The Scientific Study Of Human Nature On What It Means To Be Human
To start with this paper, I want to start by saying that my answer to this question is that the scientific study can give us important information about what it means to be human but there is still more missing. To achieve my purpose, I will start by defining some important keywords, limitations in the field of science, important scientific contributions and why I think science hasn’t completely answered all that it means to be human. I would like to start by addressing the important keywords for this paper. What is science? This is a tool that helps us understand the world around us, scientists usually have to go through a system based on observation and experiments. There are different fields of science, which I will talk about later. After this, there is a more difficult question which is what does it mean to be human? The answer to this question is very personal because it depends on who you ask. For me, someone who is labeled as a “human” is part of the Homo Sapiens Sapiens species and feels emotions either good or bad, has certain likes or dislikes, a capability of rationalizing and thus creating new things, compared to animals who may have the first characteristics but are not able to rationalize.
Also, we have to define what we mean by “human nature”. Nature is a type of behavior you expect from all species, they don’t all act the same way. For example, dogs like to fetch objects because their nature is to be hunters, they have done it before but cows are not able to fetch for the simple reason that they have never done it before. For mammals, it is natural to have a culture and to be socialized. That’s why it would be unnatural for a human to not have a community, we have been forming communities since the beginning of times.
Moving on, a very important aspect of science is that it has its limitations and that’s the reason why people say that it can’t tell us what it means to be human. The first limitation is that science doesn’t give us a moral judgment, someone who talks about this is philosopher David Hume, he said that “you can’t get an ought from an is”. This means that facts can’t tell us what we are supposed to do, but that shouldn’t be a problem because science gives us enough information to determine that answer for ourselves. For example, science can’t tell us if abortion is moral but taking into consideration the fact that you are killing a living creature, then it should be an immoral act. We can determine morality by what is better for an individual or a community based on what will make the human race progress and not harm others, the problem is that people make exceptions. Sometimes they know that killing, racial discrimination, and other things aren’t moral, but they still try to make up excuses to defend themselves. In reality, morality is always going to be a subjective topic, but it is usually influenced by people’s environment and there is a science that studies how the environment contributes to behavior, so we can usually determine someone’s morality by their environment.
Another limitation is that science can’t tell us if something is pretty, ugly or bad. We are the ones that make our decision and just as I said before, it is usually determined by aspects such as culture or the environment that can be studied. A good example of this is are the members of the Kayan tribe, they wear rings around their necks since they are 5 years old to elongate their necks because long necks are a sign of beauty. This is what they have seen all of their lives and that’s why they find it pretty, but for someone is not used to that then maybe they won’t agree.
This is an easy limitation to explain, science can help us understand a lot of things, but it won’t tell us where or how to apply that knowledge. Humans can create and imagine, so this shouldn’t be a problem because based on their IQ levels and other factors, they will be able to create something new. The last limitation is that it won’t give us an explanation about the supernatural deities, meaning that it won’t tell us if Jesus exists because it isn’t tangible or measurable but there is evidence that suggests why we choose to believe in something. Someone who explained that this was Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, believed that religion was a coping mechanism that had a father-like figure and leads to the feeling of fulfillment. Research has confirmed this. In a study done in 2013, two hundred and twenty-three Latino students from the working class used different kinds of coping strategies to deal with stress and they concluded that most of them used religion (Arbor, 2013).
The first scientific approach is through quantitative behavioral genetics, this helps you understand behavior through the study of genetics and the environment. An important experiment to understand genetics was done with the Minnesota Twins (Bouchard in 1990) which were two identical twins that were raised together and the other two who were raised apart. They concluded that 70% of intelligence is due to genetic inheritance. One experiment that has to with the environment is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which talks about natural selection explains that the strongest species is the one who is going to survive the drastic environmental change.
The second scientific approach is a subdivision of genetics it is called molecular genetics. It studies gene mutations or sometimes those mutations are induced to study this sequence and related to a phenotype (behavior). Barbara Bowers, Ph.D., is examining the effects of a protein called kinase C in a cell. She hypothesizes that this lacking gene affects serotonin receptors (Benson, 2004). Serotonin is a chemical in our body that is responsible for our emotions and motivation.
The next study is neurophysiology which studies the nervous system functioning. It uses tests such as electroencephalography which studies the electrical signals that have to do with sleep and neurological disorders such as epilepsy, dementia, and others. The last study is anatomy which is the study of human structure. Some of the things anatomy is how certain parts of the brain can result in behavior. For example, the hypothalamus regulates hunger and sexual behavior and the cerebral cortex in charged if creating thoughts. Now that we know of all of the scientific approaches to human behavior, it is important to know the great discoveries science has made to prove the basic aspects of humanity. We should start by explaining the most important scientific contributions. Science can tell give us insight into the behavior of someone. For example, with the use of brain scans, they discovered that psychopaths act in a certain way because their brain is structured differently. They have a reduced connection between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain that deals with empathy and guilt, and the amygdala is connected to fear and anxiety.
