12 July 2014

Information on my genes provided by 23andMe and Promethease

Finally got my DNA analysis back from 23andMe:

Since the FDA stopped allowing them to interpret the data for their customers, I had to spend an extra $5 with https://promethease.com/ to get useful information out of it.
Here's the most interesting and useful stuff they found:

gs 229 & i3003137(A;T)- Sickle cell trait; resistant to malaria but a carrier for sickle cell anemia. Note some believe gs229 individuals should be identified by screening before being exposed to extreme physical exertion due to ~30x higher risk for sudden death
 Sickle Cell Anemia carrier - "Bad news: You are a carrier for Sickle Cell Anemia. You should consider having your partner tested before before having children. The good news is that you are naturally resistant to malaria."
[I learned this at Coast Guard bootcamp. The info the doctor gave me said there is rarely any real life effect, other than sudden death during extreme activity such as mountain climbing or... military bootcamp! I didn't die though :P ]

gs251 - Beta Thalassemia carrier (Beta thalassemia is a hereditary disease affecting the hemoglobin - similar to sickle cell)
[I guess I should go visit the tropics, take advantage of the fact that I am malaria proof]

rs738409(G;G) - higher odds of alcoholic liver disease, increased liver fat While found in 55%+ of all people, alcohol seems to be 3x more damaging to your liver than typical
[That's ok, I rarely drink anyway]

rs7294919(C;T) Moderately enhanced hippocampal volume
The hippocampus is a critical brain structure involved in learning and memory. In particular, it is associated with the ability to form long-term memories of facts and events

rs2237717(T;T) - roles in general neurodevelopment and in the development of autism . Rs2237717 has been linked to schizophrenia, and the ability to recognize facial emotion.  Possible cancer protection.
[I've always suspected I may have just a touch of Asperger's / ASD.  Not enough to be diagnosable, but enough that I often sympathize more with the experience of aspys than of NTs.  Wonder how much of that is related to rs2237717(T;T) ]

11 July 2014

The downsides to empathy

"You have a SNP in the oxytocin receptor which may make you less empathetic than most people. 
When under stress you may have more difficulty recognizing the emotional state of others which impacts loneliness, parenting, and socializing skills 
Lower levels of reward dependence (reliance on social approval). Lower autonomic arousal while perceiving harm to others." 

Indeed, I've been told by many people that I am not empathetic enough, and I have social skills only slightly better than someone with Asperger's. 

But I object to the characterization of this as "dysfunction". It is different than the norm, sure.
Does empathy imply more morality?  Is lack of empathy a pathology? Not necessarily

Just because I can't tell how you feel from your expression doesn't mean I'm any less likely to care. It just means I need more explicit communication - which is generally a good thing anyway. 
Combined with good communication, I bet it makes for less misunderstandings: while I do worse than average on "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test", I KNOW when I'm not sure, while people who do better are often confident even when they are wrong. Therefor I'm more likely to ask. 

A study published in the journal Science by Dr. Hillel Aviezer of the Psychology Department of the Hebrew University, together with Dr. Yaacov Trope of New York University and Dr. Alexander Todorov of Princeton University, confirms my theory: "viewers in test groups were baffled when shown photographs of people who were undergoing real-life, highly intense positive and negative experiences. " (as opposed to the typical "Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test" which uses actors). "When the viewers were asked to judge the emotional valences of the faces they were shown (that is, the positivity or negativity of the faces), their guesses fell within the realm of chance. " 
Nobody can really "mind read". But people rated more empathetic absolutely believe they can. Sounds like dysfunction... 

Reliance on social approval is a terrible thing! 
This study http://mic.com/articles/92479/psychologists-have-uncovered-a-troubling-feature-of-people-who-seem-too-nice isn't really about "niceness" as it claims, so much as about the politeness that stems from a high reliance on social approval. In other words, ASDs are a lot less likely to hurt others in order to fit in or be accepted.
The typical human will deliberately choose what they know to be a wrong answer, just so they can fit in with everyone else: http://www.simplypsychology.org/asch-conformity.html
 Reliance on social approval is the basis of peer pressure, of group think, of failure to act in crises (if others are around), of the negative feelings of shame and low-self-esteem. And as the study above shows, it makes people more likely to be evil. I'm at a loss for what positives come from it. It sounds an awful lot like dysfunction to me. 

Lower autonomic arousal while perceiving harm to others is probably a trait you want in, say, a rescuer (USCG Search and Rescue, for example, which I am, or a firefighter or cop or paramedic) - similar as I said above, the fact that I don't have a strong emotional reaction to your distress doesn't mean I don't care. It means I can stay calm and collected during your crises, which makes me more effective at helping you. Do you really want your rescuer to be so sympathetic that they freak out or start crying when they see how much pain you're in? 
A highly sympathetic pediatrician would develop lots of stress from continually causing children pain, even though they know the shots are in the child's best interests. Again, that sounds like dysfunction to me. 

Aspys and similar folk tend to be more intelligent and better at all sort of tasks. The fact of being less common doesn't automatically imply pathology - if it did, being overweight would have to be reclassified as normal, and a healthy BMI would have to be considered disfunction (at least in the US). 
Evolution has gone from pure stimulus response to instinct behavior to emotional reactions to higher order reasoning and logic. I propose the rise of the Aspys, who are less emotional and more logical, is another step in that direction!

10 July 2014

Debunking "Debunking Democracy"


The nearly unanimous condemnation of democracy in past history which Black (accurately) mentions was in all cases in contrast to elite rule, whether monarchy, oligarchy, or republic.

He then points out that democracy has been largely corrupted, that most societies that use it today are representative / republican, that not everyone who claims it actually practices it, and points out that there has rarely if ever been universal enfranchisement.
Again, all accurate points, but none of them is an actual criticism of direct democracy, its simply saying that not all of what people call “democracy” is the same thing.

He gives the lack of successful urban direct democracy as a reason it could not possibly happen.  That’s just silly.  Nothing exists prior to the first time it exists, that is certainly not proof that it couldn't possibly ever exist.  It may well be an “abstract ideal”, but no less so than anarchy, or any other ideological potential organization of society.  He acknowledges that direct democracy has in fact existed, but implies it ‘doesn't count’ because “Every known instance has involved a considerable admixture of representative democracy which has sooner or later usually subordinated [direct] democracy where it didn't eliminate it altogether”
But of course there is exactly zero cases of anarchy which did not “sooner or later” succumb to another form of social organization.

Black says that the objections to representative democracy apply to direct “pure majoritarian democracy”.  But nothing inherent in the ideal of democracy demands it must be majoritarian in nature.

On to the specific points: