the forbidden experiment

Rebecca Saxe, a psychologist from MIT, reviews Encounters with Wild Children by Adriana S. Benzaqu√©n, a history of the fascination that scientists have had with children who grow-up isolated from human contact. To raise a child without the influence of culture is the ‘forbidden experiment’, the test theorised by philosophers of human nature to reveal our ‘true selves’ (is man a beast or an angel underneath?). Some have thought that wild-children offer a natural occurance of this forbidden experiment, but at route, Benzaqu√©n argues, this idea doesn’t even make sense (quoting Saxe):

But here’s the catch: the forbidden experiment may belong to a smaller group of experimental problems that persistently seem meaningful but are not. Intuitively, we expect that while human nature interacts with human society in a typical child’s development, the natural and the social are in principle independent and distinguishable. If this intuition is wrong, the forbidden experiment is incoherent.

More at the Boston Review: The Forbidden Experiment: What can we learn from the wild child? Rebecca Saxe reviews ‘Encounters with Wild Children’ by Adriana S. Benzaqu√©n

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