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Culture and Society

Cultures, especially modern ones, change rapidly in a few decades; the human genome hardly changes in thousands of years

Post by on Saturday, August 28, 2021

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Etymologically, ‘culture’ is related to ‘cultivate,’ while ‘nurture’ is related to ‘nurse’ and ‘nourish,’ with overtones of rearing and training. Cultural education requires intentionality; that is intent to change the behavior of another actor, and this is widespread in the animal world. Another type of intent is to change the mind (and usually also the behavior) of another animal; this seems absent among animals (or almost so). 
 
Although animals are variously socialized, they are not in this sense nurtured. Without some concept of teaching, of ideas moving from mind to mind, from parent to child, from teacher to pupil, a cumulative transmissible culture is impossible. Though language comes naturally to humans, what is learned has been culturally transmitted, using a specific language; the content learned during childhood education is that of an acquired, non- genetic culture. 
 
Religious persons detect a super nature immanent in or transcendent to nature, perhaps even more in human culture. They find that neither nature nor culture is self-explanatory; both point to deeper forces, to a divine presence. In contemporary biological and human sciences (anthropology, psychology, sociology), as well as in philosophy, there is much effort to naturalize culture, with equal amounts of resistance to such reduction (if that is what it is). 
 
Sociobiologists hold that genetic constraints are the principal determinants of culture; only those people and cultures survive that can place genes in the next generation. Evolutionary psychologists discover that humans have an “adapted mind,” a modular mind with multiple survival subroutines more or less instinctive. Philosophical pragmatists may agree that the mind is mostly a survival tool, even in its cultural education. 
 
Culture remains a major determinant, nevertheless. Information in nature travels intergenerationally on genes; information in culture travels neurally as persons are educated into transmissible cultures. The determinants of animal and plant behavior are never anthropological, political, economic, technological, scientific, philosophical, ethical, or religious. Animal imprinting and limited transmitting of acquired information notwithstanding, humans gain a deliberated modification of nature that separates humans in their cultures from nature, increasingly so in high-technology cultures. Since decoding the human genome, completed in 2001, people stand at the threshold of rebuilding even their own genetic nature. 
 
Humans have a dual inheritance system, nature and nurture. The intellectual and social heritage of past generations, lived out in the present, reformed and transmitted to the next generation, is regularly decisive. Cultures, especially modern ones, change rapidly in a few decades; the human genome hardly changes in thousands of years. Slow-paced genes are difficult to couple with fast- paced cultures. 
 
A relatively pliable, educable mind is as great an adaptive advantage as is a mind with instinctive routines. The mind is so complex that the number of neurons and their possible connections (with resulting myriads of cultural options) far exceeds the number of genes coding the neural system; so it is impossible for the genes to specify all these connections. Human genes have generated an organism whose behavior results from an education beyond direct genetic control. 
 
As more knowledge is loaded into the tradition (fire building, agriculture, writing, weaponry, industrial processes, ethical codes, electronic technology, legal history) the genome selected will be one maximally instructible by the increasingly knowledgeable tradition. This will require a flexible intellect, able to accommodate continual learning speedily; adopting behaviors that are functional in whatever cultures humans find themselves. This is consistent with the unusually long period of child rearing in nuclear families with unusually large-brained babies, found in human evolutionary history and uncharacteristic of any other species. 
 
Culture remains tethered to the bio system, and the options within built environments, however expanded, provide no release from nature. Ecology always lies in the background of culture; no nurture is adequate that forgets these connections. Perhaps cultural nurturing reinforces natural genetic dispositions for some practices, but not for others (learning nuclear physics). 
 
Whether adults have enzymes for digesting fresh milk will determine their pastoral practices. Humans are only part of the world in biological, evolutionary, and ecological senses—their nature; but Homo sapiensis the only part of the world free to orient itself with a view of the whole, to seek wisdom about who they are and where they are, and to develop their lives on Earth by means of culture. Such cumulative, ongoing nurture determines outcomes in the uniquely historical behavior of humans, making the critical difference, while human universals, biological, psychological, or social, which are a legacy of nature, have limited explanatory power. 
 
(Author is Pursuing PG in Education. He can be mailed at: rayesbt326@gmail.com)