Metaphor, Sociobiology, and Nature vs. Nurture: The Biological Battle of the Century
Ladies and Gentlemen! I am proud to present one of the biggest and longest-running biological battles of the century! Tonight we recap the surprising nature vs. nurture fight. The following pages will explain the highlights, but if you want to learn about this war in its entirety, you’ll find the blow-by-blow account available to the public in Connie Barlow’s collection, From Gaia to Selfish Genes, in a chapter entitled "Nature, Nurture, and Sociobiology."
What began this brawl of the biologists? Was it a woman? No. Was it a war? No. It was a metaphor. And the metaphor states that society is an organism. This metaphor believes that individuals in a society work together in order to function like an organism. But this isn’t the dispute—the real fight lies within the question, How is this organism organized? In other words, do we inherently possess the knowledge to function like an organism or are we taught this skill? Here come the returning champs now!
In the Blue Corner—The Returning Champs:
Weighing in with a professor from Harvard, a chair of neurobiology from the Open University, and a chair of psychology from Northwestern University, the anti-sociobiologists defend the idea that genes and environment work together, much like a dance, in which the individual is taught social behavior. In an excerpt from their book, Not in Our Genes, theorists Richard Lewontin from Harvard, Steven Rose from the Open University, and Leon Kamin from Northeastern University propose, as the title suggests, that social behavior is not genetic. Rather, it is taught or influenced by an individual’s surrounding environment. In this nurture argument, supporters claim that the individual’s genetic material influences the environment, and vice versa, to result in a society that works collectively, resembling an organism: the individual is taught, in accordance with his/her inherent nature, how to play a role in society. However, anti-sociobiologists do not disregard genetic behavior; rather they state that nature and nurture converse in a dialogue where neither is overpowered. But here come the challengers now!
And In the Red Corner—The Underdogs:
Weighing in with a Pulitzer Prize, a National Medal of Science, and a 1986 National Magazine Award, the sociobiologists argue that social behavior is inherent and that complex behavior can be reduced to simple genetic, or physical, explanations. This is the nature argument. Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard professor who is the founder of sociobiology, as well as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Medal of Science, defines sociobiology as "the systematic study of the biological basis of social behavior in every kind of organism, including man" (163). According to Wilson, "what is new is the way facts and ideas are being extracted from their traditional matrix of...