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Wizarding Genetics
July 30, 2013 11:26 AM   Subscribe

"I sent this paper to JK Rowling explaining how the wizarding gene could be singular, autosomal, and dominant despite the protests of a bunch of fans who stopped learning genetics after Punnett squares." See also: Wizarding Genetics: More Complicated Than Mendel! and Purple Orchids and Muggleborn Wizards: A Theory of Wizard Genetics
posted by Memo (57 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The nature-versus-nurture debate about wizardry can get pretty heated.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:29 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, it's better than midichlorians...
posted by demiurge at 11:31 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is only one wizarding publication in the listed citations; while it has faced extensive peer review I cannot help but think that the writer should have used more sources.
posted by elizardbits at 11:32 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean really, not even the most cursory review of A History of Magic?
posted by elizardbits at 11:33 AM on July 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


I love everything about this.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:33 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


the wizarding gene could be singular, autosomal, and dominant

It's magic, dude. Magic.
posted by Segundus at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2013


And just like that, the Potterverse takes one step closer toward ousting Christianity as the dominant religion.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:38 AM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's magic, dude. Magic.

I think the science deserves exploration. I was always suspicious of the theorem that maintaining your virginity until 30 will result in wizardry. I hope these researchers can shed light on this next.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:41 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationalization.
posted by adipocere at 11:43 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


adipocere: "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationalization."

That reminds me, I think Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (related MeFi Post) includes somewhere an explanation for wizarding genes but I gave up after a few chapters because ugh.
posted by Memo at 11:51 AM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I thought the point of magic and fantasy is that it doesn't have to be part of some linear, rational Cartesian thought-process.

It's magic, FFS.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:00 PM on July 30, 2013


Neat post, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:01 PM on July 30, 2013


And just like that, the Potterverse takes one step closer toward ousting Christianity as the dominant religion.

hmm... I can live with that.
posted by Naberius at 12:05 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought the point of magic and fantasy is that it doesn't have to be part of some linear, rational Cartesian thought-process.

True of the Potter series, where magic grants freedom from the normal laws of the universe, but it often goes the other way.

Look at mefi's own cstross's laundry series. He treats magic as a subdivision of computer science, procedural and algorithmic. That sort of depiction of magic is a fantasy about controlling the world through understanding the laws of the universe on a deeper level than conventional science (or horror at the possibility that human beings could be controlled that way). It's an approach at least as old as alchemy.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:11 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's magic, FFS.

We've been out bean-plated. Take it graciously.
posted by cmfletcher at 12:12 PM on July 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's a magic FPP!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:20 PM on July 30, 2013


On the other hand, if my previous speculation about excessive trinucleotide expansions causing greater magical ability is correct, then these old wizarding families can accurately pride themselves in their unique genetics, since further trinucleotide expansions have likely occurred over many generations. Any increase in magical power down the line would be an example of genetic anticipation.

But that wouldn't explain Hermione (a ridiculously strong witch who is muggle-born), would it? And I can't remember whether the books give evidence for muggle-borns in general being of average or lower strength and old wizarding families being stronger, anyone?
posted by jacalata at 12:29 PM on July 30, 2013


I have nothing e to add but my wonder and amazement.

Oh and this picture of me as a Hufflepuff Banker.
posted by The Whelk at 12:30 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hermione (a ridiculously strong witch who is muggle-born),

Is she "ridiculously strong," though? She's ridiculously smart, to be sure, but one doesn't need to be a wizard to be ridiculously smart. Perhaps she's "the finest witch of her generation" not because she has greater inherent magical ability than other wizards and witches of her age, but because her intelligence allows her to better master her magical ability.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:36 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


She's also got the work ethic of a whole battaltion, this is the girl who toyed with the very nature of time and space so she could study more.
posted by The Whelk at 12:38 PM on July 30, 2013 [22 favorites]


That suggests that genetics really don't matter much, not if hard work can trump it so decisively.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:41 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm still not convinced that amount of magical ability is necessarily inherited. It seems more like either you access magic or you don't and then how much power you have is the result of development.
posted by Karmakaze at 12:48 PM on July 30, 2013


We've been out bean-plated. Take it graciously.

