• BrianW
    964
    We often say things like, "humans are not a monogamous species,"; or "it's a dog eat dog world,"; or "we're animals,"; or "we can't change who we are,"; or "we are what we think,"; or "we are what we feel," etc, etc.

    Is it about unrestrained emotions, strict adherence to reason or inclination to intuition? Are we animals based on our physical relations or beings of reason based on the intellect? Or, if we are an amalgamation of many distinct factors, which are the distinctive fundamental conditioning influences?

    What is human nature?
  • Bitter Crank
    8.6k
    We are animals, unequivocally. It doesn't matter how well we reason, how well we do or do not control our emotions -- we are part of the animal kingdom. Our behavior accords with our genetic makeup and the manner in which we are nurtured from conception -- just like other animals are.

    While it is true that we can reason, it is true that we can gain self-understanding (not that we always do, but we can to some extent), while it is true that we can control our emotions (sometimes, at least) it is not true that we can be anything we want to be, that we can feel however we wish, that we can reason at any level of complexity we want, and so forth.

    As a species we are limited by our genetic inheritance and potential. We experience our genetic inheritance and potential on a very personal level. Individually we are unique (within limits) and we do not have control over how we become who we are (because by the time we can take control of our own development, the concrete is already pretty well set).

    Because we are conscious beings, we can be very aware of the wide -- maybe unbridgeable -- gap between what we wish we were, and what we are. This leaves us quite frustrated a good share of the time.

    Some of us would like to think that we have no innate 'nature'. They think we are products of our nurture and our ideas. Some people go so far as to think our 'minds' are not even located in our physical bodies. Others of us are banking on our having at least a large measure of genetically directed or influenced behavior. Our behavior is somewhere on the continuum of animal behavior.

    All of this gives a human being plenty of wiggle room -- something a sensitive human needs when trying to explain his nature.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.6k
    We often say things like, "humans are not a monogamous species"BrianW

    I grew up hearing that this or that species of bird were monogamous for life. Usually said bird was held up as an example of virtue to be emulated. Later in life I learned that monogamous birds cheat fairly often IF the opportunity presents itself. Many male and female birds engage in this sort of thing every now and then.

    Why should we be more virtuous than birds? Just because some bird is so discrete when playing the field that ornithologists don't notice, I should never have a memorable affair?
  • BrianW
    964
    While it is true that we can reason, it is true that we can gain self-understanding (not that we always do, but we can to some extent), while it is true that we can control our emotions (sometimes, at least) it is not true that we can be anything we want to be, that we can feel however we wish, that we can reason at any level of complexity we want, and so forth.Bitter Crank

    I get how people may have limitations but, in general, can't we really discipline ourselves to alter our emotional or personality traits or awareness/response mechanism, for example, with the appropriate impetus like how some people change when they join the army or face near-death experiences, etc. (I know sometimes it's a result of trauma but it's still change, right?) There are some (exceedingly few) who do it on purpose (I'm thinking people who choose to follow certain spiritual paths).

    Individually we are unique (within limits) and we do not have control over how we become who we are (because by the time we can take control of our own development, the concrete is already pretty well set).Bitter Crank

    Ok, I think I get you. Basically, ideally, we would like to think that we can accomplish anything but it's usually within certain range of limits. So, even those who've changed can only alter the part that was changeable, right?

    Perhaps, another question I should have asked is, "how polarised is human nature?" For example, do the dimensions of good/bad, moral/immoral, play a part in human nature or are these factors we use to develop control measures for our activities and interactions?
  • BrianW
    964


    As to monogamy, I don't think genetic propagation accounts for any ethical guidelines we may have formulated after evolution had already determined what and how our sexual activities will be. Also, I think having power of choice capable of overriding the sexual drive (unlike animals) is a factor which prevents either mono/poly-gamy from being the default state.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.6k
    People who "join the army" or "follow certain spiritual paths" are "different" before they even make that choice. Somebody who is tone deaf doesn't decide to become a musician; someone who is hostile towards authority will join neither the army nor the monastery. The path we "choose to take" is often laid out for us (in terms of compatibility, preference, ability, etc.) before we even step out the door.

    Don't take the paragraph above as hard-core determinism. We can make some choices; we can adapt to situations we don't especially like (sometimes, anyway). Lots of people have led lives they might rather not live twice; they put up with what was given them, but they would rather have done something else.

    how polarised is human nature?" For example, do the dimensions of good/bad, moral/immoral, play a part in human natureBrianW

    Animal behavior -- squirrels', lions', chickens'... and ours can be depicted on a scattergram better than a a linear line with extremes on both ends. Animal behavior generally don't fit into polarized frameworks.

    We (humans) just naturally turn to polarized models because they simplify things. Scattergrams may be more accurate representations of how we behave, but they are harder to interpret than "good/bad", "smart/stupid", "angelic/devilish" and so on. Black and white depictions are just so much easier to use -- they get rid of all that annoying detail and subtlety.

    Sexual behavior is a good example of the scattergram vs. linear line. It would be much simpler if everyone was either 100% gay or 100% straight; 100% monogamous, or 100% promiscuous. That's not the way we are. All but a small percentage of us are a little gay and mostly straight, or mostly gay and a little straight, with all shades in between represented. If you chart the results of a battery of aptitude and skills testing for even 1 person, the scores will be all over the place. One gets strong patterns only after you've charted the results for maybe 5,000 people.

    The same thing is true for just about any animal behavior you might care to measure. "Birds fly south for the winter." Simple. The actual performance of individual birds and individual bird species varies quite a bit. Some have higher rates of death than others; some birds successfully mate in the south, others don't. Some birds lose their mate along the way, others don't. Some birds get lost along the way. Others make it to exactly the right spot. Sometimes birds are blown off course by storms, and end up in backyards where people are very surprised to see them.
  • Tzeentch
    633
    It is my personal view that humans are essentially dualist, or perhaps trialist in nature. Dualist in the sense that the division lies between the reptilian brain and the mammalian brain. The selfish and the selfless. The shadow and the ego. The unconscious and the conscious.

    It could also be defined as a triad. For example, MacLean's concept of the triune brain, dividing the brain in the reptilian complex (aggression, territoriality), the paleomammalian complex (social behavior) and the neomammalian complex (language, reason). Plato's tripartite of the soul; ἐπιθυμητικόν (desire), θυμοειδές (emotion) and λογιστικόν (reason). Freud's id, ego and superego.

    I think I like the triad the best, since it specifically names that part of human nature which is linked to understanding, which I think is the quintessential quality of man.
  • TheMadFool
    5.3k


    If one studies humanity it may be possible to find general truths about us - our values, hopes, desires, thinking, fears, behavior or other categories that apply. Wouldn't general facts like these constitute human nature?

    I read somewhere that the concept of human nature is meaningless or the like.

    One way the above accusation can be true is that human nature is too broad a concept. It literally includes everything about humans and we may fail to see clear and present distinctions that could prove to be useful knowledge.

    It's like the concept of God. God explains everything in one sweep but being only religious and nothing else would keep us from the knowledge that, for example, lightning is electricity. I think some phrase it as ''a theory that explains everything explains nothing at all''.
  • Nils Loc
    557
    What is human nature?BrianW

    One quote I like (as we've all encountered it) is by Protagoras (490-420 BC):

    "Man is the measure of all things: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not."

    Our species name, Homo sapiens, given by Carl Linneus is latin for "wise man", which given the precarity of our future might turn out to be a crude irony. Investigating alternatives of the specific epithet (ie. sapiens) will give us an idea of what characterizes the nature of the species in a single word. There is a great list in the Wikipedia: Names for the human species.

    Ants and bees build cities/collectives with castes (preordained classes).
    Apes and other social mammals have their politics (competitive hierarchies of social organization).
    There is likely a rudimentary communication which prefigures symbolic language in a lot of social animals.
    Some birds engage in inherited arts (dance, plumage, collection and artifice) for the sake of appealing to the opposite sex.

    The consequences of applied technology is probably the greatest visible mark of the human animal. It dwarfs us and will be around long after we are gone. As a species we transform environments in the most extreme ways.

    To close the broad field of inquiry about what is "human nature", which includes what any artifice could possibly unveil about our species, we can imagine the alternative names of Homo sapiens.

    Homo avarus
    Homo demens
    Homo economicus
    Homo faber
    Homo hypocritus
    Homo laborans
    Homo mendax
    Pan narrans
    Homo sanguinus
    Homo technilogicus

    Each name could be the title of an essay describing that aspect of human nature. So what is the corresponding canon (library) worth reading by which Homo philosophicus might discover something about himself worth discovering?
  • Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k
    So what is the corresponding cannon (library) worth reading by which Homo philosophicus might discover something about himself worth discovering?Nils Loc

    Anything by Kurt Vonnegut.
  • Joshs
    740
    You should mention (oops, you did)how many of those descriptions have had to be crossed off over the years the more we understand about the abilities of other animals. Tool users? Social communicators? Creators of cultures which are handed down? Conscious? Self-Conscious? Capable of mourning, empathy, moral thought, reason and calculation? All these traits were at one time thought to be uniquely human, but are now recognized as shared by our fellow creatures.
    It may be best to abandon the attempt to distinguish humanity from other animals as a difference in kind, a qualitative 'nature'. It is coming to seem that where humanity departs from animality is more a difference of degree than kind.
  • Jake
    1.4k
    What is human nature?BrianW

    The illusion of division generated by thought, and all that flows from that illusion.
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