A predetermined life

I found this news report yesterday-

An increasing number of parents are getting their children to undergo a DNA test to determine what they might do best as adults. Such tests in the United States and Europe have progressed to be able to determine the child’s potential IQ, memory power and temperament, parents here and elsewhere in India have started using “sports genetics” to ascertain what sport their children will do best in when they grow up. Doctors use information extracted from the so-called “sports gene” to predict what kind of game the child do best in as an adult.

It makes one feel uneasy because it’s a small, thoughtless, leap from this to genetic determinism, conflating probability with certainty, which immediately brings to mind Gattaca.

“No one exceeds his potential,” the character played by Gore Vidal says. “If he did?” Then “it would simply mean that we did not accurately gauge his potential in the first place.” There’s an essay on the implications of such determinism that the wiki article on the film links to. It makes very good reading.

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Comments

  • Moataz  On September 3, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I don’t see what the problem with the technology is. I don’t think the determinism is a legitimate concern unless maybe you mean the philosophies of the people involved. but that still does not mean that the technology should be hindered. I see it as bad philosophical ideas mainly.

    wouldn’t you agree ?

    • Aristotle The Geek  On September 3, 2010 at 8:00 pm

      Technology is never a problem by itself; it’s always “how” it’s put to use, by people. And yes, when I talk of determinism, it is the philosophy that I refer to. The problem with such technology is that people often use it like some omniscient oracle, forgetting something called free will. Genes may predict that a kid will grow up to be 6’4 but does it mean that he must take up basketball, or will want to?

      I’m fine with using technology in a way that fixes problems, cures diseases, improves longevity etc etc. But this “sports genetics,” or whatever the hell it is, is like, if you dig the analogy, using Rearden Metal to make golf clubs.

      I wouldn’t even dream of hindering it, but, people must be aware of the limits of technology.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On September 3, 2010 at 8:25 pm

      A brief addendum.

      Blind men can’t see. One could, of course, find methods to cure the blindness, thereby restoring sight. It is a kind of determinism in the sense that one fact determines the other, but all this is causal in nature. What genetic determinism implies is something on the lines of “white men can’t jump.” Which is plain dumb. The reason I write about a “small, thoughtless, leap” from seemingly innocuous conclusions to a full-fledged social malaise.

  • Moataz  On September 3, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    so designer babies would also constitute genetic determinism

    • Aristotle The Geek  On September 4, 2010 at 2:05 am

      Designer babies, or having them, doesn’t really constitute genetic determinism.

      Determinism, any kind of determinism, is not inherent in any technology. It is, instead, a philosophical (metaphysical) position generally pertaining to human actions, and mostly discussed in relation to causality and free will. In brief, any deterministic theory will claim that human behavior or actions are influenced by an external force outside our control. Genetic determinism is the belief that genes can explain an entire human life: the genes make the man. If someone is going to claim that, he needs to provide unfalsifiable evidence to support his claim. Locate the gene responsible for sexual orientation, or violence, or wisdom, or intelligence, or psychopathy, or risk-taking, and prove that that gene affects that one particular trait. And all this with a probability of one: 100% certainty.

      I don’t think anybody can. But this lack of evidence won’t stop people from assuming that if a test can determine if their son is a future NBA superstar, then maybe it can do other things too. All technology is serious business. When people get easy access to it without understanding the limits of the same (ah, Ian Malcolm), or the simple fact that science can never answer the question “why,” which is the realm of philosophy, they end up screwing the world. Genetic determinism today is genoism tomorrow.

      “Designing” a baby involves more than mere aesthetics. Sometimes, other than the diseases/defects example of mine, it might simply be better to let nature take its course.

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