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Genes, OCD and me

Posted by Matt. Comments (4).

OK, I guess it’s my turn. As the “Matt” character in Fallen Lake, I’ve relegated myself to lurking up until now, reading Adrienne’s posts with bemusement, especially as related to me. Unlike her, I don’t take offense at Laird Harrison’s whole enterprise in writing “Fallen Lake.” While he takes poetic license in his account of these events in my childhood, I think he describes the essential outline accurately.

But I now see the necessity to set the record straight because Adrienne has misrepresented some points from our discussion of the other day.

I’m not a genetic determinist. Human behavior clearly results from the complex interaction of genes and the environment. On a more basic level, we human beings are simply patterns of matter and energy that belong to larger patterns, influencing and influenced by other patterns.*

My wife, “Penny,” looking over my should tells me that I will have completely lost my audience with the previous sentence. The point I want to make is that Adrienne’s impulse to blame the decision of our parents to join in a “group marriage” for various behaviors of their children is misguided. Take for example the obsessive compulsive diagnosis I received at age 11. My therapist based it on theories with no experimental foundation that were slightly evolved from Freud’s concept of the “anal retentive” character. Recently gene studies have shown associations between variants in glutamate system genes and OCD  (including SLC1A1 in five independent studies). My mother needlessly blamed herself for my “condition,” which was merely the result of my rather unusual attempt to understand the world scientifically at an early age.

Forgive me if I continue in that effort.


*Seen in this light, the classic “nature vs. nurture” debate is resolved, since these are fundamentally cultural distinctions, with more metaphorical than material significance. Does this knowledge deprive us of what philosophers call “free will?” I don’t think that’s a very important question either. What’s important is that the pattern I call “me” is compelled to act on the other patterns around me in such a way as to try to preserve those patterns as long as possible in something close to their current form.

4 Responses to “Genes, OCD and me”

  1. Adrienne

    Hi Matt. Sorry if you feel I misrepresented our conversation. I’m just not so sure you can dismiss parents and what they do as a factor in how children turn out. As a parent, I can see everyday how my vices and virtues are reflected in my kids. And… well, this is turning into a whole blog post.

  2. Laird Harrison − Matt’s mistake

    […] Matt, to this public discussion of our private business. And thanks for the clarification of our conversation from the other day. I think I follow your argument, but I’m not completely persuaded. […]

  3. avery

    Have you ever read anything by Bruce Lipton or David Shenk, both of whom talk about genes (nature) in malleable ways. Forgive me if this discussion has already gone there, but science is now saying that genes change…according to the environment their in…

  4. Matt

    This is exactly the point I’m trying to make — that the distinction between genes and the environment is itself arbitrary. Buckminster Fuller uses the analogy of a slipknot moving along a length of rope, where a human being is the knot and the rope is the universe. The knot maintains its basic shape yet it incorporates different parts of the rope as it moves.

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