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What is Genetic Memory?
Transcript of What is Genetic Memory?
Carl Jung (1875 - 1961) was definitely a main inspiration for the creators of Assassin's Creed, who certainly knew a lot about his work. His most famous theory is the "Collective Unconscious", the idea that all human beings possess memories and experiences that have been passed down through generations due to the evolution of mankind.
His theory is not specifically stating that each individual holds distinct ancestral memories that allow a complete reliving of that ancestor's life, but he does state that human memories are inherited by all people because we share similar experiences. After all, Assassin's Creed was not designed to mirror Jung's theories but subtly draw inspiration to create its own story.
"Migration, hibernation, reproduction. How do animals know when and where to go? What to do?
Genetic memory is suggested in Assassin's Creed as something that provides genetic instructions from ancestor to descendant, a biological phenomenon allowing animals to develop knowledge without prior first hand experience.
Think about examples of animal migration, hibernation and reproduction. All these actions, along with many others carried out in the lives of all organisms, are done so for the first time at some point early in their lives. It's easy just to dismiss this as "animal instinct" but where does that instinct come from? Why and how do animals possess such an instinctive nature, that allows them to perform tasks for which the have never been taught how to do?
Green sea turtles are born on the beaches far from the shoreline, but once born they instinctively make their way to the nearest body of water to avoid predators. The monarch butterfly migrates to secluded areas of Mexico over the course of several generations, yet it only takes one generation to return as the butterfly's descendents follow the exact same path taken by their recent ancestors.
Genetic memory suggests that these animals unconsciously possess knowledge inherited from their ancestors that is required to perform essential tasks to survive. Just like Carl Jung himself said. The "collective unconscious" or "genetic memory".
"Our DNA functions as an archive. It contains not only genetic instructions passed down from previous generations, but memories as well. The memories of our ancestors."
In a study done in 2013, six years after Assassin's Creed was first released, scientists from the Emory University School of Medicine in the US discovered that certain memories were actually passed down through the DNA of mice. They trained a mouse to fear the smell of cherry blossoms and any smell associated with it. But that mouse's children and grandchildren were all born with a natural fear of cherry blossoms, despite having never been exposed to that flower before.
This type traumatic memory was inherited from the mice's ancestor, so its offspring instinctively avoided any contact with cherry blossoms. What the researchers detected inside the mouse's DNA was the section responsible for sensitivity to the smell of cherry blossoms became more active, a trait that was passed down to its descendents. They also identified that changes to the mouse's brain structure took place as well.
That memory, that experience, was passed down to subsequent generations, leading to the mouse's descendents having that knowledge without first hand experience. It was something inherited unconsciously, similarly to how Jung himself stated memories are passed down.
"Modern science has allowed us to understand the true potential of "genetic memories" locked inside our DNA."
I'd like to finish today with a small conclusion on what the implications of such a field of study might have on the scientific world. If such a biological phenomenon as the one discovered in mice really is true, for all animals and especially for humans, then the true effects of genetic memory will be unbelievable, a groundbreaking revelation that will change the way we view human nature. Why?
Such a study may well indicate the true cause of common phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndromes. In relation to the study done in mice DNA, Professor Marcus Pembrey, from the University College London, said that
"I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach."
Many people today suffer from a huge range of irrational phobias and stressful syndromes, long thought to be a result of mental health issues. But I wonder, could they actually be a result of biological and chemical change to the DNA of our ancestors? A trait passed down to us, the descendents, through genetic memory?
There is still so much we don't know about the human DNA code, still so much left to learn. I think it will be many years before we discover the truth about genetic memory and the impact it will have on our species.
But I still find it quite remarkable that such a truth may well have been predicted solely by a video game released in November 2007.
Action Research Project
The idea of genetic memory originated from the video-game
released in 2007 by Ubisoft.
Its date of release is important, because this is before modern studies into genetic memory took place.
In-game, genetic memory is explained as a theory of evolutionary biology in which human DNA functions as an archive, storing an individual's memories and passing them down generation to generation through DNA. It means that you hold within your genes the memories of all of your ancestors.
Genetic memory is explained as the reason animals possess the instinctive nature to migrate, hibernate and reproduce without first-hand experience.
In Assassin's Creed, genetic memory was first discovered by a corporation called Abstergo Industries, who designed a machine called the Animus to decode and access the dormant memories within human DNA.
