Can we and should we disentangle Nature from Nurture?

Can we and should we disentangle Nature from Nurture?
Activity Date: 
Sunday, May 11, 2014

It was in 1581 that the British teacher Richard Mulcaster wrote that “treasure . . . bestowed on children by nature, is to be bettered in them by nurture” and the ‘nature/nurture’ dichotomy has been debated ever since. We know that people’s beliefs about the relative importance of heredity and environment affect their opinions on an astonishing range of topics, extending much beyond the disciplines of the humanities. Many contemporary scientists share a common position on nature and nurture: All behavior is the product of an inextricable interaction between heredity and environment during development, so the answer to all nature-nurture questions is “some of each.” The American Philosopher Dan Dennett satirized this attitude: “Surely ‘everyone knows’ that the nature-nurture debate was resolved long ago, and neither side wins since everything is a mixture of both and it’s all very complicated, so let’s think of something else, right?” However, hypotheses that pit nature against nurture or that correlate either genes or environment with behavior without looking at the intervening brain will turn out to be too simplistic or plain wrong. The human brain has been called the most complex system in the universe. That complexity does not mean we should fuzz up the issues by saying that it’s all just too complicated to think about. Instead, we have no choice but to try to disentangle the multiple causes. This workshop is meant as a step in this direction to understand if and how we can or should disentangle nature and nurture, providing research examples of the disciplines of linguistics, philosophy, genetics and psychology.

  •  nature and nurture
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