As Stephen Pinker so persuasively argued, modern evolutionary psychology tells us clear and simple that there is no such thing as a “blank slate.” Humans are born with a set of natural dispositions, endowing them with the basic building blocks of social behavior: language, cognition, desire, etc. However, a recent discovery by genetic researchers in Korea could change all that.
Yesterday, the South Korean research firm Klonaid announced that, in the process of looking for a way to bypass the human body’s natural resistance to cloned embryos, they discovered a way to effectively turn off the set of genetic switches which determine who we are. In other words, using genetic science it is possible to wipe the slate clean, creating babies free of any genetic predispositions.
While real-world implementations remain far off, the possibilities of such tabula rasa babies (TRBs) is already beguiling researchers. Yale scientist Stanley Milgram was quoted as saying:
Freed of their natural wiring, TRBs would allow us to truly observe the effects of socialization for the first time. Whereas before such effects were filtered through each subject’s biological filter, such baggage would be absent in TRBs.
Experimental psychologists are particularly excited about the possibility of observing language acquisition by TRBs. Traditionally, children have imposed phonological and grammatical structure on linguistic input, even when it is not already there. Without such constraints, TRBs exposed to a full range of linguistic stimuli might be able to produce a universal language, unconstrained by the limits of any single syntactic structure.
Evolutionary Anthropologists associated with the Dharma Initiative are excited about the possibility of watching culture emerge for the first time. While there is some concern that TRBs might be unable to survive without some basic behavioral instincts already in place, it is hoped that TRBs will be able to quickly overcome such obstacles, allowing scientists to finally settle the question as to whether human beings in a state of nature will truly descend into a Hobbesian “war of all against all,” or whether they will build a Rousseauian civil society, free of social hierarchies.
(Note: While there might have been reason to doubt South Korean genetics research in the past, recent events have imposed strict standards of proof, including validation by an independent team of international reviewers appointed by the Raelian society.)