Are we truly just slaves to our DNA?

As i was driving home from school today i think it hit me that this is how life probably exists, that all life is subject to this rule. that we are all just expendable slaves our DNA have created to serve their own agenda of pointless replication. I think Richard Dawkins was the originator of this theory, i don’t know if it is still held in high regard though. his theory was that 3.8 billion years ago DNA’s percursors (crystals or RNA) replicated meaninglessly, and over eons started developing shells to protect themselves from other replicators & to encourage replication, and organic life is that shell.

Any thoughts? is this theory still reputable? I think people have addressed his theory of ‘the blind watchmaker’, ie the idea that complexity is a result of natural selection but when it comes to the idea that organic life is just a tool DNA uses to replicate itself, i am not sure if people are addressing that theory or trying to disprove it. if his theory is true then that is a major life altering way of looking at life. It puts suffering and unfairness into perspective, it explains why our brains are designed to torture us as well as reward us (at least to me).

think of it this way… people don’t act totally randomly. therefor some sort of rules govern them. even if total free will exists if its anything but randomly flipping a coin it probobly has to have some rules too. so at some level your a ‘slave’ to something. but thats fairly meaningless, you can’t fly, so are you a slave to gravity?

There is much to be said about the fact that it’s DNA that is trying to replicate itself, thru us and other living beings, rather than the other way around. It doesn’t follow, however, that we are slaves to DNA becuse of this. Much about us is determined by DNA, but you can pick what you’re having for dinner and where you go no vacation, even if your DNA is nudging you in a certain direction.

Good luck in the Dem primary, BTW.:slight_smile:

we’re slaves in the sense that

  1. we cannot escape the carrot & stick of our emotions
  2. our physical & mental beings are dependent on what DNA provides us with. its self evident, but the DNA of a mouse makes a mouse, DNA of a genius human makes a genius human, the DNA of a birch tree makes a birch tree. none of the organic shells had a choice in it.

didn’t they teach that in biology? ‘a creature is what its DNA says it should be’? ‘a bacteria can eat whatever its DNA produces enzymes for’, etc?

Genetic engineering is giving a slight amount of control to us, but we are still dependent on it for our structure. Humans have 99.9% of their DNA in common. We can barely change 0.001% of DNA and only then in a select amount of people.

It really doesn’t make sense to say that we’re “slaves” to our DNA. To a certain extent, we are our DNA. To say that we’re slaves to our DNA is to say that we are slaves to ourselves.

the idea put forth by Richard Dawkins (if i’m remembering right) is that cells are tools DNA use to service their own agenda. I tend to think this makes us slaves. I don’t choose to be attracted to women who are fertile, but i am. And i don’t choose to have emotions, but i do. All these things make me useful to my DNA and i have no choice in them.

Ah, but DNA doesn’t have an agenda. DNA that is more successful in reproducing tends “survive” longer. That’s all there is to it.

But if those things were different, then you wouldn’t be you anymore. You can’t be a slave to your own nature, because any change in your nature would cause “you” to cease to be.

Wesley, DNA is not human. It’s a string of proteins. If you realize that it doesn’t have thoughts, ideas, or an agenda - in other words, if you stop personifying it - you’ll realize it’s impossible for us to be slaves to it. Certainly DNA has a lot to do with who we are, but it doesn’t control us in the sense that we can be free of it. It’s part of what we are.

DNA is just organisms’ way of making more organisms.

Organisms are just DNA’s way of making more DNA. The DNA doesn’t “want” more DNA. But then the sun doens’t “want” to shine, either.

And you don’t “want” to live. It’s just the behavior of countless neurons, linked together like so.


Useless. If we are ultimately only slaves to determinism, there is no way the knowledge that we are is justified, because saying so is only what we had to do. Meaning is superfluous, and so there is no way to present a case (including the one for determinism). Conscisouness is a mere epiphenomenon and our ideas-about-reality have no way to be a part of it. The entire discussion dissolves.

Useless theory.

We cannot purely be slaves to DNA because there is not enough information in DNA to determine everything about us. I say this not because of some accident of design of trillions of particles interacting according to a small subset of physical laws, but because of the logic of encoding information.

** Useless. If we are ultimately only slaves to probability, there is no way that knowledge that we are is justified, because saying so is only what we happened to do. Meaning is random, and so there is no way to present a case (including the one for non-determinism). Consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon and our ideas-about-reality have no way to be a part of it. The entire discussion dissolves.

eris, for some reason you seem to have trouble distinguishing between something that is true about the universe and something that is true about your ideas about the universe. Can you demonstrate that your conclusions truly are justified?

Therefore we can’t be slaves to organizations or other people, since those systems don’t contain enough information to describe us either.


To say we are slaves to dna is to say dna is our master, more accurately both us and dna are slaves to evolution, but this is only true from our perspective since slave / master mentality only exists from a human perspective. When you realise this, you also realise that “free will” and “the illusion of free will” are one and the same. It doesn’t become any less “real” because it’s an illusion, therefore you are a slave to dna if, and only if, that is how you choose to look at it. Personally, I’m gonna hold on to that illusion because that’s what makes life worth living.

No, because I am a relativist.

My position is quite simple. Where there can be no freedom there can be no slavery. I am not aware of what “I am a slave to my DNA” is supposed to stand in contrast to. If it means, “I and my behaviors are biologically determined strictly from DNA” then it is false: DNA does not encode enough information.

Two obvious questions:

How much DNA is needed to determine everything?
How much DNA information is available?

If you know the answers to these questions, the scientific community is dying to hear about it. Hell, you might even rate a Nobel Prize.

There is not enough hard data to answer this to anyone’s satisfaction (yet), so categorical statements like “DNA does not encode enough information” are beyond the pale.

I suspect you’re one of those who has a strong gut-reaction against the notion that life is quite meaningless, which is where the current trend toward biological determinism is headed. You’re in good company. Matt Ridley, in his latest book Nature Via Nurture, has this rather odd chapter in which he argues for the existence of free will. He suggests that free will resides in the subconscious, which conveniently puts it beyond objective verification.

P.S. Welcome to the SDMB. Don’t take our barking too seriously.

Oops. The P.S. was meant for daldai.

** Can you justify that claim?

We might have evolved in such a way so that our more complex behaviors weren’t directly the result of biological programming. As it happened, many of them certainly seem to be.