Human nature

Human nature is often considered in isolation from the rest of the world as if it would be an exception or a special case. In the past it was thought that humans were at the centre of all creation. It was believed that we were destined to dominate the earth, that the earth was the centre of the universe, and that humans, in the natural order of things, were above all other creatures. Currently we have plenty of evidence to show that these anthropocentric views of the universe are mistaken. From astronomy we know that the earth doesn’t have any special place in the universe, and from biology we know that man doesn‘t have any special place on earth. Furthermore, from Darwin’s theory of evolution we know that human nature is not special, but the continuation of a biological nature common to all species. But despite all the evidence, the idea that man has a special place in the universe still persist.

In the present we are going to contemplate human nature from a monist point of view. Beyond the evidence, monism offers a metaphysical explanation of why human nature cannot be special. A monist universe is a natural universe where everything responds to Nature. This is because a monist universe is constituted by a unitary Space. In a unitary Space nothing can exist out of Space, therefore nothing can behave out of Nature. Space has no gaps or discontinuities, so neither has Nature. In a natural word, there are no discontinuities between human nature and the nature of the rest of the world. That is, human nature differs only in degree, and not in essence from the nature of everything else.

The continuity of human nature with the natural world can be followed on its complexity. Complexity is a universal natural phenomena, and human nature is just one manifestation of it (see Complexity). The complexity of human nature is manifested on its evolution, and on the the properties it shares with all complex systems. Complexity in human nature gives it the following characteristics:

  • Human nature is formed by the integration of functionally differentiated parts. That is, human nature is multidimensional: there is not a single essence, but a multiplicity of elements that constitutes it (often in conflict and contradiction).
  • These parts are mutually dependent and cannot be treated in isolation.
  • Human nature is irreducible: it cannot be reduced neither to a fundamental essence nor to the sum of its constituting parts.

Complex systems are in rigor unintelligible and unpredictable for they don’t respond to simple causal relations. To make them intelligible we are forced to approximate them with simplified models. So in the following we are going to introduce a model of the complexity of human nature:

Human nature is a complex whole formed by the interaction of multiple elements. The elements that forms human nature can be separated in four main groups: human emotions, capacities, faculties and a set of eight fundamental dimensions given by:

. a developmental nature
. a social nature
. an hedonistic nature
. a sexual nature
. an economic nature
. a nature of self-preservation
. a competitive nature
. and a personality 

Model of human nature

These eight basic dimensions of human nature are both fundamental and universal. They a universal for they are common to everyone. Everybody, regardless their place, time or culture, share the same human nature. And they are fundamental for they cannot be reduced to more essential ones. Some of them are mutually related, but they are all irreducible aspects of human nature.

. An economic nature is the natural tendency to minimise effort and maximise rewards.
. An hedonistic nature is the natural tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
. A sexual nature is the natural tendency to seek sexual gratification, which is a particular manifestation of our hedonistic nature.
. Personality is the individual way of responding to the environment.
. A nature of self-preservation is the natural tendency to preserve the integrity of the self.
. A competitive nature is the natural tendency to control reproductively meaningful resources.
. A social nature is the natural need to form part of a social group.
. And a developmental nature is the natural capacity of cognitive development.

Human emotions, like love, pride, guilt or shame,  are sophisticated expression of more basic feelings, like fear, joy or anger,  from our high mental complexity. Human faculties, like language and reason, are inherited abilities that we are endowed with. And human capacities, like empathy, creativity or moral development, are inherited potentialities that we can develop.

Human faculties and capacities are peripheral aspects of human nature. They are part of human nature, they influence our behaviour, but they don’t  define it. That is, we have indeed the capacity to reason, to feel empathy or be creative. But firstly, they certainly don’t characterise our behaviour. Human behaviour can be, but is not characterised for its creativity, rationality or emphaty. Second, human faculties and capacities are instrumental to more basic functions. That is, when we use them, we usually do so in a subordinated way to more fundamental aspects. And thirdly, despite our capacity for rationality, originality and compassion, we can also display extraordinary degrees of cruelty, conventionality and irrationality.  So human faculties and capacities, although part of human nature, they don’t define human behaviour. On the other hand, the set of fundamental dimensions of human nature underlies all aspects of human behaviour. Elements like a self-regarding, competitive and social nature, are universal and always present.

This model contemplates several characteristics of human nature. One of them is that, unlike the common idea that human nature is characterised by the evolution of modern humans in the last one hundred thousand years or so, we suggest that human nature is shaped by elements from a much longer evolutionary process. Human nature is centred on the evolution of our nervous system. And the evolution of our nervous system has ancient origins, from the first sentient creatures, to sexuated creatures, to complex animals and the brain of modern humans. Because the process is continuous, many aspects of human nature are common to the nature of other organisms with lower complexity.

Another important aspect that the model contemplates, is the hierarchical structure of human nature. Human nature evolved from the development of the nervous system of organisms. Neurological development, like in all forms of development, is a process that builds higher levels of complexity from previous lower levels (see Development). This creates a hierarchic structure where the functions of higher levels of complexity is subordinated to the functions of lower levels. In human nature, an economic nature, an hedonistic nature, a sexual nature and personality, represents lower level of development subordinated to a nature of genetic preservation. In turn, a social nature, a competitive nature and a self-regarding nature of self-preservation represents a higher level of complexity subordinated to the previous ones. And a developmental nature of cognitive development represent yet another level of complexity subordinated to all the previous ones. Overall, all aspects of human nature are subordinated to a nature of genetic preservation.

And yet another characteristic of human nature -not illustrated in the picture-, is that by the combination of its fundamental aspects there are even more complex aspects of human nature. For example, from the combination of an hedonistic nature and a self-centred nature of self-preservation, we developed a narcissist nature by which we are rewarded by positive views of our self-centred view of the world. That is, we are rewarded by positive views of ourselves, our ethnic group, our species and of our place in the world (and punished otherwise). Examples of this nature are found from the anthropocentric views of most religions, to the universal desire of national pride or the current fashionableness of positive psychology.

Values:  Although values are a peripheral aspect of our nature subordinated to more fundamental aspects, like personality and development, they are one of the most influential aspects affecting human behaviour.


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