Home > Nature vs. nurture > Nature vs. nurture – digression

Nature vs. nurture – digression

I have a vision — in 20-30 years from now, education in particular, but also almost all other areas of human life will be profoundly different from what we’re used to now. And I’m not talking about technologies like the Internet, cellphones and similar that have shaped the world so far.

They surely will continue to impact everything around us, but I believe something more profound will happen — something that has a potential to truly define the Anthropocene as an epoch in which us humans have truly raised over nature.

In the late 18th century, by many regarded as the starting point for the Anthropocene, we’ve got industry. I won’t mention the impact to the societies that this had as we all learned about that in school 😉 but I’ll emphasize that this change have started an accelerated population growth and with it the need to efficiently grab more resources from the planet to sustain it.

Shortly after, during the 19th century many other revolutions followed — such as medicine with the discovery of vaccine, and technology with the introduction of electricity in the homes in the 19th century, to mention few. Needless to say, the 20th century have seen the most rapid advances in many areas, not to mention the advent of computer, global communication and Internet technologies.

All these advances have managed to almost completely remove all evolutionary selection pressures from humanity, letting us rise over nature and take out future in our hands. But did we? Are we truly free of the grips of the evolution that have shaped the life on Earth for almost 4 billion years and the Homo genus in particular for over 2 million years?

My answer is a resounding NO — and not only because of the obvious problem of overusing Earth’s resources caused by our expansion and use of technology, which looms over us as a dangerous threat that can extinct the human population!

I believe another equally, if not even more, important problem is our understanding of ourselves — why we are different from all the other animals around us, how is our behavior shaped by the nature and behavior of our shared ancestry with them and how does that legacy impact our behavior in the modern environment in which we live today?

Researchers have been showing for long time now that our brain is imperfect and some of our experiences are illusionary products of it not being able to decode the input coming from its sensors like the eyes. They’ve also shown that the feeling we’re in control when making decisions is illusionary too, that our memory is selective and affected by the emotions, even that our perception of happiness and happy experiences is flawed.

If we take in account all our flaws, I am willing to bet no money on us making the right collective decisions that will secure a reasonable future for our children or them dealing with our mistakes by making even harder decisions to ensure the survival of their own children!

If we’re truly to advance our species and rise above nature and the challenges we face right now in the form of global warming, population growth and resource overuse, loss of biodiversity, risk of viruses going pandemic, nuclear annihilation, etc. we need to be sure we’re making the right decisions to thwart these threats. That is impossible if we’re not the rational beings imagined by the 18th century Enlightenment, and instead behave often like irrational agents with great influence, if not even control from the unconscious parts of our mind.

We need to remember that we’re shaped by the blind process of evolution, which not only incrementally improved on the existing hardware that worked well for millions of years for our ancestors, thus preserving many ancestral behaviors, but also which last significant adjustment to our biology probably happened over tens of thousands of years ago (possible when Homo sapiens pushed out Homo neanderthalensis) and surely didn’t optimize us to deal with the modern environment starting with the advent of agriculture and less than 1 million people 10,000 years ago to a world of technology and nearly 7 billion people today.

I truly believe that we need to better understand ourselves if we’re to secure the survival of our species. Our body and our mind served well the hunter-gatherer societies prior to the advent of agriculture. However, evolution didn’t put any effort to make sure we can deal with the challenges of our modern society. For example, most hunter-gatherers didn’t live past 40, so there was no possibility for evolution to improve the genetic code to deal with the challenges of older age, which is one of the main reason for various illnesses we see today in older people.

Similarly, the life in tribe didn’t include daily social interaction with members of other tribes and even when it did, it usually lead to bloodshed instead of cooperation, while today we regularly deal with people halfway across the globe and we are expected to come up with various joint decisions with profound impact on our future.

Though one of the biggest advantage of humans is our ability to adjust to a wide range of conditions — which enabled us to conquer the entire planet, a feat no other animal species have achieved so far — we all know there’s a limit to how much further we can go and that limit is approaching at lightning speed! To avoid meeting an abyss and truly address the challenges threatening our survival as a species, we need to find a way to work around our flaws and prevent any irrational thinking to impact our decisions.

