Living this life, with all its foibles and pitfalls, results in a greater understanding of ones’ self and the world. When we are a new born babe, any event surprises us, because without experience we know not what to expect. With experience we know what to expect whether it be another days toil, or a holiday, or even a sedentary moment.
While even as one ages, one finds that one can take nothing as certain. There is that one day where the check did not arrive on time, or a day where ones love did not arrive. Experience is a great teacher and individuals and society as well benefits greatly by knowing what to expect. Knowledge depends on the understanding, and one can only acquire understanding through experience. Most feel confident that experience is what can be relied on, and it is that experience that has enabled the human species to survive.
Although it is possible of course, for example, for a species to be an excellent predator and because of this has been able to thrive, but later finds itself without food because of the extinction of the species it feeds on. Nowadays the world has excelled in the production of increasingly destructive weapons, and have been able to exterminate those less well armed. But now the nations that have triumphed face each other in hardened befuddlement. What are we to do now their leaders might wonder? One possible outcome, hopefully, is an age of cooperation.
While we know experience is vital for species survival, being the nurture in the nature/nurture distinction, the role of nature is less clear. Like a driving force which leads one to act beyond or without ones understanding, this force evades consciousness, and therefore, like bias itself, is beyond comprehension. Socrates claimed that the only knowledge one can have is the knowledge that we don’t know. One cannot really know for certain the true motives for ones actions. It might be thought by an individual that they acted out of love, or perhaps justice, but actually acted primally as our genetic ancestry dictates. The scope of consciousness must be necessarily unknown, because our genetic inspired drives do not rise to consciousness. How much is a true self-conscious motive is forever a mystery.
If we cannot know the extent of our conscious motives, we cannot really feel secure in these motives determining behavior at all. This is not to claim that the two, nature and nurture, cannot act hand in hand in the quest to survive. The relationship between these two is a very contemporary enterprise examined largely by science and philosophy and is especially poignant in the writings of Sigmund Freud.
While it seems to be true that our consciousness is limited to some degree, this does not rule out the usefulness of the human intellect. Certainly great skyscrapers, elaborate mathematical theories, and human cunning, is unrivaled in the animal kingdom, points to a conscious determinate existence. When looking more closely at Socrates’ dictum it becomes clear that his is a call to skepticism, a call to avoid dogma. We are indeed thinking beings with the ability to scrutinize and hypothesize as shown by Descartes’ Cogito “I think therefore I am.” One can find a sense of comfort with this assertion. It seems we must live meaningful and robust lives. For if we are able to think, we must exist, and be a thinking thing at that, a free independent consciousness.
When one scrutinizes the nature/nurture distinction, only one can be confused about what is reliable, what can be known, but when looking at assurances that at least to some degree one is a truly free thinker all trepidation recedes. Many would find it depressing if this great mind which humans possess only served ancestral animal instincts. We are then, at least to some degree thinking free beings, but the question may arise, as Rodney King after being beaten by the police, most famously stated during the subsequent rioting in Los Angeles, California in 1992, “Can we all get along?”.