Friday, September 21, 2012

Epigenetics, DNA "Dark Matter," Free Will

Interesting news this week on the activity in the "dark matter" of human DNA

Unlike the boxes of items you've got packed away in that expensive storage unit, the "junk" in our DNA isn't so junky after all. In fact, it looks like it's key to our epigenetic systems and activities.

We've known about epigenetics, or the biological and environmental activation of gene expression, for a few years now. Linking the idea of epigenetics to its actual place in our DNA is a huge step.

When we start talking about brain activity, though, things get philosophically and ethically complicated. Check out the story of James Fallon, who has both the genetics and the brain structure of a psychopath, but who is as normal and productive as they come.

What is society's responsibility toward the individual and the group as we learn more about our brains? Our current model of criminal justice lags behind the criminal act. Essentially, we have structured society in a way that permits criminal activity to happen. But what will our responsibilities be as these discoveries reveal more, as no doubt they will?

How will we reckon with the question of free will?

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