A Bright, Vibrant Blue Diamond
A Bright, Vibrant Blue Diamond
John Æonid, Reflections in a Personal Web Site
John Æonid, Reflections in a Personal Web Site

Nature vs. Nurture

January 7, 2017, John Æonid

Some decade or so ago, I remember a curious statement appearing in the news.  It was reported that the Scientific community had reached a decision on the Nature vs. Nurture debate (not that I expect this represented an absolute consensus on the topic).  For many centuries, even before the formation of Behaviourism, there has been a debate on whether or not behavior was determined by cultural influences—Nurturing, or whether it was determined by genetics—Nature.  This is a debate that was deeply rooted in Philosophy well before our modern Scientific perspective developed.  I expect that the play, Pygmalion—later the movie, My Fair Lady, was very much about this debate.  A woman from the streets is taken in and educated to behave as a lady, proving that the right kind of environment ultimately shapes all behavior—not the genetic heritage.

That revelation from the Scientific community, again some decade or so ago, on the Nature vs. Nurture debate was that it was essentially: half and half.  That is, both genes and environment shape behavior—not one or the other.  The odd thing is, that a later news item amended this claim.  Discussions on the subject seemed to have misunderstood the statement that it was half and half, and the Scientific community seemed to feel a need to clarify what they meant.  The revised statement was that it was not fifty-fifty.  It was, instead, not exactly fifty percent of each, but it was varying combinations of both.  Life is so complicated, and yet people somehow took the debate from an argument of polar opposites to a view that everything was evenly divided between the two.  No, it can't be that simple.

One thing that has come out of a study of Zen is that every word we use was unavoidably created by thinking.  And in the creation of each word, there was a concept of a thing that had inspired the creation of that word.  And, this means that each particular concept was also something that had formed in the mind.  Once a word had been assigned to a particular concept, the association between the two would essentially be cemented into place.  Variations on the concept, those without an associated word, would from then on not carry as much weight—since the concept that was associated with a word would always dominate over any unnamed concept.  This idea that words and concepts are shaped by thinking is one that ultimately says that our situation, the one that influences our thinking, is one that shapes our language and concept of things.  This is a perspective in which Nurture dominates—ultimately favoring Nurture over Nature.

However, this does not eliminate the perspective of Nature entirely.  We may find that there are aspects of Nature that have completely opposite interpretations in different cultures—but there are some things that Cultural Science finds are seen in essentially the say way in all cultures.  That is, some aspects of Nature do dominate—some across all cultures.  The amended statement from the Scientific community is then essentially correct; there is always a varying mix of Nature and Nurture in everything we think about.  And, I feel that we need an even more finely tuned statement to cover the meaning of this.

Anything of a biological nature, i.e. a product of genetics and such, that comes into consciousness is always interpreted in a particular cultural context—and is thus a concept that is always colored by culture to some degree—ranging from slightly to overwhelmingly.  For many things, sorting out the cultural entanglements is an unwieldy task—and can be an unending source of challenges.John Aeonid

So, anytime you hear a perspective that argues entirely from the Biological perspective, that of Nature—then what you are hearing is essentially incomplete—if not simply wrong.  All that comes from Nature, is colored by culture.  And conversely, anytime you hear a perspective that only acknowledges the Cultural, that of Nurture—then that is also incomplete.  However, given the degree to which cultures can contrast, often in ways that are deeply entangled and mindbogglingly difficult to fathom, I think there are some topics on which the perspective of Nature will have only a minor relevance.

I could stop there if all I cared about was defining some terms and marking some academic line in the sand.  But, we are in a time when people are greatly divided.  Social media and online news makes it so easy for people to sink so deeply into a single perspective that they lose the capacity to Empathize with anyone outside their chosen realms—greatly magnifying the friction and conflict between peoples.  Whatever perspective we think we have justified, there are many others that feel equally as justified.  They can't all be wrong.  But, they can easily be too narrow.  We are either at a point where people are going to start start imposing life-threatening levels of oppression—possibly killing people outright, or people are going to wake up and start embracing a multi-perspective way of living and viewing reality and spirituality.  Remember, every culture has its Heart, and hate is not a virtue.

Peace, Blessings, Insight, and Clarity

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