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Human Nature 
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Post Human Nature
The Red Queen starts out with the stated assumption that we have a typical human nature. So exactly what is human nature and where did it come from?

Ridley states:

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This book is an inquiry into the nature of that human nature. Its theme is that it is impossible to understand human nature without understanding how it evolved, and it is impossible to understand how it evolved without understanding how human sexuality evolved.



I agree and disagree.

Have to be honest here, this first part of the book is the hardest for me to get through. Once we get down into the details there is so much that Ridley writes that I feel is right on target, but setting the scene... I have a question.

Why draw the evolutionary effect line at some invisible point when we became human?

To me it's kinda like the glass half full analogy or the seeking of the branching in human evolution. Yes, we can definitely say the fungi is not human, and that today's hss definitely IS human. But where's the mid-point and why try to find it?

Ridley begins the discussion, defining what he considers human nature, by pointing to various reactions that he considers solely human (smiling, etc). These reactions not having changed in the last hundred thousand years or so. But these reactions themselves evolved. So why draw the line at that point?

Take the fight or flight reaction. That reaction is so hardwired into our system I doubt we could remove it. Yet it is not solely a human reaction. You can't even really consider it solely a mammilian reaction. Nor reptile. And probably not even as far back as simply amphibian. In other words, it's been around for millions (billions?) of years and yet is a part of our human evolution.

I feel many of the responses viewed as human are simply our inheritance from forebearers. Those forebears not always human, mammals, or so on. I'm sure we've even some going back to fungi.

So why draw an arbitrary line and call it human nature, when that nature is not solely human?


Lynne




Wed Sep 10, 2003 8:13 am
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Post Re: Human Nature
Arcangle

A couple of interesting points here.

In one of Dawkin's books - can't remember which now - might have been "Chaplain". He describes how we find it easy to determine what a human is because all the intermediates between humans and other animals are extinct. It would be unfortunate indeed - for our view of ourselves - if we found out out that they were all alive, because we could never possibly know where to draw the line.

This demonstrates that there is no "essence of humaness" which we have and no other animal does.

In the matter of human attributes of course you are right that many of them are shared with other animals. But there are certain attributes that are exclusive to our species just as there attributes that are specific to other species.

Smiling is one. Chimps have a smiley expression but in their case it is an outward expression of fear(:D I'm scared!). A chimp "smiles" by lowering its bottom lip showing its bottom teeth and covering its top teeth with its top lip.

Edited by: PeterDF at: 9/11/03 6:05 pm



Thu Sep 11, 2003 5:01 pm
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Post Re: Human Nature
The quote from Dawkins is definitely not from Chaplain, since I recognize it, and haven't read Chaplain. Beyond that, I can't remember.

Anyway, in response to the topic of the thread, I would tend to argue that there is such thing as a particularly "human" nature (though it might be extended in large part to include all of the genus homo, and even partially to other great apes.) The reason for this is that the social structure of humans is in fact unique in the history of life on earth. Human nature includes complex language, kin selection, tool use, trading and bartering, and a variety of behaviours which are not observed to any great extent outside our genus, and not at all outside our family (great apes.) These particular aspects allow us to zero in on what we can refer to as "human nature".

There are also some aspects of human nature which are not specific to us (e.g. lungs, sexual reproduction, the fight-or-flight response), however these need not be as central to a discussion of human nature as those characteristics which define us in particular.

A discussion of the nature of chairs would be obtuse at best if it spent much time talking about being made of wood or being a product of human technology. Much more to the point would be an analysis of its function, that is to say to be sat upon. This is because that characteristic is essentially unique to chairs, and in fact defines what it means to be a chair in the first place.




Mon Sep 15, 2003 9:19 pm
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Post Re: Human Nature
Louis42
Kin selection is the process by which genes, which are common to a related group, will survive better if they can in some way help each other into the next generation. It is a selective process, which resides under the umbrella term of "natural selection". It follows that this process can influence any organism and is therefore not exclusive to humans, although I agree it does seem to have particular relevance to human, and some other ape behaviour because we are largely tribal animals.

Otherwise, I think I can broadly agree with your post depending on whether you mean that we can define humanness in humans in the way we might define, say, cattiness in cats. Cats have features common to their clade: retractile claws; finicky, precise movements; whiskers; fondness for milk and dislike of water, etc. We humans do seem to be able to evoke a particular "essence" in our minds when we think of certain classes of objects.

