Friday, February 13, 2015

Kit's Thoughts: Nature vs. Nurture vs. Free Will

[Ed.] Today we’re starting a new series. Our very own Kit often sends me emails dealing with topics he encounters at school which are rather interesting. I’ve asked him to turn some of these into quasi-articles so they can be shared with all of you. Tonight’s topic involves the nature versus nurture debate. Enjoy!

Nature vs. Nurture vs. Free Will
By Kit

The more I look at the nature vs. nurture debate the more I find it to be very inadequate. Though I lean heavily towards "Nurture" and the belief that the environment in which one is raised has a big impact on your adulthood, both fail to adequately explain why some people are good and others are bad.

The reason? Both leave out that frightening wild card: Free Will.

Or, rather, one’s choices becoming one’s habits. When a person makes one good choice it becomes easier to make a good choice in the future. Especially if it is risky. Conversely, if a person makes one bad choice it becomes easier for that person to make bad choices again in the future. These choices add up to habits, both good and bad, and those habits add up to form one’s personality.

I’ll grant that people who advocate Nurture/Environment/Culture do usually acknowledge free will, but those who claim Nature/Genetics to be the reason for good and bad behavior deny free will and the power of choice more sternly than even the most fanatical of Hyper-Calvinists. They firmly believe in the doctrine of Predestination, but one of random genetic mixing instead of divine sovereignty.

That is because Free Will is a Wild Card. Nature and Nurture are favored because they provide easy solutions. Nature opens the doorway to sterilization or brain re-wiring while Nurture says good parenting and good teaching.

However, if it is true that in any society a certain number of people will simply decide to be bad, for no clearly defined reason other than they want to do bad things and enjoy doing it.

Interestingly, while scientists and theologians have spent centuries struggling with this question, artists have long since answered it. Shakespeare understood it when he had Macbeth slip from war hero to mad tyrant as the blood he spilt when he killed King Duncan begets more and more blood, each act easier than the last, and when he had Prince Hamlet say to his mother, urging her to avoid the King’s amorous advances,

Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,

“For use almost can change the stamp of nature”. Billy Wilder knew it. Spielberg knew it when he filmed Schindler’s List and compared Oskar Schindler to Amon Goethe. Both German, both Nazis, both lovers of wine and women, yet one was a hero and the other a villain. Why? Schindler decided to save life while Goethe decided to take it. No real reason, it is just what they chose to do.

The artist, who must make a living from delving into all of the facets of human nature, even when he is the son of a small town English glove maker and only had a “grammar school education”, seems to have a leg up on those who study it professionally at universities and seminaries.


AndrewPrice said...

Next week, we'll put this up at the regular time of late night Thursday.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, What I think is really insightful here is your observation that both the nature and nurture camp ignore the issue of free will. I think they ignore it because if they acknowledge it, then they are basically admitting that their "issue" is essentially meaningless because no matter which is the correct theory, free will ultimately trumps either.

Not surprisingly, that would be bad for liberalism too because it wipes out ideas like root causes and the idea that people are prisoners of causes beyond their control.

Kit said...

I do lean towards nurture but that is largely because most people operate in neutral. They "go with the flow" and conform.

Robert L. Hedd said...

Kit, great insight. As one who has been around the block a few years, and took a few psychology course in university during the 70's, I have often pondered this concept. In my own experience, I have seen brothers and sisters raise their children identically, yet those same kids turn out completely different. Granted, it's a limited sample, but if it fits in my limited sample, then perhaps it plays out on a much larger scale.
Why does one child turn out to be good in school, respectful of parents and have many good friends, while another is a rebel, constantly fights authority and is angry all the time? Nature vs. Nurture? Perhaps.
It is also my experience (personally and by years of observation) that if one tells a lie, then, as you state, "When a person makes one good choice it becomes easier to make a good choice in the future. Especially if it is risky. Conversely, if a person makes one bad choice it becomes easier for that person to make bad choices again in the future. These choices add up to habits, both good and bad, and those habits add up to form one’s personality."....then that habit becomes part of their nature. 'Hey, I got away with it once, this is pretty cool!' (ala B. Williams) Unfortunately, unless you remember to support that lie forever in your life, people will catch you on it and think to themselves that you are untrustworthy.
So, Nature vs. Nurture? As you write, I believe it is both.

As for free will, we make choices every second of every day we are alive. How should I respond to that person? Snarkily, humorously, mean? It is our conscious choice on how we move through life. Therefore, I DO judge people on how they act, regardless of their background, circumstances, upbringing, etc.

Anyhew...that is MY opinion! So make a conscious decision and agree with everything I've just stated. LOL


Koshcat said...

Something really creepy to think about but as you experience life there are small changes made to your DNA or more importantly to the expression of DNA. Individually, these don't seem to do much but over time and experience they build up to make a unique individual. Even identical twins raised in the same home will have subtle changes in DNA. The DNA expression probably most susceptible to these changes is during childhood.

Free will is probably a misnomer as many believe no one does anything purely for altruistic purposes. There are people more willing to take a risk, which is a function of nature and nurture but what supports the continued behavior is the reward. What most liberals, especially socialists and communists, don't understand is most people don't get the reward they seek when they do something for the good of the group.

Jon said...

I couldn't agree more with the notion of free will being a huge component of what shapes a person... and I embrace both nature and nurture as a collection of things that influence how someone could turn out.

I happened to like some ideas found in Viktor Frankel's Man's Search for Meaning (1959). It describes the life of concentration camp inmate from the perspective of a psychiatrist.
"Life has potential meaning...even suffering is meaningful." In undergrad, this field of psychology was called existential/phenomenology and thought to be more philosophy than science.

Even in concentration camps he found only two races of men (regardless of whether inmate or Nazi guard): decent and unprincipled ones. They were "found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups." So, I get the references to Shakespeare and Spielberg. It's as if people choose to follow a path, however predisposed they might be.

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