• frank
    Nature vs potential: inversely proportional concepts? IOW, the more weight we give to nature, the less bulk we allow for potential?

    Example: if I see a person as genetically determined, then I see that person's potential as very limited.

    If I reject human nature entirely, then radical freedom in regard to potential ensues.

    The underlying issue is determinism, isnt it?
  • T Clark
    Nature vs potential: inversely proportional concepts? IOW, the more weight we give to nature, the less bulk we allow for potential?frank

    Let's say I go to the Toyota dealer and buy a new Corolla. Will the car fly? No. Is there anything I can do without making it into something other than a car that will allow it to fly? No. Flying is not in Corolla-nature. Is that determinism? Whatever flexibility there is in the Corolla's behavior is only within it's nature as a car.

    Same with people. There is flexibility in the kinds of things we can do, free will I guess, but only within our human-nature.
  • frank
    Are you saying that people are objects like cars?

    Is there not a little something special about humans and humanoid entities like cultures?

    What makes a human human?
  • T Clark
    Are you saying that people are objects like cars?frank

    We humans have characteristics that make us human. Those characteristics limit what we can do. What is Corolla-nature? Runs on wheels. Engine needs fuel. Four doors. Blu-tooth. ... What is human-nature? Operates in limited range of temperature. Needs food, air, and water. Has capacity for language. Has enhanced ability to recognize human faces and voices. Sociability. Aggressiveness....
  • frank
    You are expressing a hyper-materialistic view.

    Is it not a unique feature of the humanoid to have awareness of concepts like nature?
  • T Clark
    You are expressing a hyper-materialistic view.frank

    I wasn't thinking of it as materialistic or mechanistic. I just don't think we are empty boxes that can be filled with whatever we want to put in ourselves. There is such a thing as human nature - the characteristics, capacities that make us human. Seems to me those characteristics, if they are universal or near universal, must have strong genetic components.

    So, I think our potential is limited to within the ranges allowed by our natures. That doesn't seem like a very controversial idea. Seems like a pretty loose determinism if determinism at all.
  • frank
    There are a number of layers to it. I'd invite you to let go of any need to establish what's true or false about it, but just explore those layers instead.

    We can look at humanity as if we're examining a newly discovered species. We'd probably do some comparison and contrast; try to fit it into the family of life somewhere. Maybe we'd do a genetic analysis to make sure it isn't de novo (yes, I'm a Jessica Jones fan). In this scenario, we discover what is essential to the species by finding its place in an established arrangement.

    Compare this to looking at a human in heavily materialistic way (as in comparing a human to a car.) Now we aren't interested in an orderly arrangement of living things, we're interested in physics. As you mentioned, we look at the temperature necessary for the existence of the thing. We look at whether it has the ability to fly. Aptly, we're looking at Aristotelian material cause to discover the nature of the thing.

    As a side note, the difference I was reaching for in the previous post has to do with the purposelessness of a human. If we didn't know what cars were, we could investigate by looking at where we normally find them, and what activities they are normally involved in, and from that gain some insight into what they essentially are. With humans, this doesn't work. And that nonlinearly leads to the perspective of the existentialist:

    Recognize that we are the thing we're investigating. Pull the vantage point out of the clouds. Look out of your face at the here and now.

    I'd like to use this thread a little bit of a touchstone to explore how one might come to the conclusion that human nature is thing that's severely limited and it's human potential that's wide open.

    More later. :).
  • Bitter Crank
    Example: if I see a person as genetically determined, then I see that person's potential as very limited.frank

    A great deal of "humanness" is determined by our genetic inheritance, just as a great deal of "whaleness", "dogness", and "fruit flyness" is genetically determined.

    Our physical features are gene expressions. Our brain structure is a result of gene expression. In turn our brain structures, through the language specialization, allow for cultural transmission. Memory, perception, proprioception, physical boundedness, spatial/temporal management, bi-pedalness, opposable thumbs, etc. are all bound up in gene-directed brain structure and capacity.

    Personality traits are more susceptible to environmental influence than say vision or hearing, but as parents of several children know, babies are different at birth -- they have different personalities before we have had a chance to shape them.

    You think biological determinism limits people; sure enough. But biological determinism can set the bar of performance very high: geniuses, olympic athletes, people who do hard work their whole lives and live to be 95, and so forth -- as well as people who are biologically limited by a bar set very low. And IF one's genetic limitations include strong determination, people can overcome some limitations, just as fecklessness can spoil potentially high achievers.
  • Bitter Crank
    I'd like to use this thread a little bit of a touchstone to explore how one might come to the conclusion that human nature is thing that's severely limited and it's human potential that's wide open.frank

    Human potential can't be wide open if human nature is limited.

