The Assassin's Creed franchise is a wondrous sci-fi tale of the Animus, a machine that allows people to access the memories of their ancestors, allowing them to travel back through history through previous selves. In the various games, we've taken control of more or less sympathetic characters and let the Animus beam their consciousness back to different points in time.
It's the perfect plot device for engaging and varied video game stories and the concept comes out as quite believable and not too far-fetched science fiction. Which is also why the video game had a chance to translate well on the big screen with the release of the new #AssassinsCreed Movie.
Watch the actors talk about their relationship to Assassin's Creed and gaming:
But a couple of weeks ago actor Michael Fassbender overspoke a bit in an interview with The Guardian about the movie, in which he plays Callum Lynch / Aguilar de Nerha. In the interview, Michael Fassbender gave the sci-fi plot a tad too much plausible credit, as he said the whole concept of genetic memory made "a lot of scientific sense to him".
That statement didn't really sit well with some credible scientists on Twitter. One of them being Dr. Adam Rutherford, a British PhD of genetics:
In all fairness though, Michael Fassbender did emphasize that he believed this "mostly because I have no idea how genetics work," and I totally understand that. If I was starring as the lead character in a video game adaptation, I'm pretty sure I'd be just as overtaken by the "science" of the whole project.
In the Assassin's Creed movie and games it's through the human DNA that the Animus is able to tap into the memories of our ancestors. DNA's nature for storing hereditary information is used to rationalize the exploration of Cal Lynch's (Michael Fassbender) ancestry, simply because DNA is the chemical blueprint of our bodies and is based upon the DNA of our parents.
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It's true that the genes stored in our DNA encodes a wealth of information about us and our ancestors, like where and who you're coming from. Some hereditary diseases are hardcoded into our DNA and recent studies show that signature pieces of the DNA even reflect how your parents raised you, if you were rich/poor when you grew up, or the type of diet your grandparents had.
That's Not How You Science
But even though there's definitely a lot of interesting information stored in our DNA, the jump from being able to retrieve data and crunch numbers like we do now, to actually being able to transmit the live action of your great-great-great-grandfather's memories will probably (!) never happen.
That's just not how genetics, DNA and memories work. DNA doesn't actually record one's life, so biologically we don't possess genetic memory. Not in the form presented in Assassin's Creed at least. The information we can track in our DNA is stored there for the purpose of replication, and it's very unlikely that audio/visual memory is something our genes would store and transmit to new generations. It's not like your child would be able to recreate those memories anyway (without an Animus of their own that is) so what would the point be?
However, Fear Is Remembered
A 2013 study from Emory University found that mice trained to fear a specific odor would pass their traumatic emotions on to their offspring and future generations. Another 2011 study found that human infants aren’t necessarily afraid of snakes from birth, but they learn to fear them more quickly than they learn to fear other, cuter things like flowers and rabbits.
Which points to the fact that today's scientists still know very little about DNA and its potential. So perhaps it's still too early to write off the Animus entirely. Perhaps Michael Fassbender is actually a time traveller who has witnessed how genetic memory works in the future.
Do you think you'll be able to relieve the memories of your ancestors in the future?