- 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: 361 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,034 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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"An extremely good book-clear, well argued, fair, learned, tough, witty, humane, stimulating." (The Washington Post)
"Pinker makes his main argument persuasively and with great verve...ought to be read by anybody who feels they hav had enough of the nature-nurture rows." (The Economist)
"Stylish...what a superb thinker and writer he is." (Richard Dawkins, TLS)
"Required reading...an unanswerable case for accepting that man can be, as he is, both wired and free." (Frederick Raphael, Los Angeles Times)
About the Author
Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of our Nature, is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Today and Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers.
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He lights up a giant science blowtorch to both the left and the right's notions regarding human nature.
As a parent of two children I was particularly interested in his parenting section, where the argument of "nature VS nurture" is torched. Explanations for how a parent does and doesn't shape their kids are unique, basically he's saying that parents are less significant than the rest of the environment (country, region, city/town) and what the culture that environment provides. While this might appear a "it takes a village" leftist argument, in reality it's just a common sense argument that I see every day as a person who left home to move to a different part of the world and after meeting a girl there; watch as my children grow up here and how different they are from me as a child and are more like other children here. Yet at the same time his use of adoption studies and separated twin studies are at once fascinating and also hard to argue against as he explains how much of us is in the genes and not in that environment.
On crime and IQ he dispels moral notions and poses new ones as he explains our newfound ability to determine a person's pre-disposition to violent or peaceful conflict resolution via brain scans, which he admits should have been expected after the extraordinary 19th century case of Phineas Gage surviving a traumatic brain injury and his behavior change predicted it.
He also tackles race, gender, and many other hot issues.
This book is more a synthesis of his ideas than a scientific work. It gives occasions to question what we believe to be obvious, while it is only the result of the mainstream idea which has been invading the medias and the families for decades : the idea that the human mind is a mere "blank slate" and that, subsequently, all our behaviours, and more generally, our plagues, come from our environment, ie, family, "society" or "culture".
I agree that Mr. Pinker sometimes simplifies his opponents' viewpoints, and he sometimes lacks of nuance and in-depth analysis.
But I don't think he ever pretended to release a scientific work. I think that, first of all, Mr. Pinker wants us to change our references and to be able to accept the very idea of an open debate on the human nature. I personally loved changing my mind on so many topics, or at least finding out that other approaches were possible, where I used to be entrenched in a one-explanation approach.
For instance I used to believe that parenting was the alpha and omega of what makes a person what she/he is. Steven Pinker's book ruined this certainty. I am happy I ceased accusing my parents of all my difficulties in life. This by no means implies that parenting is not a good and important thing. It only gives an opportunity to change glasses about what it means to be a mother or a father.
There are dozens of other fascinating examples of what "the Blank Slate" can bring to the reader.
Maybe this explains the violence behind the debates about human nature.
The book invites us to ask ourselves about our ability to question our certainties with GOOD FAITH, i.e., our ability to admit that facts could invalidate sometiles (but not all the times) our opinions.
Even if we are not forced to follow Mr. Pinker in ALL his developments (I don't say I do), it is still an interesting approach, which brings lots of factual, solid information often ignored by most of us. It is a good start for reflexion, and by no means a dogmatic or "reductionnist" work (I always wonder why this word, "reductionnist" is used by people who precisely reduce the whole human experience to social and familial patterns and reject any other approach).
Some of the reviews here on Amazon.com come from people who visibly have difficulties dealing with FACTS and are really very aggressive (hence my 5 stars, in order to compensate such undue attacks).
When FACTS tend to question our opinions, we have two choices :
1. We admit that we could be wrong and try to start a discussion to redefine our point of view; or
2. We attack the man who states these facts and pretend him to be a stupid / fascist / chauvinist person.
I don't say I always fall in the first category, but I think it is a good way to discuss books like Mr. Pinker's (instead of personal and aggressive attacks, or, worse, commentaries written by people who didn't read the book since they reproach to Mr. Pinker ideas that he never expresses).
It is true that Mr. Pinker sometimes adopts a biased presentation of facts. But the nice thing is that he quotes all his references and exposes every step of his reasoning, which allows a true discussion and an open, honest debate. I really enjoyed very much reading this book.