Genetic memory

So I was thinking about pelicans today. Mostly, this weird story of pelicans in overfished waters who have begun eating hatchlings of other bird species. It’s freaked out the biologists, because the pelicans have altered their behavior so much.

Pelican From Wikimedia Commons

It got me thinking about genetic memory in general. God programmed the animals with their original behavior, but the animals are free to come up with their own weird behaviors (like switching from catching fish to eating other birds).

My cockatiel is terrified of long, skinny objects, like cords and hoses, especially when you drag them like a snake slithering. He’s never seen a snake, but he recognizes a predator. The iguanas I owned in my youth were afraid of some of my shirts, because they had snake-like patterns and stripes.

Baby chicks are terrified of every bird that flies over, because they’re born knowing about hawks. Apparently this is observable science, too. According to Wikipedia, genetic memory supplies a trained reaction to a stimulus. Not actual memories.

But that’s where fiction takes over. What if we could pass down memories, or retrieve memories from our ancestors? Heck, the whole Assassin’s Creed story is based around that–the one guy going into the computer program that accesses his genetic memory, and fighting the bad guys as an awesome assassin.

Robin Hobb is big on memory transference in her books. By the time I’d finished reading two trilogies, I was kind of tired of it. In her books, people can take memories out of their heads and store them in memory stone, or pass on memories to offspring.

A casual google search turns up all kinds of weird articles of people claiming to have all kinds of “genetic memories” of places that seemed familiar, and turned out to be places where relatives had lived. But when it comes to that happening in real life, I’m a skeptic. I know weird stuff happens. I also know that people have overactive imaginations. Ever seen a LARP group at play? I rest my case.

But it’d sure be fun in a story.


3 thoughts on “Genetic memory

  1. I have often wondered this because I see you guys doing things now that either your Dad and I did at your age and sometimes I see you all doing things I remember my parents doing. I do think things are passed down in some way.
    I think this is interesting. Very interesting about the pelicans. But think of the blue jays we have seen doing the same thing.


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