Dialectical Materialism (A. Spirkin)
Prev Chapter 5. On the Human Being and Being Human Next

The Human as the Biosocial

Contemporary science considers the human being on the basis of two different dimensions of his existence: the biological and the social. Human beings appeared on earth as a result of a long process of development. As biological creatures, they still retain a close genetic connection with the animal world. Man's organism has many features in common with the higher animals.

Man got ahead of the mammals thanks to the intensive development and differentiation of the cerebral cortex. The characteristic anatomical and physiological features of the human being are erect posture, free upper extremities, adapted for using and making tools, and advanced develop ment of the means of communication. The need to maintain balance in the erect posture caused a certain curvature of the spinal column and a shift in the general centre of gravity.

Since the upper extremities were no longer used for body support and walking, the skeleton of the lower extremities became stronger and their muscles developed, the feet became arched to act as springs. All the systems of the internal organs have adapted to the erect posture, the means of delivering blood from the lower extremities to the heart and the brain have become more complex. The diaphragm has shifted from a vertical to a horizontal position, the muscles of the abdomen have come to perform a much greater role in the act of breathing. At a certain level of anthropogenesis, under the influence of labour activity and communication, biological development became what is, in effect, the historical develop ment of social systems.

The human being is also a natural being and, as such, is endowed with natural vital forces, which take the form of inherited qualities. Birth gives man existence as a natural individual. Although he comes into the world with insufficiently formed anatomical and physiological systems, they are genetically programmed as uniquely human. The newborn child is not a "tabula rasa" (clean slate) on which the environment draws its fanciful spiritual patterns. Heredity equips the child not only with instincts. He is from the very beginning the possessor of a special ability, the ability to imitate adults, their actions, the noises they make. He has an inherent curiosity, an ability to enjoy bright objects. He is capable of being upset, disappointed, experiencing fear and joy. His smile is innate and it can be observed even in prematurely born babies. Smiling is the privilege of man. And these purely human innate potentials are developed in the course of his whole subsequent life in society. Many specific features even of the human being's physiological make-up (the round shape of the head, the sophisticated structure of the hands, the shape of the lips and the whole facial structure, the erect posture, etc.) are products of the social way of life, the result of interaction with other people.

To sum up, man is an integrated unity of the biological, the organismic and the personal, the natural and the social, the inherited and what he acquires during his life. Developing both historically and in the course of his individual develop ment as a social being, man does not "opt out" of the multiform biotic flow. The physiological rhythm of the blood circulation, nutrition, breathing, sex life, the rhythmical vortices of the energy and information processes in the organism, birth, maturity and death, the phases of individual existence — childhood, adolescence, rebellious youth, young manhood, maturity, advanced life, old age, senility and complete decline—all this and much else is genetically programmed. Human beings are the towering peak of a great biological system, the latest to emerge in time, and the most complex.

Three forms of determination—the biotropic, the cosmotropic and sociotropic—operate in the human being. They embrace the whole history of humanity, regional and national traditions, the influence of a certain social group, of microconditions, the great power of biological heredity. The accuracy and purity of heredity is maintained by a specific material substratum, the apparatus of the genes, which for millions of years has carefully guarded man's racial essence as the highest biological species. If a chimpanzee were placed from birth in ideal conditions and surrounded by gifted teachers, it still would not change from an ape into a man. Heredity sets an impassable gulf between ape and man.

The genetically coded abilities of the child are the product of a long process of evolution, but even such apparently simple and seemingly innate abilities as the ability to distinguish ordinary sounds of speech and musical tones are formed only in the process of its living mastery of the historically shaped forms of language and music. The ability to think as a human being does not simply appear and mature in the process of the child's individual development; it is shaped by life in society. At the moment of birth a child is only a candidate human being, it cannot become a full member of the human race if isolated. It must learn to become human through communication, through being introduced to the world of people, of society, which regulates, guides and fills his behaviour with social meaning.