Magic beans rarely end well.
posted by yoink at 1:11 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing I thought worth appreciating about Robert Asprin's "Myth" books is the ever growing impression that almost all wizardry is bluff and bluster, and dumb luck. Magic is weak and mages are incompetant, and the "powerful" are coasting on reputations made by accident rather than skill.

I haven't read the last four or five, so he could have turned that around, I don't know. This comment isn't meant as a recommendation, anyway.
posted by wobh at 1:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


That reminds me, I think Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (related MeFi Post) includes somewhere an explanation for wizarding genes but I gave up after a few chapters because ugh.

Actually, it's quite an incredible book, and it had possibly the best theory regarding magic when Harry stopped to consider the silly faux Latin words which were a mandatory part of every spell. Why was this nonsense required for magic and why has it existed from the beginning of human history, before Latin was ever conceived? The only satisfactory answer was that these words represented superuser commands, the universe is a simulation (with the commands baked in from the very beginning), and wizards are the only ones with true root access.

Quite fun and bongtastic.

Though the absolute best theory I've heard today was a post on Reddit, where someone was thinking the Potter universe is a direct continuation of the Middle Earth continuity and wizards are the descendants of the Maiar.
posted by honestcoyote at 1:20 PM on July 30, 2013


The Maiar who didn't have children?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:22 PM on July 30, 2013


I'd be interested in seeing how these different genetic explanations work with different levels of wizarding population estimates (speaking of Potterverse worldbuilding that would need magic to make them work ...).
posted by immlass at 1:31 PM on July 30, 2013


Hufflepuffs are totally the stoners of Hogwarts. What exactly is it they are huffling and puffling?
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:35 PM on July 30, 2013


as a Hufflepuff Banker

You know, I always wondered what happened to Hogwarts graduates who wanted to attend Muggle colleges or pursue Muggle careers. Did they have to leave the wizarding world forever, or could they still practice magic in private? Say you were a wizard and you wanted to be, I don't know, a paleontologist. Could you study dinosaur fossils, or are you restricted to digging up Crumple-Horned Snorkacks? Is this somewhere in the International Statute of Secrecy?

I'm sure that this has been discussed somewhere and it pains me that I'm not enough of a geek to have found it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Potterverse has to be some of the laziest worldbuilding in all of fantasy fiction; I can't really see the fun in trying to rationalize it when it's so transparently ad hoc.
posted by yoink at 1:42 PM on July 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


We spent a lot of time one summer trying to figure out the size of the Wizarding population of Great Britain, assuming Harry's age cohort and similar cohorts were representative in size, assuming population growth matched the rest of the UK, and assuming an arbitrary doubling of wizard lifespan. In the end, we decided that wizards were 6,000 of the 60,000,000 population of the UK, the vast majority of them worked for the ministry, poverty was a choice (probably due to the virtue of it) since there is no serious 'want', and that Rowling was, in fact, lousy at world building but excellent at presenting an interesting (if untenable) world.

We would've realized this before we started our efforts had we heard that Rowling believed that a school with 40 students per class-year over 7 years and a staff for 14 had "a thousand people".

So, really, good luck with the genetics, the rest of the universe doesn't support this level of analysis. Given that approximately a quarter of wizards are muggleborn (again, derived from harry's age cohort, about which the most is known), 1 in 40,000 british people is a muggleborn.
posted by Mad_Carew at 1:44 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looking at that I should amend my comment to say that the worldbuilding is not so much "lazy" as obviously not remotely of interest to Rowling. She's interested in relationships and character, but all the magic stuff and how the magic world and muggle world interact (and what the point of any of the players on the quidditch team other than the seeker is) and so forth is all just "what's a convenient thing to get me from point A to point B?"
posted by yoink at 1:46 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


PS. Please sign the enclosed picture so I can frame it and tell everyone the story of how I sent JK Rowling a six page scientific paper about wizarding genetics.

