The Null Device

Art is a mutation

Scientists discover what I had suspected all along: artistic creativity is a mutation; more specifically, it's a mutation that appeared some 50,000 years ago, resulting in the rise of abstract art and symbolism.

(I wonder what proportion of people have the creativity gene, or whether it's just one gene. A population of eccentric artists would not necessarily be sustainable; society needs practical, uncreative people much like an insect hive needs drones. Though perhaps it'd be a recessive gene, with one copy being normal and two turning you into Damien Hirst or David Bowie or someone?)

There are 5 comments on "Art is a mutation":

Posted by: toby http:// Tue Feb 18 01:05:17 2003

(warning: while I'm pretty sure I'm right about this, I'm not a geneticist)

Mutations in the FOXP2 gene have been associated with language and learning difficulties. Therefore, it has been assumed that that protein that it codes for controls the growth of structures in the brain that provide humans with their higher language ability. (there may well be stronger evidence for this, including studies on the sequence of the gene in other primates)

The link with creativity is a causal one. Without language and reasoning skills, there would have been no cause for creativity to develop, nor any medium in which it could do so.

So basically, this research doesn't show that creativity isn't an inheritable trait (and certainly doesn't show that it's a mendelian) one). Instead it shows that a mutation to a single gene ~50k years ago (that all humans have subsequently inherited) may have provided the first spark for the intellectual difference between us and other primates.

It is most likely that any genetic b

Posted by: toby http:// Tue Feb 18 01:05:51 2003

It is most likely that any genetic basis for creativity is a result of expression levels of a number of genes at the time of brain formation, and it's also almost certain that there are strong environmental factors too.

If it was just a matter of a gene being switched on or off, creativity would be as obvious as skin colour.

By the way, OMIM is an interesting resource containing a database of (all the?) known traits that exhibit mendelian inheritance patterns:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/omim/

Posted by: mike http://everythingisnt.com Tue Feb 18 08:53:42 2003

Also note that every week or so a new gene is "found" to determine things as trivial as ice cream preference. Let's take the new determinism with a grain a salt, please. Even if it does seem to justify your personal and biased preconceptions.

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org Tue Feb 18 10:01:22 2003

So the alternative is to believe that genes have no influence over psychology or neurology then? Symbolic thinking and ice cream preference are quite different issues.

Posted by: toby http:// Tue Feb 18 22:46:21 2003

No, the true situation is (as with most genetics) a middle ground between nature and nurture. Very few things (sickle cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis are popular examples) are creditable solely to genetic factors.

Insofaras a mutation in FOXP2 has been proven to cause difficulties in language and learning, we can be certain that it has an effect on the development of language centres in the brain.

Given a comparison of the gene in other primates, we can also say that this mutation occurs uniquely in humans, and thus is a very good candidate for kick starting language development in humans. (Obviously this is not proof in the mathematical sense, but certainly it carries a statistical liklihood).

From my viewpoint everything from there onwards seems to be based upon supposition surrounding timing of changes in the fossil record. This is not to say that I don't believe that it's the case; merely that all such statements are necessarily hypotheses.

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