TED Conversations

Jordan Reeves

TED-Ed Community Manager, TED Conferences


This conversation is closed.

In ten words or less, what is a question no one (yet) knows the answer to?

Is there life outside of our planet?

What's a bigger factor in our development: environment or genetics?

Is there any real truth, or is everything relative?

What will the earth be like in 100 years?

Topics: answers questions
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    Dec 7 2011: QUOTE: "What's a bigger factor in our development: environment or genetics?"

    We actually know this one. It's genetics. Our dogs live in the same environment we do but, as yet, do not get to vote, drive cars, or run for political office. And very few know how to write. The difference is genetic.
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      Dec 8 2011: I'm not attempting to be rude, but was this supposed to be funny? I can't tell if this was sarcasm or not, but just in case it isn't... Obviously the question of development, which clearly states "our" development, is in regards to human development, and has absolutely nothing to do with dogs. This question has not been definitively answered. Psychologists and other medical professionals are still in great debate over which factors influence our development the most.
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        Dec 8 2011: QUOTE: "I'm not attempting to be rude, but was this supposed to be funny? I can't tell if this was sarcasm or not, but just in case it isn't... Obviously the question of development, which clearly states "our" development, is in regards to human development, and has absolutely nothing to do with dogs."

        Did it make you smile?

        The question of nature versus nurture is only an issue if we focus on one species at a time (which, as humans, we are prone to do) ... if we expand our consideration to include even two species then the BIGGEST factor, by far, is genetics ... after all, one little blip in our DNA, and we'd all be chimpanzees ... or maybe blue-green algae.

        So our development (whether human or otherwise) is influenced first by genetics (it makes us what we are) and then by environment (it shapes us within very clearly defined constraints. ... Now I'm a human ... I can only be a "good" human, or a "bad" human. I don't really cut it as flora.)


        [It's funny if you want it to be... humour seems to be a personal thing.]
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          Dec 8 2011: I get what you're saying now, but I guess we looked at the question differently. I took it to refer to human development, that is, once we are born (as humans!), do our genes or our environment play a bigger role in shaping who we ultimately become.
        • Dec 8 2011: This is a question close to the heart of adopted people, and I would agree with Juliet that there is much to be learned with regard to nature versus nurture.
      • Dec 8 2011: y so srs? I know the subject matter is all serious, but his answer was a comedic brilliance!
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        Dec 9 2011: It is obvious that both plays a huge role in our development but to say which one could potentially create the biggest impact on the individual I'd go with our genetics/our biology and here is why:

        I consider myself a very philosophical individual. There many values and principles that really guide my life and it is evident that my environment had an influence on such a development.

        There was a period in time in which I was homeless and that's when I realized how these higher principles we base our lives around due to the environment we created for ourselves as a society really did not have an impact when I was homeless. it is in our genes to want to survive and we'll do that by any means necessary. These higher principles that we create for ourselves due to the society we live in really almost serve no purpose in the real face of danger. It actually a privilege to even have a conversation like this

        Ultimately I think our biology can influence us more but I'd be a fool to say it influences us completely.
    • Dec 8 2011: QUOTE: "What's a bigger factor in our development: environment or genetics?"

      We actually know this one. It's the environment. Picture yourself having an identical twin brother. Then shoot yourself in the head. Your brother has the same genes as you do but, as you are dead, you do not get to vote, drive cars, or run for political office. And you no longer know how to write. The difference is environmental.

      This is brilliant logic.
      • Dec 8 2011: now that's funny!
        • Dec 8 2011: Just goes to show everything is subjective.

          It's like watching a dog chase his tail which one's faster?
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        Dec 8 2011: Hi Richard,

        Well, let's say you have a twin and he passes away of natural causes ... would you become a genius ... or, say, an iguana?

        You are (as I mentioned) focussing on a single species ... which is a typical human response. (As far as I know, iguanas don't have an opinion. Their brains haven't developed in quite the right way. It's genetic. you know?)

        [Are you an America male?]
        • Dec 9 2011: The question was "What's a bigger factor in OUR development?" Not, "What's a bigger factor in of the development of arbitrary species?" You are over-extending the question.

