What Motivates Us To Get Up For Work Every Day?

In developing the main character, Jayna, in A Calculated Life, I needed to understand more about the nature of emotion, and how emotion differs from feeling. I found enlightenment in Antonio Damasio’s Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain.
So I’m interested in this online article by Walter Chen who argues that people are more motivated in the workplace by their emotional drives than by the prospect of monetary rewards. And he explains the science behind this emotional motivation. Here’s a snippet from Chen’s article that references the experimental work of Antonio Damasio (click on the link above for the full article):

Making decisions is all about our intellectual capability, right? I thought so too, turns out, that’s completely wrong. In an experiment by Antonio Damasio, named Descartes’ Error he discovered that the key element for making daily decisions is to have strong emotional feelings:

“One of Damasio’s patients, Elliot, suffered ventromedial frontal lobe damage and while retaining his intelligence, lost the ability to feel emotion. The result was that he lost his ability to make decisions and to plan for the future, and he couldn’t hold on to a job.”

The way our brains are built makes it necessary that emotions “cloud” our judgment. Without all that cloudy emotion, we wouldn’t be able to reason, have motivation, and make decisions.

Incidentally, Damasio pointed out in Looking for Spinoza that Shakespeare analysed the nature of emotion and feeling in four lines of verse, toward the end Richard II:
(Richard II) asks for a looking glass, confronts his face, and studies the spectacle of ravage. Then he notes that the “external manner of laments” expressed in his face is merely “shadows of unseen grief,” a grief that “swells with silence in the tortured soul.” His grief, as he says, “lies all within.”

Honey Bees’ Genetics Changed by Diet

Another fascinating genetics story, reported by BBC Science. I’m not sure I fully understand this (in fact, I don’t!) but it appears that bees undergo epigenetic changes based on what they are fed as larvae.

To be more specific, larvae fed on a pollen and nectar diet become worker bees whereas those fed royal jelly (served with a silver spoon, presumably) become queen bees.

Here’s one quote from the BBC report by Mark Kinver:

“The development of different bees from the same DNA in the larvae is one of the clearest examples of epigenetics in action – mechanisms that go beyond the basic DNA sequence,” said Mark Dickman from the University of Sheffield, co-author of a paper in Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

If I understand correctly, epigenetic changes can influence the growth of neurons in the developing brain. I had a brief scout around Wikipedia to see if epigenetic changes occur in humans. I learn that Meaney and Szyf, working at McGill University in Montréal in 2004, discovered that the type of mothering a rat receives in infancy determines how that rat responds to stress later in life.


The first study that has directly linked epigenetic changes in human brain tissue to behavior involved post-mortem brains of people who committed suicide, half of whom had been abused as children.

Most of the online explanations of epigenetics are way too technical for me but I did find a lay explanation by blogger Philip Strange Science Writing. He discusses honey bees and then relates epigenetics to the development of human twins. Fascinating stuff: http://bit.ly/UTpvBe

Here’s Mark Kinver’s full report for BBC News:


And one of several pages on Wikipedia about epigenetics:


UK on the Brink of Gene Mapping Revolution?

A new generation of UK genetic engineers will bring A Calculated Life and Jayna’s world closer to reality, with funding announced today for a £100M investment in DNA testing. Downing Street is unveiling plans to sequence the whole genone of 100,000 cancer patients. This major undertaking, according to No.10, will drive down the costs of genone sequencing in the UK.
The Chief Medical Officer talks today about the complex linkage between genes and lifestyle.
Lifestyle! Now that’s interesting. Is the long-term aim, for example, to encourage individuals to give up smoking because their DNA dictates they will definitely contract lung disease? Or could it work the other way around? Could our DNA be engineered so that addictive tendencies are eradicated. Imagine the savings for the NHS and imagine the temptation to take us down such a path.

Here’s a quote from Prof Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer,

Single gene testing is already available across the NHS ranging from diagnosing cancers to assessing patients’ risk of suffering side effects from treatment.

At the moment, these tests focus on diseases caused by changes in a single gene. This funding opens up the possibility of being able to look at the three billion DNA pieces in each of us so we can get a greater understanding of the complex relationship between our genes and lifestyle.

And here’s the nuts and bolts of today’s announcement:

Prime Minister David Cameron will today announce plans to transform cancer treatment in England with new proposals to introduce high-tech DNA mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases, within the NHS.

The UK will be the first country in the world to introduce the technology within a mainstream health system, with up to 100,000 patients over three to five years having their whole genome – their personal DNA code –sequenced.

The genome profile will give doctors a new, advanced understanding of a patient’s genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs, ensuring they have access to the right drugs and personalised care far quicker than ever before.

It will also help to develop life-saving new drugs, treatments and scientific breakthroughs, which experts predict could significantly reduce the number of premature deaths from cancer within a generation.

The Government has earmarked £100 million:

  • to train a new generation of British genetic scientists to lead on the development of new drugs, treatments and cures, building the UK as the world leader in the field. And train the  wider healthcare community in harnessing this technology
  • to pump-prime DNA sequencing for cancer and rare inherited diseases; and to build the NHS data infrastructure to ensure that this new technology leads to better care for patients.