To do that, we have two options: reshape the way everyone on the planet thinks and behaves, or improve our understanding of the human mind and educate our kids in how the mind works and what profound effect its misgivings can have on their behavior and decisions, so they stand a chance to fix our mistakes and truly unite together the world over in a mission to save the humanity for the generations after them.

Unfortunately, the first option have been tried many times with various failed experiments including the communism/socialism movement following Karl Marx‘s ideas in an attempt to “socially engineer” people to fit a desired behavior, the radical behaviorism group started by B.F. Skinner with their experimental behavioral analysis, even modern-day parental advisers who tirelessly publish books, run TV shows and use other means to tell today’s parents how (not) to raise their children so they will turn into educated respectable members of the society — try searching “how to be a good parent?” on Google to see yourself! 😉

If you’ve read my nature vs. nurture articles so far, you know that our behavior as adults is shaped in part by our genes and in part by our experiences as we grow up — the accepted behavior by the groups we identify with or belong to, the unique experiences we have, the knowledge we acquire at home, school, etc. You also know that I’m advocating a model of at least three brain organs that are responsible for dealing with the environment and are impacting our personality and how we turn up as adults eventually.

My goal is to get as many people as possible to recognize the problem of lack of understanding the human behavior and the way the brain (as evolved in the few millions of years since our species split off the chimps) and the environment (in today’s modern world) shape together our personality as an important problem we need to address alongside other important problems like reverting global warming. On top of that, I would be happy to see testable theories sprung up proposing models that can be used to better understand how the forces of the environment are translated into a particular behavior or personality trait.

As I started this article, my vision is that in 20-30 years many areas of human endeavor — education in particular! — would have already embraced the newly found understanding of the human brain and the theories for the shaping of the human behavior and will use that knowledge to increase the chances for our species survival, by making conscious, rational decisions not colored by emotions or state of mind impacted by politics, ones blindness beyond their personal interests, or ones shortsightedness preventing them to give up some comfort now for a future benefit!

I hope my blog will be a little contribution in achieving that dream! 😉

Categories: Nature vs. nurture
  1. November 21, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Thanks for watching “Collapse”. Do watch it again and again and be sure and watch the Bonus material. Regardless of Ruppert’s demeanor or factual accuracy, the film is a list of the things that we are all feeling in our gut that are portending a possible, cultural collapse. Foremost; “The physical laws can’t be ignored”[ 7billion people with too small a home/garden/earth ] and “Human beings are expendable”[ to the Earth/and the larger truths].
    Whatever bet your making on harmony vs. collapse, pro-active plans should be made for the later, just in case. All of my children and grand children live in dense population centers; a google satellite view says they’ll never escape if something goes wrong. This worries me in my bicameral brain.
    It’s not in our toes, our elbows or our noses; it’s not in our metaphors or wishful thinking; survival is the work for our brains.
    It’s important to study our brains, neuro-scientifically at this point.
    Thanks again for talking with me,
    P.S. Inspiration?

    • December 8, 2010 at 11:45 pm

      Hey Mark,

      I just wanted to let you know I haven’t forgotten you … the lack of sunshine has been affecting my energy levels lately, which was not helped with how busy I am as besides my day job, I am trying to get my idea for a non-profit to help kids with experiential learning, engaging projects, etc. off the ground

      I thought you might appreciate I referenced your site in my latest post about attention — got (dis)inspired by a feedback on my baby daughter’s behavior in her daycare — here!

      One of the readers pointed me to a documentary that I think you will appreciate too, Human Resources – Social Engineering in the 20th Century. While I haven’t decided what to make of Ruppert and Collapse yet, I hope this documentary will help me understand the history of our behavior today a bit!

