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Thread: The skinny on DNA and personality

  1. #1
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    The skinny on DNA and personality

    We have all heard the old "nature vs. nurture" debate used to discuss the root of a variety of behaviors and personality traits. I'm sure somewhere along the line, most people have drawn their own conclusions. The majority of people I know attribute a combination of DNA and environmental factors as the explanation for our behavior.

    If you are familiar with cases such as the taming of the Siberian Silver Fox, you may or may not have questioned the significance of environmental factors playing a role in personality development.

    For me, cases such as the taming of the silver fox highlight the potency of anatomical chemistry and lead me to believe that our DNA has a much larger influence over who we are and how we choose to express ourselves than we may like to accept. After all, if we are all just bags of DNA walking around playing out our personal programmed lines of genetic code, that realization could open the door to an unpleasant sci-fi like future where our DNA strands are valued above all.

    Even the most superficial examination of historical records will show how nasty human beings can be and how we can target just about anything to torment and destroy one another.

    Random Thought: If diversity is so important for the continuation of a species over the ages, why does our DNA seem to program us to fear and possibly eliminate anything unlike ourselves?
    Occupy Your Brain!

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    I am adopted and raised in a pretty conservative and apolitical household. I was the stark opposite and it wasn't because I was being defiant about things. I met my birth mother when I was in my 20s and of all her children (she has 4 others that she raised) I am the most like her personality wise. Her ex-husband said that when he first met me it was like rolling the clock back 20 years. Not just in looks but in personality, thoughts, interests, and opinion.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  3. #3
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    That is a really interesting story kjel. I have a friend with a similar story. She was adopted by a loving family and turned out nothing like them. In her early twenties she had the urge to move to the other side of the country and open a yoga studio, which she did. She looked up her birth mother a few years later to discover that she lived in a town a few miles away and owned a yoga studio. Craziness!
    Occupy Your Brain!

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    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    I was also adopted, as were my two siblings, and we were nothing alike in looks or personality. Although, when I was younger, people commented that I looked a lot like my mom (hair and eye coloring, and we had the same astigmatism); but my personality was much more like my dad's. I have never met anyone in my birth family, which is, frankly, kind of a scary proposition.

    I was told a couple of years ago by my brother that I'm the "weird" one in the family, so maybe there is some genetic thing that made me seem alien somehow. I don't know.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I too was adopted. One night I was listening to the radio and discovered I had rythym after all. My parents then told me I was white so I took a trip to find myself. I worked in a carnival, a gas station, and invented the opti-grab and became a millionaire.

    I was chairitable and gave lots of money to causes like the stopping of cat-juggling. My wife quit her job as a comsmotologist which was a relief to me because I would hate to see her get blown up in space. I fought off some racist developers, but then turned into a jerk. I was then sued because the optigrab caused people to go cross-eyed. I lost everything even my spaceman wife.

    My adoptive parants came, found me in an alley and brought me home.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I too was adopted. One night I was listening to the radio and discovered I had rythym after all. My parents then told me I was white so I took a trip to find myself. I worked in a carnival, a gas station, and invented the opti-grab and became a millionaire.

    I was chairitable and gave lots of money to causes like the stopping of cat-juggling. My wife quit her job as a comsmotologist which was a relief to me because I would hate to see her get blown up in space. I fought off some racist developers, but then turned into a jerk. I was then sued because the optigrab caused people to go cross-eyed. I lost everything even my spaceman wife.

    My adoptive parants came, found me in an alley and brought me home.
    I imagine that kind of thing happens when you come from Detroit and can't spell....

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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I too was adopted. One night I was listening to the radio and discovered I had rythym after all. My parents then told me I was white so I took a trip to find myself. I worked in a carnival, a gas station, and invented the opti-grab and became a millionaire.

    I was chairitable and gave lots of money to causes like the stopping of cat-juggling. My wife quit her job as a comsmotologist which was a relief to me because I would hate to see her get blown up in space. I fought off some racist developers, but then turned into a jerk. I was then sued because the optigrab caused people to go cross-eyed. I lost everything even my spaceman wife.

