I was pretty confident that the “traditional” conception of nature/nurture had vanished but, like that silly 10% brain useage myth, the idea that this dichotomy represents a real aspect of the world – rather than just being a useful descriptive heuristic – persists. Luckily I can capture the problem in a very short post.
What’s wrong then?
The idea behind this divide is that there are two things that make up a human being – its genetic ‘code’ (another dangerous metaphor) and the environment, generally meant in a social sense. While someone might say that autism is, in this sense, nature we could similarly say that a personality disorder is the result of an unfortunate social environment. And on a basic level this is a very useful distinction – certainly the nature of a person’s nurture (I’m so cute) has a significant effect on the development of a personality, or other severe, psychological disorder. And there is good reason to believe that the opposite is true of autism (though maybe Down’s Syndrome is the perfect example here). The problem comes with the human desire for simple stories.
People take the categories, which are abstractions from the whole and cannot exist without the whole, and treat them as if they are wholes in and of themselves (though genetic determinism is how it usually manifests; perhaps the separation of nurture is simply a byproduct of genes being excessively elevated). Yea this should not need a real explanation at this point and I’m really tired – environment has real effects on gene expression (see: epigentic methyl groups etc) and genetics has real impact on the effects of, and even the nature of, the environment. They’re coupled in significant ways. That’s all.