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Does Heredity Influence How Our Life Would Be?

Updated on February 27, 2014

Heredity makes us what we "are" biologically, morals make us what we "would be"

A person, in one perspective, is a composite of his/her heredity and environment.

It is difficult to separate the effect of heredity or genetics from that of environment. But let's assume that that can be done. A person may have the genes to enable him to grow 6 ft tall but due to poverty and inadequacy of food he grew only to 5.5 ft tall. The food is part of his environment. Other parts of his environment are: relationship with parents, brothers or sisters if he has any, classmates, members of his congregation. He learns moral values from them.

The phrase "would be" in the question pertains to moral values. A crocodile eats any smaller animal in its pond thus he dominates the pond. Let's say it does not care whether its diet suffers of not. The crocodile is amoral. A man/woman may be imbued with moral values. He knows what is good or bad according to his/her environment. His/her genetics affect his/her capacity to learn and to adapt to his/her environment. But his/her morals guide him/her what s/he "would be." His/her genetics makes him/her what s/he "is." His/her environment makes him/her what s/he "would be."

For example, Einstein, derived from his genetic make up, had the capacity to come up with the formula E = mc2.. During World War II he feared that Hitler's Germany might have used this formula to develop a powerful bomb as demonstrated by the V-2 rockets that Germany used to bomb London in 1944. He wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the U.S. and urged him to develop a bomb for use in retaliation against Hitler's Germany in case it unleashed an atomic bomb.

Then the atomic bombs developed by the U.S were dropped over Nagasaki and Hirosima killing thousands of Japanese civilians (not combatant soldiers) on the spot and maiming several others for life. Einstein was horrified. He said that had he known that the atomic bomb would be used on civilians he would not have urged President Roosevelt to make them (Einstein, A. Ideas and Opinions. 1954).

There is duality in man/woman. One part biological; the other moral.

His/her genetics enables him to adapt to the environment. S/he is incapable of making his/her own food, unlike plants. So s/he must eat plants to live. To live is part of "would be." That leads us to consider morality as scaled in degrees. Eating plant may not arouse some sense of guilt, as a plant is also a creature. Or munching seeds of peanut may give us some pleasure when in fact we are killing germinal life. Up the ladder, if there is such a moral ladder, consider the consumption of chicken meat. We kill the chicken when we prepare it for cooking and consumption. Yet we, except some people, do not feel a moral compunction about it.

It looks like no living organism is completely moral in the sense that it does no harm to any other organism. We may say, that's part of food chain. In one sense, the virus is highly moral in that it is considered as not living and as not dead either. So, it can remain as a ribonucleic acid (RNA), a messenger. In that status it does no harm on anything. The virus comes to life when it gets into a live human cell or live animal cell or live plant cell, parasitizing the host. But then some people would not compare a human being with a virus. Isn't virus also a creature?

Now, a man/woman is part habit and part will that includes capacity to learn. Let's distinguish between a physical habit and a learned habit. A rubber band demonstrates a physical habit. If you stretch it it will revert to its original length when the force that stretched it had been released. A learned habit is demonstrated, for one, this way: Suppose there is a lighted candle with a tongue of flame. You accidentally put a finger over the flame. Without thinking you moved your finger away because you did not like the pain caused by the flame. Next time you will avoid putting your finger over a flame. Your subsequent avoidance of flame shows your capacity to learn. However, you may derive some pleasure from the pain caused by the flame. That is also learned.

So, "would be" does not always mean to be good, in the kind of "good" you learned from your parents or church.

Another example, Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy who allied with Hitler. He narrated of dropping hand bombs from an airplane on several people below and of his pleasure in seeing them scamper in every direction. That was what Mussolini wanted to be.

When Italy was defeated Mussolini escaped in disguise. He was finally captured and hanged. His wife who escaped with him was likewise hanged. Some people derived pleasure in hanging her. The environment made them what they "would be."

As for Hitler, he committed suicide when Germany was on the verge of defeat in WWII. His mistress, Eva Braun whom he finally married on April 28,1945, accompanied him to his end the following day (Encyclopedia Britannica 2009).

Hitler's genetics gave him the capacity to learn and provoke several Germans to launch WWII and his will to take his own life.

What follows is optional reading.


