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Useless DNA

“Modern civilization has rendered much of our genetic code obsolete.”



I'm pretty sure Ridley Scott's "Alien" (1979) was inspired by this surgery...

Have you ever considered that you can save yourself the pain of appendicitis by simply having your appendix removed before it ever occurs? The only problem is that appendicitis is not an illness that would necessarily occur in everyone and so most people would be paying for surgery they do not absolutely need. The appendix is one of many genetically predicated aspects of our being that has been rendered outdated by evolution – yet we are all still being born with one. Currently, the appendix serves no useful purpose. But if it becomes inflamed, it can incite septicemia which almost always leads to death. In this post, I examine four notable psychological characteristics we still have that we no longer need. Their continued presence causes a great more harm than good. However, unlike an appendix, these destructive psychological propensities cannot be removed so easily as they are all hard wired into the brain by now useless genetic code. Why do we still possess these useless characteristics? I suspect that the only reason why we even notice them is because we are on the brink of the next phase of human evolution.

Life is a Genetic Sculpture

Nature determines genetic complexity

Adaptation: A Sphinx Moth hides by going ninja against a tree bark.

The DNA molecules that make up the binary genetic code that produces life is very malleable. DNA changes depending on the environment in which it is found. This is such that life can exist. As a result, DNA becomes “reshaped” to match the environment to produce lifeforms that can exist in that environment. This is why genetic scientists will tout the mantra that “Nature always finds a way“. Therefore, the very nature of all living things is a product of our DNA being molded by the environment. As the environment changed, so did our DNA and so did we.

When humans first walked the earth in the primitive forms they once took, they were hard wired with genetic code to maximize their capacity for survival. As the environment changed, we moved from our hunched over walking methods to standing up straight – largely because those who stood up straight could run faster from lava flows, predators and other impending disasters. They were also better in conflict and had bigger brains than their hunched over cousins. As we now know, the truth is that evolution is an illusion that is better explained by the concept of “survival of the fittest“. Our DNA produces all sorts of permutations of humanity. The ones that survive the environmental changes will have their particular DNA propagated through time. This is what gives the illusion of evolutionary change.

Over the centuries, as environments shift, the specificity of the genetic code in humanity became more pronounced as other permutations which failed to survive the massive climatic shifts died out, leaving the ones we have today. It is not surprising to note then that over the last 70,000 years, physiological evolution seems to have ground to a halt, while cognitive evolution continues to expand in leaps and bounds. However, as we’ve become smarter, we have created civilisations which have made much of the physiological and psychological characteristics we still carry obsolete. The following is an exemplary list of some of these characteristics, what they were once useful for and how they currently negatively impact our world today:

Impulsive Aggression in Men

A perfect example of genetic badassness put to good use.

A perfect example of genetic badassness put to good use.

With the exception of some insects and other orders, the male in most species is usually the dominant of the two sexes. He is retrofitted with the larger brain, a larger body and in most cases a protruding phallus. Coupled with that is the chemical structure of the male brain which gives them a sense of impulsive aggression. This aggression was primarily  useful for establishing borders of authority and ensuring survivability of his kin in primitive civilizations where might is right and revenge was law. All of this male bravado was only useful in ancient societies in which anarchy was the order of the day.

However, as humans have evolved, we have found other alternatives to aggression – most notably, the concept of diplomacy and democracy. While aggression is not always avoidable, in today’s world, it is more the exception than the norm – so much so that it usually makes the news. We have already established clear boundaries of sovereignty – most of which were not decided aggressively. In fact, while the first sovereign boundaries were most certainly aggressively decided, there has been a logarithmic decrease in the rate at which aggression was used to assert such authority.

In today’s world, the aggressive assertion of authority is almost always met with a rousing call to quell that aggression – usually with great success as was the case with the first two World Wars and many wars previous. We now have laws, both domestic and international to cater to these unwarranted acts of aggression. Many ways have since been found to tame this aggression in men – a lot of which have found their way into the natural process of social engineering in most modern societies.