In this sense there is certainly something we can understand as human nature. The essential point is whether you regard human nature to be part of nature in the same way as, presumably, you would think of catty nature as also being part of nature. My point was that there is no essence of humanness that sets us apart from nature.




Tue Sep 16, 2003 1:06 pm
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Post Re: Human Nature
Quote:
although I agree it does seem to have particular relevance to human, and some other ape behaviour because we are largely tribal animals.


Yeah, that was what I meant by referring to kin selection as a specifically human activity, but I realise I could have been more careful with my words, or at least provided a parenthetical explanation. The way I said it, ants are more human than we are. Sorry about that.

And no, I don't really think that there is anything about human nature that sets us apart from nature, however, I do think that, unlike "cat" nature, human nature does have a few peculiarities which set it completely apart from other natures (though not from Nature.) Retractile claws are just a specialized form of regular claws, all mammals like milk (by definition!), and whiskers or some functionally equivalent structure (such as feelers) are present in a wide variety of animals. Language and morality aren't. Not saying they're better than whiskers or nightvision, just that they're entirely different, because they have a sort of metaphysical existence. A language or a moral concept is not a biological or physical reality, but a non-physical thing (a meme, if you will.) My point is that human nature can be defined by the existence of such metaphysical concepts.

Evidently, it is still impossible to draw a sharp boundary in time which would delimit "human" nature, as arcAngle pointed out. Australopithecines probably had a bit of what we call human nature, so do chimps. Anything in the genus Homo probably had a lot of it. Some humans alive today probably have more of it than others. However, it still remains pretty clear as something we can define as "human" rather than "feline" or "chair" nature.




Tue Sep 16, 2003 1:54 pm
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Post Re: Human nature
Only cats like milk: Woops! that was my mistake.

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I do think that, unlike "cat" nature, human nature does have a few peculiarities which set it completely apart from other natures
Isn't this a little anthropocentric. Wouldn't a cat think that its unique features set it apart from other natures?

I do accept your point that it is very hard to define any nature. Unfortunately animal species differ from each other on an ill-defined continuum of genetic difference. The system isn't designed to be neatly carved up into handy pieces.

Edited by: PeterDF at: 9/17/03 5:25 pm



Wed Sep 17, 2003 4:06 pm
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Post Re: Human nature
I'm not sure we are debating something here that is particularly revealing or significant. It really doesn't matter what we borrow from other species or what sets us apart. The important fact is that it is all tightly bundled together and inseparable into our genome and defines our species as it is today. We cannot separate those characteristics we borrow from other animals from those elements of human nature that have expanded beyond recognition from other borrowed forms. It is unintelligible for us to do so and does not lead to understanding in a holistic sense what universal "Human Nature" is.

Trying to find elements that separate ourselves from other species is nothing more than anthropological "chest beating". Trying to understand who we are without seeking "superior" comparisons to other species is far more useful in understanding ourselves. This understanding will help us determine the best social/political systems that bring out the best in us and free individuals to seek happiness and maximization without harming others or damaging future generation's prospects.

Sincerely,

Monty Vonn
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Fri Sep 19, 2003 5:00 am
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Post Re: Human nature
Monty

I think I agree with everything you said in your post. But I think that most people do have a resistance to the idea that we humans aren't distinct from animals. What I am trying to do, is to get them to examine that distinction, because when they do I they that they will see that it soon disappears.

There is still a lot of anthropocentric arrogance concerning our place in nature and it is that position I want to challenge.

Edited by: PeterDF at: 9/21/03 5:11 am



Sun Sep 21, 2003 4:04 am
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Post Re: Human nature
PeterDF
Quote:
Isn't this a little anthropocentric. Wouldn't a cat think that its unique features set it apart from other natures?. . .There is still a lot of anthropocentric arrogance concerning our place in nature and it is that position I want to challenge.
I often hear "we are superior to all the other animals because we think better than they do" and I try to point out how arbitrary the standard is. By the standard of how well a species flies or dives, we show very poorly next to eagles or whales.


Science is neither a philosophy nor a belief system. It is a combination of mental operations that has become increasingly the habit of educated peoples, a culture of illuminations hit upon by a fortunate turn of history that yielded the most effective way of learning about the real world ever conceived. E.O.Wilson




Sun Sep 21, 2003 3:53 pm
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Post Re: Human nature
Man is the only animal that goes to great lengths to convince itself it's not an animal ;)




Thu Nov 13, 2003 9:12 pm
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