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RS111 - Human Nature

Release date: June 29, 2014

Ever heard someone sigh, "That's just human nature"? Have you wondered what that meant? In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia and Massimo delve into the science and philosophy of human nature: what traits are "built in" to being human, and how would we know? And once we know what human nature consists of, should we try to protect it against changes?

Massimo's pick: "The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet"

Julia's pick: ""

Reader Comments (7)

I was disappointed again to hear Massimo bashing evolutionary psychology with inaccurate description of the field. For example, I don't know of any evolutionary psychologist that does not think that culture is important and influencing people's behaviors. He might be confusing "pop" evolutionary psychology, the way the field is represented in the media and by laypeople, but not the actual work of scientists in the field. I am glad the Julia showed some more skepticism towards such sweeping claims and it seems that Massimo has some agenda against the field of ev psych and continue to repeat old attacks against the field that have been long been addressed. I really think the they should interview a leading scientist in the field and discuss all these misconceptions. There have been many interviewers who where against the field (and all of them coming outside the field) but no one interview with an a modern scientist from the field itself. As a paradigm that could well be on the borderline of science I think talking with an evolutionary psychologist will make for a great episode.

July 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGil

Gill, I don't think that's a fair characterisation. Massimo appeared to be highlighting that what he was describing was a minority view (that culture is a veneer) held by very few, and not the mainstream view. His views appeared to be somewhere in between biological and cultural explanations, although he does point out that evolutionary psychology is difficult to test.

July 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCathal Ó Broin

Cathal Ó Broin, I agree that Massimo think they are minority but it sounds like it's a substantial minority. In reality it's not even a small minority. I seriously don't know any evolutionary psychologist who claims that culture is veneer or that doesn't consider behavioral plasticity. I challenge him to find someone holding such views. There are many people, some of them might be scientists from other fields and of course lay people, that hold views along these lines, but not any practicing evolutionary psychologist. I agree that Massimo accepts that human nature plays a role, but he is too critical of the field and I don't think he has been paying close attention to what researchers do these days (most of his objections are dated). Jerry Coyne for example also held negative views againsts ev psych but recently changed his mind. I just wished that Massimo would give the field a fair and fresh look based on what is actually done today.

July 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGil

I was hoping to hear more about some philosophers critical of the concept itself, especially Michel Foucault. I think Foucault's argument that "human nature" is a very ideologically loaded concept, and that human behavior is always historically contingent, is a strong one. Even though I think he engages in overkill in his attempts at refutation, I think it is unwise to ignore such arguments.

July 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Just wanted to make a quick comment on the sound volume of these podcasts. When Massimo talks, I have to turn up the volume and when Julia talks, I have to lower the volume. Please try to fix this! I love your discussions regardless but it would certainly be nice to have a consistent volume.

March 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCindy
Such an interesting topic. Colloquially, the way people use this term is unhelpful because we tend to try and use it to explain things too simplistically. I really don't know what to think about Human Nature? I guess the way I see it is like having inbuilt Instinctive reactions to our Environment. Basically the ones that have to do with Health & Survival would be those type of reactions that I guess you can describe as Human Nature? Another way of looking at things maybe is to focus on the Nature part in all of this. To say what this might mean then is for Humans to behave in ways that are conducive or align with the fundamental Nature of Life.
September 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
Strange that the rats and the baboons changed their behavior so dramatically with a change in circumstances. Bryan Caplan (in later RSPC episode), economist at George Mason University, just wrote a book that given a decent upbringing, heredity, not culture predetermines the lifestyle choices of humans.
December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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