Nature and Nurture
relative contributions of nature and nurture are never clear neither to parents
nor to experts who study child development. There is a tendency in academic
circles to exaggerate the importance of nurture and to ignore biological
determinants that can be all powerful. The nurture bias is shared by educators
and many parents. They exaggerate the importance of their own actions in a
typical human narcissistic manner. Without remarkable, innate biological
tendencies and abilities, no children would grow into effective adults and no
students would graduate from schools. At the same, without good-natured,
intelligent, resourceful parents and teachers, even gifted youngsters would fail
to achieve skillful means and high attainment.
Biological determinants continue to play a dominant role in the first year
of life. The infant needs affection, constant supervision, breast milk and
opportunity to practice brain programs as they come on line. An affectionate,
attentive, even-tempered mother who carries the child with her, breast feeds her
infant, speaks to the child constantly, sings to the child, and plays little
games in response to the infant’s emerging abilities offers the optimal
environment for infant development. Since all subsequent learning is built on
the foundation of brain function laid down in the first few years, deficiencies
at this time will have a life-long impact and may be irreparable. An
absent mother is not a good mother. An anxious, inconsistent, unstable mother
who cannot breast feed her baby, is not attentive and affectionate and often
gets angry when the child is not doing well will produce scrambled eggs in her
baby’s brain and the developmental confusion cannot be fixed at a later date.
The belief that trouble in childhood can be remembered and the damaged adult can
be redeemed by expression and catharsis of childhood abuse is wrong on all
counts. Another wrong assumption is that early problems are small problems
because they occur to small humans with small concerns and can be fixed later by
big people with big ideas, big reputations and big fees. Not true.
A child is born with a set
of antecedent conditions and innate tendencies that will help to determine the
experience, identity and behavior of the child. We now attribute more than
half of the child’s potential development to his or her genes and the innate
tendencies that are grown into brain structure and function from the time of
conception. Another large chunk comes from the physical environment in which a
child develops. You might guess that parents and family contribute a small but
stage-critical amount to karma as do schools, peer groups and the cultural
environment of the child.
The deep lineage for every human is lies in the interaction of many layers
of biological determinants. The culture of parents, schools and community impose
a second lineage on a child that sets limits on the form and content of
learning. It should be obvious that if you never study physics, you will never
become a great physicist even if you were born a genius. It should be equally
obvious that despite years of physics study with the best teachers, if you were
not born with a high IQ and special attitudes for physics, diligent study will
not turn you into a great physicist.
Babies repeat to some extent our
evolutionary path. They are not little adults, nor are they modern beings. They
are ancient beings who are not ready for modern human life for 20 or more years.
Parents and other adults have to show these ancient little beings what we are
doing these days, but before they update their children, they have to allow them
to develop the basic skills and tendencies built into their brains. To become a
smart and nice citizen of planet earth the new infant must start learning to
transcend old negative programs and parents lead the way by displaying the
attitudes and behaviors that they want their children to manifest. It doesn't
matter what you tell a child, they are going to copy what you do.
Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social
justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be learned anew and stored as
modifications of each new child's neocortex. Without a normal neocortex that
functions well day after day, a child cannot store the modifications that allow
him or her to participate in a meaningful culture, with knowledge skills and,
respect for human rights and dignity.
At the same time, the features, of
civilized human existence that we most regret are learned anew and practiced by
each child. The current tendency for large aggregations of humans is to reply on
external rules with punishment, strict hierarchies (mostly patriarchal),
militarism, and intimidating religious beliefs. Children have to learn the
rules, copy attitudes and beliefs and are controlled by adult members of the
local culture. Adults who enforce rules often realize that thorough training and
indoctrination of young children is most effective and that older children and
adults are more resistant to strict control. The use of propaganda and
rote training in strict schools can create, in the most part, compliant children
who will act in the interests of the group rather than purse self-interest or
creative, intellectual work. Children with low IQ’s benefit the most from rote
training and highly structured schools. Children with high IQs are oppressed in
these schools and their development is constrained.
Human babies imitate or
copy behaviors they see and hear. They fill in the data fields in the
application programs that are built in. Babies and young children create copies
of the behaviors they experience and mold their own behavior accordingly.
Children expand this mimetic and modeling ability into communication skills
using body and spoken language. This mimetic basis of learning is one the most
important feature of the human brain. Language development, mobility, dexterity,
self-realization, recognition of others as sentient beings and basic
socialization are established in years two and three. These critical epochs of
brain development can be compromised by illness, malnutrition, infectious
disease, neglect, bad parenting and social isolation. Bad parents teach their
child to hate others and punish them with threats, name-calling, shouting,
threatening, slaps, kicks and imprisonment.