Dragons are biologically immortal creatures that have evolved the most versatile sexual reproduction in existence, they can morph through a cocoon into any other species from the animal kingdom that posses a brain in order to reproduce with other species and spread their genes globally.

A dragon morphed into a human reproduces with another person, their children look human but they inherit some of the dragon's memories, my question is not if this is possible or not, but how is it scientifically possible for dragon offspring to retain part of the parent memories?

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    $\begingroup$ You may want to drop "scientifically" from "scientifically possible", it's not possible and there are no known mechanisms that would even remotely allow a new brain to develop in a way that preserves such specific information as a parent's memories. Most important limitations are the fact that when you are born your brain needs to learn everything, even shapes and colors. How can your memory exist before you develop the concepts of shape, sound, time...? $\endgroup$ – Thymine Dec 11 '18 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Thymine ''How can your memory exist before you develop the concepts of shape, sound, time...?'' If I knew why would I have asked in the first place? $\endgroup$ – user58247 Dec 11 '18 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ If it's a fantasy setting you can just go the dualism route and say that the parent shapes memories into the soul of the offspring. You pretty much need that anyway to justify someone keeping their memories after shapeshifting into a creature with a differently build brain. $\endgroup$ – SecMov Dec 11 '18 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ @SecMov Butterflies and Moths can retain memories after transforming, yet they can change shape so much as to seem a completely different species. $\endgroup$ – user58247 Dec 11 '18 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ DNA methylation transfers some "memories" from parent to child in the real world. It depends of course on what you call a memory. It's not going to be specific. So forget "born knowing how to be an architect" and think more "food is extremely scarce." $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 11 '18 at 17:06

Memory RNA

While not scientifically established (AFAIK), the concept of genetic memory goes as follows (quoted from Wikipedia's memory RNA article):

Memory RNA is a hypothetical form of RNA that was proposed by James V. McConnell and others in the 1960s as a means of explaining how long-term memories were stored in the brain. The concept behind it was that since RNA encoded information, and since living cells could produce and modify RNA in reaction to external events, it might also be used in neurons to record stimuli.

So, your pseudo-scientific shapeshifting dragons make extensive use of RNA memory - they store their knowledge, acquired skills, autobiographic memories, muscle memory etc. in long and complex chemical chains in their blood stream - when they reproduce, some of these chains are transferred to the offspring.

You can decide which of the different types of memories are stored partially or fully on this medium, allowing for example only for skills transfer, without autobiographic memories - if something like that suits you.

This can potentially have an additional side effect - an infusion of dragon blood might give a non-dragon a portion of the dragon's memories.

The Wikipedia article has a bit more about the usage of this concept in sci-fi:

Memory RNA made some appearances in the science fiction of the time, often in the form of "skill pills" containing memory RNA that provided the consumer with new skills, or in the context of mind transfer. This concept shows up in several of Larry Niven's short stories and various episodes of The Invisible Man (2000 TV series).

A few Star Trek novels during the 1980s employed memory RNA as a plot device to allow a character to rapidly learn an alien language, in the form of an "RNA drip". The novel "Mighty Good Road" by Melissa Scott and a sequel also use it. Further, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Violations", Data claims that memory is stored in RNA sequences, analogous to his memory circuits.

The basic principle of the memory RNA was also used by comic book writer Alan Moore to explain the origin of DC Comics' character the Swamp Thing in Saga of the Swamp Thing #21. In the story, believing the creature to be dead, a scientist super-villain performs an autopsy on the Swamp Thing and discovers that it is not scientist Alec Holland turned into a plant mutant, but swamp vegetation that after digesting the mortal remains of Holland, had absorbed his mind, knowledge, memories, and skills and created a new sentient being that believed itself to be Alec Holland. The planaria experiment is used in the story to back this theory.

Afterthought: this blood-based memory can also explain how the dragons retain their memory/knowledge when metamorphing into a different organism (with a differently built brain). Shapeshifting may be the original reason this special kind of memory developed in the first place, with memory transfer to offsprings being a fortunate side effect.

