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What is Genetic Memory?

By Christian Roemer

Everyone knows what memory is. It’s the ability to store information in your head and leave it to rattle around somewhere in your noggin until you need to recall it. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how memory works, how your brain stores it, or what it looks like. But we’re sure that memory exists.

But what if there’s a different type of memory that lives outside of things we learn or experience and is stored in our genes somewhere? Turns out that’s actually something that probably exists, but the “how” and “why” and “where” are totally mysterious.

Wait, What?

Yep, you read that right. Scientists believe that there are certain memories that all living organisms possess that are pre-programmed into their DNA. From mice all the way up to humans, it appears that some memories are passed from generation to generation in the very genes that the organism is built out of.

The problem with tracking down and quantifying genetic memory in any real capacity is next to impossible. Since we can’t even “see” memories in the brain, and we pretty much know exactly where to look, there’s really no possible way to locate what genetic memory is or know where it exists. But just like the atoms that we breathe, even we can’t see that genetic memory, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Some Helpful Examples

Most people are actually pretty aware of genetic memory, but we call it something different most of the time: instinct. The reason that babies know to nurse when they’re born is because something in their body is telling them what to do. The knowledge to do it couldn’t come out of nowhere, so it makes sense that there’s some sort of pre-programming going on.

But genetic memory doesn’t stop at instincts.

Some people speculate that geniuses and savants exist because of genetic memory. It’s really one of the only reasonable hypotheses. How else can you explain a baby that sits down at a piano for the first time and can play Chopin perfectly? Those types of stories aren’t really isolated either. From musical prodigies and math wizards to untrained artists painting hyperrealistic paintings on their first try, it doesn’t make sense why some people seem to have innate ability while others don’t. The answer might lie in our genetic code--the information passed from generation to generation without our knowing how or why. Genetic memory might also explain things like phobias, psychological disorders, and even anxiety!

Even though the science is really hazy on the subject, and there’s not much agreement on what genetic memory is, how it works, or even if it truly exists, studies suggest that our genome is influencing more than just our eye and hair color. It might just be making us geniuses!

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