  2. November 18, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Hey Kima
    Thanks for the book suggestion; “Coalescent”. I use to read a lot of sci-fi, before
    we knew so much about the brain. It looks both entertaining and informative. Will try to get it this weekend.I could use some escape/fun/info reading these days.
    Glad your going to watch “Collapse” Let me know? Don’t focus on his demeanor so much as rather on the subjects he speaks of; what a rats nest were in today.
    Thanks for your compliments on my bees.

    • November 21, 2010 at 2:29 am

      Hey Mark,

      A toothache 😦 prevented me from watching all of the film Wed night but I did finish it eventually … I may need to watch it again because it is a bit hard to avoid the sensationalism in some of the stuff he talks about, though … I would’ve also preferred if the filmmakers did more homework to dig out documents and similar that would back up/object to some of the statements he’s been making or, even better, add few more people voicing their opinion, both for and against

      Anyway, most of the stuff he raises as signs of collapse are no news for me and I suspect many others who’s been concerned with the future of our world and way of living … as I mentioned I am reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse which is a great analysis of past and more recent societies and discusses what kinds of problems or decisions are impactful to the future of those societies … Jared’s assumption seems to be that societies decide or at least allow themselves to collapse, which would ring a bell with Michael’s views I guess too

      One of the biggest surprises came from his disbelief that the government knew all about peak oil and various other problems long ago but seems to have been lying to the nation. Maybe it’s my experience growing up in an ex-socialist country and surviving through the transition to a “democratic” order, but government lies, cover ups, mistakes, etc. are not surprising 😦

      I did find some of his analysis of the financial market and the message of hope for dealing with some of the problems if we set our mind to it interesting and inspiring, which is why I want to watch it again before discussing the film further with you

      Btw, I’ve put a new post on how learning might have evolved with the invention of inspiration on top of curiosity https://mybin.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/inspiring-learning-or-learning-inspiration/ … I speculate there that because of this change, a break had to be put on curiosity to avoid the huge cost in increased curiosity caused by inspiration and learning … and the best candidate for such break is religion … I wonder if some kind of initial learning spurt may have been related to the evolution of the bicameral mind and later the breakdown into consciousness … assuming Jaynes’s theories are right … if yes, the question today may be if we should lift all breaks from the curiosity by killing religion completely and transforming institutions like the school system into inspirational hubs that promote and foster critical thinking … would that let the cultural evolution that may have started with the invention of inspiration move on from the point where religion put a stop? … of course this is all purely speculative, but I find these kinds of thoughts very liberating as they let me think of interesting and important questions


  3. November 16, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Well good morning Kima. Thanks for replying so soon.
    [Quote]evidence of it in the current hunter-gatherer societies? [end quote] You’ll find evidence studies in; Reflections on The Dawn Of Conscious” Marcel Kuijsten. I suggest reading this in place of Jayne’s original “Origin of Consciousness” to save time.

    [Quote]: which would mean that one could find strong evidence of the bicameral mind in the developing minds of kids [end quote]. Yes and the more you study and look for the bicameral brain as a separate brain activity from the conscious brain activity in your own mind you will easily find it. Example; your driving down the road, thinking and visualizing the walls in your kitchen and how your painting them a new color, when suddenly a child runs out in front of your car and instantaneously you react and take action from your bicameral brain. Jaynes uses an unfortunate language metaphor for the consciousness brain activity. He calls it “hallucinations” in a way that’s right but seems to intimate the wrong thing. I can pass on more examples of the interplay of both brain activities if you like.

    [Quote]I am not sure how the cases of autism and similar impacts [end quote]. This is addressed in both “What’s going on in there” by Lise Elliot and in Reflections on The Dawn Of Conscious” Marcel Kuijsten.

    I think it’s important to see Micheal Rupperts “Collapse”. It’s in book form, but to save time [and I say time is of the essence now] I could send you my Netflix copy if I was sure you’d send it back. If you want, let me know at: mark@bonterrabees.com

    On a side note; some of my ideas for a workable Human culture come from my Bee colonies. See; http://www.bonterrabees.com/videolibrary.html “A guided tour”. The selfless cooperation of all of the brains in a colony/culture has something to recommend to our Human culture.
    Have a good day,

    • November 17, 2010 at 11:01 pm

      Thanks Mark!

