Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Nurturing Nature

It's a long established debate - are we born or made the person we are? The Nature versus Nurture argument has taxed the finest minds for generations and quite a few of the more modest intellects around, to put it politely.

The Nature argument supposes that genetics deals us our hand to deal with life. To be sure, there's a compelling view to the notion that the gene pool we were dipped in determines our potential. It certainly reinforces the views of some prejudiced individuals - who are quick to dismiss people because of their parents' achievements (or lack of). Conversely it can be used to provide certain offspring with opportunities based on a perception of the parental potential. It's probably true in many cases that the offspring of rocket scientists will be academically gifted, however it isn't a given. On the other hand the children of manual workers often percolate to the top of the academic pot. Of course, just because your parents were blue collar workers it doesn't necessarily follow that they didn't have academic potential, just fewer breaks.

Which brings us to the Nurture argument. This says that your background and environment determines your likelihood of succeeding in life. It certainly seems that some people get to the top regardless of ability. We've all worked for bosses that have lived what seems a charmed life and it just has to be that they are getting promoted above better, more talented contemporaries. If you've read The Journeymen and its sequel, Day of Reckoning, then you'll know I have explored this aspect in fiction in some detail. It may be fiction, but there's a lot of real life observation in there that just seems to feel like it fits.  Perhaps I'm just a born cynic - back to Nature, then.

But writing a Sci-Fi novel underpinned by an unproven conspiracy theory is no more scientific than any other lay opinion. Most people today believe that both Nature and Nurture play a part in our lives, especially the developmental part of it. The tricky part is working out the division of responsibility between Nature and Nurture. A major recent study has moved the argument forward.

Over two thousand pairs of twins have been evaluated to see whether the genetic mix they share or the environment they were raised influenced their eventual academic results. They came from diverse backgrounds, hence had a wide variety of environmental influences to help or maybe hinder their progress. There was also a mix of identical and non identical twins in the study. The variety of backgrounds has the effect of smoothing out the Nurture impact, leaving the results based on identical versus non-identical twins to compare the impact of Nature.

If Nurture is the predominant parameter in this study then the identical versus non-identical results shouldn't vary much. If nature is predominant, then there will be a difference between the two types of twins. The reason for this is that non-identical twins are like any other sibling pairs with perhaps one difference; their environmental influences should be more or less the same, no older brother gets more attention than younger sister situations. Identical twins should, in the main, share the same academic abilities and environmental opportunities. Given that both Nature and Nurture are expected to contribute to some degree there wouldn't be an absolute result, just potentially a bias or not.

So, what did the study find? Well, identical twins scored the same (give or take) 60% of the time in science, mathematical and language subjects but the non-identical twins scored about a 40% correlation. The split is less defined in artistic disciplines, apparently. This suggests that although the environment can hold back or propel individuals in a disproportionate way, the genetic mix we are born with is the predominant element. If we're dealt a weak hand, then that's our lot, by and large. But if we're dealt a reasonable hand, as long as we're not artificially held back we have the same chance to succeed as anyone else, in principle.

Of course this result, while a major indication that nature has the upper hand, demonstrates that Nurture, or society, has the potential to hold capable people back or push the wrong people forward.  So maybe The Journeymen might not be that far off the mark after all.  Or, if you take a look at another of my books, Digital Life Form, you'll learn that one of the only two rules in life that matter is that life ain't fair.

The other rule covers all other eventualities, for twins, identical or not and the rest of us.  Shit happens!

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