It’s been five years since the Human Genome
Project successfully sequenced the over 3 billion
chemical base pairs that make up our DNA, an achievement
so ennobled and applauded by the press that scientific
laboratories around the world subsequently enjoyed
a population explosion. The event marked another milestone
in man’s long and arduous quest to strip away
the mysteries of Nature.
available a blueprint of the naked ape’s genome
proved to be an irresistible lure for Classicists.
These partisans of the universe-is-a-pocket-watch
theory of life suddenly saw genetics the way a seven
year old engineer sees an Erector Set, as a reticulated
bridge of interconnecting struts and trusses. Thus
the discipline passed from the flamboyant stewardship
of phrenologists and social anthropologists into the
laptops of anonymous mathematicians. Genetics, like
so many isms and ologies, was ferried
away from the island of observational intuition to
the linear flatland of numerology and formulae.
But before the pennant on the top gallant of the
good ship Genome completely disappears from sight,
I would like to make one last parting observation.
I suggest the number crunchers of the Human Genome
Project may have overlooked something.
It’s well known that the HGP did not fully
study the entire DNA structure of a human cell. Certain
heterochromatic areas (about 8% of the total) remains
unsequenced. Centromeres, the mid-regions
of each chromosome, contain millions of base-pairs
and have been inaccessible by modern sequencing methods.
The telomers, the ends of the chromosomes,
are similarly unexplored for the same reason. Both
of these sources of base-pairs are presumed to contain
no genes because of the nature of their redundancies.
There are also several loci in each individual’s
genome that contain members of multigene families
difficult to disentangle with shotgun-sequencing methods.
These multigene families often encode proteins important
for our immune functions.
So it’s conceivable the Project may have overlooked
something, a codon with chameleon-like properties,
changing its amino acid profile to echo receptor sockets
of nearby mRNA strands, for example. Or a reiterating
fragment of ‘junk DNA’ coding, eternally
picked up by mRNA template action, perhaps to ultimately
mature into a despotic protein when conditions were
right. Anything might manifest from that unseen, unresolved
eight per cent. So why not a regulating gene?
The gene I am proposing is very old and patient
and would be difficult to find. It’s utterly
dormant yet in its long history has managed to guarantee
its perpetuity through replicase enzyme action. With
a robust latency, it has sat like a mantra on a rug
for over two million years and only recently was quickened
by, ironically enough, technology’s ability
to globalize communication.
How does communication vivify this occult substance?
Through the lure of anonymity inherent in an IP signature,
an email address or the veil of a cellular phone which,
unlike a regular telephone, doesn’t trail a
telltale umbilicus to its whispering owner.
The stirring to action of this gene (which I propose
to call the Ff gene) invokes a uniquely
human hankering for identity cloaking. This hunger
for anonymity betrays its long lineage of incipiency
in mankind’s experiments with totemism, shamanism,
tattoos, makeup, camouflage, ventriloquism, masked
balls, Halloween, minstrel shows and mirrored sun
glasses. We want to act from a vantage of safety,
dispose without being deposed. And it’s the
reason some primitive tribes will not utter a name
while others will not suffer a photograph. When an
actor is unrevealed, the action cannot be made accountable.
Obscurity is a fortification against regress, a wall
that protects the nucleus it surrounds.
Walls are important to us. As metaphoric sheaths,
they bequeath levels of psychological security, as
tendered by our various lexicons. For example, the
word paradise means “around”
and “wall”. Town, which has a lattice
of walls to hide behind, comes from the German word
zaun, meaning fence. The original Chinese
word for city, ch’eng, also meant wall.
And it’s no coincidence the effects of an active
Ff gene compels its host to use a cellular
phone which, like its namesake, protects and hides
the nucleus of his or her identity.
A behavioral norm is a fictitious concept, easily
debunked by the global reportage of the various news
medias. The relentless visual and printed barrage
of our inexhaustible strangeness makes it quite clear
we all possess a ‘behavioral phenotype’.
A phenotype is an outward trait or collection of traits
that arise from one’s genetic constitution.
