Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What is Human Nature?

"All studies of man, from history to linguistics and psychology, are faced with the question of whether, in the last instance, we are the product of all kinds of external factors, or if, in spite of our differences, we have something we could call a common human nature, by which we can recognise each other as human beings."

What is human nature?
This link will lead you to an excellent dialogue between Noam Chomsky, who believes that we are born with our human nature, and our learning is defined by it, and Michael Foucault, who believes that what we consider to be human nature is only learned, consensus behavior.

What do YOU think?
Artwork by Rachelle Donahoe   Many thanks.


Nabil said...

That is a very interesting question.

We can add to it, does human nature change in time? In other words, was the human nature of the ancients the same as ours today?

Debashee said...

Humans are beings in whom intelligence acts as a bridge between the spiritual and the physical.
In the lower rungs of evolution .. the bridge may not be so strong... but with time it gains strength, such that, the Higher is able to sweep across the bridge and overpower the lower.

Lee said...

Lots and lots of answers to this one, perhaps I shall start by simply saying that we all laugh, and a smile is translated correctly between two humans anywhere in the world.

Art said...

I would like to suggest that the term human nature defines an envelope, or set of boundary conditions, for a finite number of emotions, characteristics or virtues common to mankind. All people exist within, however, displaying varying degrees of each, either fixed or variable.... individuality? Any individual footprint within the envelope may be influenced by any number of internal and external factors, however, the base elements define us human beings. However, would extremes beyond the boundaries, or the absence of key characs, therefore suggest not being of mankind, either by species or extreme. What elements are defined within the boundaries and at what point a particular charac is considered to extend beyond the boundary is food for thought.

Lanoo said...

HPB set out to demonstrate (in The Secret Doctrine) that Nature is not simply a fortuitous concurrence of atoms, and as we humans are part of Nature it seems unlikely that we are simply the product of a random concurrence of external factors. But why does the question (in the last instance) be either/or? Is there not something identifiably human in each and every one of us that is shaped into a unique individual by karma, genes and environment (your external factors).

So what makes us identifiably human? A human seems to be the only animal capable of abstract thought, empirical logic, and imagination. We can manipulate our environment, we can search for a meaning to life, we can contemplate our spirituality, we can wonder about life after death, we can worship a god. And perhaps a human is the only animal capable of empathy, helping other humans and other species without even coming into direct contact with them. On the dark side, we are capable of deliberate cruelty that has nothing to do with a survival instinct, but this, also, is part of human nature.

Michael said...

The proposition requires an either or response, which is dualistic and by necessity invalid.

One of the problems this question presents is that to say 'yes' is to make ourselves separate from the rest of the Universe. I have always opted for the Universal. Human Nature must ultimately be Universal Nature and in that both ends of your peice of thread come together. Which simile is really a one dimensional expression of a Holistic Universe - you know, the old hippy-dippy, I am you and you are me. But true however pejoratively expressed.

Another way of responding to the question is to report that I have looked into the eyes of animals and seen more humanity than I've seen in the eyes of some people.

Scientifically there is DNA which gives us a consistent point of differenciation, though what that actually proves in the larger context I don't know.

But for the time being we each will comfort ourselves with the answer that is most compatible with our individual states of being.

kris said...

Human nature is the sum total of the way humans think which finds palpable expression in our speech, behavior and actions.

Sherry said...

Human nature is but one form of a divine conciousnes that connects all forms of matter in this plane and any other. There are too many patterns that exist for a belief in random existence to be arguable. I'm sharing my thoughts on my blog, Daily Spiritual Tools, and I would love your feedback. Namaste, Sherry

Eso said...

I don't think that there is anything in human nature that isn't learned behaviour.

We are all born with all these intricate operating systems that constitute the instinctive apparatus of the body. (cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, etc) already operating. Yet we are unable to control this ourselves and, if we try too, we invite serious problems.

So, I look at it this way the hard drive (brain) is born already formatted but without any operational data or software, (other than what I said about the instinctive centre). the rest is learned behaviour that begins with mimicking. Then the personality / ego is formed, according to family, culture, nation. So language and international symbolism is learned in that way.

As for human nature, I would say that it is more like an evolving machine, rather than a free spirit. Your conscience goes according to your culture, unless of course, one can wake up. But to do that. one has to go against the self and, "Human Nature"


A. Wolf said...

I would argue generally in favor of human nature. Although I believe it's a combination of both, there are some examples that we are born with a certain amount of our own identity. For example, many babies react differently to ultrasounds while in the womb. Some run from it while others are calm and a select few actually move to investigate.
My personal belief is that we enter this world from another. Without elaborating too much, it's a prime function of this world to make us forget who we were before, yet at the same time it was the thoughts of our previous self that allowed us to manifest here. Thus, while we intended to create a blank slate, your mind can never truly be completely empty.

kris said...

On the whole, I agree more with Chomsky's position than with Foucault's, not necessarily for the same reasons as his. It doesn't take genius to realize that cats and dogs recognize other members of their species as deftly as humans do. There wouldn't be ant and bee colonies if they did not recognize their kind. But since linguistics is an interesting area, I don't mind taking that route to establish human nature, if or as if, it is necessary. I think we learn language because of our implicit faith in inductive reasoning.

My daughter grew up with exposure to two languages simultaneously, English and Marathi. I never saw her use a Marathi word or structure when speaking in English to English only speakers. She not only recognized her parents as humans, but as humans with a strange way of communicating that the rest of the humans in her experience would not understand. Was she faced with two types of "highly organised and very restrictive schematisms"? Or was it her implicit faith in inductive reasoning? Personally, I think we come equipped with more than language learning skills. Those skills are non-verbal and they make us human.

Of course, I couldn't believe in karma and see a new-born as a tabula rasa. My daughter came into this world with lot more than I could ever give her with my limited abilities. My faith in human nature comes from seeing a child grow up from day one.

Peter said...

holistically humans have a body that we think about in the absence of thought the body persists

Dorothy Rimson said...

Nice post to read!!!!

Thought Bubble Ten said...

I think that what we call 'human nature' is a set of potentialities that are activated and favored/tempered to varying degrees by a range of factors including our individual genetic blueprint as well as our collective social environment. In this sense, I think Chomsky and Foucault, together rather than separately, give us a more accurate story.

TM said...

hi friends .. I like this article very helpful for me,,,,

Mamie said...

I would like to elevate the term "human nature" to "the true nature of man." All human logic and experience, unless with a spiritual foundation, is learned. The basis of man's true intelligence is divine--the wisdom and understanding that stems from one's sole Creator. I call that Creator, God. Thus, each person is equipped with the same capacity to think, reason and demonstrate. However, since God is infinite, and all that He creates expresses that infinity, man has unlimited ways of expressing the same intelligence. Nevertheless, it is still intelligence, and results not from man's abilities, but his innate ability to express what he was created to be.

carcharanon said...

Gad ... I read the replies and was zapped by the electric materialism of the modern age!

Honest, my very first thought was that you had said, in so many words, "in all studies of the life force, elan vital, or spirit ...."

The entire basis of philosophy and religion is that in life, there are common unifying factors. Philosophy contends that these common traits, what we call truths, are knowable. Some religion relegates it to faith. I view faith as a request to wait for more concrete answers, and I interpret religion (Christianity and Islam) as allegory.

I have looked into the eyes of animals and I see a living being, fully sentient. Some animals are attentive, some are obedient, some are hungry. If you are not good with telepathy, then communication can be largely lost - most animals are very quick and do not stop long to discuss philosophy. I have looked at an orange tree in my own backyard in utter amazement. All animals are extremely patient and tolerant of the human species, in my view.

I you want to find one thing in common amongst healthy spirits, then look for a game. Dogs are great for games. Their favorites are: sniffing out who or what was where and when (aka, going for a walk); showing off predatory skills (chase the ball); and the all-American passtime, "Let's eat!"

Cats are a bit different. The spirit is there, but the demands of the body (the species) influence behaviors. Take a look at the human species: we spend almost all of our lives caring for the body, housing it, feeding it, clothing it, sleeping it, exercising it, mating it, and so forth. The reasons we as immortal spiritual beings hang onto bodies are many, but principally, to have a game.

Another common factor in life is the attainment of pleasure (and the avoidance of pain). The reason we are interested in philosophy, religion, and the truth about life, is to attain greater pleasure (and avoidance of further pain). We hope to accomplish this through understanding, which allows for greater control.

Molly Brogan said...

Interesting insights. When viewing the link, which is a discussion between the philosophers Foucault and Chomsky, Chomsky contends that we are born with innate abilities to assimilate and understand language and symbols, Foucault thinks that we are not, that all language ability is learned. I am not sure what this has to do with materialism, except that to think that our human nature is entirely learned from external stimuli might preclude our dependence on the material. However, I tend to agree with Chomsky, that we are born with innate abilities that are essential to our human nature, and to me this means that we become for the inside out.