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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Hardcover – September 30, 2002
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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.
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.
Top customer reviews
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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.
The Blank Slate is an ambitious book that goes after the blank slate fallacy that is the idea that the human mind has no inherent structure and can be inscribed at will by society or ourselves. It's a social-biological study of nature versus nature. This excellent 528 page-book is composed of the following six parts: Part I. The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine, Part II. Fear and Loathing, Part III. Human Nature with a Human Face, Part IV. Know Thyself, Part V. Hot Buttons, and Part VI. The Voice of the Species.
1. Steven Pinker the well known Professor of Psychology at Harvard University writes thought-provoking, well-researched books and this book is no different.
2. Professor Pinker goes after the doctrines of the Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine and does so with gusto and a mountain of scientific evidence.
3. I'm glad someone finally refers to Social Darwinism to what it really is, "Social Spencerism".
4. The fallacy of behaviorists.
5. The theory of mind explained.
6. Great quotes with conviction. "The evidence is overwhelming that every aspect of our mental lives depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues of the brain".
7. The three great outrages of self-love.
8. How genes affect our behavior..."Small differences in the genes can lead to large differences in behavior".
9. Evolution is central to the understanding of life.
10. Culture defined.
11. Fascinating look at how our brains remain active during "assembly".
12. Evolutionary biology used to explain the complex cognitive and behavioral adaptations.
13. The attacks on "determinism" and "reductionism".
14. The religious opposition to evolution and its intended corruption of American science education.
15. The religious opposition to neuroscience. The exorcism of the human soul. I would love a whole book on just this topic!
16. The dangerous fallacy of equating evolutionary psychology with "Social Darwinism".
17. Debunking the four fears over the anxiety of human nature.
18. The fact that all species harbor genetic variability, but our species is among the less variable ones. Racial differences being among them.
19. The disposal of eugenics, discrimination, and Social Darwinism.
20. Many excellent messages throughout the book, "An idea is not false or evil because the Nazis misused it".
21. The fallacies of Nazism and Marxism. Nazism with races and the Marxists with classes.
22. Homosexuality in its proper form.
23. The importance of respecting women's fundamental rights to their bodies.
24. The compatibility of human nature with social and moral progress. Excellent!
25. The debunking of environmental determinism.
26. How our minds work.
27. The fallacy of the soul!
28. The co-evolution of intelligence and language.
29. The importance of our genes.
30. The ethics of autonomy, community and divinity explained.
31. Tragic Vision and Utopian outlooks.
32. Interesting take on the goals of the Constitution. How to anticipate and limit that corruption became an obsession of the framers.
33. Interesting take on economics.
34. Fascinating look at the fallacy of the connection between media violence and violent behavior.
35. The logic of violence.
36. The understanding of true equality.
37. Gender under a true light.
38. The appalling notion that rape has nothing to do with rape. Thank you.
39. The three laws of behavioral genetics.
40. Many parenting myths debunked, bravo!
41. A good grasp of how the mind works is indispensable to the arts.
42. Great notes.
43. Extensive references.
1. Links did not work. A real crime for a book like this.
2. Not an even-handed approach. Mr. Pinker has his opinions and does not hesitate to use them. This could be considered a positive but it's not because the author does unleash ad hominen attacks to some of his opponents. For example, B.F. Skinner.
3. The book could be tedious to read at times.
4. It requires an investment of time. The book is too long.
5. A more comprehensive summary at end of each chapter would have been added value.
In summary, this is an important contribution to knowledge. This book is worthy of five stars just based on the wisdom you will obtain. Many important ideas and thoughts are found throughout this ambitious book. Such as, that new ideas from the sciences of human nature DO NOT undermine human values.
Further suggestions: "Human" by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "SuperSense" by Bruce M. Hood, "The Myth of Free Will" by Cris Evatt, "Hardwired Behavior" by Laurence Tancredi, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia S. Churchland, and "The Brain and the Meaning of Life" by Paul Thagard.