By Agustin Fuentes
We are not our genes and they are not us. Knowing what copies of genes we carry can tell us a little about getting sick and losing our hair, and maybe even add insight into our ancestry. But that does not tell us about how and why we do the things that we do.
Steven Pinker, in his recent New York Times Magazine article My Genome, My Self, argues that genes do have great influence on our behavior. As an anthropologist, evolutionary theorist, and a researcher of human and other primate behavior I am here to tell you that he is overshooting the mark. Human behavior is simultaneously biology, culture, experience and more.
Natural selection, one of the main drivers in evolutionary change, works on the whole body and behavior complex, not on single genes or even the genome itself. It is the dynamic product of genes, organs, bodies, behaviors, ecologies, and societies that eventually affects evolutionary patterns in humans. No gene or even set of genes can be held in isolation of the systems in which they exist.