Understanding human perceptions and behaviors through molecular descriptors
The society represents a collective harvest of minds produced from individual contributions. To understand this shared space through an analytical framework, the field of Sociology came into existence.
Sociologists study people, communities, and institutions to determine how societies are formed and evolve over time. Whether it’s human, animal, plant, or microbial societies, all come with unique characteristics of composition and function. Sociology has found strong imprints in the fields of history, art, culture, religion, politics, demography, industry, law, economy, and so on, touching practically every aspect of human life.
Recently, terminologies like social morphology, social physiology, social pathology, and computational sociology have made their appearance indicating the emergence of interdisciplinary approaches for deeper analysis and prediction of societal evolution.
Individuals build societies and are also, in turn, products of society. This is analogous to biology where molecules build the cell and are, in turn, influenced by extrinsic and intrinsic environments. For example, we inherit a certain DNA sequence from our parents at birth. Over time, the DNA sequence itself gets modified based on DNA damage and error-prone repair. Likewise, enzymes run metabolic pathways and are in turn affected by metabolites produced in the cellular environment.
Though Sociology and molecular biology have evolved as distinct disciplines, the need of the hour is to collate diverse data, cut across the disciplines, and bridge higher-level behaviors with the fundamental molecular descriptors.
To realize this vision, this book introduces 'molecular sociology' – a study of perceptions and social interactions as a chronicle of molecular descriptors. In simple terms, it is molecular biology and behavioral science made easy for sociologists.
From microbes to eukaryotes, organisms represent unique chemical soups of evolution. An unmet need of the hour is to bridge behavioral outputs with molecular descriptors to better understand societal interactions.
It would be good to know how much behavior comes from the read-only-memory, and how much is editable and programmable.
Some of the questions central to "molecular sociology" are:
Do thoughts have a molecular basis?
Are we genetically susceptible to anger, happiness, love, jealousy, fear, depression, and so on?
Do emotions follow a certain inheritance pattern?
Can human behavior be described as a function of genes, RNA, proteins, and pathways?
How is the external environmental data converted to a neural format and transferred to the cerebral destination?
How does the brain store, edit, and retrieve the memory?
How did intelligence emerge vis-a-vis cerebrospinal evolution?
Given the rapid planetary changes, what kind of human behaviors should one expect in the future?
What would be the influence of physically isolated and virtually connected societies on individual concepts and value systems?
How would genes respond to changed social structures emerging from physical isolation and mental health issues?
It may be relevant to indicate the difference between behavioral genetics and molecular sociology.
Behavior genetics is the study of the manner in which heritable genetic variation affects psychological phenotypes.
However, decoding social interactions as a function of nonheritable molecular variations, societal interactions, and planetary changes calls for new thinking and approach.
A significant part of complex human behavioral traits is not determined by genetic transmission of genes and families. The notion of heritability has led to controversial outcomes with reference to racial differences, levels of intelligence, violent outcomes and sexual preferences.
There is a need for a fresh approach that takes into consideration multi-level communication between individuals, societies, technologies, and planetary influence, in the non-heritable molecular space.
Hope these baby’s first steps generate intellectual cross-fertilization among social sciences, physical sciences, and biological sciences, leading to the identification of the first principles of human behavior with applications.
Pawan K. Dhar, Professor, School of Biotechnology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi