There are two types of people –
… Those who accomplish things and those who claim to accomplish things – (Mark Twain)
… Those who finish what they start.
… Those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.
Lots of jokes, but humans do like to think in binary – good / evil, dark/light, yes/no – to give a few examples. But is the world really that simple? It is a bugbear of mine that we try to fit things in separate boxes and call it science. Psychology is particularly fond of this.
Thinking binary is great for simple systems. Computing uses simple on off switches to represent 0s and 1s, creating a seemingly endless mathematical world. Those 0s and 1s quickly create complexity like no one could have imagined even a few years ago. Those digital movie downloads are basically 0s and 1s.
A coin toss is binary, if landing on its side is eliminated as a possibility. Summing the results of multiple coin tosses gives us a normal distribution with a mean about the middle. So, if we toss a coin ten times, we guess we will have 5 heads and 5 tails, or perhaps 4 and 6, but we might also have 10 and 0 as a long shot. There are 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 possible combinations. Phew!!
A human body is estimated to have something like 100 million base pairs of nucleotides that make up its DNA. These are the things that make the proteins that define us; adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C) and are considered our genetic makeup. A pairs with T and C pairs with G. Simple mutations mean one base pair is swapped for another, AT for CG or vice versa. Such a mutation is called a snip (SNP or Single Nucleotide Polymorphism).
SNPs occur regularly and are the basic cause of evolution (along with sexual reproduction and natural selection). So, a SNP is a binary event, one or the other base pair swapped for the other in a particular location. The result of many SNPs in many humans is anything but binary however.
Robert Plomin recently published a book titled Blueprint in which he describes how our DNA makes us who we are with plenty of details about SNPs. It is a good read if you like science. There are some variations or conditions caused by a single SNP and these can possibly be corrected by gene editing, a great outcome of modern science. Most variations are created by hundreds or even thousands of associated SNPs meaning near infinite possibilities.
I use the term variations here to mean personality types, body shapes, autistic behaviours, sexual behaviours and pretty much anything that defines the differences between human beings. Obviously, each of these variations have near unlimited expressions and are not binary. There are no natural boundaries defining short or tall, thin or fat, extrovert or introvert.
There are not 2,4 or 8 personality types. There is no justification for this binary thinking. Carl Jung came up with the basic idea as a way of considering personalities, but cautioned against the use of binaries by suggesting such thinking was nonsense (nobody could possibly be 100% extrovert for example). Myers Briggs ignored his advice and have created a marketing phenomenon that is largely nonsense in my opinion .
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is another binary publication, suggesting that there are two types of thinking, fast and slow or intuitive and logical. Why stop at two? Surely thinking is an infinite range of simple to complex reactions to stimuli either real or imagined. There are certainly many ways of thinking or reacting.
Autism is not created by 4 behaviour types as suggested by Simon Baron Cohen in the Pattern Seekers. Some autistic people may be geniuses (Marcus Chown’s the Magicians) and good at seeing patterns, but that does not automatically tie with a lack of empathy as suggested. These things are simply not binary. Plomin estimates that hundreds of SNPs are involved which gives a high level of complexity rather than binary. Greta Thunberg does not lack empathy and Donald Trump probably has little. One is autistic.
The mental side and physical expressions of sex and gender are not binary. Some might like to think so, but it is simply and obviously not the case. Forcing it to be so by law is madness. The recent Mardi Gras shows how wrong that thinking is.
A coin toss is binary, but we mostly deal with complex systems in life and these are rarely binary. It does not help anyone to force binaries on these systems and it is certainly not science. Science is all about experimental proof and psychology papers have fallen considerably short of the mark. Many published experimental papers have been shown to be unrepeatable. It is about time for psychology to up its game.
Most SNPs do nothing for humans or viruses and are lost to time. The occasional one has a profound effect and survives through natural selection. As new SNPs collect together, new lineages form and if they develop further they become new strains (viruses) or adaptions (humans).
My rant for the week. Read Plomin and Chown. Avoid the others.