Innateness and Emergentism
Bates E., Elman JL., Johnson MH., Karmiloff-Smith A., Parisi D., Plunkett K.
© 1998 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. The nature-nurture controversy has been with us since it was first outlined by Plato and Aristotle. Nobody likes it anymore. All reasonable scholars today agree that genes and environment interact to determine complex cognitive outcomes. So why does the controversy persist? First, it persists because it has practical implications that cannot be postponed (i.e., what can we do to avoid bad outcomes and insure better ones?), a state of emergency that sometimes tempts scholars to stake out claims they cannot defend. Second, the controversy persists because we lack a precise, testable theory of the process by which genes and the environment interact. In the absence of a better theory, innateness is often confused with (1) domain specificity (outcome X is so peculiar that it must be innate), (2) species specificity (we are the only species who do X, so X must lie in the human genome), (3) localization (outcome X is mediated by a particular part of the brain, so X must be innate), and (4) learnability (we cannot figure out how X could be learned, so X must be innate). We believe that an explicit, plausible theory of interaction is now around the corner, and that many of the classic maneuvers to defend or attack innateness will soon disappear. In the interim, some serious errors can be avoided if we keep these confounded issues apart. That is the major goal of this chapter: not to attack innateness but to clarify what claims about innateness are (and are not) about.