Saturday, July 11, 2009

Scientists have long tried to map out the gene for language, if at all it exists. A large extended British family, only known as the KE family, gave a ray of hope. It was discovered that this family had specific problems in speaking and understanding words. And the supposed culprit was a specific mutation of the gene called FOXP2, also dubbed as the ‘grammar gene’. Soon, the same gene was found to be activated when lungs and heart are developing in human embryos; even mice have it. This seems to indicate that language is not dominated by a single gene; a combination of genes in our brains helps us use language.

"When we die there are two things we can leave behind us: genes and memes...But if you contribute to the world's culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a sparking plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool.

"The point I am making now is that, even if we look on the dark side and assume that individual man is fundamentally selfish, our conscious foresight-our capacity to simulate the future in imagination- could save us from the worst selfish excesses of the blind replicators. We have at least the mental equipment to foster our long-term selfish interests rather than merely our short-term ones...We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism-something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machine and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators."

- From Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene

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