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Human nature

  1. Aug 22, 2003 #1
    could someone just explain to me the ideas about human nature? is it a real science thing or just a philosophy? and what characteristics are considered human nature?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2003 #2

    Les Sleeth

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    I'll take a shot at this, which seems appropriate since I've been sounding off about human nature.

    I like to keep things as conservative as possible when it comes to human nature. That doesn't mean I don't think there isn't "something more" beyond what can be proven; but including unproven stuff in models almost always takes discussions off the track as people debate supporting evidence on each side.

    So let's consider a simple example of a "nature." Water exists -- no one would dispute that. Water freezes at a certain temperature, evaporates at another, and remains our familiar hydrating friend the rest of the time.

    Can any of that be changed? Say someone builds a machine whose success depends on the freezing temperature of water. He designs it in minute detail, and it is a brilliant design. It will demonstrate its brilliance once water reaches its freezing temperature of 38 degrees Farenheit. Right?

    There is the meaning of "nature." That which MUST function a certain way because that is how it is.
  4. Aug 22, 2003 #3


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    By this definition, "human nature" would be considered those attributes which are both intrinsic and universal to all humans?

    Dare we hazzard a few guesses as to what some of those attributes might be? Beyond the obvious physical attributes, that is (e.g., "it is human nature to be an uprite biped", "it is human nature to be an endotherm").
  5. Aug 23, 2003 #4
    I think LW's got the right idea, but I'll expand upon it a bit.

    Because we are human ourselves objectivity on this subject is impossible. In fact, the very idea that objectivity about our own nature is impossible can be said to be an aspect of our human nature. An aspect of the apparent limitations nature imposes upon us. This is the fundamental idea behind human nature, that our corporeal existence is at least apparently limited in certain respects.

    However, the most common use of the term is in reference to human desires, usually in common sensical contexts. For example, people often say things like it is human nature to feel envy, greed, etc., in certain circumstances. This is neither a philosophy nor a scientific perspective, but merely a cultural and local phenomenon.

    Some academics argue that common sense really does not exist, and to the best of my knowledge there is no scientific evidence that it does. Likewise, it is not a philosophical idea. What it appears to be is an outgrowth of the Judeo-Christian tradition which espouses a distinction between the mind and body, with the body representing all of our base emotions and desires. In other words, it is a euphamism for "desires of the flesh", "instinctual fear", and other terms commonly used but of dubious meaning, validity, and utility.
  6. Aug 23, 2003 #5

    Les Sleeth

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    Well, I'd say there are two categories of nature. One is that which has been demostrated to be true, and to remain conservative about that let's say it has been empirically "demonstrated." Studies have shown, for instance, that a developing child thrives better when raised with love than with hate. That's obvious of course, but it does show we are not just blank slates which develop perfectly according to any conditions. Business too has relied on studies to help them design management approaches. The more human psychology has been understood, the more organization design has adjusted to meet basic human psychological needs in the work place.

    The second category is what a lot of the debates are about here because people don't agree on all the elements of our nature. We know we are physical, we know we are emotional, we know we are psychological, intellectual, etc. . . . but are we anything more? I believe we are, but you may say we are the result of purely material processes.

    Now, how do I prove we are "something more" than material processes? Empirically, one cannot, at least in my opinion. On a personal level however, one can prove it to oneself and, again in my opinion, that is the only way to prove it.

    I have proven to myself I have a non-material aspect to me by turning inward every day for the last thirty years and directly experiencing it. So to me it isn't speculative in the slightest, and whether you or anyone else "knows" what I have proven to myself matters to me not in the slightest.

    Of course, when people here state in absolute terms "there is nothing more than material processes," yes I take issue with that because I haven't met one of them yet who has conscientiously investigated the well-documented area of inward-turning successes that have occurred over the last 3000 years.

