Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Statistics vs Scientific Explanation

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Statistics vs Scientific Explanation

Article excerpt

The questionable genetic determination of cognition: races and cognitive skills

The first variable to be analyzed, that the study of Fuerst and Kirkegaard considers, is "racial ancestry". What does this mean? How important is in the behavior of an individual what past generations, in the natural history of the species, have provided as genetic material? How exactly does this material lead to the expression of certain behaviors?

The study discussed here falls into the same error as sociobiology, assuming that the genetic makeup determines the cognitive level. The enormous wealth of psychological and educational studies, initiated by Jean Piaget, have shown that the determinants of behavior of any individual do not reside in the genes of the individual but in his learning process. The actions of a subject are the result of his life experiences. The theoretical attempts to re-naturalize the mental capacity have failed. To evaluate accurately the determination of cognitive skills by the genetic material - what the study pretends to demonstrate - it is first necessary to recall the roles of genes and learning in the natural evolutionary history of the species. Thus, it should be clear what genes can and cannot do. Let's take a look at this in more detail.

Theoretical excursus

There is no doubt that the key to understanding the cultural forms of life, including cognition, morals, love, is to be found primarily in the natural history of the species. The developmental processes that characterize any biological species are linked to its natural evolutionary history. Therefore, science tries to reconstruct the development of these forms in the long process of transition from animal to man. What were the conditions that made it possible for the biological species to develop the capacity to know? How could the formation of the human being as such get going?

The key process to understanding the evolutionary development of the species is ontogenesis. Over millions of years the development of our species was characterized by two parallel processes: the dissolution of forms of instinctive behavior that are inflexible and genetically determined; and an enormous capacity for learning in the early stages of ontogenesis. In the relationship with his caretaker, the member of the species in his early stages of development was able to garner experiences that allowed him to gain proficiency of his actions and organize reality in a comprehensible world. This gradually led to a radical modification of the genetic equipment where instinctive structures lost their strength as the determinants of action. In the phases of transition from animal to man, the extension of the primary relationship in ontogenetic development played a central role. It seems that the lengthening of the close relationship between mother and child in the first years of life, and the wealth of learning that takes place at that time, made the instinctive mechanisms inoperative in a process that lasted thousands of years. In determining human actions, the genetic basis plays a very limited role; it is only present in fields closely related to survival, such as food, sexuality and defense.1 The result of this evolutionary process is the extreme inability of the member of the anthropological species to survive on his own at the time of his birth.

The evolution of Homo sapiens sapiens would have been impossible, while instincts were dissolving, if functional mechanisms had not been developed for the construction of forms of behavior linked to learning. Fundamental for this was the brain's development. Although we do not know much about how the evolutionary development of the brain and the formation of differentiated neural areasmade the process of acculturation of man possible, and with it the formation of normative and cognitive structures, there is no doubt that without the constructive ability of the brain none of these structures would have formed. …

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