Did she send the pic???

I have to know!!

posted by MoxieProxy at 1:50 PM on July 30, 2013


You know, I always wondered what happened to Hogwarts graduates who wanted to attend Muggle colleges or pursue Muggle careers. Did they have to leave the wizarding world forever, or could they still practice magic in private?

Nothing happens because there is nothing remotely like a functioning society or economy in Harry Potter. What yoink said.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:52 PM on July 30, 2013


yoink, I completely agree. When I said he was lousy at world building, I should've added that it was not required for her to write her stories. It wasn't her intent to create a magical world that would work, but the semblance of one.
posted by Mad_Carew at 1:52 PM on July 30, 2013


HUfflepull Bank gives out notoriously fair loans.

And are expects in finding loopholes to extend re-payment for clients, without interest.

Hufflebank is changing world fiance for the better.
posted by The Whelk at 1:56 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I always wondered what happened to Hogwarts graduates who wanted to attend Muggle colleges or pursue Muggle careers. Did they have to leave the wizarding world forever, or could they still practice magic in private?

There are a huge number of role playing games, run in an almost free-form fashion on various LiveJournal derived platforms that play in the Harry Potter universe. There are sub genres throughout it, including games that deal with these questions in some way. Games may last for a few months or for years (like any Role Playing Game), and hammering out the world and the rules for a particular game is the most delicate negotiation of the entire process.

It's fun, but it leads one to a frustration that might be detectable in my prior posts with JK Rowling's world-building.
posted by Mad_Carew at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2013


I don't really have the science background to understand this.

Can one of the geneticists or medical professionals here bottom line this for me? Does this mean it is possible for me to become a wizard through gene therapy? What is continuing Education like for notraditional wizards? I realize there may be some resentment because I am muggle born but I'll get a wand and everything?
posted by Ad hominem at 2:11 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A wizard did it.

...and that's why you were born.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I always wondered what happened to Hogwarts graduates who wanted to attend Muggle colleges or pursue Muggle careers. Did they have to leave the wizarding world forever, or could they still practice magic in private? Say you were a wizard and you wanted to be, I don't know, a paleontologist. Could you study dinosaur fossils, or are you restricted to digging up Crumple-Horned Snorkacks? Is this somewhere in the International Statute of Secrecy?

Good luck, with only a primary school understanding of math, science, literature, (muggle) history, etc. A super-dedicated and talented autodidact like Hermione could manage it, of course, but she's a rare case and frankly, if you're that smart and have access to magic, you're probably not wasting one of your greatest advantages in this world.

Also, my understanding is that non-goblins in the wizard banking industry are more likely to be creating/breaking curses and treasure-hunting than wearing the suit-and-tie and managing loans, but that's just my interpretation.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:51 PM on July 30, 2013


There is no reason you can't hunt treasure or break curses in a nice suit and tie.
posted by The Whelk at 3:06 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Justin Finch Fletchly says he was down for Eton in HPatP(S)S; I inferred from that he was muggle nobility.
posted by brujita at 3:18 PM on July 30, 2013


You know what's never been clear to me? Do wizards cook? They seem to be able to conjure food (or anything really) out of thin air. But then there'd be no need for gold or other currency because you can conjure anything you want. So can they just look at a bunch of ingredients and turn it into a meal? When Dumbledore conjures the food at the beginning of every feast is he actually just summoning it from a kitchen somewhere staffed by house elves? Perhaps this was a secondary consideration for Ms. Rowling.
posted by wabbittwax at 3:39 PM on July 30, 2013


The house elves and their work in the kitchen at Hogwarts are dealt with pretty extensively, I thought.
posted by jacalata at 3:45 PM on July 30, 2013


you know, I'm not part of the fandom. But there is a frequent debate over Harry buying "the lot" from the candy cart on the Hogwart Express. Some people think he is really a dick because he bought all the candy using his newfound riches, forcing all the other kids to go without. Some people think the cart, or the sales lady, simply magics up new candy to replace what has been sold.

