Friday, January 27, 2006

On heritable behaviour

Not to be outdone by Tony, I also post a picture

I think Tony brought up an interresting point, wich is worth a post rather than just a comment. I think the fact that behaviour can be inherited is undisputed. Some call these intincts, but basically, any kind of gene that can influence the chemical makeup of the brain or neuronal connections that statistically favours a particular behaviour which increases reproductive sucess will be evolutionarily stable. Now something as complex as behaviour is definately multigenic and so drastic changes in behaviour will require a more flexible system then something that solely relies on genes. The advantage of a flexible system, is that any kind of new situation, never encountered before in nature can elicit an appropriate behaviour which can even be passed on by teaching. Even blocking the irrational behaviour of a primate on a GT with suicidal tendencies. Does one need mirror neuron to learn? Not necessarily, ants are able to couple in a teacher/pupil pair to teach with both positive and negative reinforcements where food is and how to collect it. Is new behaviour heritable? There is a possibility that through imprinting one could potentially pass on new epigenetic changes affecting behaviour to its offspring. Evolutionarily speaking, this does not seem to be a stable strategy. Such a change may or may not be beneficial, and it can easily be erased in the next generation. There is however another way it can be passed on. According to Dawkins, brains are replicating machines, and ideas can be replicator. These self replicating ideas are called memes. In an objective point of view, the only "purpose" of a meme is to replicate, and to do so it must "infect" a brain. If a meme is good at being passed around it will remain stable in the memepool and be part of the culture. The meme does not need to be beneficial to the individual per say, since the individual does not need to survive or reproduce for the meme to replicate. It needs only to be catchy. For example the meme of religion is a particularly successfull one. It is debatable wether this meme is beneficial to the individual harbouring this mind virus. Yet it is good at getting passed on. It has very sucessfull co-infectors that complement it, such as the promise of life after death, or the fear of hell. The point is that behaviours can easily be horizontally heritable, but one must think outside of genes and reproduction to fully understand how they can be passed on...


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