Since the beginning of time, human nature has always been a debatable topic. Philosopher Mencius and Rosseau believed that human nature was good, but society turned us evil. On the other hand, Xunzi and Hobbes thought that human nature was bad but we can be good by artificial means especially by having self-control. Thanks to science we can determine this. Research done by Yale University shows that babies are not born with a blank slate which people believed in before and indeed have a sense of morality. To study this, kids were shown a short play with a subject who was trying to climb a hill, two scenarios occurred. In the first one, someone was trying to help the climber and another subject trying to prevent that from happening. Kids preferred the figure who was helping, meaning that we do have an instinct of doing the right thing. We also have an example of grown-ups, scientists decided to layout seventeen thousand “lost” wallets in 40 different countries. Surprisingly, most people returned them and 72% of those who were returned had large sums of money. The only problem with this is that our first instinct is to act selflessly.
Another thing people claim is that science can’t explain why we have a preference for certain colors but it can. Color preference is based on the association of those colors with good things such as blue skies or bad things such as feces. If the color preference has to do with objects, then it will depend on the feedback you get about the object and how it looks with that certain color (Field, 2011).
An important aspect of human nature is love. Even though this isn’t tangible, science has given us enough information about this. For example, we know that love activates the ventral tegmental area which is responsible for releasing dopamine. This has to do with reward, punishment, addiction, and others. Another important aspect of love is that it decreases serotonin levels. Also, when people are in love they have less activity in their prefrontal cortex which plays a huge role in attention, emotion and decision making and the amygdala which has to do with the process of fear. Before investigating this topic, I was a firm believer that science could explain most things except love but in reality, it can. There was a study done in 2011 by the Stone Brook University where a couple who had been together for 21 years had to go through some brain scans. They concluded that romance can remain the same because they had the same amount of dopamine that couples who were just married. Even though, science can’t tell us how much we love; this is all we need to understand human nature.
Even though I believe that science has proven many things like the ones stated above, I still think that it has to investigate more. For example, some people claim that science can tell us why there are people who prefer art while others prefer math or other subjects, or why are some people more artistic. The answer to this is supposed to be easy, it all has to do with the development of our brain. When the left brain is much more developed, then we are prone to have logical thinking, meaning an interest in math and other quantitative subjects. Also, the left hemisphere of the brain is said to be responsible for logical thinking, meaning reading and solving math equations. But when people’s right hemisphere is more developed then they are more creative and focused on art (Lombrozo, 2013). Science tested this idea with Roger Sperry’s experiment called The Split Brain Experiment where he used the corpus callosum which is used to treat patients with epilepsy and concluded that the hemispheres in our brain didn’t work in the same way, the left side was responsible for reading.
The problem with this experiment is that it happened in 1959-1968 and now a more recent brain scan done by the University of Utah in 2013 has concluded that there isn’t a major difference between both sides of the brain, the activity is similar on both sides (Nielsen, 2013). Sperry’s experiment was supposed to tell us a lot about our personality and why people excel at different things but if we don’t have enough evidence then we will never know, especially because a more recent study came out with a different conclusion. This is one of the reasons why I believe science has to investigate more.
Something that intrigues me a lot is the concept of free will. Benjamin Libet conducted an experiment where people were hooked up to a brain scanner and were told that they could flex their wrists whenever they wanted to. They were given a special clock to record the time they decided to flex their wrists. He found out that 0.15 seconds before being able to flex their muscles, their brain activity started increasing. Libet concluded that our brain first makes an unconscious decision which is followed by a conscious act and thus free will is just an illusion of our brain reporting what is already going to happen instead of an action produced by us. But there was a problem with this experiment, there was a small-time difference which could present an error. Another thing that I have noticed is that he conducted another experiment where he told his participants to resist the urge of flexing their finger or wrist. He found out that at the beginning there was some brain activity but then it stopped. Meaning that we do have the option of stopping action, this is was he labels as “free won’t”.
There has even been a more recent experiment called “The 7-10 Second Experiment”, this was conducted by John Dylan who is a neuroscientist. He used an fMRI to observe and test the brain regions of 14 participants. This time they were told to press a left or right button at their own pace but just like with the previous experiment, they had to record the time in which they decided to make a decision. They concluded that the choice between left or right first occurred in the frontopolar cortex which is located behind the forehead and this happened 10 seconds before they made their conscious decision. The problem with both experiments is that they are not 100% accurate, the last experiment only had a 60% accuracy (Razzetti, Unknown).
In conclusion, technology keeps evolving and so will our scientific studies. Newer scientific tools will help us get more precise information. I am sure that in the future, most of my questions will be answered because we will be able to test the amount of love or they will find better ways to conduct research but for now I’ll keep believing that the scientific study can’t tell us what it means to be human yet.
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