      I had a chance to look at the videos on your site … they are amazing! 😉 … I would again recommend my favorite sci-fi author, Stephen Baxter, this time with his book Coalescent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalescent) as he’s exploring the idea of a human hive in it and the follow-up books in the Destiny’s Children series.

      Btw, I found a version of the Collapse movie online so I’ll try to watch it tonight!

  4. November 15, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    Hi Kima
    I’m going to start here by saying that I am hearing from more and more people [as I read between their lines], people, in growing exponential numbers are feeling something is wrong, something is tenuous. It’s my belief that this is coming from their gut [their bicameral brains] and it’s; a cultural collapse is approaching.

    At this point I’d like to add to my list of important information, the movie “Collapse”[get it on Netflix, buy it, whatever] to my list of essential reading materials. In this, Michael Ruppert lays out the cause of cultural collapse, the collapse, and the ensuing transition period. He will talk about; “Peak Oil”; about our 7billion people out striping earths resources; about modern economic systems; about today’s Human culture and many of the fractural parts of all of those; and how they are leading to the “collapse” and an ensuing “transition era”.
    In my theories of our “Current Brains Befuddlement” I refer to his list of causes as “hyper-metaphor” and the “hyper-metaphor” problem growing in our current brain activity.
    To reiterate, the materials I think are important to the study of the brain and its current state are:
    1. “What’s Going On In There” by Lise Ellot [we must understand from a neuro-science perspective how are brain is created and how it works]
    2. Julian Jayne’s theories on the nature of consciousness [a brain activity]. I suggest seeking http://www.julianjaynes.org/pdf/jaynes_consciousness-voices-mind.pdf online.We must understand the function of consciousness as a brain activity and the effect of metaphor on our brain, especially the effect and rapidity of the industrial age “hyper-metaphor’s” effect on our brain activity’s “Befuddlement”.
    3. “Collapse” by Micheal Ruppert.

    I am reviewing “The Nurture Assumption” by Judith Harris. Her Theory of Peer Effect on brain development is important, however I think it is subordinate to the earlier parts of development in the linear, genetic development plan of the development of each new brain. Perhaps those who survive the “collapse” will, in later parts of the “transition” period, will find that important to address. The “Peer Effect” effects the later to develop; orbitofrotal gryus and the anterior cingulated gyrus organs of the brain, thru the Limbic system, in specific areas of the frontal cortex after more innate activiies develop.

    To be continued, hope we’re still on the same page.
    My dog has been bedded down for hours, my girlfriend called and said “shut off the damn computer”, I said “but I’m trying to contribute to the survival of the human race”, she said “Ya Right”

    • November 16, 2010 at 1:17 am

      Thanks Mark,

      it is funny that you refer to the movie Collapse as I am reading “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” from Jared Diamond, which seems to discuss similar topics as the movie 😉 It seems the movie is hard to get in Canada for now, but I’ll try nonetheless as I am intrigued to see it!

      I now had a chance to read http://www.julianjaynes.org/pdf/jaynes_consciousness-voices-mind.pdf and I agree the theories proposed by Jaynes are very important, even if all of them turn out wrong or in need of adjustment. Jaynes’s view is refreshing and his reasoning makes sense most of the time, though without reading more of his work I have hard time to accept everything he’s saying. If you’re interested in science fiction, I suggest you check Stephen Baxter’s Evolution http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_(Stephen_Baxter_book) … I somehow think that Baxter accepted or he is at least playing with the idea of the Bicameral Mind in the sections where modern humans enter the stage in the narrative

      As you’re reviewing “The Nurture Assumption” I should warn you that Harris herself came to realize that her group socialization theory was missing an important piece … the answer to the question why people are so different in spite of the group socialization trying to make them similar … she extends her theory in her second book “No Two Alike” which in my mind is an important companion to the first book, though from what I could see it didn’t get the deserved attention

      I am looking forward to engage in further discussion with you as I read more on Jaynes’s theories and the other reading you suggested!


