Sunday, September 28, 2014

Intermission #3 - A Summary of My DNA analysis from the National Geographic "Genographic Project"

I chose to participate in the National Geographic, "Genographic Project" for several reasons.  First, I was and am curious about everything, so this was just one more THING to wonder about and learn about, both how the process would work and what information about myself I may uncover.  Secondly, while I was pretty certain that my pre-American ancestors were from Germany (paternally) and South Eastern Europe (maternally), there were some inconsistent stories and even interesting physical attributes that brought some of this vague understanding into question.  People in America, often talk about their European, Asian or African heritage (even if their family immigrated to the US generations ago) as part of their personal identity.  When these guessing games would start, many people would guess that I was either "Italian", "Greek" or "Jewish" due in part I suppose to certain stereotypical physical characteristics.  (My large nose and ease with which I tan included)  Lastly, most non-Africans have some non-human DNA remnants from either or both the Neanderthal or Denisovan species, due to inbreeding during the largest waves of human emigration from Africa and into Asia and Europe between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago.  I was therefore curious as to how "human" I am.

It is very important to understand the verbiage of this analysis.  Nowhere can or does this DNA analysis say that a person is X% one or another ethnicity, but rather it compares my DNA samples to those of sample found in migrating groups and in current world populations and is an active and ongoing project to determine how patterns in DNA changed as humans migrated out of Africa and spread across the world.  The language used to describe specific points of understand is precise and is meant to be so.

So anyway, here is what I learned:

(1) The average person with European migratory ancestry has about 2.1% Neanderthal DNA.  I happen to have 1.6%.  The average Euro-Asian has about 2% Denisovan DNA and I have 1.0%. Oddly, that makes me slightly more "human" than most of the people reading this blog post, other than Africans or direct disendants of Africans who happen to be the only people on the planet that are in fact 100% human.

(2) When compared to samples gathered from around the globe, my DNA fits a pattern of migration that includes 41% Northern Europe (density center in Northern Germany), 40% Mediterranean (density center in Northern Greece and Serbia), 18% South West Asian (density center in Persia a.k.a. Iran).

(3)  The modern country with the most people with similar Paternal DNA patterns is Germany (no suprise there, given what I've been told).  The modern country with the most people with similar Maternal DNA patterns is Romania.  Not far off from what I have been told, but a bit more Southern and Asiatic than I was led to believe (no worries).

(4) Weirdly, the country with the most people who have the same combination of my Paternal and Maternal DNA pattern is Ireland even though no one in my family has ever claimed to have relatives in Ireland.  I guess many of my German-Romanian ancestors got stuck in a pub in Ireland on their way to the US and never left.  Probably due to the Guinness.

 In the end this little experiment both added to the library of migratory knowledge about our species and gave me something interesting to read.  The fact is, that ALL of our ancestors can be genetically traced to a very small, common group of people in Africa who were the very first "us".  The rest of the migratory stories are just as interesting and varied as is eye, skin and hair color.

Personally, I found it interesting that my grand parents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents were able to pass along both an oral history of "where we were from" as well as a chemical history and in my case the two matched pretty closely.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflection # 9 - Listing the Sources of Your Attachments

It may seem that with this post I am on a "Buddhism" kick.  I do find a lot of interesting things about Eastern Religions (as I do with Western ones) and as Albert Einstein admitted, as we progress as a society in science, math, philosophy and psychology, Buddhism seems to have the greatest chance of surviving.  I think that is mostly due to the fact that it started out as a non-mystical, non-theistic life philosophy and therefore many of its core ideas do not require a departure from rational thought or an expression of faith.  I have studied Buddhism now for at least 30 years, so this is no fad for me.

One of the main focal points for Buddhists is the ending of suffering, to include most importantly, our own personal suffering.  The Buddha, we are told, discovered that suffering comes from attachment to material things, social norms and cultural devices as well as personal expectations of ourselves and each other.  By stripping yourself of all attachments, you will end your own suffering and then be free to help reduce or end the suffering of other humans and sentient beings in general.

A few weeks ago, I did an exercise of personal reflection and wrote down the things that I am attached to.  I modified the scope of attachment to include broad categories or more of the things in my mind or thinking or socialization that drove the various attachments, not necessarily the material items (like a house, job, family, money) - rather I chose to try and work at a deeper more fundamental level.

Warning - Digression:  I like listing things and I like scratching things off of lists that are not base or fundamental enough.  I find that this practice helps me in many areas of my life.

Anyway, I would like to challenge you to make your own list.  Review it, contemplate it, refine it and see if, how and when the things on your list interfere with your happiness, success and overall feeling of peace and contentment. It is just a little homework, nothing to be afraid of.