Today, while aggression is still very much a part of the man’s brain, it has been channeled into ritualistic, competitive or otherwise constructive activities. Societies which still maintain male aggression as a normal function of their culture are now viewed as being relatively primitive. The world has changed so much that there is very little use for male aggression – especially towards women. In the days when men lived in caves, women could be selected by any means necessary. Fast forward several hundred millennia, and primitive men could not function in a world where women have a choice of mate.

The fear of the dark

There's something about a poorly lit dark space that still sends chills up and down one's spine.

There's nothing down there. Your mind makes the fear real.

70,000 years ago, when man’s brain had little understanding of his world, even when his body achieved maturity, his brain still functioned very much like that of a child’s brain today. So as to maximise the probability of survival, the human brain developed certain characteristics which were more or less the product of trial and error. Many of these characteristics became primal fears – one that is so basic and so powerful that in most cases it automatically guaranteed continued membership in the gene pool.

One of these primal fears is that of the dark or anything that does not reflect some shade or colour of light. In the pre-historic age, this primal fear of the dark is what kept men away from caves in which they could plunge to their deaths, poisonous black spiders and other deadly creatures, or even to avoid venturing out at night to become prey to some nocturnal threat. The fear of the dark kept mankind alive until he could find a way to artificially create light, through the invention of fire, then the harnessing of electricity, which ultimately led to the study of the laws of physics that allowed man to split the atom.

Despite this evolution of thought, this is a fear that still lives with us to this very day. As children, many of us dreaded looking under the bed at night or even sleeping without some light in the room. This is a manifestation of this same fear. In fact, this primal fear of the dark has found its way into our lexicon as a description of anything negative. Today, we have terms such Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, Black Death among others. The word black has become naturally associated with something evil or undesirable.

Behavioural psychologists have recently uncovered evidence that some forms of racism are most probably born out of the same primal fear. During a recent study of the reactive causes of human behaviour, it was discovered that the same parts of the brain light up on an MRI when someone reacts to a dark space, a black animal of any kind and in some cases, even to people of dark complexion. While it wouldn’t be much of a leap to suggest that the same primal fear also manifests itself in the form of an inferiority complex among populations of a darker complexion, behavioural psychologists are reluctant to make that claim for obvious reasons. Either way, the evidence does seem to suggest that racism may also have been the product of this now useless bit of genetic code.

Despite the fact that we have begun to dispel darkness at all hours of the day, conquer the blackness of space and enlighten the darkness inherent in our humanity, our natural fear of the dark is something that is hard wired in us to stay.

The irrational fear of water

How long can you hold your breath?

Girl on Right: "How long can you hold your breath?"

If you can swim, count yourself among the small fraction of the world’s population that can. It’s not that man is incapable of treading water. Rather, it speaks to man’s fear of being in a state where his center of gravity is displaced by an unstable substance which gives the sensation of being out of control. In fact, studies have shown that most incidences of drowning resulted not in the incapacity of people to swim, but rather a natural panic that erupts when displaced by water.

What is interesting is that if most land creatures encounter a large body of water, a part of their brain naturally kicks in that allows them to wade through it with relative safety. Not man. Men have to learn how to swim – despite the fact that newborn babies naturally swim if tossed into a body of water. In fact, in a number of cases where cars have plunged off bridges into large bodies of water, if there is a baby on board, it is usually found that while the other occupants may drown, the baby usually survives.

Another interesting phenomenon is that of the curiously smaller number of swimmers per capita living on small islands. Most of the world’s swimming population can be found on large continents. In contrast, the populations of most island dwellers have been found to lack the knowledge of how to swim. Cognitive psychologists theorise that a possible explanation for this phenomenon is that island dwellers live in an environment where the threat of the sea is always visible. As such, the inherent fear of water inhibits (instead of encourages) them to learn how to swim. People living on large continents on the other hand are not reminded daily of that fear and as such possess a much greater desire to interact with (albeit controlled) bodies of water.