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    $\begingroup$ Mere blood infusions with dragon-memory RNA still might not allow the recipient to "read" the memories. The host biology must still be able to parse the RNA. Unless the RNA itself includes a way to mutate host biology to interpret the memories (which is possible). That would be more like actually becoming part dragon. $\endgroup$ – ryanyuyu Dec 11 '18 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @ryanyuyu - You are correct. I'm not expanding on infusions in this answer as it's a bit tangential to OP's question, but for an infusion to work, either the recipient's biology can "read" memory RNA (this was theorized for long term memories in any creature, after all), or the blood induces this ability (it works for the dragon after shapeshifting) or, the ability to unlock these memories is somehow acquired separately (e.g. eat a specific organ of a dragon). Still, from a narrative perspective, it can introduce interesting elements to a story. $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Dec 12 '18 at 10:08

The Dragon is always° the mother. The child develops faster than typical for the 'donor' species, but the pregnancy lasts longer.

During this "extra time" between the infant being fully developed and being born, the placenta carries nerve signals in addition to nutrients. This allows the Dragon to "prime" the child's brain and copy memories or skills across.

These won't all "settle in" or "unlock" until the child has grown and had their own experiences to filter the memories through - perhaps some of them are locked away in a special "sub-brain" of nerve bundles that don't reconnect properly until puberty?

There's nothing "magical" about it, and it's not "genetic memory" - the developing infant just shares the parent's nervous system for a while in addition to their circulatory and immune systems.

°Well, almost always. Certain marsupials or other creatures such as seahorses where the male carries the infant in a pouch are exceptions to the rule

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    $\begingroup$ I really like the "sub-brain" concept - this organ can be unique to dragon-born, while missing from typical creatures of the donor species. If that's the case, it could develop simultaneously with the embryo rather than after it's mature. It'll form a "parasitic" bond with its nervous system - possibly only fully integrating after with it after the creature is born or even years after that. This could lead to a gradual process where the offspring gains a stronger connection as the bond strengthens - as well as lead to situations where his body acts as if "it has a mind of its own". $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Dec 11 '18 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ Additionally, this secondary brain organ doesn't necessarily have to reside inside the skull - as long as it can link with the nervous system, it doesn't really matter. From a biological perspective, it could grow inside the chest cavity (central, well protected - good blood supply from first stages of embryo's development) - and from a narrative perspective, this could be called a "dragon heart" - a special organ which scholars can look for (possibly only after the subject is dead?) to determine this wasn't an ordinary creature but a dragonborn. $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Dec 11 '18 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ One shortcoming of this solution is that by making the dragon always be the mother, it misses out the entire "cuckoo scenario" - where a dragon takes the male's role, and departs shortly after impregnating a woman (or another species' female). This way the offspring is raised without anyone in his close surroundings knowing that he is in fact a dragonborn, or even that dragonborns exist. $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Dec 11 '18 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN Not quite what I meant - and shape-shifting Dragons can probably choose their own gender when convenient. But, imagine: You've known a woman for ages, watched her raise her son/daughter from baby to early teens, then someone makes an ill-advised sexist remark and... CHOMP. You'd watch your tongue too in future, right? $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Dec 11 '18 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ . . . You know, it just hit me earlier. I posted a "scientifically not-completely-impossible" and "no magic necessary" answer to a question whose background involves shapeshifting dragons. That can reproduce with any species, regardless of the number of chromosome pairs involved. -Facepalm- $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Dec 12 '18 at 23:54

Scientifically feasible? Nah. But, hey, dragons. Let's think outside of the box.

  • Dragons encode memories holographically into dragon scales. The genes inherited are the ones that decode scale on ingesting them. Since memory is holograhic, every scale retains all the information, but not in full detail. So a single scale give you vague memories of flying and torching villages. After a few hundred scales you know your name, and the main events of your long life. After 10,000 scales you know pretty much everything your parent did up to the time the scale was shed.

