A theme sometimes explored in Science Fiction is that of Genetic Memory: the ability to pass on memories in one’s genetic code. For instance It is a significant plot device in the Dune series by Frank Herbert, where the ability to unlock the memories of one’s ancestors can give one significant power.
Modern science does not support this mechanism, but it’s still an interesting concept to explore. Suppose it were possible, to somehow gain access to the memories of all your ancestors (from the moment of their conception until the moment of the conception of their child who is also your ancestor), then what would that be like?
It would genuinely suck
Back in 2011 I wrote an article about [the psychological implications of time travel]](/2011/8/22/psychological-implications-time-travel.html), and how being able to change my own history would absolutely drive me nuts, as any change I made would cause a ripple effect.
This is a similar situation, something that sounds good in theory but would absolutely suck in practice. Let’s say, through some magic or other, you manage to unlock all the memories of all your ancestors. Or let’s make it a bit more plausible: just your female ancestors. Let’s say you inherit the memories of every female ancestor all the way back to our Mitochondrial Eve.
In the most conservative estimate, this would mean you just inherited about 100,000 years of history, or at least 5000 generations. No matter where you are in the world, there are a lot of bad things that have happened in all that times. How many wars have your ancestors lived through? How many horrors have they seen? What kind of hells have they lived through?
Do you really want to find out?
Your life may have been a walk in the park, or you may have seen some serious shit. Your parents may have led quiet lives, as might their parents. But let’s go back even four or five generations. How many bad things did your ancestors see in that time? Now go back ten generations. How many wars have happened in that time?
Now imagine having the memories of every single ancestor going back to the dawn of humanity. No matter where you are in the world, or what kind of life you’ve been living, there has been a lot of shit in that time. Do you really want to know all these things? To remember everything your ancestors lived through?
Sure there might be an overwhelming number of good memories. There is sure to be a lot of sex in those memories as well (because, let’s face it, you wouldn’t be here if all those ancestors didn’t have sex), but in so many generations, the horrors will be innumerable. Whatever knowledge you may gain through this process, it is not worth the sheer horror of all your ancestors went through.
So yeah, genetic memory in the Science Fiction sense sounds neat, until you imagine all the shit you’ll also be exposed to. You don’t get to pick and choose the memories. It’s all or nothing, and in my opinion, not worth the trauma.
Any thoughts on this?