Does intragenomic conflict predict intrapersonal conflict?

Biology and Philosophy 31 (3):313-333 (2016)
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Parts of the genome of a single individual can have conflicting interests, depending on which parent they were inherited from. One mechanism by which these conflicts are expressed in some taxa, including mammals, is genomic imprinting, which modulates the level of expression of some genes depending on their parent of origin. Imprinted gene expression is known to affect body size, brain size, and the relative development of various tissues in mammals. A high fraction of imprinted gene expression occurs in the brain. Biologists including Hamilton, Trivers and Haig have proposed that this may explain some intrapersonal conflict in humans. This speculation amounts to an inference from conflict within the genome to conflict within the brain or mind. This is a provocative proposal, which deserves serious attention. In this paper I assess aspects of Haig’s version of the proposal. I argue, first, that the notion that intragenomic conflict predicts personal inconsistency should be rejected. Second, while it is unlikely that it credibly predicts sub-personal agents representing conflicting genetic interests, it is plausible that it predicts that the division of cognitive labour could be exploited to turn sub-systems into proxies for conflicting interests.
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