- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 26, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0142003344
- ISBN-13: 978-0142003343
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 372 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Paperback – August 26, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
In his last outing, How the Mind Works, the author of the well-received The Language Instinct made a case for evolutionary psychology or the view that human beings have a hard-wired nature that evolved over time. This book returns to that still-controversial territory in order to shore it up in the public sphere. Drawing on decades of research in the "sciences of human nature," Pinker, a chaired professor of psychology at MIT, attacks the notion that an infant's mind is a blank slate, arguing instead that human beings have an inherited universal structure shaped by the demands made upon the species for survival, albeit with plenty of room for cultural and individual variation. For those who have been following the sciences in question including cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology much of the evidence will be familiar, yet Pinker's clear and witty presentation, complete with comic strips and allusions to writers from Woody Allen to Emily Dickinson, keeps the material fresh. What might amaze is the persistent, often vitriolic resistance to these findings Pinker presents and systematically takes apart, decrying the hold of the "blank slate" and other orthodoxies on intellectual life. He goes on to tour what science currently claims to know about human nature, including its cognitive, intuitive and emotional faculties, and shows what light this research can shed on such thorny topics as gender inequality, child-rearing and modern art. Pinker's synthesizing of many fields is impressive but uneven, especially when he ventures into moral philosophy and religion; examples like "Even Hitler thought he was carrying out the will of God" violate Pinker's own principle that one should not exploit Nazism "for rhetorical clout." For the most part, however, the book is persuasive and illuminating.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Pinker moves from How the Mind Works to how human nature works, offering a theory that ably blends instinct and choice.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
If you are interested in human behavior and its causes you need to read this book.
It is difficult to review this book which already has over 200 very detailed reviews, so my focus on this review will be the error of some of the negative reviews.
The thesis of this book is simply that there is such a thing as human nature. The reason the argument is being put forth in the book is because there have been three main alternate hypotheses for what humans are guided by in regard to their minds. The three ideas that have been argued in the past have been:
1. The Blank Slate
2. The Noble Savage
3. The Ghost in the Machine
These may be self-explanatory, but the blank slate is the idea that the brain has no built in propensities, and thus may be entirely guided and developed by environment. The noble savage is the idea that native man without civilization is much more gentle and peaceable than civilized man. The ghost in the machine is the idea promoted by many religions that there is a spirit or soul which is the being, and so the brain is not really the source of the mind.
It appears many of the negative reviews have spouted many of the arguments for one of these ideas, and therefore the reviewers may not have actually read the book, wherein Pinker thoroughly shreds each of these ideas, and the arguments put forth by the reviewers.
I will not explain Pinker's view of human nature in detail here, as it is done in great detail in the book, as well as in many of the excellent reviews already present, but I will simply say that the theory he promotes is infinitely more reasonable, being an amalgam of genetics, epigenetics, biological development, and environment, in varying degrees. I leave it to the intelligent reader to come to their own conclusions as to which of these ideas has the most merit, and read the book if you want to read one of the most erudite books of our time, keeping in mind that to explain a thing is not to endorse ugly side effects of that thing.
The author begins with a discussion of how the mind works and discusses the field of evolutionary psychology before he begins a tour-de-force, discussing everything from gender to politics to violence. In these discussions, the author misses on a few points, where it appears he almost has an agenda, but most of the discussion is reasoned, rational and even-handed. Many of the authors faults are as a result of the crime of omission where his focus is directed towards his decidedly libertarian political bias. In particular, I ended up reading the chapter on politics and while agreeing with him on his bashing of some liberal pre-conceived notions, I came to a different conclusion than the author. When he starts discussing free markets and rational actors, he tends to lose me. When he mentions that irregardless of social programs to create a level playing field, some people will still be left behind, doesn't mean that these programs don't help some people. The author takes great pains to lucidly show that there are no differences in IQ among races, but how does he couple this with the fact that black people are more likely to be criminals, less likely to go to school and more likely to be poor. Irregardless of a blank slate, there are a lot of societal shaping factors at play, which can be rectified social programs.
But overall, this book is right on the spot, clear-headed and rational. The chapter on "suffering" is amazingly powerful, poetic and inspiring. I found myself highlighting my copy every sentence in this chapter. The author provides an honest dissection of why we should treat people equally as a universal moral idiom, rather than based on genetically-imbued talents, skills and intelligence. The author discusses the honest fact, that men and women are inherently different, on average but our policies shouldn't discriminate because there is a great inherent overlap. In conclusion, this book provides a cogent analysis of human nature that while seemingly alien, upon introspection is an entirely intuitive analysis of our human condition. This is an essential read that is mind-expanding as well as emotionally satisfying.