Every human being has amazingly obedient fingers; he can take up a brush and colours and begin to paint, but this does not make him into an artist. It is the same with consciousness, which is not our natural birthright. The conscious mental phenomena inherent in man are shaped during life by education, training, the active mastery of world culture, language, and a world-view. Thus, the social principle permeates the individual and determines the essentially human structure and mechanisms of his mentality, consciousness and mode of behaviour.

For various cognitive or practical purposes we may stress man's biological or social aspects, but we must always remember their essential unity.

In the past decade world science has devoted much attention to the problem of the relationship between the biological and the social in man. Paradoxically, it is the social conditions of life of modern man that have so urgently confronted us with the problem of his natural origin: the social has, as it were, "highlighted" the biological, sometimes to the point of vulgarisation, such as the assertion that nature has endowed man with "three brains", which despite their completely different structures have to function together and maintain contact. According to this view, the oldest of our brains is reptilian, the second was inherited from the lower mammals, and the third is the achievement of the higher mammals. This is the one that turned the living creature into man. So, figuratively speaking, when a doctor invites his patient to lie down on a couch, he is dealing simultaneously with a human being, a horse and a crocodile. Such views stem from the notion that man's biological essence is invariable. The conception of socio-biologism has also won some recognition in Western science, due probably to the striking successes of biological research in recent decades, particularly in the sphere of genetics, neurophysiology, ethology, etc.

To the question does man rely on "genes or society?" we often receive the answer that it is the genes that count most.

Some thinkers envisage man's biological destiny in an extremely optimistic and colourful light. They believe that the existing system of heredity fully reflects the results of his appearance as a unique biological species. Its significance is so great that it can virtually serve for an unlimited period, for the whole foreseeable future, and this precious hereditary basis of humanity must be preserved from any harmful external influences.

Others maintain that the human being as a biological species is already on the way to extinction. Thanks to the creation of his own environment and the successes of medicine, man has deviated from the stern discipline of natural selection and thus burdened himself with increased pressure from accumulated mutations.

A third school of thought works on the assumption that the human being, as a biologically young species, carries too many animal genes in his heredity. The social environment in which he lives is created not by the history of humanity but by the activity only of its elite.

The last two of these doctrines are based on the idea that man's genetic nature as a whole requires some adjustment or correction, that the near future threatens humanity with destruction through biological factors, and that in these conditions only genetics, by taking evolution into its own hands, can avert this grave menace.

On the crest of these ideas there emerges a somewhat elaborated form of eugenics, which imperatively declares that whether we want it or not, science must deliberately control the reproduction of the human race, and introduce some kind of partial selection for the "benefit" of humanity. Some Western scientists propose that the sperm of the "finest specimens of the human race" should be used for this purpose. It should be put into deep freeze for a long time to allow for objective assessment of the true value of the individuals concerned. Sperm thus preserved may then be used for mating purposes. The wife and the donor will be the biological parents while the husband (assumed to be inferior to the donor) remains only the "adopting parent". Exercises in "genetic engineering" even go as far as to assume an "adopting mother", in which case neither mother nor father is a truly biological parent. Even if one ignores the purely genetic implications of such selection, one is confronted by a host of moral and psychological questions. Who possesses the genotypes with the desirable features? Who should or could decide the question of what precisely is desirable? Who would dare, and by what right, to prevent the majority of men and women producing progeny, and limit this activity to an elite group? To whom can society entrust such a crucial decision? What are we to do about the incorrigible desire to perpetuate oneself in one's children? This hypertrophy of genetic factors and opportunities stems from the belittling of the social principle in man. Man is a natural being, but a human natural being. Nature gives the human being less than life in society requires of him. Life and the development of society may continue only through the biological form of human existence, and human biology can develop its genetic programme only in the context of the social reality. In its origin, biological law is socially conditioned. Only when swaddled in the "cotton wool" of social care can the child—the most helpless of all young animals—realise the species programme implanted in it by nature.

The animal is born with fur or feathers, it is clothed by nature. But the baby is born naked and has to be clothed by society. It must learn to be human. And this it does in constant communication with adults, in its lifetime acquisition of culture.

