He's hardwired to a basketball court."

My niece was describing her fianc. Hers is a shorthand way to say that built into the biology of her main squeeze is his desire and ability to play the game of basketball - and that it was natural for him to do so.

The computer metaphor strikes me as a colorful and appealing way to describe human nature. It attempts one of the great tasks that philosophers, theologians, ethicists, and biologists have undertaken since Aristotle. But something there is - in my nature, at least - that doesn't sit well with comparison to a machine.

It's the same feeling I had in high school when I studied evolution. Evolution became shorthand for another important term - destiny - to act, or be acted upon, in certain preordained ways.

Charles Darwin linked all biological life, and human destiny, to evolution. But at its core, his theory saw life as random and therefore, to my way of seeing things, pointless. Using my niece's parlance, I don't like seeing myself as hardwired to a circuit that is ultimately going to short itself out.

"Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny," by Robert Wright (Pantheon), offers an original take on the age-old question of what constitutes human nature. Wright does so in the light of biology and evolution. He sees human beings and their highly complex social institutions representing what he calls "the logic of unity." In the grand scheme of life, one does not need to take from another in order to evolve, he argues. In fact, the golden rule might possibly be what drives evolution.

But this is gross oversimplification on my part. Interested in an original take on how you're hardwired? Read "Nonzero."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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