    Personally I think the debate over what our nature is may be the most important of all philosophical issues. Every time we understand one more tiny bit about ourselves makes it possible to improve the quality of life.
  7. Aug 23, 2003 #6


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    Re: Re: human nature

    I like your example of water...ever notice how water can show itself in different forms, and within those forms it is a cohesive substance?

    science is a part of philosophy...philosophy by definition is "love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline"...so i would guess that it is human nature to be philosophical:wink:
  8. Aug 23, 2003 #7


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    I'll suggest one; adaptation. It is the nature of humans to adapt. This trait may or may not express itself in other lifeforms, but it is a defining characteristic of man.
  9. Aug 23, 2003 #8
    This is the definition of evolution and nature, not humanity.
  10. Aug 23, 2003 #9
    ok, so we, as humans call things like greed and say the pursuit of happiness human nature. and when we make mistakes and whatnot, we say 'hey, i'm only human.' i suppose my question more refined then is, are these characteristics strictly human then? are these the things that separate us from animals, make us distinct? is human nature more a mental thing?
  11. Aug 24, 2003 #10
    The answer again is no, they don't distinguish us from the animals. This is simply the bias of the Judeo-Christian tradition which asserts that man shall have dominion over the earth. If we are to conceive of ourselves as superior to animals and that the only purpose of the existence of animals is to serve us, then the need arises to axiomatically think of them as inferior and inhuman in fundamental ways.

    I don't mean this as any kind of slam against the western tradition, just a recognition of what it values and teaches. Notably, because of this attitude westerners have become incredible ranchers and pioneers selectively breeding domesticated livestock such as the pig and circumnavigating the globe with them. Sailors would drop off a mated pair of pigs on islands they would visit, and then come back and hunt their offspring.

    If you've ever been around ranchers much, it takes a certain type of personality to deal with livestock in such a dispassionate manner. It is one thing to talk about such issues, and quite another to actually hang a pig up by its hind legs and slit its throat while it is still alive so all the blood will pump out.
  12. Aug 24, 2003 #11
    Re: Re: human nature

    Yes, change the atmospheric pressure.
  13. Aug 24, 2003 #12

    Les Sleeth

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    I think having mentality is part of what it means to be human, just like having the particular body that characterizes the human species. But people can lose mentality, or most of it anyway (and much of the body too), and they still exist and can still enjoy life. The shape mentality gets in, such as being greedy, doesn't have anything to do with the fundamental nature of mentality. It is, in my opinion, the result of ignorance and therefore underdevelopment.

    But what I meant by our nature goes deeper than the body, emotions or mentality. This is an issue that's been hotly debated here, with materialists insisting we, as consciousness, emerge from material processes, and others of us suggesting that the body may be emergent technology alright, but the consciousness emerging through it is NOT emanating from that biological matter.

    Whomever is correct, there still remains the question of what is the nature of consciousness. I defined "nature" above in the water example as that which "must function a certain way because that is how it is." One test for "how it is" is to see what we can and cannot eliminate and still have a thriving consciousness.

    Of all that consciousness is capable of, there are only two aspects I think we cannot do without. One defines its fundamental way of functioning, and that is consciousness is aware that it is aware. A Geiger counter is aware in a fashion, but it doesn't know it is aware. So self knowing is absolutely essential to the nature of consciousness.

    The other trait I'll cite usually triggers debate, especially in a science forum where so many want to define our "nature" in terms of evolution, chemistry, and neurons. But I think the second most foundational aspect of consciousness is sensitivity. We are 100% dependent on that to feel ourselves and our environment.

    When I use the word "feel" I do not mean the emotions, I mean the ability to experience things. If you think about it even the senses are set up to "feel" light, sound, etc., and then the signals are carried to the brain where we wait to experience them.

    Because of our deeply rooted sensitivity we, and all animal life, chase after "feeling good" over and above all other pursuits. There isn't one thing people do which isn't an attempt to feel good or better (even suicide -- and yes, there are many things we do that are unpleasant, but we do them because if we didn't the consequences would be more unpleasant). Of course, what people believe will make them feel good is another story, and very much what philosophy is about.

