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Cognative Development: Therories Of Locke And Descartes

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When it comes to cognitive development, several theories have been put forth by many different philosophers, psychologists, and other scientists. The two most significant theories, which were first explored by the Greeks, were later debated between John Locke, and Rene Descartes. John Locke, a seventeenth-century English philosopher, argued against the belief that human beings are born with certain ideas already in their minds. He claimed that, on the contrary, the mind is a tabula rasa (in Latin, a "blank slate") until experience begins to "write" on it. He was quoted in saying: "the human mind begins as a white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas." (The Blank Slate, n.d.)

However, according to Renй Descartes, a seventeenth-century philosopher, physicist, physiologist, and mathematician, "a clear and distinct knowledge of the world can be constructed from resources innate to the human mind."(The Blank Slate, n.d.) In other words, an infant's mind is not simply a tablet waiting to receive a blueprint for whatever we want the child to become. Rather, the infant enters the world as a highly complex being with an agenda already mapped out by its genes.

These arguments boil down to one debate that has been going on for centuries. The most common name for this debate is "nature verses nurture." Are our destinies determined by our genetic code, or are we able to design our own outcomes? Many types of research and several studies have been done to explain both sides of this on-going conundrum.

One of the best studies on the side of Locke's "blank slate theory" is that of the study of feral children. The best-known story of feral children is that of two girls, Amala and Kamala, who were raised by a she-wolf. In 1920, Reverend J. A. L. Singh saw a mother wolf and cubs, two of which had long, matted hair and looked human. After considerable preparation and difficulties, the two human creatures were captured. They turned out to be two girls whose ages were assessed by Singh at about eight years and one and a half years respectively.

The "creatures" were taken to an orphanage in Mindapore, India, where the Reverend and his wife were stationed. Singh described them as "wolfish" in appearance and behavior. They walked on all fours and had calluses on their knees and palms from doing so. They were fond of raw meat and stole it when the occasion presented itself. They licked all liquids with their tongues and ate their food in a crouched position. Their tongues permanently hung out of their thick, red lips, and they panted as if they were dogs. They never slept after midnight and prowled and howled at night. They could move very fast, and it was difficult to overtake them. They shunned human society altogether. If approached, they made faces and sometimes bared their teeth. Their hearing was very acute and they could smell meat at a great distance. Furthermore, while they could not see well during the day, they could orientate themselves very well at night.

There are many other stories of feral children in the literature, amongst others the story of a boy who lived in Syria, who ate grass and could leap like an antelope, as well as of a girl, who lived in the forests in Indonesia for six years after she had fallen into a river. Possibly being raised by several animals, she walked like an ape, and her teeth were as sharp as a razor.

These stories do far more than just to confirm the important role of education. They actually show that a human being must be educated to be become a human being at all. (Feral Children, n.d.) If one came into this world with preconceived notions of "being human," wouldn't feral children know not to act like animals? Only with the principal of the "blank slate" along with the idea of nurturing could this type of life be possible for a human. A bear does not have to learn to be a bear; he simply is one. A duck needs no lessons in duckmanship (yes, I made that word up.) Even when isolated from birth, animals usually retain clearly recognizable instincts. A cat that is raised among dogs, will still behave like a cat.

As far as the "nature" argument is concerned, there are some reasons for an individual to be convinced that genetics play a large part in a person's cognizance. When considering the biology of heredity, it is obvious that genes provide humans with their own physical equipment (their genotype being their given genial structure, and their phenotype being the physical traits of their genes) which, in essenc,e is their basis. Genes and chromosomes are passed on from each generation to the next. Therefore, without heredity, humans would have nothing to hand down biologically to their descendants, and the idea of genetics being purposeless is clearly incorrect.

An excellent type of exemplary study for this hypothesis is a twin study. Twin studies are rendered on sets of twins, and have included both identical twins and fraternal twins. They are conducted to determine the comparative influence of heritability and environment. Aided by publicity in magazine and newspaper stories, psychologist Thomas Bouchard and his colleagues have located and studied more than 70 pairs of identical twins reared apart.

They continue to find similarities not only of tastes and physical attributes, but also of personality, abilities, attitudes, interests, even fears. (Segal, 1999)

In Sweden, which has a national registry of 70,000 twin pairs, Nancy Oedersen and her co-workers (1988) identified 99 separated identical twin pairs and more than 200 separated fraternal twin pairs. Compared with equivalent samples of identical twins reared together, the separated identical twins had more dissimilar personalities. Still, separated twins were more alike if genetically identical than if fraternal. Separation shortly after birth (rather than, say, at age 8) didn't amplify their personality differences.(D.G. Meyers, 2005)

Psychologist Nancy Segal, who specializes in twin research was quoted saying, "recent twin research showed the genetic contribution to happiness and stability are about 50% and 80% respectively, while life events have only a transitory effect on happiness" (1999.) Segal's conception is not directly concerning human intelligence, yet, if her statement is in fact true, it substantiates some importance of heredity. It also indicates that heredity certainly does have a notable effect on a person. In general, twin studies support the nature side of the debate. If environment



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