|Surviving Human Nature|
Denial of Human Nature
The history of science and philosophy involves continuous debate and controversy. Progress toward understanding of the innate characteristics of humans has been hampered by ignorance of and persistent denial of biological evidence of evolution and the brain basis of mind. In academic discourse, the tendency is to personalize debates and assign evidence and different views to categories that are too rigid.
In other books, I describe three fundamental principles of cognition:
1 Information and cognitive abilities are unevenly distributed.
2 Each person will display some understanding of some issues but will be otherwise ignorant.
3 Each person acts from a narcissistic assumption that only I am right.
A common belief is that a newborn baby is a blank slate and that everything he and she will do has to be learned. This nurture assumption grows into quasi-explanations for everything that humans do or do not do.
Steven Pinker stated: ”The mind owes its power to its syntactic, compositional, combinatorial abilities, Our complicated ideas are built out of simpler ones and the meaning of the whole is determined by the meaning of the parts and the meaning of relations that connect them…these logical and law like connections provide the meanings of sentences in everyday speech and, through analogies and metaphors, lend their structures to the esoteric concepts of science and mathematics where they are assembled into bigger and bigger theoretical edifices.”
In a later book, The Blank Slate, Pinker reviewed prevalent but wrong assumptions about the human mind and revealed how the denial of human nature permeates literature, philosophy, religion, politics, sociology and even psychology. I notice the same ignorance and denial in medicine and especially in psychiatry, a medical discipline that claims to understand the human mind.
Pinker stated: “Everyone has a theory of human nature. Everyone has to anticipate the behavior of others, and that means we need theories about what makes people tick. A tacit theory of human nature –that behavior is cause by thoughts and feelings – is imbedded in the way we think about people. We fill out this theory by introspecting on our own minds and assuming that our fellows are like ourselves, and by watching people’s behavior and filing away generalizations."
Ignorance is the simplest explanation for the denial of human nature. Ignorance begins with ignoring nature and failing to appreciate the kinship of all living creatures. Ignorance continues with lack of education in biology. Ignorance is supported by dogmatic beliefs that lack an appreciation of nature and oppose education in sciences. Another explanation for the denial of human nature is that human nature has a deplorable aspect and nice, polite people would rather ignore or deny the nasty things they humans do to one another. Nurture assumptions prefer to blame human aberrancies on local causes that arise anew in each individual and can be remedied in theory by education, social policy and law.
I assume that most of the descriptions and arguments involving nature versus nurture in the 19th and 20th centuries are obsolete and can left in the archives of university libraries. At the same time, I admit that I live a privileged life and have few direct encounters with argumentative people who carry the burdens of old ideas and beliefs. I assume that most humans repeat wrong ideas with no insight into other possibilities. I assume that progressive, creative thinkers will shed the burdens of the past and seek new evidence, new adventures and new ideas with energy and agility. The nature versus nurture debates in the past century were mostly non-productive misunderstandings that are being laid to rest by careful studies in genetics, embryology, molecular biology, ethology, paleontology, developmental and evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, anthropology and other disciplines.
Nature, of course, is dominant and nature acts by modifying brain structure and function through learning and experience.