As humans, we all have brains . One of the coolest things about our brains is, of course, that they let us learn stuff. But our brains can do something even cooler than that: our brains allow us to unlearn stuff, too! That way, if we learn something that’s wrong, we’re perfectly capable of unlearning that thing and then learning a new thing that’s right (or at least less wrong).
Personally, I think this ability of ours to learn, unlearn, and relearn has been the key to our evolutionary success as a species. If we weren’t able to learn from our mistakes, if we couldn’t modify our behavior in an ever-changing world, then we’d probably still be living in caves. Or, even more likely, we’d be extinct.
But there seems to be this idea out there, propagated mainly by pop-science articles, that evolution has pre-programmed our brains. There seems to be this notion that our genes pre-determine our personality traits, that our brains are hard-wired to force us to behave the way that we do. This talk about hard-wired, pre-programmed behavior seems to be extra common as it relates to gender. Men act like this, women act like that, because our genes say we must.
I don’t believe that. Whether we’re talking about gender, race, class, or anything else, I don’t believe human beings come pre-programmed, and I don’t think the scientific evidence supports that notion either. To quote from this article, entitled “Fifty psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid”:
[…] growing data on neural plasticity suggests that, with the possible exception of inborn reflexes, remarkably few psychological capacities in humans are genuinely hard-wired, that is, inflexible in their behavioral expression. Moreover, virtually all psychological capacities, including emotions and language, are modifiable by environmental experiences.
To be fair, I’m sure genetics, evolution, and so forth do have some influence over us. I’m sure we’re all born with certain inclinations or predispositions. But our ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn plays a far bigger role in determining who we are as people and how we behave toward each other. The idea that we’re born pre-programmed to be like this or like that is, I think, a pop-science myth.
But, of course, I could be totally wrong about everything I just said. If so, then I guess I have some unlearning to do.