Genius as phosphorus

An extract from "Genes, Cells and Brains" by Hilary & Steven Rose

With the theatrics surrounding the announcement of the sequencing of the human genome, genes yielded to genomics, and DNA came to permeate speech and images from car advertisements to politics. Good design is apparently ‘in the DNA’ of the BMW just as family values, according to David Cameron, are built into the DNA of the Conservative Party. However, for philosopher Daniel Dennett and anthropologist Robin Dunbar to say that something is ‘in the DNA’ is rather more than BMW’s metaphorical image of DNA sequences or the clichés of politicians or journalists. Evolution and DNA are integrated within a modern restatement of what same materialism which Darwin shared, in which the human mind itself is reduced to nothing but the epiphenomenal expression of a biochemical brain process – Moleschott’s genius as phosphorus and Huxley’s ‘whistle to the steam train’. Having located humans within an anatomical and physiological evolutionary continuity, in The Expression of the Emotions and the Descent Darwin anchors ‘mental powers’ firmly to human biology. Human emotions and their expressions were for him the evolutionary descendants of those of our ape-like ancestors. Today it is not just emotion but the products of human culture, from art, music and ethical codes, that are argued to be manifestations of a gene-based process of natural selection, with their causal genes to be discovered by genomics and their phrenological locations demonstrated by neuroscience.


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