The term derives from computing where there is the option to have physical (unchanging) circuits and software (changeable).
When this terminology is applied to the brain it is usually means something which is coded in genetically eg birds navigate automatically without being taught.
Yes, if it is truly hard wired, it cannot be changed, however, it is often misapplied to some human traits which turn out to be changeable after all.
Where did the birds get that "coding" though? How was it put there? Evolution would explain it by stating over time the birds went through trial and error, or whatever worked - stayed. But with birds, they don't have much to worry about. I once was told by a friend during a discussion that infants are "afraid" of snakes, before being taught that snakes are dangerous. But, as we grow, we can love snakes. If it were truly hard wired, why can we deviate from it? Is it epigenetics that cause the fear and thus allows us to deviate?
I don't think anything is "hard wired" it is merely what has helped us in the past helps us now (goes for any organism.) But if things were "hard wired" and cannot be changed, then evolution would stop and everything would die as the environment around begins to change.
So, my standing is "Nothing is hard wired, but simply adapted to make life easier. Therefore, everyone/everything is malleable. Beau Lotto said it best in his book "Deviate" - "Change the environment, you change the brain.""
I think Steven Pinker hits the nail fair and square on the head: the brain must be a mix of both nature and nurture, because either of the two alternatives would be at such a disadvantage they would be unable to compete.
I would agree with this, but I don't think anything is absolute like the term "hard wired" seems to imply. Furthermore, it allows criminals, sex offenders, etc an excuse - "Oh I'm just wired that way." I truly find that given the right circumstances, anyone can change. In addition, it gives the whole "the only way to stop someone is to kill them" when what is actually happening is lack of understanding and compassion.
PS: Megan, thanks for leading me to this! Didn't know this forum was here!