Response to Noel Plum

I just watched your discussion with Dr. Moriarty on the debate of nature vs. nurture, specifically applied to gender differences. Both of you seemed to miss a point that I read about in a book on evolutionary psychology that is very pertinent to the discussion. Basically, it is a debunk of the nature vs. nurture dichotomy. To illustrate this, I want to present an analogy that was provided by the book, that I thought was amazing.

Say you are baking a cake. When you do such a thing, you have to follow through on a set of instructions, the first of which is combining all of the ingredients—the flour, the salt, the sugar, etc.—and mixing them up. These are the genes, or the nature element, of the analogy. The second step is putting the cake into the oven and cooking it. This is the nurture element of the analogy. Once the cake is done, you have this fluffy, bread-like consistency. So, then, the question would be: what makes the cake fluffy? Is it the ingredients or is it cooking it in the oven? Was it the nature aspect of it, or the nurture aspect of it? You may be thinking, “What? Why would you attribute this to only one or the other?” And you would be right! Both the ingredients and the cooking within the oven contribute to the fluffy consistency. The ingredients and the oven are not independent of one another; they work together for this common goal.

Now apply this reasoning to the nature vs. nurture debate in humans: both genes and the environment work together to formulate people into whom they are. Pointing out that genetics is involved does not mean the environment cannot affect people; pointing out that the environment has influence does not mean genetics is not involved. This will make more sense if I get more specific. Turn your mind to the development of a child. It is well known that children’s minds are more plastic than adult’s minds are. This is why it is so important to send children to school. This is the time at which humans learn the best. They are biologically primed for this. Our minds are biologically primed to learn at a young age, so this can be the nature aspect of it; at the same time, how we are raised, and what we learn during this period is important, so this can be the nurture aspect of it. As is true with the cake analogy, you cannot separate the nature from the nurture. A good example of this is a baby’s attachment to the mother. The general assumption in this is that the baby is born with a biological attachment to the mother. But it is not this simple. What is being realized now is that the baby actually acquires this attachment during its time in the womb. That is, the baby is biologically inclined to form an attachment with anyone, and it forms it with the mother because of its time in the womb. It is both nature and nurture.

Applying this to the gender differences debate, this will stray a little into theory. I want to address a point that Dr. Moriarty brought up, that was also agreed upon by yourself. He pointed out that in different geographical locations, gender differences varied, which demonstrates that these particular differences are quite susceptible to nurture. I postulate that this is not as simple as that, in line with what I detailed above. These geographical differences could be due to both nature and nurture. Children’s minds are more plastic than adult minds, so the way they are raised from a young age in geographical location A will shape their mind one way, while in another way in geographical location B. The important thing to note is that once someone’s childhood is over, their mind is no longer as plastic, and these behaviors become ingrained; it is unlikely that people will change after this. The reason this is so relevant is because of feminists’ push to get women into fields like engineering. They give scholarships to women as incentive. But it isn’t that simple. By the time women go to college, they are unlikely to change what they have already learned in the first years of their life.

Another very important point to make is that since nature and nurture work together to shape people into who they are, it is impossible to say what people are naturally like without any sort of socialization. Both you and Dr. Moriarty seem to be working from the assumption that there is a natural state for men and women, and you both want to keep things as neutral as possible so they can be as close to this natural state as they possible can. If it is true that gender is due to both nature and nurture as illustrated above, this implies that there is no natural state to men or women. A girl socialized in a way that makes her prefer math is just as natural as a girl socialized in a way that makes her prefer nursing. Through nature and nurture, they are both biologically inclined to these states. There is no natural state. Any worry that you may be influencing your child’s development to favor stereotypes may be unfounded, as you may be doing that no matter how you raise them.

I don’t definitively know how far this may go. If what I just discussed is true, then it could imply that men and women may very well have no psychological differences. But, it could also be said that men and women are biologically primed to learn different things. Women’s minds may be biologically inclined to focus on social interactions, which leads to them learning to interact in this way. Men’s minds may be biologically inclined to focus on spatial recognition, which leads to them learning to think in that way. The speculation could go on and on.

But this is just something you may find interesting.



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