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Are Genes Us?
Thursday, June 28, 2012 from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM (BST)
London, United Kingdom
There’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.
Donna Dickenson, professor of medical ethics and humanities at Birkbeck College takes aim at the simplistic view that genes command and we obey. In one well-known variant of this thesis, Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, not only do ‘we’ obey our genes: our genes obey the dictates of evolutionary success. There’s not much left of ‘us’ at all, in fact: our personal identity has been obliterated.
So why do so many people apparently want to believe that genes are indeed us?
Speaker: Donna Dickenson, professor of medical ethics and humanities, Birkbeck College
Suggested hashtag for Twitter users: #RSAgenes
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