From Antiquity to the New Common Era
Chapter 2: Genes, behaviour, and the human speciation event
It is in our genes to understand the universe if we can, to keep trying even if we cannot, and to be enchanted by the act of learning all the way. Lewis Thomas The question whether human behaviour is genetic (instinctual) having been determined by the principles of evolution through the millennia, or the result of cultural learning, can be approached from two somewhat opposing points of view, even though there are as many shades of answers as people who pondered the subject. Historically, there were those scientists who viewed behaviour as mostly genetically determined and hard-wired into our biological substance; and there were those who upheld the view that it is the product of an active learning process dependent upon upbringing, learning and social practices. The former are known as ethologists whereas the latter as social scientists. Ridley (2003), in a somewhat conciliatory approach, claimed that ‘genes are designed to take their cues from nurture’; he advocated experience (nurture) as the trigger of gene expression (nature) and called the former by such names as nativists, geneticists, hereditarians, or naturians, and the latter as empiricists, environmentalists, or nurturists. He claimed that ‘the more we lift the lid on the genome, the more vulnerable to experience genes appear to be’. As he puts it elsewhere in the same book, ‘nature and nurture are not opposed to each other but work together’.
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