          To extend your over-extension of the question further: "What's a bigger factor in the development of a rock versus an iguana?" It's clearly environmental, since a rock does not even have genes.

          More generally, genes originated from the environment, not vice versa. One's genetic environment, which changes throughout life, is just one of many different environments that influence one's development.
        • Dec 10 2011: If it were genetics as you state, then you would not become anything from your twins death as you would pass away of the same natural causes as your twin (assuming identical). If you did not pass away, then exposure to a different environment can be the only explanation.

          The answer is both as seen in Epigenetics, it is the influence, combination and recipe of each.

          To bring the question across species - According to Evolutionary Developmental Theory of Mind and Vygotsky, the ability to teach and learn (as opposed to mimicking) differentiates humans from all other species. One must ask the question uniquely to each species and cannot generalize development across the universe.

          The humor and philosophy is also appreciated.
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        Dec 10 2011: Hi Richard,

        As I said it depends on where we would like to begin to answer the question.

        And if we choose, "our" can mean "humans" or it can mean "terrestrial earth-dwellers."

        You pick.

        I don't mind which answer we come up with. Because we can always shift contexts and get another answer.
    • Dec 8 2011: I guess there is no answer after all. At least there is debate on it.
    • Dec 8 2011: Enviro-netics
      • Dec 10 2011: Epigenetics
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          Dec 10 2011: QUOTE: "If it were genetics as you state, then you would not become anything from your twins death as you would pass away of the same natural causes as your twin (assuming identical).

          Hi Jessica,

          So you're saying if one twin gets hit by lightening the other will as well.

          That sucks.

          And, of course, we can frame the question (or the answer ... or both) to refer only to humans if we wish.

          We can also select discrete timeframes: for instance, in our (human) past, we made stone tools. We made them the same way for a long, long time (for example, we made Oldowan tools for a million years or so starting about 2.5 million years ago.) [Technically, we still make them, but you get my point (no pun intended.)]

          Our environment didn't change all that much but we suddenly started making more sophisticated tools.


          It might have had something to do with our brain's development (which is genetic) and we then changed our environment more or less continuously until, today, I can write to you from China.

          Now, why did our brain suddenly develop?

          Some think it's because we started eating fish which is rich in Omega 3 oils ... which is environmental.

          So you see, it just depends on how we would like to answer the question.

          I suspect no dogs have participated in this discussion (though their environments often include computers).... But we (all terrestrial earth-dwellers) are still evolving. Maybe there are some really, really smart, fish-eating dogs out there just waiting for their thumbs to become opposable and their Broca's area and Wernicke's area to evolve.

          Context is everything.
    • Dec 8 2011: Didn't (and don't) we adapt genetically to our environment? We adapted from apes to humans because of certain environmental conditions. Since your question focuses on which factor influences our development more it would surely be the environment.
    • Dec 8 2011: The fact that evolution occurs at all is evidence of the impact of environment on genetics. Those who are best suited to an environment prosper. The environment however has a great enough influence that those without the genetically endowed characteristics needed to survive it will die.

      Thus the environment is the stronger of the two - capable of creating change in genetics and altering the course of evolution (such that we ARE different from dogs).
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        Dec 8 2011: Hmmmm ... you guys are taking this one to heart.

        There are "environments" that have been around a lot longer than earth and they have no "genetic" material ... no genes, no evolution.

        Now, if we would like to go back a bit further ... we might hit, let's say a big explosive event ... if that didn't turn out "just right" no stars, earth, humans or dogs.

        So I guess it depends on where we want to start with our enquiry.
  • Dec 8 2011: If a turtle loses its shell, is it homeless or naked?
  • Dec 8 2011: What question is most worth asking?
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    Dec 8 2011: Where exactly is memory in the brain?
    Where exactly does a thought come from?
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      Dec 8 2011: try the book "brain rules" by john medina..
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    Dec 7 2011: How big is the universe?
    • Dec 8 2011: I remember being in class at a Catholic elementary school and a teacher saying that if you really want to occupy your time because you have nothing to do, try contemplating how old God is (ie. the Bible says he is infinite and has no beginning and no end).

