Discussing Genetic Determinism
I don’t believe in genetic determinism because there are too many other important factors that influence the outcome of human behavior. I am interested in the degree to which our genes effect our behavior and our lives in general. To what degree do you think that our genes determine our behavior?
I am interested in Robert Sapolsky’s new book “Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will.” My take on this is that we may not have free will in the moment but that many times we can plan our circumstances so that we behave in a specific way that we can decide ahead of time.
I think this view is plausible as a practical matter. I’m much better at avoiding overeating if I arrange not to have any tempting snacks available than if I simply try to make myself resist their temptation.
As a matter of theory, however, it may not work. Planning our circumstances requires free will just as much as behaving in a specific way does, just at a different moment. If I am to avoid overeating, I must must avoid buying tasty snacks. But buying a tasty snack, or not, is itself a behavior in a moment that is subject to biological and psychological pressures just as is the decision to eat that snack, or not. If I lack free will in the moment of deciding whether to eat the snack, it seems I must also lack it in the moment I decide whether to buy the snack.
I haven’t yet read Sapolsky’s book, but it sounds like I should put it on my list.
So far as I have been able to determine, the old “is it nature or is it nurture” argument has only one possible answer: YES. Yes, of course, our genetics has an impact on our behavior. And yes, of course, our upbringing, experience, and personal choices all have an impact as well. Interestingly, though, genetics can have an unexpected impact. For example, a person who happens to be born with extraordinary good looks will have very different experiences — and thus behave very differently — from a person who happens to be born with a disfiguring deformity. Similarly, a person born with a great talent is more likely to find teachers who want to nurture that talent than someone with no particular talent — and that will lead to a whole series of changes in behavior and outcomes.
Genetics undeniably play a significant role in shaping our behavior by influencing factors like temperament, predispositions to certain mental health conditions, and even intelligence.
But it’s important to acknowledge that genetics provide a foundation for our predispositions, but they don’t determine our behavior in isolation. Our experiences, upbringing, and personal choices continuously shape and modify how these genetic predispositions manifest in our lives.
Furthermore, environmental factors can mitigate or accentuate genetic influences. Supportive environments can help individuals overcome genetic vulnerabilities, while adverse conditions can exacerbate them. It is a complex interaction between our genetic makeup, upbringing, experiences, and personal choices that determines our behavior. Recognizing this multifaceted nature of behavior is crucial for understanding and addressing individual differences and the diverse paths people take in life.
Absolutely. One of the more interesting aspects of choice in addition to genetics, for me, relates to the ways in which different people respond to their inborn talents. One individual with a talent for singing becomes an opera singer; another just hums in the shower. One individual with a talent for engineering becomes an inventor; another ignores that talent and becomes an accountant. It’s even the case that people with very moderate talents nevertheless become “great” people in their field as a result of dedication, social skills, and marketing (Edison versus Tesla).