The Animus allows an individual to access their genetic memories and reconstruct them in a three-dimensional environment, a type of virtual simulation. This allows the person within the Animus to relive the lives of their ancestors and fully explore the world of the past.
"It's a projector which renders genetic memories in three dimensions."
"What if I told you that the human body not only housed an individual's memories, but the memories of his ancestors as well?"
Human DNA functioning as an archive, storing memories and passing them down generation to generation. Individuals housing the memories of their ancestors reaching as far back as millenia.
Seems the stuff of pseudo-science right?
But what if it actually existed?
To what extent does the story of Assassin's Creed predict the future of epigenetics?
Does this idea of genetic memory actually hold any truth in the real world?
These are the questions I have set out to answer.
"Questions are not necessarily there to have answers, but possibly there to inspire thinking."
"The Animus Project is rooted in the study of many fields, including psychology, gentics and even metaphysics."
I started my research by compiling everything in Assassin's Creed that relates to genetic memory, looking for real world references.
In the multiplayer section of Assassin's Creed Revelations (2011), there are a number of Abstergo dossiers, several of which mention the Animus and genetic memory. One in particular mentions that the invention of the Animus has allowed three specific theories to be more accepted by the world of science:
- Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious
- Russian cosmism
- Ervin Lazlo's Akashic Field
All of these are actual scientific theories from the real world and relate to the study of genetic memory.
Carl Jung believed that these memories were not ancestral memories specific to that ancestor's descendants but rather, what he called, archetypes.
He described archetypes as memories or experiences that take the form of universally recognisable patterns and images. They are inherited and possessed by all people as a result of human evolution. The two main archetypes he described are known as the "Anima" and "Animus".
"As we know at Abstergo, works that once qualified as occult and hermetic were often concrete scientific breakthroughs misunderstood by a society blinded by superstition."
"Thanks to the Animus Project, scientists will no longer dispute theories such as Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious."
"We'll start simple. What is a memory, Mr Miles?"
Carl Jung identified the collective unconscious as not something that was developed personally by each individual but rather colletively inherited from our ancestors as a whole through the development of the brain, and subsequently, the memories and experiences of humans throughout history. Jung also recognised other archetypes such as the "mother, "shadow", "child", "wise old man", "spirits" and the "trickster."
These archetypes can take the form of many different patterns are triggered within a person's psyche by external stimuli. They represent the memories that those in the past have been experienced, memories that are collectively passed down to us to experience as well. Ultimately Jung's theory described the ability for all of us, today, to recognise and access the memories of our ancestors.
The main difference between genetic memory of Assassin's Creed and Carl Jung's collective unconscious is that he suggested memories weren't the entire lives of people from the past, but universally recognisable symbols, patterns, images and representations of key memories and experiences that have developed in humanity over time. Jung also stated that each archetype we inherit mentally from our ancestors is accessible to all people, these memories aren't specific to an individual and their own ancestors.
Still, his theory shares similarities in Assassin's Creed by explaining how our ancestors have developed such memories and experiences that have been passed down as a whole to their descendents, us. Assassin's Creed very cleverly transforms the psychology of Jung's theory into a scientific and biological process.
The Animus requires synchronization, the connection between the subject's mind and their ancestors memories. Often it is difficult to familiarize yourself with a distant ancestor, someone who is strange to you. The more memories you relive, the stronger your synchronization becomes.
In the game, you follow the protagonist Desmond Miles, who uses the Animus to relive his ancestor's lives, allowing him to explore key historical time periods. This provides the historical settings for the Assassin's Creed games.
The Animus version 1.28
The logo for Animus Omega
DNA Memory timelines
The memory corridor, where ancestral memories are reconstructed
The 'white room', standard Animus loading screen
The 'black room', safe mode Animus loading screen
The Animus reconstructing the memories of an ancestor from Italy during the Renaissance.
The Animus loading screen, where an ancestor's memories are synched with the subject's.
Synching with memory DNA timeline
Abstergo Entertainment's Animus.
The Anima is the female impulses in the male psyche and the Animus is the male impulses in the female psyche. This demonstrates a clear link between Carl Jung's theory and Assassin's Creed - the machine known as the Animus shares the same name as an integral archetype in Jung's theory. 'Animus' also roughly translates as a Latin word meaning 'memory'.
Carl Gustav Jung
Representation of animal migration within the Animus
Synching with one's ancestral memories inside the Animus