      Now that I have grown and am agnostic, I have replaced this with the age/size of the universe. It actually makes me very uncomfortable when I try to contemplate this.
    • Dec 8 2011: Apparently we now have a multiverse, so it's smaller than that.
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      Dec 9 2011: There are two answers. Of the observable Universe, just over 15 billion light years long in all directions. Of the actual, requires us to be external to the Universe which by definition is not possible.
    • Dec 10 2011: Which one?
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      Dec 11 2011: The universe is as big as u can imagine it would be.
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    Dec 6 2011: What is Love?
    • Comment deleted

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        Dec 7 2011: Love is a many-splendoured thing.
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        Dec 7 2011: Thank you Varlan,

        this is the thing about Grown Love. What happened to passion, lust and curiosity for each other?
        How come that often over time couples loose a lot, if not all, of what has made them attracted to one another the moment they met?

        I call it the 'Dark Side' turns into 'White Side'.
        The dark side is our curiosity, lust, passion, sense of adventure, intensity, pure-ness, surprise...
        The white side is where we feel empathy, responsibility, diplomacy, understanding, patience, ...
        And we all have a Dark Side AND a White Side in us that seek expression.

        However, especially when we begin to think we 'know' our partner, a house is bought together, a family is built, many couples slowly but steadily stop being curious and start to focus only on behaving responsibly, caring for the kids, working hard to pay the bills, organizing life and worrying about the future.
        Furthermore, if children are born in the relationship, couples don't feel the sense of passion, lust and adventure appropriate to live alongside raising the kids anymore.
        The pure thought of spending a hot weekend just the two without kids often raises guild.
        Doing a striptease or spending a champagne night full of lust and sex starts to feel awkward.
        And this way, before you realize, your 'Grown Love' has become a love for each other purely lived with the White Side.

        However, we all always have both sides in us that seek to be expressed as part of our life.
        We can not and should not try to close this side down in us, both man and woman.

        And that's why it is so important to not let your Grown Love become a 'less entangling mystery' but to make your love for each White and Dark. In the end, it's the love of the parents for each other that has created all there is. It's living the White AND the Dark Side with each other that thrives the relationship of the entire family.

        So for all 'Grown Lovers' out there, remember what made you fall in love, feel it and live it.
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      Dec 7 2011: Read "The Psychology of Love" by Nathaniel Branden. Monumental!
    • Dec 8 2011: Perhaps the the attraction of the One with the Many, Spirit with Form, Light with Darkness, Past with Future, Time with Space... which creates consciousness, life, evolution, peace, the moment, existence
    • Dec 8 2011: Love, like in a couple? Passion + Intimacy + Commitment. Known as Sternberg's Triangle. (in other words, Lust, Laughter, and Loyalty).
    • Dec 8 2011: love is the combination of effects originating by chemicals and hormone changes produced in your brain (like oxytocin) these effects provide us with similar sensations and consequences as those we feel by drugs (such as addiction and withdrawal). The three elements: (1) sexual desire, (2) emotions and (3) human dependency on a partner (originally for the purpose of evolution and to raise offspring) amalgamate to create that complex set of feelings and to ignite the production of the afore mentioned chemicals and hormones to which we have decided to give the name of LOVE.
  • Dec 10 2011: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object ??
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      Dec 11 2011: one is proved to be false :D
    • D T

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      Dec 11 2011: something unbelievable
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      Dec 11 2011: Answer is obvious: That force will keep acting, and that immovable object maintain its position. There would be no observable effect.
    • Dec 13 2011: I would hazard that the underlying pattern of the universe would preclude both from co-existing. We would have one, the other, or neither.
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    Dec 8 2011: Why does a minor chord make us feeling sad ?
  • Dec 8 2011: What if I had taken the other road?
    • Dec 9 2011: The one less-travelled by? It would have made all the difference.
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    Dec 8 2011: How does dreams work?
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    Dec 8 2011: What the purpose of life?
  • Dec 7 2011: Who is the happiest person in the world?
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      Dec 9 2011: No one can be the happiest person in the world as happiness is relative to each person, there is no absolute value or scale for happiness.
    • Dec 9 2011: Hugh Hefner
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    Dec 7 2011: Is there a grand unifying theory?