    My adoptive parants came, found me in an alley and brought me home.
    yes, but did you ever discover your special purpose?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    yes, but did you ever discover your special purpose?
    He's really Steve Martin. Am I right?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I too was adopted. One night I was listening to the radio and discovered I had rythym after all. My parents then told me I was white so I took a trip to find myself. I worked in a carnival, a gas station, and invented the opti-grab and became a millionaire.

    I was chairitable and gave lots of money to causes like the stopping of cat-juggling. My wife quit her job as a comsmotologist which was a relief to me because I would hate to see her get blown up in space. I fought off some racist developers, but then turned into a jerk. I was then sued because the optigrab caused people to go cross-eyed. I lost everything even my spaceman wife.

    My adoptive parants came, found me in an alley and brought me home.
    I had a promising career as a cat juggler until some SOB started a protest campaign. Now I can't make heads or tails out of it.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  10. #10
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Back on topic, both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the formation of personality - I've seen no evidence to date that convinces me otherwise.

    As an adoptive parent I can take no credit where my son's intelligence is concerned (he is above average in a most Wobegoneian way), but can claim a great deal of credit as far as influencing, say, his study habits.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    For me, cases such as the taming of the silver fox highlight the potency of anatomical chemistry and lead me to believe that our DNA has a much larger influence over who we are and how we choose to express ourselves than we may like to accept. After all, if we are all just bags of DNA walking around playing out our personal programmed lines of genetic code, that realization could open the door to an unpleasant sci-fi like future where our DNA strands are valued above all.
    I think this brings up an interesting sub-topic in the nature v. nurture debate. I for the most part agree with your assertion that there is too much emphasis put on how our environments affect us rather than looking at genetic makeup. I would venture to say the reason for this is so people can look at themselves as the "blank slate" when they are born, which in a way would give people more control over their destiny.

    Basically, Free Will. Where does that mindset come from? That I can't say for sure, but I would guess in large part it has to do with rejecting the parents. We often see our parents in a less than glamorous context and therefore hate the idea that we will likely end up exactly the same. When you think about evolution though, the whole point to realize is that changes occur very slowly; the change from one generation to another could be so minute that we would never be able to notice. So, no matter what position one takes on the nature v. nurture debate, the really difficult aspect to embrace is how little control we actually have over our own destiny.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    We have all heard the old "nature vs. nurture" debate used to discuss the root of a variety of behaviors and personality traits. I'm sure somewhere along the line, most people have drawn their own conclusions. The majority of people I know attribute a combination of DNA and environmental factors as the explanation for our behavior.

    If you are familiar with cases such as the taming of the Siberian Silver Fox, you may or may not have questioned the significance of environmental factors playing a role in personality development.

    For me, cases such as the taming of the silver fox highlight the potency of anatomical chemistry and lead me to believe that our DNA has a much larger influence over who we are and how we choose to express ourselves than we may like to accept. After all, if we are all just bags of DNA walking around playing out our personal programmed lines of genetic code, that realization could open the door to an unpleasant sci-fi like future where our DNA strands are valued above all.
    National Geographic had an excellent article on the tame silver foxes a while ago. The selection criteria was solely on friendliness towards humans, but it had other consequences as the foxes not only became more dog-like in other behaviors but they also developed a variety of colors.


    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    Even the most superficial examination of historical records will show how nasty human beings can be and how we can target just about anything to torment and destroy one another.

    Random Thought: If diversity is so important for the continuation of a species over the ages, why does our DNA seem to program us to fear and possibly eliminate anything unlike ourselves?
    I think this inclination to "exclusiveness" is also in our DNA. Primates are social animals that bond into groups mostly based on kinship. I think that most if not all modern studies of various species show that they have very strong social skills, many of which are positive (sharing, helping, etc) within their group, but that they generally are hostile to others of their species who are "outsiders".