    Does having one's intellect educated and logical satisfy the need to feel good? Does money, drugs, sex, family, music, exercise . . . ? Well, most people say you need some or all of that, but others say the ultimate in feeling good is to learn how to have it without the need for any externals (excepting life support stuff of course).

    They say our dependence on externals for happiness, which are always in a state of flux, leaves us at the mercy of ever-changing conditions. When things are good, we feel good. When things aren't going so good, we feel bad. So, the theory goes, the best way is to learn how to feel good alone, from within, and in that way free your good feeling at least from the ups and downs that are part of living.

    Because I believe my nature is to know and feel, that has determined my personal philosophy, which is to learn that which best enhances my knowing and my happiness.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2003
  14. Aug 24, 2003 #13

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: Re: human nature

    Very funny, I didn't cover all the variables to keep the analogy short, so I've been waiting for somebody to throw that in. :smile:
  15. Aug 24, 2003 #14
    coudl someone just explain to me the ideas about canine nature? is it a real science thing or just a philosophy? and what characteristics are considered canine nature?

  16. Aug 24, 2003 #15

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: human nature

    Why does contemplating our ultimate nature, or canine nature, have to be real science? The sort of root being we are discussing isn't going to show up in the laboratory. You just might have to feel it to know it. Of course, those who would rather view the world as a computer would aren't going to like that idea.
  17. Aug 24, 2003 #16
    Re: Re: human nature

    It is a science with a great deal of research behind it. Dogs are decendent from wolves and the various species of dogs display the three major stages in a wolf's life. In evolutionary terms dogs are neotenic wolves, they retain the youthful features of their ancestors.

    For example, as pups wolves will stay around the den, marking the parimeter with their feces and barking to warn the adults the minute an animal comes close while biting the ankles of any threatening animal. Some species of dogs have been breed to display just these characteristics.

    Like all wolves, dogs are also complex pack hunters with a wide range of emotional interactions among them. These have been cataloged in detail and include all the basic emotions such as guilt.
  18. Aug 24, 2003 #17
    Personally, I think the term
    "human nature" is always invoked
    as an excuse for someone who has-
    n't done something as well, or
    ethically, as they could have.

    Humans may have a "nature" but
    the term "human nature" isn't
    a reference to it. It nearly
    always crops up in reference to
    falling short of one's best.
  19. Aug 29, 2003 #18
    Gale, for the longest time, people have postulated about and accepted descriptions of "human nature." Some people say that people are basically bad, and some people say that people are basically good, and some people go into more detail. Examples of things that talk about "human nature" are christianity and Thomas Hobbes.

    Obviously, it is not a science, at least in the strict definition, as there are no reproducible events that can be studied in an laboratory-like setting.

    And, if you ask me about what I think of "human nature", I think that the whole idea is garbage. It is a meaningless phrase with no real truth to it. This is for several reasons:

    1) Humans are individuals. We vary very widely in our thoughts and actions.
    2) There is nothing in our genetic code that dictates exactly how we will live. There are characteristics that make us more likely to be influenced in certain ways by certain types of happenings, but we are ultimately products of interaction with our surroundings in conjunction with our DNA, and there's not really a an absolute line between genetics and environmet, anyway--genes are affected by environment.
    3) The idea of "human nature" draws a fallacious divine distinction between humans and other forms of life.
  20. Aug 31, 2003 #19

    for a pure, biological interpretation of this read The Naked Ape. for a more figurative definitions, observe yourself and your emotions.
  21. Sep 2, 2003 #20
    Animals just as humans are strongly driven by basic desires of survival and pleasure. But humans have a source of spiritual pleasure that tells us of our limited physical existence, thats not seen in other animals. Just as animals we learn and choose and we make mistakes. The choice we have is between life and death. The death is day-to-day survival, which in my opinion puts us on the level of animals who know no larger purpose as well but day-to-day survival.
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