“Let us then suppose the Mind to be, as we say, tabula rasa, void of all Characters, without any ideas; How comes it to be furnished? … To this I answer, in one word, from Experience: in that, all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.” John Locke, 1690.

John Locke was a major figure in the Enlightenment and in philosophy as a result of his “Essay on Human Understanding,” in which he, among other concepts, rejected the doctrine of innate ideas and asserted that the mind of a new born is blank and that whatever furnishes its mind comes from experience; that is, through events and happenings experienced by it through the five senses. Locke’s assertion was in conflict with his predecessor Rene Descartes, French philosopher, who believed that “by divine power the mind can exist without the body, and the body without the mind.” That is, the mind is dual and innately there resides in it a soul separate from the body, a Ghost in the Machine or an eternal soul. Both Locke and Descartes were wrong.

From what I have learned reading Edward O. Wilson’s “Consilience” and Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” is that consciousness and conscience have evolved psychologically in the same manner that the body has evolved physiologically and for the same purpose that intellect has by natural selection evolved: the perpetuation of the species; that is, they are of the same origin as the body and for the same reason and when the body dies they die. If that part of the brain in which conscience and consciousness or soul resides is excised, it is destroyed even though the body may continue to live. So Descartes, if Wilson and Pinker are right, was wrong.

Locke had this to say about children: The child’s mind is like a piece of putty; it is impelled only by innate desire for pleasure and aversion to pain; parents and teachers can mould habits as they will. Locke’s view is in accord with the Biblical view that to spare the rod is to spoil the child and also in accord with the view that as the twig is bent so the tree shall grow.

Eric Turkheimer has proclaimed that the debate over nature-nurture is over and he announces the three laws of behavioral genetics that have evolved after four decades of studies in several countries: (1) All human behavioral traits are heritable. (2) The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes. (3) A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

Pinker: “’All traits are heritable’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Concrete behavioral traits that patently depend on content provided by the home or culture are, of course, not heritable at all: which language you speak, which religion you worship in, which political party you belong to. But behavioral traits that reflect the underlying talents and temperaments are heritable, and so are the five major ways which personality can vary: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion-introversion, antagonism-agreeableness, and neuroticism. And traits that are surprisingly specific turn out to be heritable, too, such as dependence on nicotine or alcohol, number of hours of television watched, and likelihood of divorcing.”

Pinker: “A handy summary of the three laws is this: Genes 50 percent, Shared Environment 0 percent, Unique Environment 50 percent.” Pinker adds: “A simple way of remembering what we are trying to explain is this: identical twins are 50 percent similar whether they grow up together or apart. Keep this in mind and watch what happens to your favorite ideas about the effects of upbringing in childhood.” That is, a half of what identical twins are is the same whether they were brought up in the same household or are separated at birth and one grew up in Afghanistan and the other grew up in Montana. Thus half of what one becomes happens at conception when the genes of the parents create the new person.

Of course, the summary is not exact but is an educated and studied estimate. And certainly, even if the parental effect on what the child becomes, aside from the genes contributed by the parents, is zero, parents should not think that it doesn’t matter how they treat a child. They should treat a child with the respect, concern and care that they treat any other human. If for no other reason a parent should treat a child humanely so that the child will treat the parent humanely. And the parents’ life often influences crucially the child’s Unique Environment.

In support of Turkheimer and Pinker I turn to Wilson in his book “On Human Nature,” specifically to the hypothesis authored by Robin Fox, an anthropologist and pioneer in sociobiology: Suppose, Fox conjectured, that children were reared by remote control, in total isolation from their elders. Would the children learn to speak to one another? Fox’s answer is: “I do not doubt that they could speak and that, theoretically, given time, they or their offspring would invent and develop a language despite their never having been taught one. … But I would push this further. If our new Adam and Eve could survive and breed—still in total isolation from any cultural influence—then eventually they would produce a society which would have laws about property, rules about incest and marriage, customs of taboo and avoidance, methods of settling disputes with minimum of bloodshed, beliefs about the supernatural and practices relating to it, a system of social status and methods of indicating it, initiation ceremonies for young men, courtship practices including the adornment of females, systems of symbolic body adornment generally, certain activities and associations set aside for men from which women were excluded, gambling of some kind, tool-and-weapon-making industry, myths and legend, dancing, adultery, and various doses of homicide, suicide, homosexuality, schizophrenia, psychosis, and neuroses, and various practitioners to take advantage of or cure these, depending on how they are viewed.”

Over billions of years of evolution the history of life has been recorded in the genes of every species, including man. What man has done in response to his environment that was right is recorded because what was right tended to perpetuate his species. Every cell of the human body has within it the Record. Man, in isolation, would be impelled and guided by that Record and would produce essentially the same culture in which he now resides and rules. Half of what man becomes is a reflection of the Record, which is rerecorded at every human conception and which is a core of stability and predictability that anchors his and all life on the planet.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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