The Origins of Human Potential: Evolution, Development, and Psychology

The Origins of Human Potential: Evolution, Development, and Psychology

The Origins of Human Potential: Evolution, Development, and Psychology

The Origins of Human Potential: Evolution, Development, and Psychology


Few scientific debates have been more intense and protracted than the "nature or nurture" debate about the origins of human intelligence. The Origins of Human Potential revisits this issue in light of new evidence from evolutionary biology, and investigates how "facts" which support either side of the debate are often based on deep-seated assumptions.

Among the key assumptions examined are those about the nature of the genes and their involvement in development; the nature of evolution as it has impinged on cognitive ability; and the nature of cognitive ability itself, especially its reduction to a simple "quantitative" characteristic like height or weight, as allegedly measured in IQ tests.


I hope that only a small amount of thought on the part of the reader will dispel any ambiguity in the title of this book. There seems little doubt that when we consider specifically human potential we are most likely to think, first and foremost (though certainly not exclusively) of human cognitive ability—and that, indeed, is what this book is about. There is little mystery about why human cognitive ability has always been at the top of the agenda in psychology. Knowing and reasoning, and the abilities they furnish, almost define the human species. Remarkably, though, psychological theory about what cognitive ability is, and where it comes from, remains, after two thousand years of scholarship, in a very backward state. the origins of human potential in this sphere thus remain the grounds around which many heated debates continue, as every psychologist knows.

There are probably many reasons for this theoretical backwardness. Prominent among them must be the kinds of assumptions which psychologists adopt as a basis for their research and theorising. When endless debates persist around important questions it is usually the case that there is something wrong with the assumptions around which the questions arise, and thus the evidential material which is used to address them. As the philosopher R.G. Collingwood said many years ago, every scientific statement is the answer to a question, but every question is based on a presupposition.

Even a cursory glance at theories and statements in the area in question will demonstrate the surfeit of assumptions—about the nature of potential, its origins, what it is potential in or for, and so on. This book is about such assumptions. the evaluation of assumptions is itself a worthwhile task because it helps put students, researchers, and others, in a critical position with respect to the ideas they deal with, instead of blindly accepting ‘facts’. in turn, such criticism helps provide the basis for new knowledge. This work is not about all such assumptions: rather, I confine myself to those which seem to predominate in current thinking. As the Russian psychologist L.S. Vygotsky noted long ago (see Van der Veer . . .

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