Despite the fact that men have devised many efficient and effective ways to conquer water, the primal fear of large bodies of water is still potent enough to inhibit the conquering of that fear. But in this particular circumstance, the fear that is supposed to prevent death is often the cause of it.

The compulsive desire for sex in men

"Do you accept MasterCard?"

"Do you accept MasterCard?"

It is no small secret that men have an overwhelming libido. In fact, one could reasonably argue that it is unnatural for any one man to sexually desire only one woman. But sexual desire is not a function of will. It is a function of genetics. Men are hard wired that way. There are two natural phenomena which clearly give credence to the necessity of this function:

1. Environmental Survivability
2. Nature’s predilection for females.

Men were given this potent libido to maximize the success of the reproductive capacity of mankind, thus guaranteeing our survival. 70 millennia ago when human races were significantly fewer in numbers, entire population groups were wiped out either by natural upheavals or conflict. As the former is more likely to cause complete annihilation than the latter, it is natural that the species reproduce as often as possible to maximize the chances of survival. This is also an ostensible phenomenon in most animal species.

The compulsiveness of male libido is not only functionally relevant to survival. Every human embryo starts out in the womb as a female. This is largely due to the fact that while the DNA material introduced by the sperm cell starts cell division, the cells are the product of the mother’s ova. As such this interesting phenomenon statistically increases the probability of female babies being born. Nature’s predilection for females implies that there is naturally a greater ratio of women to men in most states. This is especially evident in countries like Dominica where the female to male ratio is 5:1.

In most countries around the world, the female population substantially outnumbers that of males – with the notable exception of China. In fact, if it weren’t for China’s one child rule introduced in 1979, we would still have a much greater population of females to males in the entire world. Wars which were primarily fought by men help to exacerbate this scenario. As such, it was not uncommon in many ancient civilizations for polygamy to be the order of the day.

However, in a world where populations have soared beyond the earth’s ability to sustain them, this compulsive reproductive facility in men no longer serves any purpose. In fact, it is the root cause of population inflation, poverty and escalating urban crime rates in developing countries. This is one of the primary reasons why modern societies subscribe to monogamy as law.

In today’s world, men are socially engineered to select only one woman instead of many. Even so, the propensity to desire many women is hard wired into every man’s brain and will never really go away. Not even aggressive forms of social engineering such as religion are consistent enough to completely inhibit this desire. That’s why ever since polygamy has long since been outlawed in most states, the problem of infidelity has only become a bigger one.

Superego tames Ego tames Id


A classic battle of Id vs Ego

There are many other potently unnecessary propensities we possess that nature has bequeathed us – all hard wired into our DNA. When you consider these things, it gives one a deeper appreciation (and also a sense of pity at times) when we observe others who appear to be hapless slaves to their Id. However, while our genetic evolution takes place at a much slower pace, our cognitive evolution has outpaced it by leaps and bounds and this is our only redemption.

We are now at a stage of evolution where we are capable of artificially adjusting our DNA to produce a more useful human specimen. Whether we do it surgically, genetically or psychologically, humans have taken their evolution into their own hands. For the majority of our odd behavioural characteristics which are inherently useless, surgical and genetic modification are decades off. Psychological modification is all we have at this time.

For the most part, people use their capacity to think to modify their capacity to behave. Every human can do it. It’s called “behaviour modification” and is usually effected by social engineering. In fact, the only thing that separates man from other animals is that we have an ego that modifies our id, and a super ego which modifies our ego. We are the only creatures in the animal kingdom that can do that. With that said, the powerful propensities of the Id do not necessarily have to control the man. Man should not be a slave to his desires. Desire should be a slave to the man.

The Inferior Human Animal

Caged AnimalHowever, regardless of our capacity to modify our own behaviour, we have still failed to eradicate social ills such as poverty, crime, prejudicial discrimination and war – all of which are products of still persisting useless genetic code. As such, we should consider the distinct possibility that we may not be quite as sophisticated as we think we are. Maybe our “higher level” brain function is nothing more than a brain function that the other animals on earth do not possess. Of course, this means that our ‘higher’ level brain function is only higher relative to animals that we know of.

Consider this:

Just as how men are smarter than apes, which are smarter than dogs, which are smarter than insects, which are smarter than bacteria, perhaps there is an animal out there in the universe which looks down on us humans with the same level of superiority. Perhaps just as how we humans slay other animals for food and think little of eradicating an entire species, some higher level creature from another world considers us in like mind. If you think of all the useless genetic code we still carry around in our DNA, then that thought is not a hard one to conceive.

There is a very distinct possibility that humans grossly overvalue their existence. Maybe just as how we have lab mice in a skinner box imbued with DNA they have no need for, (such as glowing in the dark), perhaps the earth is likewise inside a cosmic Skinner box – a cage we cannot taste, touch or feel, carrying around DNA code (such as that which produces an appendix) which we do not need. Maybe some highly sophisticated cosmic creature has us at its disposal, prodding and poking us inside this galactic cage. Maybe that’s why we have yet been unable to identify other forms of intelligent life in space.

If such a cosmic animal doesn’t exist (which is highly improbable), then perhaps within the next few hundred years when humans have weeded out all of our bad or useless genetic code, we may yet become that animal. I suspect however that if humans become such an animal, we would no longer be human in every possible definition of the word. Things like sexual intercourse and the need for transportation are all functionally dependent on the biological machines we call our body. Such a superior animal has no such need.

We have found ways to artificially reproduce, and are already developing technologies to bend space/time. We have found means to replace our body parts through cloning like we would a spare tire on a car, all while hacking our brain to upload it to a computer with a view to perpetually preserve our consciousness. All of this on going development into artificial mortality will eventually render much of our corporal forms as obsolete code just waiting to be deleted.

Therefore, it is not hard to imagine that the next stage of human evolution is one where humans transcend their physical forms into something else altogether. At that stage of evolution, all of our DNA will be obsolete. For so long as humans don’t erase themselves from history using war, then one day, either humans will evolve into computers or computers will evolve into humans and the age of flesh will cease forever.

  1. February 24, 2009 at 8:42 pm


  2. February 24, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    One wonders if the author of that article has ever heard of the triple burner. I suspect he hasn’t, and yet if he is ignorant of such a major organ, then how can he pretend to know the purpose of these other body parts?

    People can get themselves into serious trouble when they start talking about the why of things. Continung with body parts, let’s look at the liver. Why do we have a liver? Conventional wisdom holds that the liver is involved in a bunch of metabolic processes, and it is sort of like battery power for the body. It is the largest internal organ.

    That’s the conventional wisdom. Here’s something not as well known; the human body is typically a little heavier on the right side than on the left. As you know, most people are right-handed, and so in a fight they will lead with their right. Hitting with your heavier side gives an advantage, because heavier things can hit harder. It’s not a dramatic difference, but hey– sometimes you win by inches.

    So, I say the purpose of the liver is to add weight to the right side of the body. My proposed purspose for the liver is just as valid as the conventional view involving metabolism. (Note that under both views, the purpose of the liver is a matter of life and death.) So who’s right?

    For that kind of reason, we have to be very careful in talking about why things are as they are. There can be all kinds of obscure origins and uses for things that we never would have thought to imagine. What that Encarata article tries to do is take ignorance (no one has any idea what these obscure body part might be for) and repackage it as knowledge (These obscure body parts are useless). This is a deadly dangerous practice, because if you encounter someone who actually does know what a coccyx can be used for, you’re not going to know what hit you.

  3. February 24, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Hey Al, here’s a list of other body parts we don’t need. We keep them around for more sentimental reasons than anything else. 🙂

  4. February 3, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Now that you have adequately cleared that up, I actually agree with your position. I have no rebuttal on that. Your points are well taken. In fact, based on what we’ve discussed here, I think you’re going to find my next topic of discussion rather interesting.

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  1. May 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm

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