"Is" means the biological person who has chromosomes where genes are located. Each gene is composed of thousands of nucleotides. At least three nucleotides in sequence control a protein that constitute a tissue; tissues make up an organ; organs make a person. Three nucleotides in sequence is the basic unit that is expressed in a protein. How is that?

Suppose the protein we are dealing with is "lobin." L is an amino acid; o is an amino acid; b is an amino acid; i is an amino acid, and n is an amino acid. Each amino acid may be made of at least one triplet of nucleotides, or two triplets, or three triplets. For example, GTC give genetic information for l; TTT, AAA and GTC code for o; CGC code for b; GGG code for i; and CGA and AGC give the message for n. These genetic information or code or message are assembled to make for the protein "lobin." (G is guanine; T is thymine; C is cytosine; A is adenine.) A gene is composed of two alleles, one is located in one strand of the DNA, the other is located in the other strand. For example, BRCA1a allele is located in one strand BRCA1b allele is located in another DNA strand. DNA consists of two helical strands. BRCA1a and BRCA1b compose the gene of hereditary breast cancer. When both are mutated, breast cancer develops. There are several tandems of alleles that manifest themselves in a person. When we say "genetics" in our discussion we refer to these alleles.

There are tandems of alleles that control the retentivity of the brain in terms of storing heard sounds and images seen. This retention may be long in one person and short in another. This can be tested in two persons who are made to read a paragraph then immediately given an exam on word recall. If given five minutes after reading they may have identical scores in word recall. If given another exam after one month one person may have 60% recall (usually called bright), the other 10% (usually called dumb). But the latter can get a higher score if he reviews the reading material. We will say that these persons are capable of learning.

A person at 10 years old is not the same person when he is 13 years old. Appearance can be one basis as his nose might have grown more pointed. But the basis is more of physiology. All muscles, except three kinds, replace themselves. Blood cells replace themselves in 120 days; bones also turn over (American Orthopaedic Association. Manual of Orthopaedic Surgery. 6th edition. 1985:186). Only nerve cells, brain cells and cardiovascular cells do not replace themselves. That is why a scar in the valve of a heart will stay there for life if not corrected or if the valve were not replaced. That is why multiple sclerosis or motor neuron disease (both diseases of nerves) will persist. But we ignore this changes and attribute the same name 'Pedro' when he was 10 years old and 'Pedro' when he was 13 years old.

A person also accumulates knowledge by description (KBD) and knowledge by acquaintance (KBA). KBD consists of names (cat, stone, Pedro) phrases (The king of Thailand) and verifiable statements (The earth revolves around the sun). KBA consists of behavior like a pilot flying an airplane, a chef frying an egg. KBD can be a basis of behavior. KBA can be described thus it can be translated into KBD. But KBA may not involve symbols. A cat has knowledge of a mouse by its chasing it.

A person also consists of learned habits. Habit can be reflex like the one that is shown by a Palov's dog. Habit can be in the mind and in behavior. When one sees smoke he thinks of cigarette. When a soldier hears "cover" he docks.


Ought is different from is. Ought is what would be or might have been, It is given that man is capable of thinking or imagining what ought to be. This thinking or imagination can be translated into his physiology. That is the basis of trauma or stress. In our discussion we are concerned with KBD and KBA. Ought also manifests as motive.

A slave who is suffering from his present lot thinks of freedom. He thinks he ought to be free.


A person's capability to think is a manifestation of his genes. Derived from the composition and the sequence of his nucleotides he can make inferences and deductions. He can draw up plans and execute them. There are sequences of nucleotides that make a person bright, others as forgetful, still others with a photographic memory. Nucleotides are not equal; guanine, a part of nucleotide, is easy to degrade.

Let's say Dr. Jonas Salk had nucleotides sequenced to make for good memory and inference. Salk is the inventor of Salk killed polio vaccine. When he was in high school he thought of making a difference in the world. He told his mother: "I want to be a doctor but will not treat patients." His mother, Dora Salk, wondered: How could that be? Jonas replied: "I am going into medical research." And that is what he did (Kluger, J. A Splendid Solution, Dr. Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio. 2009).