  13. #13
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess View post
    He's really Steve Martin. Am I right?
    I am Navin Johnson!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  14. #14
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post

    Random Thought: If diversity is so important for the continuation of a species over the ages, why does our DNA seem to program us to fear and possibly eliminate anything unlike ourselves?
    Wow, what a thoughtTS. It got me thinking, maybe it's not the "nature" part that fears and tries to eliminate the other. That's got "nurture" written all over it. Children have a natural fear of strangers or large animals, for example. But if their parents show them that there is no danger, their natural curiousity makes them more interested than afraid. What if their parents don't show them there isn't danger? The instinct of fear is survival - but it's only an instinct. If there is no real threat, then that fear goes away unless it continues to be instigated as a cultural lesson by the group. We invented bigotry before we invented horticulture, and my opinion is that it grew out of the social group "hyping" each others fears. Curiosity (and a desire for genetic diversity as recently discovered) is in our DNA. The desire to eliminate everything unlike ourselves is sadly just part of our culture.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  15. #15
    An interesting, and timely, discussion for me. My grandma is slowly dying of congestive heart failure, emphysema and old age. As a result she is talking to me more and I'm finding out a lot about her. As a background, I mostly closely resemble her family and derive a lot of traits from her family. Some of what I see in myself, both good and bad, seems to come from her and her family.

    However, I also believe that people learn from their environment. People adapt and mimic those around them. I also believe that children imprint from their parents.

    Finaly I believe there is a high degree of choice. People decide what they want and do what it takes to get it.

    Blaming on your genes is a cop out. An alcholic makes a choice to drink and keep on drinking. They do so because they derive some benefit from it, be it emotional, whatever.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    As the son of a geneticist, you would think I may be more prone to weight DNA as the main determinant in our behavior, but I tend to think that genetic propensity and environemntal factors interact in complex ways to make us who we are. I think its a reason why so many people who experience trauma (living on the streets, fighting in a war, etc.) end up experiencing mental illness. Its not that these folks were biologically determined to have these problems, but that environmental circumstances created stressors that allowed those propensities to express themselves. With a different life experience, those potentials may never have come to fruition. Maybe not the best example since most people are likely to respond in those ways to trauma, but hopefully you get my point.

    Another example is that I am the child of two alcoholics, and yet I really have never found myself wrestling with abuse of alcohol. For a long time I didn't drink at all. Later I did but was very self-conscious about it and reticent to abuse it (not even drinking enough to get drunk). Now as a 40-some year old adult I have a perfectly fine relationship with alcohol. I drink socially, maybe twice a week. Sometimes enough to get a little drunk, sometimes not. But I have never found myself with that longing and anxiety that I witnessed with my parents. And yet you would think with this genetic background that I would be a ringer for an alcoholic or have to stay clear away from it because of the pull it had over me.

    I think more than other animals, humans can have more of an influence in altering or managing genetically driven desires or tendencies. The social facet to our behavior is so very complex.

    Back in the 70s or maybe it was the 80s there was a book published called The Selfish Gene which was really very interesting. It looks at evolution and continuation of any species as primarily driven by the genes. We may think we have free will, but the assertion is that more of our behavior than we may realize is driven by the gene's primary job of replicating itself. That means mating, survival for the potential of future mating and for raising children who carry the gene and also need to reproduce to keep it going and on and on. Its an interesting thought to consider that we are not masters of our own destinies, but just large, complex bags of genes that exist for the purpose of making sure those genes live on through time.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  17. #17
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I am Navin Johnson!
    And you know the difference between $h!t and shinola!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  18. #18
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    We may think we have free will, but the assertion is that more of our behavior than we may realize is driven by the gene's primary job of replicating itself. That means mating, survival for the potential of future mating and for raising children who carry the gene and also need to reproduce to keep it going and on and on. Its an interesting thought to consider that we are not masters of our own destinies, but just large, complex bags of genes that exist for the purpose of making sure those genes live on through time.
    This is more or less where I was going with my thoughts. Generally, yes, I agree that environment influences your behavior. After all, if it didn't, none of us would react to anything. Our minds are genetically programmed to react to the environment and learn and store information based on those interactions.

    It is the genetic programming that is so fascinating. As Wahday pointed out, our primary function on a genetic level is to continue to pass along genes. It is strange to think of us as hosts to DNA or the personification of a line of code, but that is sort of what we are. Or, what I think we are anyway.