There is a real point of contention whether wizards can create matter where there was none. Does the candy appear out of thin air? Or is is transported from a magic candy warehouse.

All I know is that Harry is kind of unthinking somtimes, but incredibly caring of his friends,so of course he would leave all the other kids with no candy in order to cheer up Ron
posted by Ad hominem at 4:05 PM on July 30, 2013


Mrs. Weasly is described as an excellent cook.
posted by brujita at 4:43 PM on July 30, 2013


I assumed "We'll take the lot" meant "one of everything for each of us". But I do like the thought of a young Harry cornering the candy market on Day One.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:46 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


ugh rory your wizard privilege disgusts me
posted by elizardbits at 5:02 PM on July 30, 2013


Occupy Hogwarts.
posted by The Whelk at 5:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what's never been clear to me? Do wizards cook? They seem to be able to conjure food (or anything really) out of thin air. But then there'd be no need for gold or other currency because you can conjure anything you want.

I'm not sure about how wizards cook, but it's explicit in the books that you can't just conjure food out of nothing and have it be "real food," so to speak. It's "one of the five exceptions to Gamp's law of elemental transfiguration." So when Dumbledore conjures up the food, he's probably summoning it, or signalling the House Elves to have it appear on the tables. I think Hermione also says at some point that you can summon or transform food, but not conjure it out of nothing. It's also implied that money/gold is another exception, what with Leprechaun gold vanishing after a certain period of time, and everyone in the Wizarding world not being fabulously wealthy.

Anyway, the worldbuilding in HP isn't exactly scientific or entirely logical, and JKR is certainly really bad with numbers. I think what the worldbuilding really does succeed with is what I would call character-based worldbuilding. The HP world is populated with a ton of incredibly minor characters who have little more than a few scattered facts about them explicitly mentioned in the books (like Regulus Black, Aberforth Dumbledore, Andromeda Black, etc.), but those scattered facts can imply a whole book's worth of plot in and of themselves. Combine that with the logically suspect but fun and interesting magical world, and you have a surprisingly rich and lived-in world.

So, y'know, wizarding genetics and the wizarding economy and demographics make no sense at all, but I'd still love to read a book about Regulus Black turning traitor to the Death Eaters or Andromeda Black running off to marry a Muggleborn or how Minerva McGonnagal became an Animagus.
posted by yasaman at 5:24 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


wabbitwax: I don't have it in front of me, but there's some rule that Hermione mentions at some point about food being one of seven unconjurable things, and when Dumbledore orders the food at the feast, Harry actually stops to think about how the unseen house elves are actually handling all of that and what Hermione must think about the extra work they're being put to for the sake of this luxury.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:24 PM on July 30, 2013


elizardbits: ugh rory your wizard privilege disgusts me

Time to cast another invisibility spell. Your backpack is showing.
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 5:33 PM on July 30, 2013


I sent this paper to JK Rowling

I'm just going to imagine he wrote her name on an envelope and that was all it took.
posted by greenland at 6:47 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Epigenetics could be the key. While the magic gene could be inherited, one's ancestors would have to be exposed to magic for the genes to be expressed. Hence, pureblood families would all be magic users down through the generations having both the magic genes and ancestors with the environmental exposure to magic to express the genes. Muggleborn magic users, like Hermione, would still have the magic gene, but they might have a one off exposure to magic somewhere back down the family line. For example, one of her parents or grandparents might have carried the magic gene and been accidentally exposed to magic and later had their memory wiped my the Ministry of Magic (more exposure).
posted by chrisulonic at 8:33 PM on July 30, 2013


Epigenetics could be the key.

That's how the Shadowrun franchise deals with the question.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:48 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to imagine he wrote her name on an envelope and that was all it took.

The student who wrote this paper is a woman.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:17 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


ocherdraco: I'm just going to imagine he wrote her name on an envelope and that was all it took.

The student who wrote this paper is a woman.
Genitalia Transitivo!

(Rowling would be so down with that for her TG fans; you know she'd allow it.)
posted by IAmBroom at 3:34 PM on August 6, 2013


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