We humans take the about 25% of our life learning before getting a job. How would it be possible for a mother's (and possibly father's) knowledge to be transferred into the brain of baby before it would be born? This way the knowledge of the species could be increased more per generation.

I am looking for hard science on how the transfer would occur. Would DNA be altered by the parents and contain the data?

I am also looking for how this would change the species and how the long term development of the species.

  • $\begingroup$ Is this natural or artificially done? $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2016 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to add the hard science banner to this question, but I'll be frank: I have severe reservations as to whether or not this is possible, something you seem to be taking for granted. Yeah, we're creating ever-more-sophisticated maps of the brain, but we don't have a fully correct understanding of all of the processes that go on inside it, including thought, consciousness, and memory - and knowledge. So I'll just say that I would strongly recommend removing the tag, though the decision is yours. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 31, 2016 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know that there's "hard science" that can back this up, but "genetic memory" is a thing that's been considered. As much as I loathe to link to Wikipedia, this is a good jumping off point: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_memory_(psychology) $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2016 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ As you can see, the short answer is clear: this has not been done within the publically documented body of knowledge known as science, and so it has no hard-science answer. There are several examples of more fantastic conjectures and explorations of the possibility in many fiction stories. Star Trek has done this a few times, Wyrms did it (OSC), and there's one other on which I am frustratingly drawing a blank. It involved telepathy and something like Time Lord regeneration, but with a mother–daughter relationship. Add some more premise and clear the hard-science requirement, perhaps. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2016 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_(novel) has them, the race of creatures capable to pass experience down the umblical cord - " However, the parents are able to pass on half of their memories to their children". Worth reading. $\endgroup$
    – kagali-san
    Nov 2, 2016 at 10:36

3 Answers 3


There is no evidence of anyone learning to sew or cook or build a car while in the womb, so you will find 0 hard-science evidence for that. However, there is documented evidence for the child learning from the mother while inside the womb. In particular, it is well documented that the child samples the chemical environment of the womb and develops some of its sense of taste based on the chemicals that are there. Thus, if the mother eats spicy food, it is likely that some of those spicy foods include compounds that pass into the womb. In such a case, the child will learn to like those chemicals. In the link above, they gave a synopsis of Mennella et al 2006, where an experiment of the sort was done with regard to carrot juice. They found that pre-natal exposure to carrot juice instilled a preference for carrot flavored foods later.

We also see similar effects with chemicals produced in the mother's body, such as cortisol. In this study, the researchers explored the effects of cortisol levels in the mother's bloodstream during pregnancy at different times:

The consequences of prenatal maternal stress for infant mental and motor development were examined in 125 full term infants at 3, 6 and12 months of age. Maternal cortisol and psychological state were evaluated five times during pregnancy and at 3, 6 and 12 months postpartum. Exposure to elevated concentrations of cortisol early in gestation was associated with a slower rate of development over the first postnatal year and lower scores on the mental development index of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID) at 12 months. Elevated levels of maternal cortisol late in gestation, however, were associated with accelerated development over the first year and higher scores on the BSID at 12 months. Elevated levels of maternal pregnancy specific anxiety early in pregnancy were independently associated with lower scores on the BSID at 12 months. These associations could not be explained by postnatal maternal psychological stress, stress related to parenting, prenatal medical history, socioeconomic factors or child race, sex or birth order. These data suggest that maternal cortisol and pregnancy specific anxiety have programming influences on the developing fetus. Prenatal exposure to the same signal, cortisol, had opposite associations with infant development based on the timing of exposure.

This makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective. The fittest child would be one which can develop directly in response to the environment the mother has been living in. As for genetics, we do see a slow but steady acquisition of knowledge from generation to generation. It's called evolution. We see that this acquisition did occur in the slow development of opposable thumbs, for instance. However, it sounds like you are trying to do it in a shorter cycle, throwing massive amounts of information into the genetic code. This has no hard-science evidence to back it up -- it simply does not occur. There are many many limitations which make this a bad idea. In particular, how do you translate said genetic code? If you study linguistics you learn that the syntax of a language is quite separate from it semantics. The human genome "contains" about 1.5Gb of data, uncompressed. Scientists are cautious when measuring the memory capacity of the brain in bytes, because it's a really bad measure of mental capacity, but when they do, the result is around 2500Gb. This means that if you stored 0.1% of the content of your brain in genetic code, you would triple the size of our DNA! This interacts very strongly with the earlier comments about linguistics. You not only have to provide the bits of information that you believe need to be embedded in your child's DNA, but you also have to provide enough to interpret the semantics of the parts you cared about. Such a concept is far beyond current science. But, you can imagine how poorly it could go unless women were highly educated to be extremely selective regarding what knowledge they record into their child. A rash of children pre-nataly obsessed with American Idol could be the end of a species.

I think this is the closest to a hard-science answer you can get for your question. As stated above, we have no evidence of learning a trade or learning history or learning mathematics from the mother, so you will not find hard-science evidence to support such theories. However, we do see this occurring at a lower level, in the biochemistry of the mother and child. One could choose to extrapolate from this as far as they see fit. Perhaps an alien species has a more comprehensive language built up of chemicals that the mother can use to guide their child in-utero. Such exploration is far beyond the hard-science tag, but the realty is that children do learn this way in a limited sense.


It's somewhat possible, but expensive

Right now, at least

Let me be completely clear on this, your question is actually somewhat possible, despite what the other answers have put, they just needed to do a little bit more research.

Back in January of 2013, scientists published in the scientific journal "Nature" about this very thing and claimed they had managed to encode the entire works of Shakespeare's sonnets and a 30-second clip of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech onto DNA and successfully decode it.

According to these scientists, for every 1MB of data would cost about $12,400 to make and approximately 41g of DNA would be enough to encode 1,000,000GB; so not cheap; but this study was three years ago. I'm sure things have progressed to make things cheaper.

In fact, Wikipedia states that on the 16th August, 2012; other scientists published similar results in the Scientific Journal; Science. I haven't found the link to the actual article yet, but here's the wikipedia entry

Link 1 - News of the Jan 2013 article

Link 2 - actual Jan 2013 article

Edit: While we're on this topic, MatPat on GameTheory did some pretty interesting research of his own on this that he's uploaded on his YouTube channel: Click Here, it's not exactly Hard-Science, given that he's a YT'er; but he's a pretty reputable one when it comes to doing research on his topics.

Edit 2: I neglected to mention; that while all this is all well and good. Encoding information onto DNA is one thing; using said DNA to encode memories into another human... not so much.

See memories aren't generated through DNA; they're electro-chemical impulses of neurons, a specific pattern triggers a specific memory recollection; which is why stroke patients forget things like how to walk or how to talk or use the bathroom properly; it's all because those patterns have been erased by the stroke.

So maybe we won't see an Assassin's Creed style learning in the womb by use of memory, but it'd certainly aid us in storing information for the next generation to learn about once they're outside of it.


I'm surprised to see the "hard-science" tag on your question, because what you're asking is blatantly impossible.

DNA serves as a blueprint for an organism. This blueprint borrows elements from both parents, and the resulting offspring will contain a combination of traits from them. This is typically a good thing, as it adds diversity to the human race.

DNA will dictate how your brain will develop, and what its limits are, but not the knowledge it will contain. This is because the human organism is most certainly not capable of doing is rewrite its own DNA as it grows older, which would be needed for said knowledge to be "passed on".

I'm curious as to what mechanism would serve to sort the knowledge and combine it into the brain of the unborn child such that it wouldn't go insane the second it gained conscious thought.

Add to this the fact that the human brain evolves for most of our childhood, and that children are actually not capable of understanding certain concepts at a young age simply because their brains don't have the "horsepower" to deal with said concepts, and the whole idea of being born wise becomes even sillier.

The other questions you ask ("I am also looking for how this would change the species and how the long term development of the species.") are blatantly opinion based, and are not only out of scope for the site, but also contradict the hard science tag.


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