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November 7, 1980

Nature, Nurture, and Rapture

JAMA. 1980;244(18):2091. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310180057040

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When we counterpose nature to nurture in human development, we equate nature with heredity, nurture with environment. Paradoxically, environment becomes nature when we contrast it with man, the polluter and despoiler. Man, a part of nature by virtue of his genetic endowment, is transformed into its enemy through his actions.

Curiously, whereas beehives, anthills, bird nests and beaver dams are viewed as parts of nature, man-made dwellings, streets, and cities are seen as unnatural, artificial products. Defoliation of forests by birds and despoliation of fields by rodents and insects are accepted as a part of nature's grand scheme, while human activities with similar results are resented as a disruption of the overall balance of natural forces.

The integrative concept of a balanced nature with an uppercase "N" owes much to Rousseau's romantic notion of the noble savage. In its extreme form this concept has led to worshipful attitudes of man