Evolution, biology and environment

 

There is a shared view among all human sciences:

Our biology makes everything we know possible: metabolism, walking, digesting, feeling, thinking, anger, joy, sadness, culture, technology, imagination, creativity, compassion, ethics, a sense of meaning, and anything that is part of our individual and collective lives.

Some of it is shared among all Earth life. Much of it is shared among all animals. A great deal of shared among all mammals. Even more is shared among all humans. And some is differently emphasized among humans.

Throughout a long history of evolution, we have evolved all of what we know from our own life. We have evolved a wide menu of possible ways of relating to ourselves and the world, which gives us great flexibility. And we each come with our own tendencies, vulnerabilities, and strengths.

Biology and environment is so tightly interwoven and intertwined it is often difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. Even when it comes to our individual differences, biology gives us the potentials and our environment draws it out and shapes it.

The beauty of this perspective is that natural and social sciences go hand in hand. The existing insights of each often fit very well within this overall framework, sometimes with some slight modifications.

And there is also a great deal of room for wisdom and kindness here.

Knowing that we each have our vulnerabilities and strengths, we can find acceptance and compassion for ourselves and others. A situation that I may be able to deal well with, is exactly what triggers depression in someone else, and the other way around when it comes to other vulnerabilities.

Knowing that an illness is greatly heritable, we can change the environment to prevent it from developing.

Knowing that we all come equipped with an evolved hunger for food and sex, we can find acceptance for ourselves and others, and also use strategies to prevent suffering and make healthy use of it.

Knowing all Earth life is related, we can experience a deep sense of belonging to life and the Earth.

Knowing that  everything we experience and know is made possible through evolution and biology, we can find a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the process and all our ancestors, most of whom were not human.

It is a beautiful framework, and one that greatly enhances and enriches any existing approach and perspective. It doesn’t take away from anything, not even religion, and especially not the social sciences.

The evolutionary perspective certainly deserves a great deal more – and better informed – attention in the media than it is currently receiving.

Which is why I am somewhat dismayed by the new TV series on this topic on the Norwegian TV station NRK.

The host, Harald Eia, is taking the tired “create as much drama as possible” approach, pitting extremes against each other, and in particular pitting biology against environment in a way I thought we had left behind us several decades ago.

He is missing out on a great opportunity to explore a fascinating, juicy, and important topic in a meaningful and nuanced way.

And by choosing to interview the most dogmatic and uninformed social scientists for the program, he creates the impression that all social scientists ignore biology and evolutionary psychology.

Reading the reader’s comments to articles in Norwegian news on this topic, it seems that his approach is also fueling contempt against social scientists in general. He sets it up so it is easy for the general public to generalize from the worst examples.

It is all very unfortunate.

The upside is that the topic does draw attention and generate a good deal of public discussion, which does give others an opportunity to clarify and present more informed and nuanced views.

Dag Hessen’s essay in Dagbladet today is one example.

Note: Reading the essay, I am reminded that there is a historical reason why there is still some evolution-hesitancy in some corners. Evolutionary and biological perspectives have been used, by some, in a quite cynical way. But an evolutionary and biological perspective is a tool as anything else, and it all depends on how we use it. We are free to use it with wisdom and compassion, bringing with us all our best values and intentions from whatever other – often more humanistic – perspectives we are familiar with.

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  • eia
    • common view
      • biology makes it all possible + sets constraints
      • environment draws out some of the potentials created through evolution and biology
    • can be a very interesting exploration
    • but may also be….
      • outdated, trying to set biology and environment up against each other
      • give people a bad impression of social scientists
      • miss a great opportunity

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And our environment draws out some of the potentials created through evolution and biology.

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