This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

20Sep/10

Can’t we all just get along?

The idea of "nature vs. nurture" is one of the oldest arguments within modern scientific literature.  The debate is filled with people who vehemently defend either side - usually citing one or two particular studies as evidence that their platform is right and everybody else is wrong, and declaring wide-reaching ramifications for their newfound evidence.

However, some people are beginning to believe that such an argument (and maybe even the distinction between nature and nurture) is an unproductive and misguided one.

A recent post coming from MIT professor Evelyn Fox Keller suggests that defining the interaction between genes vs. the environment as "nature" vs. "nurture" is already missing the point.  She offers an interesting analogy, suggesting that we wouldn't ask whether or not the sound from a drum was dependent on "the drum" or "the drummer," it is obviously necessary that both are involved.

Perhaps that's what we've been finding all along, as study after study comes out suggesting that, while our genes do ultimately affect our behaviors via the creation of particular proteins, our behavior and the external world can have an equally important impact on which genes are expressed (a concept known as "epigenetics").  What results is an intricate system of interconnected genes and pieces of experience in the real world, and to be frank we don't know much about it.  Perhaps, as Dr. Keller suggests, this might be due to our insistence on making the issue black and white, trying to declare a "winner" in the battle of Nature vs. Nurture.

However, while it may be easier to think about Nature or Nurture as the end-all-be-all of what defines a person, it is ultimately missing the bigger picture, missing the forest for the trees.  I'd like to think that it doesn't matter how we approach the problem right now, eventually the data will help make this distinction (or lack thereof) easier to understand and package into arguments.  However, in order for us to do the most with what we've got right now, perhaps a paradigm shift is a necessary step towards studying the interaction between nature and nurture, rather than pitting them against one another.

via NewScientist

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  1. It’s hard to know sometimes if it is an interaction between nature an nurture, or a fist fight. If the nature is already somewhat aligned with the nature, it can proceed somewhat smoothly. But if the nature is at odds with the external nurturing force(s), it can lead to frustration at the least, and hostility at the worst.

  2. may I provide my insight? i believe the crux of the problem is two words to talk about the same thing – is it nature AND nurture, nature OR nurture or neither? I say all are correct within a dynamic, fluctuating system – http://www.jcachat.com/dmohn.html#seven

  3. I agree with both of you – I think that nature and nurture are simply two forces that collectively shape who you are at any given moment. Obviously, there is no real “definition” of either, because they are both super abstract. However, those forces can, in some ways, be described as counteracting or complimenting one another.

    PS: cool website, JC…where’d you come up with that framework? Pre-Tulane?


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