    Human nature is limited--maybe not limited enough (he said, sarcastically). For instance, we are capable of rearranging some physical features of the planet -- like the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. At first we didn't realize what we were doing. People didn't like the vast amount of smoke from all the coal being burnt in the Industrial Revolution, but they didn't realize the particulate matter dirtying Manchester and Pittsburgh was the least of it. Once we discovered that there were negative long-term consequences to all the coal and petroleum burning, and all the plastic we were throwing away, we ran into a human limitation: It is very difficult for humans to think in global, long-term ranges. In order to solve the problem of global warming which will be come critical in 30 to 80 years, (the end of the century at the outside) we have to change behaviors now.

    We have to change behavior now for a future (2101) that is a bit further out than we can effectively "grock". We can't respond to what we can not "grock". (Grock = something we understand and can respond to.) 2101 is just too far away.

    Trillions of plastic bits are in the oceans, some tiny, some as big as a car, are beyond coping. I have no feel for how many a trillion is, and there are many trillions. That plastics will never disappear is just not thinkable. The descendants of cockroaches that have degrees in science will discover the Antropocene formations of hardened sediment that are larded with plastic bits, still in the same molecular form that they were when we tossed them out the window.

    We can wield more technology today than yesterday, this century than the 12th century, this millennium than in the second millennium BC, this age than in the stone age, but we aren't much more forethoughtful now than we were 300,000 years ago.

    Wide open human potential? Pffft.
  • gurugeorge
    I think you're looking at it in a weird way, nature is potential, your genetics is your potential, but that doesn't mean your nature is "determined" by genetics, it just means there's an area you can wander freely around in but it does have limits - like a tether.

    For example, at a physical level there are limits like: you can't fly unaided, some things will kill you if you eat them, etc., a male can't make babies and a female can't impregnate a female so she can make babies; but you have a vast range of options within such boundaries where your choice reigns.

    At a mental and moral level: you might have limits on your ability to do maths, to play a musical instrument, attract a top drawer mate, earn zillions of dollars, etc., but you still have a vast range of options within such boundaries where your choice reigns.

    That said, yes, the only way to break those boundaries would be genetic engineering - but of course that's a pandora's box in two ways:

    1) taking the aleatory element away from breeding might specialize us too much (IOW, the good thing about the random element is that the species thereby has more possible keys for hitherto-unforeseen environmental locks, if we design ourselves, our designed selves will be in a narrow range, the "spread" won't be wide enough to catch the unforeseen in the future).

    2) Handing the design of our genetics over to computers for optimization would result in humans eventually becoming puppets of AI (IOW, the AI would incrementally design us more and more for its own ends, even if it started off designing us to our specifications).
  • Wayfarer
    It ought not to be forgotten that ‘the human potential movement’ has a spiritual side which goes back to the New Thought movements of the earlier 20th century. Wikipedia has this to say about it:

    The Human Potential Movement (HPM) arose out of the counterculture milieu of the 1960s and formed around the concept of cultivating extraordinary potential that its advocates believe to lie largely untapped in all people. The movement took as its premise the belief that through the development of "human potential", humans can experience an exceptional quality of life filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment. As a corollary, those who begin to unleash this assumed potential often find themselves directing their actions within society towards assisting others to release their potential. Adherents believe that the net effect of individuals cultivating their potential will bring about positive social change at large.

    Whereas, as Gloria Oricci said in her review of Steve Pinker's paean to scientism,

    Philosophers and humanists are interested in what has been called, in 20th-century continental philosophy, the human condition, that is, a sense of uneasiness that human beings may feel about their own existence and the reality that confronts them (as in the case of modernity with all its changes in the proximate environment of humans and corresponding changes in their modes of existence). Scientists are more interested in human nature. If they discover that human nature doesn’t exist and human beings are, like cells, merely parts of a bigger aggregate [ahem....dennett/dawkins....], to whose survival they contribute, and all they feel and think is just a matter of illusion (a sort of Matrix scenario), then, as far as science is concerned, that’s it, and science should go on investigating humans by considering this new fact about their nature.

    But to explore that, you have to have some understanding of the related ideas of peak experience and higher consciousness which are the bread-and-butter of the human potential movement. Also have a browse of the articles about notable proponents in the Wikipedia article.
  • frank
    Personality traits are more susceptible to environmental influence than say vision or hearing, but as parents of several children know, babies are different at birth -- they have different personalities before we have had a chance to shape them.Bitter Crank

    But back up for a second. What's obvious is the way culture shapes us in terms of roles and values. Culture is like a piano available to be played by the individual. Heidegger focuses on the way that a person is fundamentally free to play their own unique song on this communal instrument. It's making me chuckle because this insight is embedded in the American culture. It's Kierkegaard, sure, but its also K's contemporary Abraham Lincoln: you are not the role you're playing.

    What's more interesting to me is the question of how far down the freedom goes. To what extent is the world we see also a cultural construction?
  • Bitter Crank
    It's not a solo ballet, it's a waltz. Nature leads, culture follows (or you can have it culture leads and nature follows. Either way somebody is stepping on sensitive toes). Our common biological makeup is what makes it possible (and necessary) for culture to fill in the many niches and long stretches which biology couldn't anticipate.

