. You might also want to avoid either extraordinarily large snakes or ones with particularly pointy teeth. Other than that any snake will do for the purpose of this undertaking.
I cavalierly say to let it bite you but I think you’ll find it’s much harder than it looks to let a snake make contact and that is the point of the whole snake-biting-you endeavor.
Let’s say for instance you agreed to buy a snake but weren’t really sold on the whole letting it bite you thing so you went out and got the smallest most inoffensive garter snake you could find. A tiny little fella who’s mouth looks like the Bumble after Hermey pulled all of his teeth. You will still find it difficult if not impossible to hold still and let it bite you.
Why you may ask? That’s the question that will let you slip from the tyrannical shackles of boredom. When it strikes you will suddenly feel the ghosts of generations of people who have been bitten by snakes telling your hand, without your prior approval, to move out of the way and it will. It will blatantly disregard your logical assurances that this snake poses no danger and go ahead and give your hand the green light to flee the scene. Now you know why you’re not bored anymore, you’re facing up to the fact that while your decisions might seem to originate from your brain and are, therefore, completely under your control 24/7 occasionally they are overruled by your DNA.
If you’d like to risk being bored again you can continue reading. If the subject matter gets a little dull feel free to pull out your snake again.
You see behavior and experience actually change the biochemistry surrounding the neurons in our brain. It actually encodes the results of these experiences and starts to create a library of instinctual reactions. The part that is really interesting is that all of these instincts are transmitted through our glands into our reproductive systems. A nice way of saying that our personal experiences are also passed on to future generations. Obviously behaviors that are not duplicated from generation to generation and those that are trivial do not have staying power in the DNA, but those that do are built right into the neurons of the happy union of Mr. Sperm and Mrs. Egg.
Makes fighting the urge to pull away from a snake bite rather interesting. You’re actually feeling the tug of your ancestors. Perhaps thousands and thousands of dead people are saying “move your hand, dumbass.”
Explaining how genetic memory works allows me the opportunity to explain a bit more about the DNA strand itself, a chance I rarely pass up. Dinner parties, weddings, funerals, you’ll always find me going on at length about how DNA is a quad helix as opposed to the commonly held belief that it is a double. I have however learned not to go into too much detail about this during eulogies … something I hope will be passed on to future generations to save them the uncomfortable silences that I have been forced to endure. The two strands of the double-helix, as everyone knows from way back, represent the spatial and physical information of how a body will be formed. The other two strands form a second double-helix containing the temporal and mental information, i.e., what experiences from the past will be hard-wired into the subconscious of the individual. Because this second helix is invisible and cannot be seen by a microscope, it’s more of a mathematical representation of a process as opposed to a physical object, it doesn’t get much love from the science textbooks and posters community.
The argument of instinct versus learned behavior will rage on well after all of those people currently engaged in it have died but there can be little disagreement that DNA has to be the vessel in which instinctual behavior is carried from one generation to the next. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about cellular mechanisms, codons and nucleotide bases, but the fact is that even though you know the little snake you bought with his little toothless mouth has no way of actually harming you, you will pull away when he strikes. Even if it successfully bites you and you suffer no harm whatsoever you will still pull away if it strikes at you five minutes later.
For anyone who actually takes the time to get a snake and try this I think you’ll be richly rewarded. You will literally be having a conversation of sorts with long-deceased relatives and, in an act of defiance that is worthy of the living, you will be ignoring their advice and letting the snake bite you. Or trying anyway.
It’s harder than you think.