      P.S. Thx for the digression on saving the human race … I had a great laugh imagining the situation at your home 😉 … I would be happy to reveal more important questions and shed some light on few and if that inspires other people to start digging … who knows … maybe the human race could be saved 😉

      • November 16, 2010 at 8:00 am

        I forgot to mention few things last night.

        One question that came to my mind reading Jaynes and his bicameral mind idea was if one can look for evidence of it in the current hunter-gatherer societies? If some have been isolated long enough, it is possible that the switch to consciousness, as Jaynes defines it, may not have happened yet, or is happening right now under the influence of our society.

        Another question that bothers me is if the consciousness Jaynes speaks about is truly achieved through biological evolution that impacted the structure of our brain, or if consciousness is actually and fully learned, which would mean that one could find strong evidence of the bicameral mind in the developing minds of kids.

        Finally, I am not sure how the cases of autism and similar impacts on the way people sense and interact the world can be explained by the theories? Are they products of the switch from bicameral to conscious? Can one find evidence they existed prior to the switch? etc.

  5. November 5, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Hi Kima
    I think we’re pretty much on the same page, so here’s my 2 cents.
    The Big Question is can we control, for the good, our destiny?
    I have only to step out side at night in Maine when the skies are as clear as gin, look up, and look for a clue, when I say; it seems very very unlikely. Yet the unknowable in that endless sky seems akin to understanding the Human Brain and the wiring of its quadrillion synapses. For the moment these questions pale as the vision of a chocolate cake sitting on the counter in my kitchen takes place. I go in, stoke the fire and enjoy the cake, but then, annoyingly, the curiosity comes back.
    We are each a pretty special collection of dynamic, directive, matter called brain, at least on this planet. Currently there are 6+ billion brains alive on earth today and perhaps some, like you and me, have the discretionary thought time to risk the seemingly impossible and look in to those prime questions; Brain and Destiny.
    As far as I can see there has been a 200million year or more evolution of brain, from simpler brains that would eat their young if they weren’t fast enough; to the mammal/bicameral brains; to the Homo Sapien/bicameral brains; to the Homo Sapien/bicameral + consciousness brain of today. It looks to me like there is an evolving movement here and just maybe there will be a brain or collection of brains that can positively affect our destiny. That is if we survive long enough. In my opinion survival, at present, seems tenuous and must be our focus now.

    I quote: As I started this article, my vision is that in 20-30 years many areas of human endeavor – education in particular! — would have already embraced the newly found understanding of the human brain and the theories for the shaping of the human behavior and will use that knowledge to increase the chances for our species survival, by making conscious, rational decisions not colored by emotions or state of mind impacted by politics, ones blindness beyond their personal interests, or ones shortsightedness preventing them to give up some comfort now for a future benefit!

    I think we better get crackin on that “newly found understanding of the human brain” I think it’s possible we don’t have 20years.
    First; If you don’t believe that everything we (Homo-sapiens) did, are doing, and will doing are a product of brain activity then forget the rest of this discussion. I might add if you do believe our garden/earth can support the 6billion + population with the thinking now in place; then forget the rest of this discussion.
    It would be helpful to this discussion if you have some understanding of how your own brain was wired up, and how it works and especially its activity of consciousness.

