Who you even have the possibility to be starts well before your childhood — it starts at conception. If you think genes don’t matter for how people behave, consider this amazing fact: if you are a carrier of a particular set of genes, your probability of committing a violent crime goes up by eight hundred and eighty-two percent. Here are statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, which I’ve broken down into two groups: crimes committed by the population that carries this specific set of genes and by the population that does not:
Average Number of Violent Crimes Committed
Annually in the United States
Offense Carrying the genes Not carrying the genes
Aggravated assault 3,419,000 435,000
Homicide 14,196 1,468
Armed robbery 2,051,000 157,000
Sexual assault 442,000 10,000
In other words, if you carry these genes, you’re eight times more likely to commit aggravated assault, ten times more likely to commit murder, thirteen times more likely to commit armed robbery and forty-four times more likely to commit sexual assault.
About one half of the human population carries these genes, while the other half does not, making the first half much more dangerous indeed. It’s not even a contest. The overwhelming majority of prisoners carry these genes, as do 98.4 percent of those on death row. It seems clear enough that the carriers are strongly predisposed to a different type of behavior – and everyone is coming to the table equally equipped in terms of drives and behavior.
We’ll return to these genes in a moment, but first I want to tie the issue back to the main point we’ve seen throughout this book: we are not the ones driving the boat of our behavior, at least not nearly as much as we believe. Who we are runs well below the surface of our conscious access, and the details reach back in time to before our birth, when the meeting of a sperm and egg granted us with certain attributes and not others. Who we can be begins with our molecular blueprints – a series of alien codes penned in invisibly small strings of amino acids – well before we have anything to do with it. We are a product of our inaccessible, microscopic history.
By the way, as regards that dangerous set of genes, you’ve probably heard of them. They are summarized as the Y chromosome. If you’re a carrier, we call you a male.”
From David Eagleman’s eye-opening and highly digestible Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. If you’re looking for a layman’s guide to the mind, fan through Incognito.
The photograph is of Eagleman at his laboratory and office in my hometown of Houston, Texas.
Check out a philosophical and a fictional work of Eagleman’s below: