Genes And Environment

So, what makes a man that he is? There are two important factors – biological and social. I have always wondered if one played a more important role than the other. It is quite hard to conclude.

For the most part, we all agree that the way you look, your mannerisms and health are all the courtesy of your genes. I am sure the doctors agree too. That’s why they are very keen on the family’s medical history, not just yours.

What about hobbies, interests and character? Is that not a byproduct of the upbringing? I think so. Sure, genes have their role to play, but it’s more of the world around you which matters.

For example, at our home, we subscribed to tens of newspapers and magazines. We have thousands of books at home!!! So, this obviously made me read and write. Isn’t it as simple as that? Sure, the fact that my mother and my grandfather are voracious readers and good writers also helped. By the way, my grandfather, who is 105 years old just wrote a letter to me last week. He is getting younger everyday.

There are many reasons why I want to believe that the environment plays a more important role than the genes. I know a certain Kannada writer whose sons do not have much interest in literature. The writer is an idol for millions of readers all over Karnataka, but his sons were famous for being quite ‘rowdies’ during their school days. Maybe the writer was always immersed in his work and maybe his kids fell into bad company.

And, we invariably hear the stories of good children with bad parents and vice versa. Even mythology talks about Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada. It certainly is not that simple. Infact, it is quite hard for me to believe that the child will be so different from the parent. But, at the same time, I am convinced that if your surroundings are strong  enough to change you and your perspective, then anything is possible.

At the end of the day, I do believe that both genes and environment play a huge role in who we are. But, I do tend to tilt more towards the environment playing a bigger role.

Let me conclude this post with an incident which happened at Chicago Kannada Sahitya Sammelana last month. After I finished my presentation on stage, a nice lady came by and said that seeing me on stage reminded her so much of my father and that I looked exactly like him. She knew that my father had passed away recently. But, I certainly knew that she was being kind to me and that there was absolutely no truth in whatever she said. Laughing is not all that respectful, so I just smiled at her and continued with my small talk. And, this incident certainly sealed my belief that it is the environment, more than genes, which plays an important role.

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14 Comments on “Genes And Environment”

  1. some body Says:

    d.s.:

    the second half of the last para that you write above, i cannot make sense of it. for it to make sense,

    a) one should know who you are and who your parents are,
    b) one should know how famous you and/or your parents are (writing/presentation skills), and
    c) be familiar with the artifacts produced by all of you.

    now, i have guessed at part of “a)”, but that still does not help me with the other part of “a)” and the rest, hence i could not make sense of that paragraph. in other words, i don’t know what meaning you wish to convey.

    overall, i agree with you on both genes and environment being responsible, but i don’t know whether to agree or disagree with you on which is the governing factor.

    – s.b.

  2. mouna Says:

    mannerisms and health, is not dependant only on the genes… it’s based on the environment too..

    at times, the functioning of the genes depend on the environment present.. it’s very inter-related….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture

    i googled and this is what i found, i wanted to give something more on this. i’ll search for more material, noDana….(i hope i do it) 😀

    btw, i’m happy that your grandfather wrote a letter to you, the joy is immense. i too recieved one from my sister 🙂
    (just thought of putting in this as well)

  3. Veena Says:

    Point to think.. I think it varies from case to case!
    yes, Mannerisms, appearance surely will come down through genes .

    I have observed that boys resemble mom and girls dad… both in appearance wise and qualities. May be the closeness between them allows them to spend more time with each other and hence imbibing the character.

    Over-riding, I am not too sure! some DNA experts should answer to this Q..

  4. suparna Says:

    both have immense effect , but which dominates depends on the individual , his /her mindset , adaptability , etc ( which again is dependent on genes to some extent ) . We can see twins/siblings reacting different to a similar situations …

    You are right that some hobbies are influenced by environment, like reading books , gardening , good movies, music .. and some may not be .

  5. pArijAta Says:

    Hmm… I think that both environment and genes play equally important parts in shaping a person. Finally, there are trillions of combinations of genes and environmental factors. If you believe in rebirth (I do, staunchly) many more combinations with ಪೂರ್ವಜನ್ಮದ ಸಂಸ್ಕಾರ included.
    A very, very complex equation, indeed!

  6. decemberstud Says:

    @ SB:
    Well, you know how people come up with “you look exactly like your father, when you are on stage” and stuff like that, just to be nice. I don’t get it.

    On that note, I know you are smart and very sharp, so stop digging 😉

    @ Mouna:
    Excellent link and comment. I am sure a biology major would love such topics. So, did you write a letter back to your sister yet? I haven’t written to tAta yet.

    @ Veena:
    You have a valid point. It may vary from one person to another. But, it is still interesting to note the heavy influence of environment.

    @ Suparna:
    Again, yes it does depend on a lot of variables and it is impossible to figure out the right equation. But, environment certainly plays a bigger role is what I think.

    @ pArijAta:
    Very complex indeed. But this ‘saMskAra’ thingy is quite tricky. I would love to completely trust that theory, but inevitably end up questioning a lot of things there. I wonder about myself and I cannot figure out how much of me is ‘saMskAra’ and how much is the due to the surroundings. Well, i will never know.

  7. Aram Says:

    Is the famous kannada writer who fathered rowdies, our favorite hero/villain behind the Aavarana, SLB?

    The word panditaputra proves your observation that when the Pandita father is always immersed in his work, the putras get neglected.

    There is an ancient Indian proverb, “Nothing grows under the banyan tree.”

    While the issue is very complex indeed, these points indicate that howsoever good or bad the genes are, if the proper environment is not there, the end product will not be as good or as bad as the progenitors.

    Just as there are so many panditaputras, there also are kesarina kamalagalu.

    Dhirubhai Ambani, Dr. RA Mashelkar, NR Narayana Murthy all had non-descript backgrounds.

    We may sow the finest seed of impeccable genetic history, but what if the field is not good, if the environs are infested with pests ?

  8. decemberstud Says:

    @ Aram:
    It is quite inappropriate to name anyone here 🙂 And, on the other note, SLB is certainly a hero, not a villain, as far as ‘AvaraNa’ is concerned.
    Your last paragraph sums it up all. It enhances my argument that environment plays a bigger role than the genes. ‘paMDitaputra’ as well as ‘kesarina kamalagaLu’ are both true.
    I remember reading somewhere an interview with Sarathchandra Chattopadhyaya’s son. Apparently, everyone he met would ask him, if he wrote as well. This irritated him quite a bit. I guess the society will never realize that each human being is different and does not have to carry the traits from the prior generations.

  9. Aram Says:

    “It is quite inappropriate to name anyone here”
    — I respect your policy of annonymity in your site and shall speak no further on this except to say that in Bhitti (autobio) there was this mention about a vagrant uncle of his, thus proving one of the points in your Post that the culprit genes always lurk behind the scenes and suddenly manifest themselves in some generation.
    I used the words hero/villain because to his protagonists he is a hero and to his antagonists he is the villain. I belong to the former, at least so far.
    Yes, each one of us is unique in our own way. As John Milton said, “He also serves who only stands and waits.”

  10. decemberstud Says:

    @ Aram:
    Well, I do agree that the genes suddenly show up in some geenration and start acting. To a great degree, the environment can control that behavior and that has been my point always. Yes, each of us are unique and that’s what makes this a wonderful world.


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