Monday, November 28, 2005

[[ZEITGEIST]]Fates_tapestry.jpg "It's official: Romance lasts just a year, Italian scientists say."
Or so the BBC site proclaimed in the above tagline relating to this article...

"The University of Pavia found a brain chemical was likely to be responsible for the first flush of love… In those who had just started a relationship, levels of a protein called nerve growth factors, which causes tell-tale signs such as sweaty palms and the butterflies, were significantly higher….Of the 39 people who were still in the same new relationship after a year, the levels of NGF had been reduced to normal levels. "

Why do I bring this up? Well I think it is interesting that we frequently see this kind of article in the popular media. if you don't belive me just look at the items on the "see also" section associated with this page on the BBC health site. There is a basic template to this kind of story. The word of a scientist (preferably working in the field of genetics) is presented as the final word on determining a certain type of human behaviour, be it a predeliction to murder, sexual preference of even our capacity to love. It is in the genes we are told. Funny that you never see an article which says, social scientists prove that love is not in the genes. I suppose it is assumed that we all know that already?? But then if that were true it begs the question why we are apparently so interested in hearing that we have no choice in determining who we are.

I wonder, and this is only a half baked tentative supposition, if this has anything to do with a human need to believe that there is such a thing as fate governing our lives. Of course such a belief was very prevalent in past societies. The ancient Greeks for instance has the Μοίραι (Moirae) Who were the personifications of destiny and as wikipedia put it "controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal and immortal from birth to death (and beyond)." My theory is that in our modern, mostly secular age the idea of the fates probably won't wash, so we have transmuted the Moira and they not live in the strands of our DNA.

Of course the idea of 'fate' is opposed by that of 'free will' and indeed the very personification of fate sets up a kind of dialectic, which in later cultures to ancient Greece, (I'm thinking especially of the Enlightenment here) created a tension around the idea that life was fated, and a belief that perhaps the fates could be challenged by either one's strength of character or even by technology. It is an irony then that when we have seemingly banished the chimeras of superstition to the nether regions of the subconscious, that they have re-appeared in the very guises of those who were intitially credited with vanquishing them, i.e., the scientists.

No comments: