Thursday, June 30, 2005

okay, so i'm stuck on the "nature-nuture" crap

My post to a simulation list (with some minor editing):

I think I agree with what you are saying about defintions in general, not sure if I do about "nature" specifically.

The nature/nurture debate, in my mind, speaks to things that are inherently within human beings (nature) and those that are learned (nurture). In my thinking, there is no way to know what is inherent in humans because all humans that we come in contact with have been exposed to culture. Again, there is no controlling for culture. If one could control for culture and see what is left, then one could talk about what is inherent to humans with some confidence.

On the face of it, "controlling for culture" might seem absurd; but if it is considered absurd, then one must also conclude that talking about human "nature" is absurd. Why? There is no scientific evidence for something called human "nature" -- at least not experimental evidence, which in my and others' view is the litmus test for scientific investigation. Without such evidence, all discussion of human nature boils down to speculation and inference.

Granted, I understand that many use human nature to speak to how we are different than other animals. I get that and I agree with that. But in that case, we have something to compare to...other animals. They serve as a quasi-experimental control group. We don't have that when we are talking about just humans and their "nature." My point is that if one wants to talk about something that is inherently human, then one needs to either provide evidence that they have a way of discerning what is inherently human or talk about it differently.

A classical experiment is the only way I can think of to identify what is inherent to humans. As a "real" experiment in human isolation is absurdly distubing even to consider, thought experiments or simulation seem like natural alternatives.

Note that I agree that we come with some things built in; I don't know that those things are specifically, but I don't refer to them as being "inherently" human because I don't know that they are without any proof.

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