Role of a person's genes in her/his adaptation to environment

Documentation has been more on cases of the relationship of genes and disease than that of genes and normal functions like memory retentivity. In the example below, we will find one gene that determines life and death whatever the possessor does or would like to be. Another gene determines how a person can adapt to malaria.

Normal hemoglobin (carrier of oxygen in the blood) has the following amino acids: (1) valine, (2) histidine, (3) leucine, (4) proline, (5) threonine, (6) glutamate, (7) glutamate.

An abnormal hemoglobin that causes sickle cell anemia has the following amino acids: (1) valine, (2) histidine, (3) leucine, (4) proline, (5) threonine, (6) valine, (7) glutamate.

There is a difference between the normal hemoglobin and sickle cell anemia hemoglobin genes: a single amino acid in position 6, glutamate for normal hemoglobin gene, valine for sickle cell anemia hemoglobin gene.

There is a mutation here called substitution. Normal hemoglobin gene is indicated as HbA; sickle cell anemia hemoglobin gene is indicated as HbS.

A person with HbS allele in one strand of DNA and HbS allele in another DNA strand is homozygous for sickle cell anemia (HbS, HbS). He dies at age 45 to 46 years even when treated. Death is triggered by lack of oxygen because sickled blood cells carry only a small amount of oxygen (Cummings, M. Human Heredity, Principles and Issues. 2009:246).

In this case, the influence of a person's genetics is clear: death at an early age against his wishes.

A person with heterozygous normal hemoglobin (with gene HbA, hba) is more resistant to malaria than a person with a homozygous normal hemoglobin (with gene HbA, HbA). Note the capital and small letters indicating alleles of one gene. His genetics makes him more resistant to malaria by 25% which is a favored outcome, what ought to be.

There are still a lot to explore in genetics. Unsocial behavior, for one, has been traced to insertion of lead in the enzyme glutathione-sulfhydril. That may not be due to genetics. Lead poisoning can be remedied by chelation therapy that binds and removes the lead. Identification of genes linked to disease or disorder has advanced.

There is some lag in regard to psychological phenomena. Is there genes for hot temperament of a person? Is being hot tempered controlled by genes? Is aggressiveness controlled by genes? Some scientists would approach this question by using the concept aggressiveness that they define based on empirical data. Next, they try to find some genes associated with aggressiveness then determine if there is a cause-and-effect relationship.


Submit a Comment

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Philippines

    To make it more amenable to an academic discussion, the question should be: Do Genes Affect What Life Ought To Be?

    In this formulation the concepts of "is" and "ought" stand out. The original question as posted by yougotme is a popularized formulation. Anyway, the discussion would be more or less similar. In a more lengthy elaboration the concepts of "genes," "is," "ought," "life" and the relationship of "affect" would be defined.

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Genes per se are not bad or evil. It is the application that could be judged as good or evil. For example, President Truman of the U.S. used his genes, manifested in thinking, to order the dropping of atomic bombs on civilian Japanese.

  • damojackson profile image


    6 years ago from Leeds, UK

    Interesting Hub but your title is misleading. Hitler didn't "launch" world war 2, the allies did! Hitler tried many times to prevent the war from happening. The jews even declared war on Germany in 1933 with the headline in all their publications throughout the world "Judea declares war on Germany". All this on a country that had elected its leader democratically.

    I don't blame you for being one sided, our education system is biased.

    Hitler did bad things (war was forced on him), so did the allies, the Soviets were the worst of the lot. So why not ask if Stalin had evil genes?

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Philippines

    Early on Hitler tried to enroll in an art school. He was rejected all the time; otherwise the holocaust would have been remote. For sometime he was a vagabond a time when he picked up his anti-Semitism. Some men who were more intelligent and greedier than ordinary mortals saw Hitler as a means to unify the world into a vast market easier to control than hitherto prevailing. They provided the financing that Hitler used to arm Germany. He was so pleased with himself, a corporal commanding generals.

  • Steve Orion profile image

    Steve Orion 

    6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

    Great Hub and topic of discussion!

    I think that every normal human being has the capacity to do any of the things dictators did, or what the people who opposed them did. It is all circumstance and environment, Hitler, if raised in different circumstances, could have become a saint and an advocate for tolerance and worlwide peace. Both extremes are in every normal person's capacity.

    Voted up and rated useful and interesting, keep up the writing!


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