    I'd put it that the piano is nature that culture can play with, but the piano only has so many keys to strike, won't sound like a violin no matter how you play it, and is capable of autonomous actions and reactions. "Pianos" have been known to strike back with considerable force. To twist the metaphor a little more, the piano always bats last (meaning, nature has the last word in the game).

    Still, essentialists, or nature firsters, can't ignore that "Heidegger's focus on the way that a person is [reasonably] free to play their own unique song on this communal instrument" is also correct. Most animals are individuals; even ants and bees, who don't have a lot of leeway, but display minor performance differences.

    I didn't quite follow: what is so embedded in American culture that it makes you chuckle and is totally missing from your own culture?
  • VagabondSpectre
    The underlying issue is determinism, isnt it?frank


    But broadly it's about the myriad of causes, be they biological, external, experiential, "natural", coercive, "unnatural", whatever, that underpin our existence, decisions, and behavior.

    It's not exactly cut and dried whether nature or nurture takes the causative cake. Environmental circumstances can cause developmental changes in an individual organism or in a species overtime, which can then lead to changes in environment, which can in turn lead to changes in biological development, both genetic (over generations) and epigenetic (in an individual). For example, taller people men seem to be inherently more respected in some way, which seems to build their confidence while leading to more opportunities being extended to them, things like getting into better schools or being offered promotions. Geneticists once mistook a gene heavily associated with height for the intelligence gene because it correlated so well with success in life, which we expected was decided by intelligence.

    At the same time, a very short man born into the right family or lucky enough to make the right discovery might be far more successful in the end with biology having very little to do with it.

    To boot, different types of people in theory do much better in environments which are suited to their strengths and weaknesses (a short person in a dense jungle, a tall person on the plains).

    I've recommended this lecture series here before, and it dives straight into the inquisitive thrust of this thread (the lecturer is a fairly renowned biologist):

  • frank
    Right. This is what's been on my mind, though: this professor is a product of his culture, or rather, he's an integral part of his culture. Through him, his culture sees what it wants to see, refuses to face what it doesn't want to face, and just ignores what it thinks of as unimportant.

    The story he's telling is only different from some medieval saga in its complexity. It's no less the song a culture sings to itself about the thing it truly worships: itself. Cultures come and go. The songs change.

    See what I mean?
  • VagabondSpectre

    Sometimes the songs become more accurate descriptions of reality though. They bring us insight, understanding, power, and affluence. Nothing is a complete picture with absolute resolution (except the universe itself), but some pictures are more resolved and more accurate than others, and boy that's something!

    If we manage to create general AI imagine what cultural songs they will sing to one another. To us it might seem like the sparring of celestial deities, incomprehensible and magnificent.

    So be it. Our songs are for us and Professor Spolsky sings a fine ditty, one that actually touches upon the issue of facing all factors. Perhaps it's not to your taste, but I guarantee its quality should you commit to watching the series!
  • frank
    Sometimes the songs become more accurate descriptions of reality though.VagabondSpectre

    I think that statement would have to come from a transcendent position. It's true our songs are for us. I'm reading about Heidegger these days. I see it opening up into a more far reaching, well, not skepticism, but just unknown. It's not that this unknown is ever-present in the mind, but it shows up when we look phenomenologically at what we are. We emerge from the unknowable.
  • wellwisher

    Human nature is based on genetics. While human potential builds upon our genetics via epigenetic changes. Genetics is fixed and defines our human nature. Epigenetic changes are secondary changes to the generics, which can impact genetic expression. The first is nature, while the second is connected to nurture.

    A good example is our physical body is defined by genetics. We may be naturally/genetically thin or heavy. The teen male might decide to use his willower to work out with weights if he is thin, or take up running if he is heavy. These activities induce epigenetic changes that mold the body into a new and improved shape. If they stop working out, the body reverts back to genetics. The body builder muscles lose tone and the runner legs get larger again. Epigenetic is not permanent.

    The same schema also works with the brain and mind. Some students have a natural genetic potential for math. Others like math but need to work at math, but can still achieve the same results. The first is genetic while the second is genetic plus epigenetic.

    Epigenetic changes cannot only be used for progressive changes to genetic expression. It can also be used to dumb down genetics; repression of instincts. The dumbing down creates unconscious potential, with the genetics trying to remove the epigenetic repression. In this case, higher human potential will require learning where the cultural epigenetic repressions are, so they can be changed back by the genetics.

    For example, say a group of radicals are trained to collectively hate someone. If this becomes an epigenetic change in the brain, the hate will become almost second nature, even though this is not natural. This is not natural to the brain or to genetics. Higher human potential will require they learn to get rid of this blockage, so the brain has more flexibility in terms of emotions.
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