    Linda_D brought up the example of primates being relatively social within their kin groups and antisocial with other groups. If you look at behavior as a survival tactic for genetic information, then this behavior makes sense as the genetic code within the group is a complication or variation of the same codes repeated.

    This behavior is replicated by humans, but since our survival is less threatened by the availability of local resources, I think we have mellowed out or at least adapted to new environments which makes us more tolerable to one another on a superficial level.
    Occupy Your Brain!

  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    This is more or less where I was going with my thoughts. Generally, yes, I agree that environment influences your behavior. After all, if it didn't, none of us would react to anything. Our minds are genetically programmed to react to the environment and learn and store information based on those interactions.

    It is the genetic programming that is so fascinating. As Wahday pointed out, our primary function on a genetic level is to continue to pass along genes. It is strange to think of us as hosts to DNA or the personification of a line of code, but that is sort of what we are. Or, what I think we are anyway.
    So you are suggesting all behaviors that humans engage in, are for the purposes of passing along genes.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    So you are suggesting all behaviors that humans engage in, are for the purposes of passing along genes.
    Not to speak for TS, but I would posit that, yes, for the most part this is the case.

    Anthropology has noted that humans engage in very complex systems of exchange as the very basis of our social world. Not just the economy, where explicitly we exchange things of value (perceeved or actual) for other things of value (including services) but also in the basic action of hosting a party, giving a gift, helping someone out, etc. These actions create obligatory reciprosity that help us create networks of people who we "owe" and who "owe" us. This is a huge part of what consumes human lives.

    How does that relate to passing on genes? It may not be so obvious in our modern world, but I think this is all linked to protecting oneself, ensuring one lives a long, healthy and protected life, presenting more opportunities to mate and also to raise children long enough for them to mate, etc. And all of that serves to increase opportunities for passing along genes. These social webs are what make us able to have jobs or otherwise provide for our families - food, clothing shelter, etc. In the abstract sense, its as true in our contemporary world as it was when we lived in caves. We just might not feel the urgency that relationships have for keeping us from starving or banding together to protect against marauding enemies.

    That's what the Selfish Gene Theory suggests anyway. I tend to agree. Is it depressing and do I feel manipulated as a result? Not really. If I wasn't having any fun in life, perhaps, but even if we are just gene bags, at least there is the perception that life has meaning and that's good enough for me...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  21. #21
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    I have no idea if all behaviors that humans engage in are for the purposes of passing along genes or not, but I suspect that our genetic code influences our propensity to engage in particular behaviors in the first place by influencing the way our bodies develop and react to environmental stimulation of various sorts.

    Are we just bags of genes? Well, that might be oversimplifying things a bit. However, the reason we behave the way we do is likely influenced by the diversity of all the lines of genetic code that make our DNA unique to human beings.
    Occupy Your Brain!

  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    I have no idea if all behaviors that humans engage in are for the purposes of passing along genes or not, but I suspect that our genetic code influences our propensity to engage in particular behaviors in the first place by influencing the way our bodies develop and react to environmental stimulation of various sorts.

    Are we just bags of genes? Well, that might be oversimplifying things a bit. However, the reason we behave the way we do is likely influenced by the diversity of all the lines of genetic code that make our DNA unique to human beings.
    Then what about art, music, writing, etc.? What about the esoteric elements? What is the purpose of enjoying life? On the negative, what about overeating, smoking, perversion, etc? The logical gene has no use for any of this. All behavior that is not for the sole purpose of replication should be discarded, according to this model. AIl of these are a waste of energy and resources.

    I'm an extremely logical person. However, I also write poetry and am religious (evangelical christian for the record) A life devoid of both beauty and God, is meaningless. One of the first steps in both wisdom and faith, is finding out how little you actually know.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  23. #23
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    My BF, along with many members of his family are prone to mental illnesses caused by Low Serotonin, which does run in his family. I thought it was just him and him going 'through a rough time' but after meeting his family and discovering that many of them were on meds to treat depression and anxiety. Now yes, there are environmental factors that cause one's life to not go in a positive direction every now and then, but if you have a constant negative outlook on life because of a chemical imbalance, that falls under nature. I will conceed that his family's propensity to 'struggle' is definitely nurture because of nature.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  24. #24
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    Then what about art, music, writing, etc.? What about the esoteric elements? What is the purpose of enjoying life? On the negative, what about overeating, smoking, perversion, etc? The logical gene has no use for any of this. All behavior that is not for the sole purpose of replication should be discarded, according to this model. AIl of these are a waste of energy and resources.