    So here is my hunch as to why survival is tenuous; In general, we each get an “off the shelf” Brain created by a genetically driven development plan. That development plan has changed a bit, but a very little bit and very slowly during the last 4000 years except on 2 occasions where the change was rapid and in a short period of time.
    THE FIRST CHANGE at 2000BC+- was from bicameral to bicameral plus consciousness. This change occurred because of the addition of metaphor to bicameral brain activity (a metaphor is a dimensionless representation of dimensional matter and matter changes, this metaphor is useful to brain activity in modeling respective to decision making). The addition of metaphor resulted in the enormous addition to brain activity that we call consciousness. Consciousness allows us to model decision results before making the decision.
    THE SECOND CHANGE, which is happening today [in the last 100 years and more precisely around 1950 and the information age], is happening because of the addition of an evolved post modern Metaphor, a hyper-Metaphor, a copy of a copy with less connection to the original metaphor or its yet unchanged matter/object.
    The problem is that our basic “off the shelf Brain” we have today hasn’t changed much since 2000BC, and today’s young, developing bicameral plus consciousness brain is still attempting to put essential physical dynamics in place while we model Elmer Fud running out over a cliff and running back in front of the that developing brain of the child. This hyper-metaphor of the last 100years, the information age, in my opinion, will cause a generationally increasing befuddlement in the brain.

    The important thing to know about the genetically driven “Human Neural Plan” and its resulting brain is that it still is today putting in place in childhood, primarily the physical dynamics first of “survival and pro-creation [food, shelter, and sex]” and adding hyper-metaphorical mistruths at the wrong time will compromise the brain outcome.

    It’s my thought that this rapid change in brain activity and dynamics brought on by the “information and digital age” is changing our brains faster than is practical, faster than generation ally and must be addressed quickly before our brains can mistake our physical well being for Elmer Fuds.

    Some appropriate books;

    “How The Brain Develops In The First Five Years” Lise Eliot, Phd.

    “The Origin of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind” Julian Jaynes

    For a quick refresher on Julian Jayne’s theories; http://www.julianjaynes.org/pdf/jaynes_consciousness-voices-mind.pdf

    “Reflections on The Dawn Of Conscious” Marcel Kuijsten

    “My stroke of insight” Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

    • November 9, 2010 at 12:58 am

      Wow … some amazing analysis and information in this comment … thx Mark! This is great food for thought for me and I really appreciate the time you took to write it!!

      I will need to ponder some of the stuff you say a bit to give you a meaningful reply, but I can agree already that we’re on the same page! Hope to get back to you soon — in the meantime, I believe my newest post around the value of schooling is relevant to some of the stuff you write in your comment so I hope you’ll have some time to read it https://mybin.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/crying-for-superman-waiting-for-mr-anderson/

  6. October 27, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Thanks Mark — no, I am not familiar with Jaynes’s theory, though he’s been referenced in some of the books I have been reading on the subject of theory of mind. Will look up what he has to say!

  7. October 24, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Hummm. I just stumbled on this Blog by accident, haven’t red it all thru yet. been thinking about brain development 0-8yrs most of my life and thinking that that’s where a key is. Am kinda buying into the Jaynes Bicameral to (tricameral)Consciousness evolution as part of the key to the puzzle and if that evolution happened in a short period as he says, I’m thinking about what has happened to our consciousness in the last 200 years as part of the puzzle. The puzzle= How do we survive with our current brain as it is today.
    I also keep bees and oddly their solution to survival and reproduction colors my theories to a degree.
    Well I’m not going on for now,
    hope you’ll stay tuned to my comments as I come up to speed with yours,

    • October 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      Thanks Mark!

      I would be delighted to discuss any question you may have around my nature vs. nurture articles or the topic in general!

      I am puzzled by that very same question “How do we survive with our current brain as it is today” too! I don’t expect to find an answer, but I think it is worth keep trying!


      • October 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm

        Thanks for replying;
        I shall continue to come up to speed with your thoughts and then return mine. May I ask if you are familiar with the theories of Julian Jaynes; “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”? Some grasp of our current state of consciousness, its history and evolution, I believe, is important to answering the question of “where and how do we go from here”. I also believe, given my perspective since 1942, that our future is tenuous but there are some answers to our survival if we have the courage to explore them before its too late. It’s up to us, not fate or faith.
        Hope we will continue to talk.

  1. March 23, 2011 at 10:51 pm
  2. July 30, 2010 at 1:40 am
  3. July 22, 2010 at 12:51 am

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