  • All critters have junk DNA. Dragon Junk DNA however is used to encode their life. It's not a perfect encoding, and it will be a mix, with some losses each generation. Fortunately Dragons also make these junk dna genes dominate, But if you have multiple dragon ancestors you have mixed memories, and more than a suggestion of the dragon equivalent of multiple personality disorder. In a full blood dragon however, there are additional memory sorting mechanisms so that what YOU experienced is distinct from what your dad experienced. Even there however, on the average your memory decreases by something over 50% per generation.


Less scientific, possibly more narrative potential:


The offspring of the dragon have a telepathic link to the dragon parent. This matures as the young creature matures. Via this link they can perceive memories, thoughts, and possibly even flashes of real time perceptions from the dragon parent's perspective.

There are different ways you could take this according to your storyline. Maybe the dragon parent does not know that this takes place - it is one way. Or maybe telepathy is part of the dragon deal - the dragon parent can eventually communicate telepathically with the offspring. Maybe the half-dragons have weaker telepathic communications with others in their line - half siblings (some might be nonhuman!), dragon grandparents - maybe even with their human parent.

Telepathy is not scientific but this property has a lot of narrative potential, including twists or other previously unknown aspects of the power that are revealed in the course of the story.


Ideas list:

  • Part of the DNA makes a "library section" structure inside the brain that houses the "dragon memories". The DNA writes a standard (universal) library in the mind of all offspring. Surgery could take it out, or wire it to a computer. (G0Blin's idea is different than this in the sense that it writes to existing memory, a list transported by DNA. This is suggesting that the memory DNA creates its own section of the brain).
  • Part of the brain is able to retain patterns received from neural signals during gestation, so the library container is in the DNA, but the mothers neurology "writes the books" while the baby is forming.
  • could be like the previous, but the information is given at an alternate time. Neural excitement/stress of the delivery process. Rite of passage to adulthood. Times of physical intimacy. (wouldn't it be an interesting challenge if as part of the being intimate physically, you received a perfect understanding of your partners memory, and they received a perfect copy of yours?) It could be copied back for addition to a primal store at death-bed.
  • could be a second organism inside, a mediating organism that does the previous. Perhaps a symbiote that becomes that part of the brain. Similar "hacking" would be possible. Could be susceptible to poisons, or "spider-powers" if the carrier is bit by a radioactive spider before symbiote metamorphosis.
  • I like the idea of a combination of the ideas of mitchondria and the Malarial parasite chain. If someone started hacking it, a wise dragon could ad a stage-toxin to the environment or food supply far before the code could ever be cracked, and terminate the information transfer process.
  • there are arguments that brain cells use quantum-mechanical phenomena for memory. The scale is size is really small. If true, then a modified brain cell type might be able to access a quantum-mechanical library. In that case, the mind is the door, and the actual store is in quantum physics.

Some questions to ask:

  • What if the "knowledge" isn't correct anymore? If they are immortal and know the map of a planet, after a billion years it looks different.
  • What if, like the Jedi library, someone finds a way to remove something from the collective awareness? My gaming buddies and I are playing something called "Storm King's Thunder" and there is a mechanism that the giants used when waging war against the dragons. Removing something like that from collective memory would be a fabulous strategic advantage for an adversary. I think the knight-fights-giants and knight-slays-dragons put the dragon against the giant in the human unconscious. Perhaps snakes.
  • There are things that are both mutually exclusive and true. The scientific reality vs. the meaning of the psychological archetype are an example. How do conflicts in valid but mutually exclusive information or ideas get resolved?
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    $\begingroup$ This post is not so much a flashed out answer, but rather a laundry list of different suggestions - consider focusing on one or two and elaborating more on them - as it stands, it's difficult for other users to judge this... $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Dec 12 '18 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN - when I get a chance, I hope to expand some of those out. Now is not the time. $\endgroup$ – EngrStudent - Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '18 at 18:36

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