    Is there a maximum complexity of our universe?
    If so
    What is the complexity of the universe expressed in Shanon entropy?
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    Dec 11 2011: where are my keys? Where are my keys? Where? Where?
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    Dec 9 2011: What is the mechanism that makes the placebo effect work.
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      Dec 9 2011: I believe its autosuggestion.
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      Dec 9 2011: Great question! I think there's some real mystery here and great potential if it's answered! psychology is not a mechanism, but as a discipline it offers some limited answers.
      The mechanism clearly seems to be within the person, and that mechanism has the power to heal the body on its own steam! The answer, if found, could become a very powerful source for good.
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      Dec 9 2011: Expectations
      The human brain is wired to be influenced by Expectations. Placebos have their effect through a sort of mind-over-matter process. It's similar to how drug addicts can feel a 'high' by watching a video of another drug user 'shooting up.' We don't need to directly experience the drug's action to 'feel' the same result, IF we can expect what the effects of the drug could be.

      (The actual mechanism may be the expected reinforcing/rewarding effects from a drug, like alcohol, by way of the Dopaminergic pathway).
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    Dec 8 2011: Why are moths attracted to lightbulbs? (Thanks QI !)
  • Dec 8 2011: Where is the source of consciousness?
  • Dec 8 2011: The foundation of religion: What happens to us when we die?
  • Dec 8 2011: Did God create us or did we create God?
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    Dec 8 2011: Can you imagine the unimaginable?
    • Dec 9 2011: I'm trying ... I'm trying ...
      • Dec 9 2011: You are not programmed to get an answer :P
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      Dec 9 2011: I can imagine what you cannot - does that count? ;)
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    Dec 8 2011: Is there an afterlife and is it the same for everyone?
  • Dec 8 2011: Do plants "think"?
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      Dec 8 2011: They have the same lower level thinking processes that we humans have in the lower brain stem reacting to stimuli and regulation themselves, but with regards to self-aware and abstract thoughts of humans... there are many humans that one could question whether they "think".
    • Dec 8 2011: I think so.
  • Dec 8 2011: What is the cure to cancer? What's the cure to AIDS?
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    Dec 8 2011: Will we one day learn from our mistakes?
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    Dec 8 2011: Is there any real truth, or is everything relative?
    Opposite of every truth is just as true! - "Hermen Hesse", creation is ultimate truth.
    • Dec 8 2011: The only absolute: everything is relative.
    • Dec 8 2011: Facts are true, but perceiving them is relative.
  • Dec 8 2011: Why do we perceive beauty in abstractness, music and art?
    • Dec 8 2011: I like your question.
      In my opinion,
      It is because art is able to materialise (or make visible, or hearable) the collective and universal order which exists in each person because we all belong and exist inside universe. Therefore all people are able to recognize, feel, and connect to it on some level, through art. Of course, art is, also, NOT the only area which makes us perceive beauty.

      ps. When I say order, I mean beauty (although Beauty is of course far more relative term and concept.
      I find that not all art is beautifull, but I tried to answer it from the general perspective, as I see it.)
  • Dec 8 2011: Do we have free will?
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    Dec 8 2011: I'd rather ask... Is there a question mankind actually ever know the answer of?
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    Dec 7 2011: Can science explain consciousness?
    • Dec 7 2011: Or what was the first conscious thought that humans had? I tend to think that it was ¨I can direct my actions¨ ... and not ¨I exist¨
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        Dec 7 2011: Along with quantum mechanics, the study of consciousness forces the empiricism of science to be moved, kicking and screaming, into the realm of the metaphysical.

        The uneasy relationship between the scientific method and the metaphysical, and how it develops, will be fascinating to watch.

        I await the inevitability of their embrace with bated breath.
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    Dec 6 2011: How long I'll live.