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Psychologists have discovered that our personalities differ in five major ways: we are to varying degrees introverted or extroverted, neurotic or stable, incurious or open to experience, agreeable or antagonistic, and conscientious or undirected.
Behavior is not just emitted or elicited, nor does it come directly out of culture or society. It comes from an internal struggle among mental modules with differing agendas and goals.
Once one starts to think about mental software instead of physical behavior, the radical differences among human cultures become far smaller, and that leads to a fourth new idea: Universal mental mechanisms can underlie superficial variation across cultures.
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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Paperback – August 26, 2003
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"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
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 26, 2003)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 560 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0142003344
- ISBN-13 : 978-0142003343
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 1.27 pounds
- Dimensions : 9.3 x 6.06 x 1.16 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #26,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Pinker shows the cult fearful of findings from cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral genetics, and evolutionary physiology. Why? Because they make the errant assumption that pre-wired humans are incapable of being made moral and humane. Their interpretation of statistics was as certainty, not probability. Hence, what we’re now so familiar with from the Right were long before practiced by the Left. Scientific findings were not only denied and vilified, but scientists who dare desecrate the creed were attacked with smear campaigns, character assassination, and words put in their mouth only to pronounce how wrong they were. Even the likes of paleontologist Steven J. Gould (stunned me), geneticist Richard Lewontin (naturally), and the neuroscientist Steven Rose (daft) were dupes for the movement. This troika and the campus snowflakes they inspired labeled E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and Robert Trivers as genocidal bigots, racists, practitioners of eugenics, Nazis (yawn), and Right-wing prophets of patriarchy (more yawn). All because Wilson et. al. found biology responsible for much of human behavior. (Was this really a surprise?) While Pinker’s focus is social “science” doctrine, not the shock jocks he refers to (Rush Limbaugh etc.), as one reads this book it becomes apparent there’s no difference between the two, other than what they proclaim as sacrosanct and blasphemy.
After a history of the blank slate starting with John Locke, followed by the Great Schism and what the cult is trying to protect, Pinker dives into measurement, data, and reason. The identical twin studies were so pronounced and ironclad, I had to reread them, then check references to believe these clones (which is what twins are) could be so identical in their behavior. That is, twins separated at birth, shipped off to different countries, class structures, learning environments, never to know the other or their common parents, found decades later to have the same behaviors in a myriad of the most nuanced and peculiar ways. Biology matters.
So it is, with the purifying flames of science separated from politically correct programs of pseudo-morality, Pinker burns just about every quasi-religious Postmodernist liberal dogma in the blank slate arena you can name—with the exception of gender-fluidity, not yet concocted. I hope one day he’ll do the same to Creationists and global warming deniers on the Right. What a thrill, and a shame to find even biologists themselves got caught up in the PC creed of our times. It also clarified for me what almost cannot be done in physics and chemistry (except for transparent liars like Ivar Giaever). Biology, several steps up from the closest thing we’ve got to certainty in the foundations of reality, allows for some fiddle-faddle and hoodwink, so long as the promoter has a notable name like Gould. Limbaugh and Creationists love this. Gould, the troika, and their followers deserve their share of credit for the monster they helped create on the Right as a response to this kind of nonsense.
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.
There are two points Pinker makes which came as something of a surprise. First, that how parents treat their children is not a main determining factor in how they turn out as adults. While at first, it struck me that this was unlikely to be true, as I think about it, it does seem that one’s peers have a far greater effect upon us than our parents. When young, a I agreed with my father, but as I became an adolescent, I gravitated to people far different than him, and it seemed that this was what was natural, and that following my father’s way of looking at things had hindered my becoming myself. The other surprising point, and I’m not totally clear on how this is determined, was Pinker’s claim that a major part of our personality cannot be accounted for by neither our genes nor our experiences in life. So the whole nature vs. nurture debate has been about nothing. So this part of ourselves that seems to be independent of our genes and our environment, from the materialist viewpoint, must result from chance mutations that occur in either developing fetuses, or from minute experiences in life that differ even for identical twins raised in the same family. On the other hand, if there is anything to the notion of reincarnation, then these aspects of our personalities that cannot be accounted for by our genes or life experiences could be accounted for by the formation of our personalities in previous lives. I don’t necessarily believe in reincarnation, and even the Dalai Lama is not totally convinced of it, but I also don’t adamantly deny the possibility.
All in all, reading this book will change the way most readers view the world and themselves. That’s no small feat.
Top reviews from other countries
Anyone interested in the nature versus nurture debate should read it.