Friday, June 01, 2007

Nature, Nurture, and……What’s Left

Recent discussions have recalled one of the oldest controversies since the dawn of the scientific age—are odds of our success in any endeavor more dictated by the genetic blueprint that forms the mortal coil (nature); or more by the conditioning and training of the environment we are dropped into.

Trading Places

The debate has raged for centuries and inspired the literati (novels and scientific papers proliferate) as well other media (theatrical productions and cinematic efforts included). In these, the debate is carried alternately by one side of the argument or the other, and sometimes the result is a draw. Ultimately, it seems, each of us is left to determine for ourselves that which is more formative in the development of the human animal.

Human Animal, eh?

There is certainly fodder for both camps. Statistics can be found that variously suggest that simple DNA and its vagaries control our destinies or that education, social status, poverty (or lack thereof), or some other environmental influence has a greater impact. The problem for both sides of the debate arises in the exceptions. All of us know of some personal story of success where an individual springs forth from hardship or poverty to reach the pinnacles of prosperity and status. We even cherish such stories and revere them enough to make more movies and books in celebration of their biography. It is equally true that as many (if not more) who are born to wealth, position, status, and fame have floundered and squandered such advantageous positioning unto nothingness and sometimes criminal acts. The exception, it is said, proves the rule. But there must come a point where the exceptions are so numerous as to make the rule moot.

Will You….Or Will You Not?

In such cases, it is incumbent upon those seeking truth to consider that the premise itself is flawed or that all options are not yet considered. Could it be that Nature and Nurture are not the only options and, further, that perhaps they are the lesser of the totality?

The Great Bluff

Let's imagine life as a great card game that comes down to the final hand—poker, it is. The players have their chips and sit at the appointed table across from a set of other players they had never met before, within a casino owned and operated by others, and playing a game whose rules were laid down centuries before this day dawned. The environment—Nuture—is so defined. The dealer taps the table and, with an experience flick of the wrist, deals the cards to each player in turn, thus granting a random set of attributes to each player's hand. Nature is equally blind and chaotic in its dealings, is it not. You? You are the great humanistic scientist who is given access to “see” each player's cards, examine the table and chips in play, and determine who will win the hand before the first bet is made or the first card is revealed. You have been trained that you can do this, but now you are not so sure.

Any reasonably good card player will tell you that this is a fool’s errand. Because, in the end, the winner is not always the one who has the most chips at the start, nor is it the person who is dealt the best cards—almost always, the winner is the one who does the best job of playing the game. The greatest influence is neither Nature nor Nurture, but what is done with them by……what unknown force?

What Force?
That force is a part of what puts lie to the term “Human Animal.” For we understand that even animals have Nature and Nurture. What we do, or do not, is the Human part of it all—the want and the will of it.

Be well,


No comments: