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My Mutant Powers: What A DNA Test Can Tell You About Yourself

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Took a DNA test and learned what (nearly) mutant powers I have. More interestingly, people have had some interesting reactions to hearing about the test. Do you want to learn about your genetics? Here's what I found out about myself and what research says about how it can affect my (and your) life.

Thank you for sharing this, Eric.

I had no idea how much You Are Your DNA:

Genetics play a large role in who and what you become:

  • Politics? Your DNA influences which party you support, how partisan you are, whether you vote, and the intensity of your beliefs.

Living past 100 is very much due to hereditary factors:

People who live to 95 or older are no more virtuous than the rest of us in terms of their diet, exercise routine or smoking and drinking habits, according to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University… “This study suggests that centenarians may possess additional longevity genes that help to buffer them against the harmful effects of an unhealthy lifestyle.”

Genetics accounts for 50% of your happiness:

Perhaps the single most important determinant of SWB is genetics (Lykken & Tellegen, 1996; Tellegen et al., 1988). Simply put, some people arrive in this world with a predisposition to cheerfulness, optimism, and joy, whereas others are born with a predilection toward fearfulness, pessimism, and depression. Studies of twins separated at birth have yielded heritability estimates for SWB ranging from .40 to .70, with the most common figure around .50.

And only 20% of those who set out to change themselves can really sustain it.

Excellent article:

That Said, You Are More Than Your DNA:

Research shows you do grow over time. You learn from your mistakes.

Via Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

Some historical studies of patent records have in fact shown that overall productivity correlates with radical breakthroughs in science and technology, that sheer quantity ultimately leads to quality. 

Change is possible, but it takes time.

Changing habits takes an average of 66 days. Establishing competency at new skills takes approximately 8 weeks as well.

Hard work pays off. In fact, it pays off more than anything else.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.

Read more:

I've read these resources and like them, but they are incomplete perspectives, perhaps fit for a narrow slice of life in a particular setting, rather than exposing us to our entire field of dreams.  

From direct experience as well as roaming around and bumping into intellects of others I've come to fully disagree about the primary value of genetics as immutable destiny for the individual or our collective species, although you can test out that way.  Anyone can experience immediate changes individually as well as observe them in others.  We are so much more than entertaining outlier experiences given any modes of "normal" or adjunct potentials revealed by isolated lab studies or bandied about by popular opinion.  We are what we are depending upon what assumptions get switched on in the first place and then what we cook into that reality.  

Two concepts have fundamentally changed foundational assumptions about all genetic destiny: fitness landscapes and epigenetics.  Here's an elegant explanation in its entirety about fitness landscapes from Stewart Brand (


"The first time I saw a fitness landscape cartoon (in Garrett Hardin's Man And Nature, 1969), I knew it was giving me advice on how not to get stuck over-adapted—hence overspecialized—on some local peak of fitness, when whole mountain ranges of opportunity could be glimpsed in the distance, but getting to them involved venturing "downhill" into regions of lower fitness. I learned to distrust optimality.

Fitness landscapes (sometimes called "adaptive landscapes") keep turning up when people try to figure out how evolution or innovation works in a complex world. An important critique by Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert of early optimism about artificial intelligence warned that seemingly intelligent agents would dumbly "hill climb" to local peaks of illusory optimality and get stuck there. Complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman used fitness landscapes to visualize his ideas about the "adjacent possible" in 1993 and 2000, and that led in turn to Steven Johnson's celebration of how the "adjacent possible" works for innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From.

The man behind the genius of fitness landscapes was the founding theorist of population genetics, Sewell Wright (1889-1988). In 1932 he came up with the landscape as a way to visualize and explain how biological populations escape the potential trap of a local peak by imagining what might drive their evolutionary "path" downhill from the peak toward other possibilities. Consider these six diagrams of his 


[Image credit: © Sewall Wright, The Role of Mutation, Inbreeding, Crossbreeding, and Selection in Evolution, Sixth International Congress of Genetics, Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanical Garden, 1932.]

The first two illustrate how low selection pressure or a high rate of mutation (which comes with small populations) can broaden the range of a species whereas intense selection pressure or a low mutation rate can severely limit a species to the very peak of local fitness. The third diagram shows what happens when the landscape itself shifts, and the population has to evolve to shift with it.

The bottom row explores how small populations respond to inbreeding by wandering ineffectively. The best mode of exploration Wright deemed the final diagram, showing how a species can divide into an array of races that interact with one another. That jostling crowd explores well, and it can respond to opportunity.

Fitness landscapes express so much so economically. There's no better way, for example, to show the different modes of evolution of a remote oceanic island and a continental jungle. The jungle is dense and "rugged" with steep peaks and valleys, isolating countless species on their tiny peaks of high specialization. The island, with its few species, is like a rolling landscape of gentle hills with species casually wandering over them, evolving into awhole array of Darwin's finches, say. The island creatures and plants "lazily" become defenseless against invaders from the mainland.

You realize that for each species, its landscape consists almost entirely of other species, all of them busy evolving right back. That's co-evolution. We are all each other's fitness landscapes."


Regarding epigenetics, here's an excerpt to its importance from Helen Fisher (also posted on Edge with many other deep and elegant explanations, here:

"To me, epigenetics is the most monumental explanation to emerge in the social and biological sciences since Darwin proposed his theories of Natural Selection and Sexual Selection. ... Although epigenetics has been defined in several ways, all are based in the central concept that environmental forces can affect gene behavior, either turning genes on or off. ...

Take the Moroccan Amazighs or Berbers, people with highly similar genetic profiles who now reside in three different environments: some roam the deserts as nomads; some farm the mountain slopes; some live in the towns and cities along the Moroccan coast. And depending on where they live, up to one-third of their genes are differentially expressed, reports researcher Youssef Idaghdour. ...

Genes hold the instructions; epigenetic factors direct how those instructions are carried out. And as we age, scientists report, these epigenetic processes continue to modify and build who we are. Fifty-year-old twins, for example, show three times more epigenetic modifications than do three-year-old twins; and twins reared apart show more epigenetic alterations than those who grow up together. Epigenetic investigations are proving that genes are not destiny; but neither is the environment—even in people."


Genetics is only a starting recipe in full open source recognition of plenty other ingredients and plenty other diverse kitchens accessible to us where we might cook those ingredients into ourselves as ever-new evolutions.  Really, get out of your comfort zone more and see what happens!  Well, or not. that door closed?

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