Things that Drive My Attachments:

My Neurosis: narcissistic, anxious, depressed 
My Desires/Addictions: alcohol, sex, leisure time, food
Seeking Acceptance: wanting unconditional love, feeling insecure, wanting to be understood 
My Persona: tough, smart, funny, experienced
My Guilt: for past acts, both the significantly terrible and the minor transgressions
My Fear: of failure and the of not providing for myself and others, financially and emotionally 
Wanting to be unique: standout, different, “a character”, remembered, even mystical/other worldly
My Hatred: of the fact that things are imperfect Concept versus Reality (Weltschmerz)
My Career: control, money, sense of accomplishment
Wondering what people truly think of me, my behaviors and my intentions, beyond my “persona”

This list is VERY personal and a few people may think that I am over sharing here, however that is the power of writing these things down.  They are real, they are known by yourself and others and they do in fact have the power to inhibit your true sense of peace and happiness, especially if you can not or will not acknowledge them.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Return to Writing After My Surgery - Three Topics to Explore and Hey - I gained an insight the other day !

Most of my (limited) group of readers know that I had some significant surgery on July 28th and it has taken me this long to recover enough to be interested in writing again.

This post may seem a bit redundant to my last one, but since time has passed, I think that it might make sense to repeat a few things and add some color commentary.

On a side note, looking at the statistics for readership there are some folks in Eastern Europe and Western Asia that read this blog.  Now, I do not know if they are different people who are just browsing the blogger site or if I actually have fans in Russia, Turkey and other West Asian countries.  If so, please send me a note or comment, I'd like to hear from you.

In my last post back on July 19th, I discussed the possibility of at least three future topics:

(1) How does morality and ethics play out in a pre-determined, atheist worldview?
(2) Why not "just give up" if everything is pre-determined?
(3) Attachment vs Happiness, do Eastern Philosophies know something that we don't?

Toward the 3rd topic I have been (slowly) reading a book titled, "The Book of Not Knowing" by Peter Ralston.  It is a fun book for me to read, as he is attempting to walk the reader through the Eastern process of cleansing yourself of your "made up self" in order to discover your "real self".  This idea that we are mostly what we have been told, taught and think about versus what we "really are" has always gotten my neurons firing, so I am enjoying the read.

This brings me to the insight that I gained the other day whilst reading this particular book.  In it he is trying to offer a variety of analogies to explain to the reader the mechanics of how humans develop their sense, view and concept of the society, culture, world and self.

To summarize, he noted that if you watch a kitten (or kittens) play, they chase, fight, run and jump during their play.  These skills are necessary for cats in order for them to both hunt for food and defend themselves.  Adult cats also seem to enjoy play and while they do it less often, it would appear that their play helps them maintain these important survival skills. 

If you watch a child or children play, they often play "pretend".  They can imagine that a shoe box is a boat and grandma's floor is the ocean.  If you interrupt their play, they return to the "real world" of mommy and daddy (sometimes unhappily) and therefore demonstrate that they are not hallucinating or psychotic per se', however why do they play pretend?  In fact why do adults fantasize?  It might be that kids (and even adults) are "practicing some skills" that are required for success and as adults these skills may need maintenance, just like in adult cats.  Those skills (playing pretend) would most aptly be defined as creating our worldview, our sense of self and our persona as an individual human.  There is nothing fundamentally real about "who we are" other than the molecules that make up our current state of mass.  Everything that we believe about ourselves is created in our minds.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, pretty, ugly, smart, dumb, funny, boring, confident, shy are all constructs that we have made up - often with the help of our familes, friends and society in general.

I thought that this explaination was cool and it stuck with me as being important to ponder and incorporate into how I think about myself and other people.

This made me wonder about a thought experiment whereby you would take a fresh new human and attempt to remove all forms of feedback from them regarding their behavior, gender, intelligence, attractiveness and social "fit".  What would you end up with?  My first thought (like most parents or even non-parent adults who can't stand feral children) is that you'd have a "caveman".  Then I wondered two more things.  Would you REALLY have a "caveman" child if they received ZERO feedbac?  I often find that some of the most irritating children that I run across receive all sorts of feedback and most of it is conflicting or non-specific, in other words, chaotic.  The second thought was that whichever outcome on the spectrum of caveman to shy polite and calm (which actual cave people were more apt to be like, based on what we know of ancient humans), the child WOULD possibly reflect what "real" humans are like, deep down inside all of us, under all of our trappings and manners and pretense.  I think that would be an interesting thing to know!