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my essay





Dustylunchbox
nobody probably cares about this i had to do it for uni but hey maybe it should be on the net for someone to use its w waste just having it sitting a folder so her is :


“Does human culture separate human beings from all other animals to such a degree that evolutionary biology is not the science of human nature?”


In this essay I argue that evolutionary biology should not be used as a science of human nature because of the great differences in the way animals and humans think and learn. I have chosen to compare humans with chimpanzees rather than animals in general because of the genetic similarity.
Evolutionary biology uses the evolution of animals as a study of human nature. It seems people need these explanations; as de Melo-Martin (2002) states “biological explanations seem to have wondrous appeal for human beings”. I think that perhaps people like to explain things through evolutionary biology because people prefer to have a scientific explanation.
My first point why human nature should not be explained through evolutionary biology is that, although there is only a very small genetic difference between human beings and chimpanzees, there is a very big difference in mental capacity and behaviour. Evolutionary biology, which is based on genes as science of human nature should therefore not be used.
Another reason to reject evolutionary biology is that the time in which we would have had to evolve to change so much to where we are now, would have been too short for any great genetic evolution. Instead a small genetic change gave humans the capacity for culture. It was the cultural development that made a big difference; “a small genetic event that produced a cascade of changes to the human mind.” (Browne, 2005). Somewhere between two million and two hundred thousand years ago a small genetic change occurred in one of the homo populations. As a result the group with the genetic change developed different cognitive skills, which allowed them to start working together and to live in a different way in the Pleistocene environment. This group then spread around the world and is now known as Homo sapiens.
“ The basic fact is human beings are able to pool their cognitive resources in ways that animal species are not”(Tomasello, M (1999). Other animals don’t have the same cognitive skills as humans because animals such as chimpanzees use emulative learning, where the learner sees other organisms of their species as no particular demonstrator and sees nature as just as good a teacher. In contrast humans use imitative learning where the learner sees demonstrators as “intentional agents” (Tomasello (1999) who know about the world around them and have knowledge that can be learnt from. This learning style enabled Homo sapiens to learn a language and then through language describe and reason.
As a result Homo sapiens developed a cumulative culture where knowledge, inventions or ideas are built on historically. I like the example given by Bateson (2001):
“ If you were on a picnic with a bottle of wine but no corkscrew, one of you companions might use a strong stick to push the cork into the bottle. If you had never seen this done before, you might be impressed by the selection of a rigid tool small enough to fit inside the neck of the bottle. The tool would be an adaptation of a kind”
If you were to be in the situation again of having no corkscrew, it is quite likely you would imitate what you learnt from your companion to open the wine bottle. This is an example of human cognition; of how we pass on inventions and ideas, sometimes modifying these inventions or ideas before we pass them onto the next generation, where they may also be modified or just used then also passed on. In a cumulative culture a child receives something like the collective wisdom of the entire society built on throughout history. For example a child who wants a particular toy will learn from others to ignore its biological instinct and instead of grabbing the toy will learn to ask for it. This ensures that the children learn to work together in future.
Some might argue that animals also have some social organization and some tools (McGrew, 1998 in Tomasello, 1999). However human beings are unique because they developed specific complex tools, used symbols which led to language, mathematics and art; they also had new social practices and organizations leading to such things as governments and religious and educational institutions. (Tomasello, 1999) The difference between animal and human culture is the ability of human beings to build up knowledge and adapt the knowledge that they already have.As a last point I argue that from an evolutionary point of view our minds have not caught up with the complexity of our society; our mental capability has not changed since the Pleistocene environment. Our behaviour has adapted to a highly complex society through history and culture. (Kitcher, 1994) Evolutionary biology again cannot explain the rapid change in our behaviour.
Again it could be argued that we are not solely made up of culture. “Human nature is a product of both biological evolution and cultural evolution” (Browne, 2005). We are who we are also because of the instincts and genetic tools we have inherited. For example, I have been told by my parents that I use some typical gestures that my grandfather used even though I grew up on the other side of the world and had not met my grandfather then. But I think that this is too simplistic. However, human beings are very complex. While some basic behaviours can be explained through evolutionary biology, in my view a large part of our behaviour is influenced by our environment and society.
We are also unaware exactly what animals are experiencing; how they think or feel about certain things. “It is difficult to have useful intuitions about these kind of equivalences in animals living in different perceptual worlds from ourselves” (Patrick Bateson, 1981). What animals think or feel could well be very different to what we are feeling in similar situations. Again in my view evolutionary biology is an attempt to simplify something that could be much more complex.

In conclusion I have argued that the human cognitive skills that give human beings cumulative culture separate humans too much from animals for evolutionary biology still to be used as a science of human nature. Even though it may appeal, human cumulative culture is too complex to be explained by evolutionary biology.

by Joris de Vocht - Dustylunchbox
Bibliograph y:
Bateson, Patrick (2001), Design, Development and Decisions.
Bateson, Patrick (1981), Sociobiology and Genetic Determinism.
Browne. Dereck (2005), lecture slides.
de Melo-Martin, inmaculada (2002), Biological Explanations and Social Responsibility.
Kitcher, p.(1994. In Sober, E. (Ed.):Conceptual Issues in Evolutioanry Biology.
Tomasello, Michael (1999), The Human Adaptation for Culture.
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