The influence of the social on the biological is demonstrated by the increase in longevity from approximately 18 years in the stone age to between 64 and 74 in modern times. The active period of life has also increased, particularly that of mental activity. The onset of old age has receded, the period of childhood has lengthened and sexual maturity has accelerated. The phenomenon of acceleration is regarded as an epochal shift, one of the most significant phenomena in contemporary biology, with serious medical, pedagogical and other social implications.

What regulates the relationship of the sexes? Why does one find the following stable ratio in human population: 103 boys to 100 girls? In post-war years, after the loss of so many males, the birth rate of boys increases.

Life shows that on the borderline between the biological and social the pressure of conflict sometimes reaches great intensity. Quite often it causes shifts and disruption. The number of diseases is ominously increasing, particularly those of the cardio-vascular, oncological and neuro-psychiatric types.

Physical time flows on smoothly but socio-biological time is constantly accelerating. Every hour and every minute of physical time is becoming more and more full of socio-psychological living content. The flow of contemporary life is like a violent mountain stream, it rushes us along at perilous speed. Man's psycho-physiological powers cannot always stand the pace. Everyone is trying to live faster, so as not to lag behind the general information front, to keep up with the accelerated development of culture. In the last 10 or 15 years the volume of scientific information, of discoveries and inventions, has outstripped everything previously achieved in human history. The sense organs and the human brain are fiercely and ceaselessly bombarded by all kinds of information.

When discussing biological factors, one should not reduce them to the genetic. More attention should be given to the physiological and ontogenetic aspects of development, and particularly to those that evoke a pathological effect, for it is these that modify the biology of the human being, who is also beginning to perceive even social factors in quite a different way. Dialectics does not simply put the social and the biological factors on an equal footing and attribute the human essence to the formula of biotropic-sociotropic determination favoured by some scientists. It stresses the dominant role of the social factors. Nor does dialectics accept the principles of vulgar sociologism, which ignores the significance of the biological principle in man.

As the highest intelligent being, man is the focal point of all forms of the motion of matter. They are represented in him hierarchically, and the highest ultimately guiding and regulative factor is the social, to which all other forms are subordinate. In other words a human being embodies and sums up, as it were, the whole development of the universe.

High though he stands in the universal hierarchy, a human being, when he becomes the target of scientific research, is dissected into small and even minute particles, each of which, the teeth, the stomach, the intestines, and so on, are investigated and treated separately. This is the result of the progressive differentiation of scientific knowledge, which enables us to penetrate deeper into the intricacies of human structural organisation. Without this it would be impossible to advance science. But in the course of such differentiation scientific thought tends to overlook the real and higher integrity of man, although he cannot be fully understood or treated without taking into account the whole. So there is a need for the opposite process of cognition, namely under standing of man as the highest unitary system.

The important thing is to overcome the obvious and blatant fascination with the analytical method and achieve a synthetic, complex approach, concentrating intellectual efforts in various fields on the problem of the human being as a whole. Such a "short-circuiting" of the sciences could produce a flash that would illuminate and help to identify new problems.

The independence of each separate science is an important fact, but it must be relative and should not develop into autonomy. The autonomy of the sciences that study man is a sign that they have lost the integrity of knowledge that is so essential to an understanding of the essence of the case, and to effective treatment or education. When discussing the disunity of man one must first of all realise that he is divided by the scientific scalpel into two: one half is studied by the natural sciences (biology, physiology, biochemistry, biophysics, etc.), while the other is the province of the social sciences, and also of medicine, which occupies an intermediary position and would appear to be all-embracing.

Life demands that we combine both these methods of studying humankind. Natural scientific methods frequently ignore, or pay too little attention to the social aspects and consequently the social methods of cognition. On the other hand, the social sciences often omit the natural principle in man and consequently the natural scientific methods of cognition. The result is to the detriment of both sides and the bad effects are particularly apparent in the practice of healing and education. What we need is an integrated, complex study of human beings as a basis for the creative cooperation of natural science and the social sciences, of philosophy and all the other fundamental and applied sciences which in some way or another study humanity.

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