«Nature» versus «nurture» : time to bury this non-argument
One still comes across, with depressing frequency, articles which ask whether nature or nurture is responsible for a human trait. The writer posits some debate or argument which he or she imagines is engaged in by academics around the world.
However, the “nature versus nurture argument” is surely not a conflict between these two forces (for want of a better word) to be the explanation of the characteristics of individuals.
The rivalry—if, indeed, it exists—is between those people, on one hand, who would advocate a solely (or, largely) “nature” reason for all (or most) characteristics, and those, on the other, who would advocate a “nurture” reason.
It is essentially an exercise in which people can wave their attachments to being right around and use them as weapons against each other. The purpose isn’t really to come to a definitive conclusion. I suspect many of them know such a conclusion is impossible since the question being answered is essentially pointless.
(Although, I repeat, it probably isn’t really happening like that: any argument, and any description of it, is probably restricted to the limited understanding of journalists and other commentators.)
Is it really likely that characteristic X of a person can be quantified as being caused z % by nature and (100 — z)% by nurture? (Even if you know what z is, and even if you know how to measure it?)
It’s surely time to bury this “argument” once and for all.
I suggest that “nature”, all by itself, plays no part whatever in developing a person’s characteristics.
“Nurture”, all by itself, plays no part in developing a person’s characteristics.
What does create them is a third thing. That third thing is a prior, complex interaction between “nature” and “nurture”. It is this interaction which drives the development of the characteristics. I don’t mean nature and nurture together—that’s two things. I mean this interaction.
If you take a taxi to London, the driver by him or herself doesn’t get you there (you carried on their shoulders). The car, by itself, doesn’t get you there (stationary because it can’t start or steer itself).
Not even the driver and the car together get you there—imagine the former standing beside the latter, smiling for the camera.
No. It is the interaction of the two—the driver driving the car and the car being driven by the driver, all at once—which provides the service.
Imagine a pyramid, floating in space. Square base, four triangular sides meeting at an apex. As the pyramid turns in your mind, sometimes it presents just a single triangular face directly to you. What you are looking at appears to be just a triangle.
Other times, just the base is apparent. It looks like a square. But it is neither of these things: it isn’t a square and it isn’t a triangle. And it isn’t a square added to a triangle. It’s a complex mix of the two (complex because three dimensional for a start). It’s a pyramid.
If you like, it’s not nature; nor nurture; nor even nature + nurture. It’s nature × nurture.
Luckily, I am not alone in this view. Allan Schore makes the case for nature × nurture in a much more nuanced and detailed way than I could in this interesting video [13:09].
© 2014 Jeremy Marchant