No child is born able to read; this task is learned from parents and teachers in a social setting. In other words, one of our most essential abilities as humans--reading--is the product of a combination of innate and learned traits.
The distinction between nature and nurture was always a false dichotomy even before it became a cliche, yet we still tend to think of biology and culture as warring explanations for human experience. But recent scientific discoveries are putting this mind-set on a collision course with reality. Things we once thought were entirely determined by culture--like our choice of friends or our voting patterns--turn out to have deep evolutionary roots…we also know that early social experiences, such as education, poverty, malnutrition and child abuse, can modify the expression of a person's genes.
This new biosocial science not only reshapes our understanding of humanity but also holds promise for public policy and public health. Organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute on Aging see that some of our most vexing health problems--malaria, for example--cannot be solved by pharmacological and engineering solutions alone. We can develop novel insecticides and special bed nets to prevent mosquito bites and distribute them via clever supply chains to remote villages. Yet if the people there don't change their behavior--and if we can't pair our biological understanding with an understanding of that behavior--then we will continue to fail.
The melding of the biological and social sciences can feel threatening. On the political right, people resist because they want to see humans as separate from the natural world and not unmoored from moral or religious absolutes. On the left, they resist because they don't want to believe we have an intrinsic biology that could play a role in human affairs
For the past 100 years, people have looked to the physical and biological sciences to solve societal problems and have reaped great rewards with discoveries, from nuclear power to plastics to antibiotics. But in the 21st century, it is biosocial science that holds the key to improving human welfare. If we were to see humans as fully part of nature, we might even solve the hardest problem in all of science: the origin of human consciousness itself.
Read the entire article By Nicholas A. Christakis in the December 19, 2011 edition of Time Magazine
About this Study
Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) is completing its latest community inquiry, Children 1-2-3: Early Learning for Future Success. This community engagement process has been examining the question, "How can Jacksonville best foster early learning success for children from birth to age 3 in our community?" Over the course of the process (October 2011 through April 2012), the meeting schedule, meeting summaries, key handouts and relevant articles have all been posted here. To find out more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.