Forwarded from Anthony (biology)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Dec 21 08:26:13 MST 2001

Re: Biological determination of human nature.

Joan Cameron wrote,

ermadog at 12/19/01 09:55PM

"From my previous discussion of Darwin, you may remember that I do not
accept any notion of biologic determination in human nature, beyond the
obvious implications of the opposable thumb."

Probably Joan should define what she means by 'human nature', but if she
means human intelligence, human emotional capacity, and human morality, I
think she is very far off the mark in her above quoted opinion.

Whatever 'human nature' is, it certainly is - in a broad, deep, and very
important sense, biologically determined. Our opposable thumbs are only one
aspect of that determination.

Consider the size of our heads. Human intelligence is in large part based
on the fact that we have so many nerve cells, connected in so many
pathways. It is a case of quantity producing quality.

Human morality, specifically loving and caring for other human animals, is
certainly closely related to our big heads too.

How so?

Consider the fact that children must be born before they are even close to
being able to walk, unlike virtually every other land mammal.

One important consequence of this is that babies must be carried around by
an adult until they can crawl, and to a large extent until they can walk.
In a tribal society, protecting children from wild animals depends
completely on the adults around them, since the baby is helpless until it
can walk, and especially until it can run and fight. Human societies have
always had to protect children until they were well past infancy.

Without a very strong emotional desire to protect babies and children,
slow-learning, slow walking, human beings would have died out more than a
million years ago. We didn't, because adults had a very strong desire to
protect babies and children over a million years ago.

However, if you look at other species of mamals with relatively slow
developing babies, you can see that same emotion - the desire to protect
babies and children.

The difference between us, and other animals in this regard, may or not be
just quantitiative, or it may be qualititative. In any event it certainly
correlates to how much care - in terms of time - is necessary to give a
baby of any particular species a fighting chance to survive. The more time
needed, the greater the need for a strong adult desire to protect babies
and children.

What kind of social organization is best for caring for these slow
developing children? Certainly not just a mother wandering around alone
trying to take care of herself and her baby. Cetainly not a nuclear family
with the mother and one male to protect themselves, gather food, etc.
Tribal groups were much better suited to this task. In fact, tribal groups
were certainly a pre-condition for the physical evolution of such strange
animals as ourselves.

Biology, and natural selection in particular, explain our ability to love
and care for each other, without recourse to any other explanation.
Moreover, we have mountains of evidence for this view, and none for any
other view.

All the best, Anthony

Louis Proyect
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