Certain dispositions and actions are now believed
to be genetic in origin. An infant boy born with Lesch-Nyhan
syndrome, for example, appears normal at first but
within three months becomes what is known as a ‘floppy
baby’ and can’t sit or hold his head upright.
When he cuts his first teeth he starts using them
to bite himself. Over time, he chews away the ends
of his fingers and gnaws off his own lips. Drastic
precautions have to be exercised to ensure protection
against himself. As the boy grows older his self-destructive
behavior becomes more subtle and devious. He devises
new ways to injure himself. Often, in a kind of Tourette’s
ferocity, he spits, curses and strikes out at the
very people he likes the most. He eats food he detests
and vomits on himself. He says yes when he means no.
He’s horrified by his own behavior but is powerless
to alter it. Yet when he’s not being visited
by such dysfunctional impulses, he enjoys the company
of other people, likes being the center of attention
and makes friends easily.
In Lesch-Nyhan syndrome a protein called hypoxanthine-guanine
phosphoribosyl transferase (HPRT), which is present
in all normal cells, seems to malfunction, or rather,
not function at all. The job of this particular enzyme
is to help recycle DNA.
In the early 1980’s researchers decoded the
sequence of letters (A,T,C,G - adenine, thymine, cytosine
and guanine) in the human gene that contains the instructions
for making HPRT. It includes 657 letters that code
for the protein. Researchers also began sequencing
this gene in people who had Lesch-Nyhan syndrome.
Each had a mutation in the gene, nearly all unique.
There was apparently no common single mutation that
caused Lesch-Nyhan. In the majority of cases the defect
consisted of a solitary misspelling in the code. For
example, one victim had a G replaced by an A --a lone
character misplaced out of the 6 billion letters of
code in the human genome.
Other genetic mutations have been associated with
behavioral changes beyond the ‘norm’,
such as Rett or Williams syndromes.
There are about 25,000 active genes in the human
genome, each having 1000-1500 letters of code. The
smallest change in this chemical symphony is enough
to provoke chronically bizarre behavior. Who’s
to say a culturally accepted modern ‘norm’
doesn’t have its roots in one of these behavioral
phenotypes? An Ff gene, perhaps unique
to X chromosomes and recessively linked to them, may
have traveled across the ages within female carriers,
sentencing half their male offspring to its effects
and half their female progeny to the status of a carrier.
The influence of this covert gene might today be
so consummately established in our society that the
entire races have adopted a correlative genome of
conduct, comprised of immensely complex permutations
of A, T, C and G –acquisition, totalitarianism,
cupidity and gratification. It’s possible the
Ff gene, whose signal trademark is pure
greed, has managed to overpower the tremendous impetus
of countless ages of ceremonial mitosis.
The plausibility of this accomplishment, whose fulcrum
is a whimper, not a bang, is demonstrated by the exorbitant
behavioral distemper of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome victims,
now explained by geneticists as a dropped consonant
in the endless filibuster of life.
So what excessive deportment do the strings of the
Ff gene elicit from the population puppetry
of our modern society? A mildly mitigating description
of our affliction would be to call it Nature’s
gift of perjury. The Ff gene is literally
a genetic mutation of fact. It uses the lash of greed
to whip words and actions into contradictory absurdness.
Actually, that is how one knows a person’s Ff
gene has been activated --they profess one thing while
following a lifestyle that openly negates their words.
Mrs. D declares her overheated fondness for animals
as she sits down to a dinner of lamb, duck, roast
or fish. Mr. P denigrates the worlds’ deadbeats
as he negotiates the tricky union paths that separates
him from a 100% disability pension.
The anonymity worn by such people is metaphored by
a drop of water hidden in a wave. The contradiction
has become the ‘norm’. The behavioral
phenotype is universalized, shared to a state of sameness.
As shocking as the behavior is to someone whose
Ff gene remains archived and dormant, it
goes completely unnoticed by the pervasive majority,
who inherit and disseminate the gene’s influence.
Like a throng of penguins, their inscrutability lives
in a hall of mirrors.
The lion's share of the world’s population
is non-technical. For them the Ff gene
exercises its mandate through this shared hypocrisy.
