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Let’s -for the moment- assume that humans are like computers. How many levels of programming would there be?

I’d say there are at least 4. With possibly more on the way.

The first level is our DNA (and associated material). It is the basic building block of our lifes and determines many things. It either fixes our behaviour (breathing, walking etc) or makes it latently available. A lot can be said about DNA and the way we inherit from our predecessors. It is the single most important factor when it comes to our future and the way we behave.

One thing about DNA is that despite mixing the genetic material from two parents, it pretty much stable. It can take a few ages before a noticeable changes becomes apparent. If our behaviour would be fully fixed by our DNA, we would all be pretty much the same. Wear the same clothes, do the same things etc.

As we know that is not the case. The second level of programming takes place in the womb. The chemical environment in the womb determines how genes are expressed, and quite probably how neural pathways are wired. We all know that smoking and drinking on the part of the mother will affect the embryo (and not for the better).

But it actually goes a bit further than that. Specifically testosterone levels seem to have a big impact on the behaviour that we will be predisposed to. Higher testosterone levels are indicative for more short term orientation. Hence a woman should avoid stress during pregnancy as well as smoking.

The second level of programming is less important for the person, but quite important for the species. If -for example- there is a period of scarcity, the the children born during this time will arrive in an environment where short term behaviour is more important than long term behaviour. Adaptations in the womb make sure that the children are optimally programmed for the prevailing conditions.

While the first level of programming does not change over ages, the second level is much shorter in duration and works over a few years to perhaps a few decennia.

Once born, the third level of programming kicks in. This is an extremely import period where much of our unconscious drivers for the rest of our lives is fixed. Our parents and other caregivers shape our moral and our drivers during this time. Things we do later in live are often driven by the unconscious lessens received as a (young) child.

This is the first real individual programming. It allows human differentiation such that individual competition becomes a selection criteria for propagation. This is of course a short term issue but is a big driver for the culture we find ourselves in. This is also how culture changes itself and gives rise to several cyclical or periodical phenomena. For example the rise and fall of nations.

The last programming level deal with personal stuff. It is the impact on us from our society and media. This drives short term behaviour as -for example- the rise and fall of stock prices. While the programming during child raising gives rise to generational changes, this last level gives rise to even shorter term behaviours. Down to minutes, but possibly lasting a few years.

The “big debate” between nature vs nurture is imo complete wrong. Reality is much more complex than a simple DNA vs teaching. Teaching is powerfull, and can at times override preprogrammed reflexes, but its effects rarely last. Most people will fall back to their programmed behaviour whenever possible. Be that level 1, 2 or 3. Economist are starting to understand this with the rise of behavioural economics. The rational consumer is pretty much done for.


Originally posted at: 2017-01-19
Last modified on: 2017-01-19