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Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. “Nature” refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. It ranges in scale from the subatomic to the cosmic.
The word nature is derived from the Latin word natura, or “essential qualities, innate disposition”, and in ancient times, literally meant “birth”. Natura was a Latin translation of the Greek word physis (φύσις), which originally related to the intrinsic characteristics that plants, animals, and other features of the world develop of their own accord. The concept of nature as a whole, the physical universe, is one of several expansions of the original notion; it began with certain core applications of the word φύσις by pre-Socratic philosophers, and has steadily gained currency ever since. This usage was confirmed during the advent of modern scientific method in the last several centuries.
Within the various uses of the word today, “nature” often refers to geology and wildlife. Nature may refer to the general realm of various types of living plants and animals, and in some cases to the processes associated with inanimate objects – the way that particular types of things exist and change of their own accord, such as the weather and geology of the Earth, and the matter and energy of which all these things are composed. It is often taken to mean the “natural environment” or wilderness–wild animals, rocks, forest, beaches, and in general those things that have not been substantially altered by human intervention, or which persist despite human intervention. For, example, manufactured objects and human interaction generally are not considered part of nature, unless qualified as, for example, “human nature” or “the whole of nature”. This more traditional concept of natural things which can still be found today implies a distinction between the natural and the artificial, with the artificial being understood as that which has been brought into being by a human consciousness or a human mind. Depending on the particular context, the term “natural” might also be distinguished from the unnatural, the supernatural, or synthetic.
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The nature versus nurture debate concerns the relative importance of an individual’s innate qualities (“nature,” i.e. nativism, or innatism) versus personal experiences (“nurture,” i.e. empiricism or behaviorism) in determining or causing individual differences in physical and behavioral traits.
“Nature versus nurture” in its modern sense was coined by the English Victorian polymath Francis Galton in discussion of the influence of heredity and environment on social advancement, although the terms had been contrasted previously, for example by Shakespeare (in his play, The Tempest: 4.1). Galton was influenced by the book On the Origin of Species written by his cousin, Charles Darwin. The concept embodied in the phrase has been criticized for its binary simplification of two tightly interwoven parameters, as for example an environment of wealth, education and social privilege are often historically passed to genetic offspring.
The view that humans acquire all or almost all their behavioral traits from “nurture” was termed by philosopher John Locke tabula rasa (“blank slate”) and proposes that humans develop from only environmental influences. This question was once considered to be an appropriate division of developmental influences, but since both types of factors are known to play such interacting roles in development, most modern psychologists and anthropologists consider the question naive—representing an outdated state of knowledge.
In the social and political sciences, the nature versus nurture debate may be contrasted with the structure versus agency debate (i.e. socialization versus individual autonomy). For a discussion of nature versus nurture in language and other human universals, see also psychological nativism.