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Nature via nurture

Nature via nurture. Mistaking the Problem?. Matt ridley, nature via nurture.

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Nature via nurture

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  1. Nature via nurture Mistaking the Problem?

  2. Matt ridley, nature via nurture • ‘Ridley’s point is that the discovery of how genes actually influence human behavior, and how human behavior influences genes, is about to recast the debate entirely. No longer is it nature-versus-nature, but nature-via-nurture: Genes are designed to take their cues from nurture.’ (Mysterud: 188) • As such, Ridley is tying together nature and nurture and suggesting the futility of their opposition. • Do you think it is pointless to hold nature and nurture in opposition? • Consider the opposition between Rousseau/Piaget and Locke/Vygotsky. Is it not the tension between this opposition which is what opens up, rather than closes down, our understanding of early childhood education? • Also, are they all truly opposed? And are those who are lumped together even saying the same thing?

  3. Taking sides ‘So which are we, similar to apes or different from apes? Both. The argument about human exceptionalism, today as in Victorian times, is mired in a simple confusion. People still insist that their opponents must take sides: either we are instinctive animals or we are conscious beings, but we cannot be both. Yet both similarity and difference can be true at the same time. You do not have to abandon an ounce of human agency when you accept the kinship of our minds with those of apes. Neither similarity nor difference wins; the two coexist. Let some scientists study the similarities while others study the differences.’ (Ridley: 17) Do you think you would take a side in the nature vs nurture debate? What side and why? Or do you think there is sense in all the theorists? Any in particular who you agree with?

  4. Blurring the BounDaries Thanks to better nutrition, each generation is taller than its parents, but nobody would argue that therefore height is less genetic than was thought. In fact, because more people now reach their full potential stature, the heritability of variation in height is probably increasing. (Ridley: 96) In tackling psychosis, neither nature theories nor nurture theories are much good at distinguishing cause from effect. The human brain is wired to seek simple causes. It eschews uncaused events, preferring instead to deduce that when A and B are seen together, either A causes B or B causes A. This tendency is strongest in schizophrenics, who see causal connections between the most patent coincidences. But often A and B are simply parallel symptoms of something else. Or, even worse, A can be both the cause and the effect of B. (Ridley: 124)

  5. Blurring the boundaries ‘The startling new truth that has emerged from the human genome-that animals evolve by adjusting the thermostats on the fronts of genes, enabling them to grow different parts of their bodies for longer-has profound implications for the nature-nurture debate. Imagine the possibilities in a system of this kind. You can turn up the expression of one gene, the product of which turns up the expression of another, which suppresses the expression of a third, and so on. And right in the middle of this little network, you can throw in the effects of experience. Something external-education, food, a fight, or requited love, say-can influence one of the thermostats. Suddenly nurture can start to express itself through nature.’ (Ridley: 37) • But isn’t nature still distinct from nurture here? • Biologically speaking, the problem the nature vs nurture debate is not de-activated but rather suspended by synthesis. • By removing the emphasis on either nature or nurture, Ridley confuses a black and white position with specific schemas which orientate more towards the one than the other. • The boundaries were always blurred, even for Rousseau and Locke.

  6. The narrow conception? ‘One of the besetting sins evident in the nature-nurture debate has been utopianism, the notion that there is one ideal design for society, which can be derived from a theory of human nature. Many of those who thought they understood human nature promptly turned description into prescription and set out a design for the perfect society. This practice is common among those on the nature side of the debate as well as those on the nurture side. Yet the only lesson to be drawn from utopian dreaming is that all utopias are hells. All attempts to design society by reference to one narrow conception of human nature, whether on paper or in the streets, end in producing something much worse.’ (Ridley: 67) • Isn’t Ridley’s own conception narrow? Isn’t his schema forcibly situating genes at the forefront of the discussion? • While he accuses many others of being unresponsive to each others ideas, he does not understand the value in having different ways of thinking about things • This would be what we could call different schemas, which are all true, following their own rationality, but can’t simply be brought in line with one another. • While Ridley realises the problem, he does not realise that he is the one causing this problem.

  7. Reason and bunk ‘Any geneticist who says he has found an influence for genes and therefore there is no role for the environment is talking bunk. And any nurturist who says he has found an environmental factor and therefore there is no role for genes is equally talking bunk.’ (Ridley: 95) • What Ridley is attacking is the support of distinct binary opposites: nature and nurture. Not realising that very few people would ever have suggested it was absolutely one or the other (except perhaps in tabloid newspapers). • The point that he is missing is that there is not a clear black and white debate but rather many different ways of thinking about the same things. What he have previously refered to as schemas.

  8. Ridley’s contradiction ‘Let me at once put my cards face up. I believe human behavior has to be explained by both nature and nurture. I am not backing one side or the other. But that does not mean I am taking a "middle of the road” compromise. As Jim Hightower, a Texas politician, once said: "There ain't nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow line and a dead armadillo." I intend to make the case that the genome has indeed changed everything, not by closing the argument or winning the battle for one side or the other, but by enriching the argument from both ends till they meet in the middle.’ (Ridley: 3) • So he does not want to be ‘middle of the road’ but wants to ‘meet in the middle’. • What do you think about this? Is it a contradiction?

  9. Antinomy of Reason Speaking about early childhood development means using many different languages of rationality, or schemas, which can seem in opposition, but are equally true. They all rely on specific contexts and understandings for their validity. This is what Kant would call the antinomy of reason. It allows a problem not to be reduced to a simplified middle ground, as in Ridley’s ‘nature via nurture’. While he is right to suggest that it is not one or the other, he is wrong to suggest that he has found out the truth of the problem to be located specifically in genetics.

  10. Thesis/antithesis For example: Thesis: Education for children is to allow them to become who they are. Antithesis: Education for children is to allow them to become who they are not. Both are true. The thesis could be aligned loosely with nature. The antithesis could loosely be aligned with nurture. However, to argue one absolutely against the other would clearly be pointless. Instead, each schema, approach or argument, would have a different way of incorporating both truths.

  11. References • Ridley, M. (2003) Nature via Nurture, London: Fourth Estate • Mysterud, I. (2003) ‘Long Life Nature via Nurture’, Evolutionary Psychology, 1:188-191

  12. Texts for the essay For Vygotsky: http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/ And for Piaget: http://www.piaget.org/free-books.html

  13. Texts for the essay These are the texts you may find most helpful: Piaget, J. (1953) The Origin of  Intelligence in the Child London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Piaget, J. (1972) The Principles of Genetic Epistemology London: Routledge Kegan Paul trans: Wolfe Mays Piaget, J. (1973) The Psychology of Intelligence London: Routledge and Kegan paul Piaget, J. and Inhelder, B. (1969) The Psychology of the Child London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Vygotsky, L. S. (1967) ‘Play and the role of mental development in the child’Soviet Psychology 5 pp. 6-18 Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society Cambridge MA: Cambridge University Press Vygotsky, L. S. (1999) Thought and Language  Cambridge MA: MIT Press (ed and trans. By A. Kozulin) pp. 13- 20; 55-7; 186-190

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