But for the few who embrace technology as an ally,
the gene ramps up its effects. These people see the
nebulous quantum field of the worldwide web as a haven
for obscurity. Masked as a web site or spam letter,
they become virtual particles that momentarily condense
out of a fog of electrons, pitch their confidence
deal, harvest the money and then dissolve back into
Modern society abets these grifters by fostering
a culture that erodes our ability to detect deceit.
According to Hitler, the public will always believe
a Big Lie. And so big lies have been drafted into
the service of governments, advertisements and news.
Thespians have discovered the Method and draw upon
the roster of their own emotional experiences to convincingly
covey passions and sentiments they do not feel once
the curtain falls.
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Hemingway was asked what a good writer needed most,
he replied, “A 100% shock-proof shit detector.”
Studies have been made to determine our ability to
detect lies. Dr. Maureen O’Sullivan of the University
of San Francisco says the average person knows when
they are being deceived only about half the time,
which is like saying half the population judges the
veracity of condominium and used car salesman by regarding
a tossed a coin as a financial advisor. Yet within
society there is a small percentage of people who
seem to have an unerring ability to detect deceit.
Of 13,000 subjects tested, Dr. O’Sullivan found
31 wizards, as she called them, who were usually able
to tell if a person was lying, whether the lie was
about an opinion, how someone felt or dealt with a
According to Dr. O'Sullivan, "There are two
categories of clues to a lie: thinking clues and emotional
ones." Examples of emotional clues are facial
expressions, body language and spoken words. Does
the person react normally? Is their facial expression
consistent with what they are saying? Does their body
language accord with their words? Do their words match
Thinking clues are what betray liars when they are
making up the ‘truth’ or trying to narrate
details they formulate in their head. Examples of
thinking clues are hesitations in speech, stuttering,
groping for words, strange word order, or speaking
incoherently by choosing inappropriate words or not
In the 1960s William Condon pioneered a study of
interactions at the fraction-of-a-second level. In
his research project, he examined a four-and-a-half-second
film segment frame by frame, where each frame represented
1/45th second. After studying this recording for a
year and a half, he noted interactional “micro-movements”,
such as when a wife moves her shoulder exactly as
her husband's hands came up, which when taken together
yielded what he called “microrhythms”.
American psychologist John Gottman began video-taping
living relationships to determine how couples interact.
By studying these micro-movements, Gottman became
adept at predicting which relationship would hold
together and which would break up.
Most people do not perceive these microexpressions
in themselves or others. In the Diogenes Project,
researcher Paul Ekman found that these tiny movements
can often expose lying. Like Maureen O’Sullivan,
he found that a very small percentage of those he
studied had a preternatural knack for detecting them.
We seem to be duped easily by a smile. In fact,
we tend to implicitly trust a smiling face. In one
experiment Dr. George Rotter, professor of psychology
at Montclair University in New Jersey, cut out yearbook
photos of college students and asked people to rate
the pictured individuals for trustworthiness. In almost
every instance people chose the students with smiling
faces as the most honest. Women with the biggest grins
scored the best. Men needed only a slight curve of
the lips to be considered truthful.
"Smiles are an enormous controller of how people
perceive you," explained Rotter. "It's an
extremely powerful communicator, much more so than
in the mid-19th century a French scientist named Guillaume
Duchenne de Boulogne set out to discover which muscles
are involved in different facial expressions. After
taking hundreds of photographs of a subject whose
facial muscles were electrically excited, Duchenne
uncovered the secret of the fake smile. When mild
shocks were applied to the cheeks of the face, the
large muscles on either side of the mouth - known
as the zygomatic major - pulled the corners of the
lip upwards to create a grin. Duchenne then compared
this smile with one produced when he told the subject
a joke. The genuine smile involved not only the zygomatic
major, but also the orbicularis oculi muscles around
each eye. In a genuine smile these muscles tighten,
pull the eyebrows down and the cheeks up, producing
tiny crinkles around the corners of the eyes. Duchenne
discovered that the tensing of these eye muscles was
beyond voluntary control. When the muscles were not
employed, the smile was artificial.
There are so many ways liars betray themselves that
it seems incredible half the population can be duped
at any time. A short list of telltale clues will illustrate
just a few of their potential pitfalls: