Nonkilling Human Biology/Glossary

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Definition of terms for Nonkilling Human Biology.

Multidisciplinary research is the most effective approach for human biocultural studies, which provide a holistic and comprehensive understanding of human affairs. This approach necessitates explaining specific terms and their related concepts for two purposes: to communicate with a non-specialist audience and to avoid semantic misunderstanding when terminology is not clear in both the media and specialist literature.

Below is a glossary for those terms and concepts whose particular usage in this work needs to be explained. A glossary is normally offered at the end of an essay, but we think that an initial list of short definitions prepares the reader to better integrate special terms when later met in a complex text. The asterisks indicate terms listed in the glossary; in the chapter this is done only once and for the first time. This version of the original glossary includes references.

Aggression[edit | edit source]

A specific behaviour aiming at damaging or destroying a living being (plant or animal), normally for alimentary purpose. Hunting and gathering involve aggression. Sexual competition among males is normally a display of fitness to improve the choice to be made by females. Note that, unlike violence*, aggression is not specifically intended to damage or destroy other individuals of the same species. In the literature, aggression, aggressiveness* and violence* are normally used as synonyms, causing in this way much misunderstandings and conceptual confusion.

Aggressiveness[edit | edit source]

It represents a congenital predisposition* to acquire aggressive behaviour after birth. Therefore it does not represent information for a specific behaviour. In the literature, aggression*, aggressiveness and violence* are normally used as synonyms, causing in this way much misunderstandings and conceptual confusion.

Behavioural predispositions[edit | edit source]

In humans they are congenital predispositions*, not congenital information for specific behaviour. A behavioural predisposition only set the level of postnatal stimulation necessary to channel an individual toward a certain category of behaviours. A specific behaviour within that category will then be defined by postnatal models. Therefore behavioural predispositions do not contribute to the definition of social behaviour in any shape or form (what the individual will actually do and how). For this reason the current idea of a 50-50 contribution of genetic information and postnatal learning to define specific social behaviour is invalid. It would be like adding apples and pears. In humans social behaviour is defined only by postnatal social models and personal experiences.

Biocultural evolution[edit | edit source]

Parallel evolution of behavioural predispositions* and specific behavioural models acquired by children and youngsters after birth from their cultural context. As a consequence of biocultural evolution, human behavioural predispositions* are common to all human beings without being specific behaviours (we have no instincts*, a part from the few ones of babies). Specific social behaviours (aggression* and violence* included) are not congenitally or genetically defined and differs in different cultures. In biocultural evolution, natural selection acts on both prenatal and postnatal information to make them change in harmony and slowly. In the late Neolithic this harmony was lost, as purely cultural changes occurred fast and in absence of corresponding changes in congenital predispositions. As a consequence we are still born with a brain suiting a hunter-gathering culture or, to be precise, for living in a nonviolent culture.

Biocultural studies[edit | edit source]

All academic disciplines have to do with human beings, some only marginally (e.g. Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry) most of them very directly (e.g. Medicine, Sociology, Psychology, Economy). It is becoming increasingly clear that human affairs cannot be studied without a multidisciplinary approach: Sociology, Political science, History and Philosophy are not enough to understand what happened in the past, causal mechanisms and what would be better for us in the future. We cannot continue exploring human beings only partially with individual disciplines or, worst, sub-disciplinary specialisations. For the purpose of this work – answering the question of whether we are congenital killers – we suggest that both so-called scientific disciplines and so-called humanities should be involved, in particular biomedical sciences and cultural studies are necessary, hence the term biocultural studies.

Conflict[edit | edit source]

In the general literature this term is marred by semantic vagueness. The whole field of studies dealing with conflicts and conflict management is also affected by confused terminology. For clarity and effectiveness, we suggest the following terminology. When two persons or communities are confronted with a difference of opinion or interests, but no conflict has yet materialised, they are facing a conflict of interests* (not a conflict). If the conflict of interests* is dealt with in a violent way (the stronger one will prevail) they will face a conflict, often a social confrontation, or a physical fight or a war. If the conflict of interests* is dealt with in a nonviolent way (dialogue, consultation, formulation of win-win solutions, etc.) a conflict will be prevented. This terminology, and its related concepts, allow a more sophisticated discussion and, importantly, include the concept of prevention. The strategies of conflict resolution or conflict management normally deal, instead, with situations after the conflict has occurred.

Conflict of interests[edit | edit source]

A conflict of interests is a social situation that represents a potential conflict*, which will occur if nothing is done to prevent it. See Conflict.*

Congenital characteristics[edit | edit source]

Congenital literally means ‘born with.’ It refers to both genetic characteristics (specific DNA sequences) and conditions experienced by the foetus in uterus. The popular literature often uses the term ‘genetic’ to mean congenital. For example, mental deficiency due to malnutrition of the pregnant mother is congenital, not genetic. Importantly, uterine congenital characteristics are not inherited by the next generation, while genetic characteristics are. For the themes discussed in this paper the important genetic/uterine congenital characteristics are behavioural predispositions.*

Cultural violence[edit | edit source]

See violence.* A special case of structural violence* that affects the way a person thinks. Indoctrination, misleading political propaganda and commercial advertising are among the many forms of cultural violence.

Deep culture[edit | edit source]

Important neuronal connections are formed in our brain during the first 5-6 years of life under the defining influence of post-natal experiences and non-verbal behavioural models. They define social values by establishing logical connections (cell contacts) between cultural situations and their consequences. At a later age memories of this experience settle within sub-cortical regions and escape consciousness to become the so-called deep culture operating at a subconscious level. Deep culture keeps influencing conscious behaviour throughout life via reciprocal connections with the cerebral cortex, but escaping the awareness of the subject. In this way we are convinced of carrying congenital 'drives' or 'impulses' that are beyond our control (the imaginary instincts*), while we are just influenced by very early postnatal inputs.

Direct violence[edit | edit source]

See violence.* Aggressive behaviour displayed by a person against another person; it can be verbal or physical (wounding, torturing and killing). Intentional killing is the extreme form of man-to-man violence* and is typical of (historical) human beings. As this is not practised by animals, one needs a term (violence*) different from aggression. In this sense, animals are aggressive not violent, and hunting is aggression against other species, not violence.*

Functional potentialities[edit | edit source]

They are functions that are eventually displayed by adult humans, but are in our congenital (genetic) developmental program only as potentialities (incomplete structures), because they need a strong postnatal input in order to complete their development as conceived by our biocultural evolution.* Examples: bipedal gait, speech and language, hand dexterity, social behaviour, etc. For example, a child can be born perfectly normal (larynx and brain regions ready to work) but the neural connections for speech must be constructed under post-natal stimulation (hearing adult speaking) otherwise the child will say nothing. Conclusion: one is not born a human being; one becomes one after birth if the necessary models are available.

Human beings[edit | edit source]

They are individuals of the species Homo sapiens who emerged in Eastern Africa about 100,000 years ago. Therefore the study of human nature should not be limited to historical humans who lived in the last few thousand years. On the other hand, other species of the genus Homo or other Hominids or Primates are not ‘our ancestors’, as often said, because they belong to other species and survived through different adaptive strategies; we only share a common ancestry with them, as we do with all other species of animals at more or less ancient times.

Human nature[edit | edit source]

Human nature is the set of characteristics that distinguish human beings from other species of animals, other primates in particular. Zoologists have no hesitation in defining the nature of all animal species, by describing body shape, geographical region(s) inhabited, diet, and specific behaviour. In the case of humans, it is relatively easy to define human nature in terms of physical features such as gene sequences and body shape (anatomy), but there is still debate about which aspects of human behavior should be described as human nature and which behaviors should be classified as cultural artifacts. It has been proposed[1] that prehistoric and contemporary hunter-gatherers (their cultural practices and spirituality included) could be a better model for human nature than are most cultures from recent and current times. Giorgi's position is that recent (since the development of human cultures that are not limited to the hunter-gather pattern) modifications to human culture have been invented and are "purely cultural". If so, then claims about human nature that emphasize cultural practices that have developed during historical times and that have so far dominated sociological analyses and political proposals are misleading. If there are human cultural universals then exactly what are they? This issue can be explored at Nonkilling Human Biology/Human nature.

Human instincts[edit | edit source]

Terms used by Sigmund Freud (together with 'drives' and impulses') to indicate specific behaviours that are built in our congenital (prenatal) characteristics. In fact this is the way zoologists and animal ethologists use the term instinct: a specific behaviour that expresses itself even in absence of specific postnatal input. As animals evolved from Fish to Herbivores, Carnivores and Primates, the repertoire of instincts gradually decreased because postnatal acquisition* and learning* turned out more advantageous than congenital behaviour to adapt to a changing environment. Human beings* have only a few instincts, all associated with babies in the first year of life: searching the nipple, suckling, orient its senses toward mother, clasping objects passing in front of their visual field and swimming around the first year of age. All other sensory-motor functions are acquired* in the first few years of life under social guidance and learned* throughout life. Therefore social behaviour, violence* and killing included, are not instincts; Freud did not benefit of modern scientific advances.

Neurological imperatives[edit | edit source]

The human nervous system makes possible the learning and development of cultural elements such as technologies that allow humans to adapt to a wide range of physical or social environments. However, fossil and genetic evidence indicates that Homo sapiens and chimpanzees evolved by divergence from a common ancestor and that modern humans arose in Africa. Due to our evolutionary origins, are humans healthier and happier in a tropical/subtropical environment? Humans lived in a relatively small communities until recently. Are people more at ease (healthier) in a social environment where members know each other and display solidarity toward each other? Are chronic depression and other health problems made more likely when people live in high-density populations or competitive and violent societies? We can define "neurological imperatives" in terms of environmental conditions that favor healthy behavior and societies because they are a good fit with biological needs that arise from how the human nervous system evolved.

Nonviolence[edit | edit source]

It represents a mental attitude and behavioural strategies that favours consultation and negotiation in order to set in place win-win solutions of conflicts of interests.* Nonviolent solutions are not passive or appeasing; they require action, courage and intelligence. It does not take much intelligence to resolve a conflict of interests with violent strategies, that is, with a conflict, as we have done in the last 8,000 years or so.

Peace studies[edit | edit source]

They are multidisciplinary studies that aim at understanding the causes of violence* and war* in order to prevent (not just reduce) them and propose possible nonviolent solutions of conflicts of interests.* At the moment the theoretical bases of peace studies are weak, because academics and intellectuals still avoid dealing with the issue of human nature and the origins of human behaviour, nonviolence and violence.*

Postnatal acquisition[edit | edit source]

The completion of functional potentialities* in parallel with the definition of neural circuitries during the first 5-6 years of life. After this initial period of basic neural construction, one begins postnatal learning* of new skills. Erect posture, hand dexterity, and speech, for example, are acquired, and not learned, as one normally says. The general literature wrongly uses ‘acquiring’ and ‘learning’ as synonyms.

Postnatal learning[edit | edit source]

Information added to the memory bank of the brain after all functional potentialities* have been acquired. In fact, the function of transforming short-term memory into long-term memory (learning) is itself one of these functional potentialities.*

Religion[edit | edit source]

Religion emerged after the production of food (agricultural and pastoral economies), as a superstructure of pre-existing spirituality.* Religion carried the following novelties: a priestly authority, the concept of god(s), rituals, and moral instructions. The traditional collaboration with civil authorities has often embroiled religion in structural violence* and caused a loss of spirituality.*

Spirituality[edit | edit source]

Spirituality is a functional potentiality* typical of human beings, who are concerned with important metaphysical questions: the origins of natural features, the origins of humans, the relationship among humans and between humans and nature, and fundamental questions about life and death. The human cerebral cortex has an area in the frontal lobe that becomes particularly active during meditation and mental concentration on metaphysical issues[2]. Prehistoric cultures and contemporary hunter-gatherers demonstrated sophisticated forms of metaphysical association with elements of nature and with other human beings. They did not consider themselves masters of nature (rather guardians of it) nor masters of other people (but as equals in society). The particular way this functional potentiality* was expressed was through their particular culture (just as language was), not separate instructions provided by clergy and political movements.

Structural violence[edit | edit source]

Structural violence is the source of all forms of violence.* According to Johan Galtung, it is the sum of those ideas and institutions that limit the development of the human potentialities of each individual. Falling ill of a preventable disease, lacking education, being deprived of love or cultural identity, are among the many examples of structural violence.

Violence[edit | edit source]

Violence is a term to be used only for human beings. It represents intentional oppression, wounding and killing directed toward other human beings, therefore member of the same species. Arguably other species do not display violence, only aggression*. In the literature, aggression*, aggressiveness* and violence are normally used as synonyms, causing in this way much misunderstandings and conceptual confusion. We cannot discuss about nonviolence* without a good definition of violence, especially of structural violence.*

War[edit | edit source]

It is a form of direct violence* against a perceived “enemy” involving a sophisticated social organisation, a culture accepting or admiring armed forces and weapons, and a dominant minority that has a vested interest in staging war, while not fighting in it.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. See Giorgi, P. P. (2001) The origins of violence by cultural evolutions (second edition). Minerva, Brisbane. This edition is out of print. It can be downloaded at the web site A third edition of this work is being prepared. Those who read Italian have a new version of this work (updated and enlarged) in Giorgi, P. P. (2008) La violenza inevitabile – Una menzogna moderna. Jaca Book, Milano.
  2. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation by Richard J. Davidson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jessica Schumacher, Melissa Rosenkranz, Daniel Muller, Saki F. Santorelli, Ferris Urbanowski, Anne Harrington, Katherine Bonus and John F. Sheridan in Psychosomatic Medicine (2003) Volume 65 pages 564-570.