| The phenomenon of imprinting may provide a useful metaphor for considering nature-nurture. Konrad Lorenz arranged that the first large, moving object ducklings saw when they broke out of the egg was - Konrad Lorenz [Lorenz]. Nature had left a gap in the program of the ducklings to be filled in by the environment. The first "large, moving object" the ducklings sees in normal circumstances is mother duck, and thus the useful-for-survival behaviour of following mother duck is established. We could consider the acquisition of language as a case in which nature leaves a larger gap to be filled in by nurture. Thus, the useful-for-survival behaviour of speaking the particular language of the community in which one is born is established. |
The work of Plato and his footnoters has actually been detrimental in a sense to our search for self-understanding. It set up a dominant thread of dualism in thinking. This has set up a barrier between the natural sciences and the social sciences. Thus, the remarkable success of the application of the scientific method to the natural world has only recently become possible in the social world, as evolutionary psychology slips over this dualistic divide. Pat Duffy Hutcheon brilliantly surveys the domination of dualism over monism throughout human history [Hutcheon]. The vanity of our species has, till recently, insisted on a distinction between body and mind to keep us apart from nature rather than a part of nature. Evolutionary psychology is placing us back where we belong as part of nature.
In The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Steven Pinker has written the epitaph to the SSSM [Pinker 2002]. In its place, he proposes a new framework for the social sciences within biology and psychology. His How the Mind Works (a popularisation of the work of Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, and the various other pioneers in evolutionary psychology mentioned above) is based on two propositions - the principle of natural selection (biology) and the proposition that the function of the nervous system is to enable the organism to survive (psychology) [Pinker 1997]. By arguing, in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man [McLuhan], that media are best considered as extensions of our nervous system, Marshall McLuhan places media studies in turn within this firm framework of psychology. We could consider Pinker's two propositions as the two outer borders of the "jig-saw puzzle" of human nature, and McLuhan's proposition as the third border (see Figure 1). At the risk of appearing immodest, I would like to present my own work as a fourth border within those borders provided in turn by Charles Darwin, Steven Pinker, and Marshall McLuhan. Here is the argument.
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