Are Genes Us?
28th Jun 2012; 13:00Listen to the audio
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RSA ThursdayThere’s a persistent popular and media tendency to define personal identity as genetically determined. Candidates for the Least Scientifically Plausible Gene award - if one existed - might include recently ‘discovered’ genes for getting into debt, becoming a ruthless dictator and voting regularly in elections.
But genetic determinism is incoherent as well as scientifically implausible, because it contradicts itself about initiative and free will. This is a common flaw in that familiar assertion about how neuroscience has conclusively demonstrated that free will is just an illusion. But you can choose whether or not to believe that - otherwise its proponents wouldn’t be trying to persuade you - and choice relies on the idea of free will.
So why do so many people apparently want to believe that genes are indeed us?
Speaker: Donna Dickenson, emeritus professor of medical ethics and humanities, Birkbeck College
Chair: Alice Bell, senior teaching fellow in science communication, Imperial College London
See what people said on Twitter: #RSAgenes
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