    I'm an extremely logical person. However, I also write poetry and am religious (evangelical christian for the record) A life devoid of both beauty and God, is meaningless. One of the first steps in both wisdom and faith, is finding out how little you actually know.

    Well, I guess I would respond to say we can break down the gene argument even further. Why are we genetically predisposed to reproduce? I would say because it's the best we can get in terms of 'living forever'. We can't be around forever, but having offspring is the next best thing. So the real evolutionary drive we are talking about here, is survival.

    Now art, music, philosophy, etc. may not bring us any concrete "benefits" in terms of survival. I instead see these things as a form of expression, our way of trying to grasp where we fit in to the universe.

    Again, however, I would argue that even something as conceptual as trying to understand the universe comes back to a drive to survive. I'll contend that although we obviously aren't robots who think solely of eating and reproducing, these motivating genetic qualities are such an integral part of every person that they are likely the genesis of even our most complex and/or abstract thoughts.
    Last edited by HomerJ; 23 Sep 2011 at 9:49 AM.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    Then what about art, music, writing, etc.? What about the esoteric elements? What is the purpose of enjoying life? On the negative, what about overeating, smoking, perversion, etc? The logical gene has no use for any of this. All behavior that is not for the sole purpose of replication should be discarded, according to this model. AIl of these are a waste of energy and resources.

    I'm an extremely logical person. However, I also write poetry and am religious (evangelical christian for the record) A life devoid of both beauty and God, is meaningless. One of the first steps in both wisdom and faith, is finding out how little you actually know.
    The point of bringing up this discussion isn't to infer that I understand what is going on at a genetic level or how genetic information affects how we interact with the environment (the universe). In fact, it is the exact opposite. The point of the discussion is to bring up a complex topic that affects each and every species on the planet that very few people spend time thinking about and no one understands. The mystery is half of excitement.

    My hypothesis is that genetic information plays a much larger role in how we interact with environmental stimulation than most people give credit for. Basically, yes the environment (read: nurture) has an impact, but it is genetic information (read: nature) that determines how we react to the environment. Basically, I'm saying our personalities are largely genetic. I find this to be extremely cool and mysterious. What could be more fascinating than a discovery that the universe is so complex that tiny lines of protein code could be so significant? The issue is where mankind starts to assign values to the manifestations of these codes, i.e., this is a bad gene and this is a good one, particularly since we have a record of reacting to these before understanding them.

    If my hypothesis could ever be validated, I don't think this discovery makes the world or life any less meaningful or less beautiful. Only more complex.

    Quote Originally posted by HomerJ9139 View post
    Well, I guess I would respond to say we can break down the gene argument even further. Why are we genetically predisposed to reproduce? I would say because it's the best we can get in terms of 'living forever'. We can't be around forever, but having offspring is the next best thing. So the real evolutionary drive we are talking about here, is survival.
    I agree, though I suspect it is not our (as in the complete unique manifestation of genetic sequencing that makes you who you are) survival that is the goal, but the continuation of a specific type of genetic code (homo sapien sequencing).
    Quote Originally posted by HomerJ9139 View post
    Now art, music, philosophy, etc. may not bring us any concrete "benefits" in terms of survival. I instead see these things as a form of expression, our way of trying to grasp where we fit in to the universe.

    Again, however, I would argue that even something as conceptual as trying to understand the universe comes back to a drive to survive. I'll contend that although we obviously aren't robots who think solely of eating and reproducing, these motivating genetic qualities are such an integral part of every person that they are likely the genesis of even our most complex and/or abstract thoughts.
    This is what makes our genetic information so interesting compared to other species on the planet.
    Occupy Your Brain!

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