I am not a professional scientist but I am very curious about brain science. I have read many of the scientists against which Mr. Pinker rails and I have never sensed the tunnel vision that he proposes to refute. I have read extensively about brain plasticity but I have never sensed that its proponents feel that it represents a complete rejection of a genetic component in the development and specialization of the brain and, in turn, human consciousness and intelligence. It is expected that someone who spends his or her life studying some aspect of science will have a bit of a one-track mind but Mr. Pinker seems to assume that focus precludes any common sense about the limitations of one theory or another. The narrator's taunting, sarcastic delivery doesn't make the authors adversarial tone any better. At this point (about a third) I am still hoping there is something of value coming but whether or not I can listen long enough to find remains to be seen.
If there is any justification to the dustjacket claim Pinker is one of the world's 100 most influential thinkers, it is based on his talk show appearances, not his standing among peers. His basic thesis is that recent scientific discoveries have proven social conservatives right about the need for military buildup, a get-tough approach to crime, strict parenting, etc. Affirmative action is a waste of time because it tries to change behaviour that is hard wired into our genes. America and the other countries most like it are the pinnacle of human evolution, because, well, evolution has produced them and therefore they must be a true expression of the unchangeable programming carried in our genes. No wonder Time put him on its cover.
Bookman Old Style
I had to give up on this one, even though I am a believer in evolution and neuroscience. This book was too long and too pedantic, even for me. Human nature exists and is not totally changeable. It was evolved to fit the environment of millions of years ago, and sometimes causes great problems for everyone, everywhere today. We are not blank slates , basically beautiful and good savages, or predetermined vehicles of a benevolent power. Utopian schemes don't work because they don't take certain basic human instincts into account. We are imperfect creatures. If you want mind-numbing details on these fairly self-evident facts, dear reader, go to Mr. Pinker. I've gone out to lunch.
While the concept of this book is interesting the information becomes redundant. I was done after the second chapter.
It's well read and written.
This is a tricky review, since neither topic nor text, reading-performance nor audio technique are "all bad" (or "good"). It has been a mixed experience.
As for content: It's all old wine. Sure, this book is rather old (more than 10 years), so I should not have expected anything surprisingly fresh, still, it's just the same thoughts chewed over. On the other hand, the author makes some astounding claims that, even if you consider them naive, are worth thinking about.
I chose the headline I set, because the author keeps contradicting himself. A simple example: He makes it very clear, that "genes" are not "on or off" values for specific functions or features, but have to be seen as tiny bits of a larger matrix, changing a singe gene may very well lead to hundreds, thousands or more of varying results. Yet, he also claims that some banal tests on "genetically altered food" are good enough to state, once and for all, that no harm can ever arise from such "gene-food".
It is a well accepted rule in science, that you cannot prove a negative. You cannot prove that something does NOT exist (like God). Even if the author claims so, you just cannot prove that genetically altered food is harmless. You can only say "we haven't found any issues so far, but we haven't tested all possible billions and billions of combinations of genes".
Nuff said, that's really just one thing - the author is convinced that he knows all and everything, that he is never mistaken and that everyone thinking otherwise is kind of stupid. He makes this point very clear and that makes BELIEVING him quite hard.
Like I said some ideas or thoughts are worth considering. Pinker's ideas of "discrimination schemes" are "nice", but not necessarily reality-proof, for example.
Unfortunately the author keeps reiterating on ideas over and over again. Once he said something that the reader/listener has to think about and "digest", the author says the same thing again with other words. And then he says something similar. Then he jumps to a different topic, forgets about the previous one - and returns, only to say the same again in new, different words. It is HARD to follow your ow thoughts and understandings if an author thinks he is so all-knowing that he can do the thinking for you!
Three words? Ha!
I did not find the performance of Mr. Bevine very helpful to follow the book. He starts chapters very slow, at a low tone, with very even intonation. Over the run of a chapter his voice gets louder and more dramatic, till he ends chapters with energy, faster pace and sometimes "breathless", only to fall back to a dramatic flatline at the next chapter's start.
I am not sure Mr. Bevine really understood everything he read. Quite often his intonation made understanding the content unnecessarily difficult. A more "to-the-text" performance would have been nice.
The content has been too well known and widely discussed to really inspire me to more than a good espresso.
I was doubting if buying another old "book" with a narration that did not convince me in the sample audio was a good choice.
Now I know I will not do that again. After all, READING the book myself would have been a lot better, being able to skip half of the pages for their repetitions ...
Professor, Ohio State University
At times the rhetoric soared. I winced at all the self-promotion—he made most sense in his arguments when he reviewed others’ work and quoted some of the outrageous statements of postmodernists. He made a very strong case in this book for materialist realism.
Excellent delivery, although I played it at 1.25x.
This is Pinker’s attempt to raise himself up by setting up straw men adapted from the writings of some of the great minds of the 20th Century in psychology and biology and by aligning himself with important intellectuals of a Nativist bent. He is not, however, a strong Nativist, which would be silly (as silly as his favorite linguist, Noam Chompsky, who thinks language grammar emerges from a genetically structured biological gizmo he calls, The LAD [Language Acquisition Devoce]). He praises E.O. Wilsom and Dan Dennett and and Richard Dawkins, who deserve his obescience, and who stand far above him in their translation of biology, cognition, and evolution as is possible. Nevertheless, the book contains, as I said, soaring rhetoric that is musical at times and makes as strong a case for a scientific approach to evaluating public policy as I have ever seen.
As a student of Sociology, I often get bogged down by theories of social constructivism. It can be rather depressing. The book was quite long, as Pinker's usually are, but there was much to provoke thought even though I was not entirely sure where he was going with it much of the time until the end. I actually think that was a beneficial tactic because it allows the listener to ponder different aspects and use that information in forming an opinion as opposed to the author's viewpoint seeming to be the only right way to view the situation. So for those who have listened to his books and have wondered the same thing, hang in there. The last chapter brought it all home and made it so worth it.
Pinker cites a lot of research on various personality and character traits, many of which turn the nature/nurture discussion on its ear. I really have a better appreciation for how different some people around me are and how it may really be even more out of their control than I ever suspected. So much else is in here, I really wouldn't know where to start...
His presentation is very balanced...I think he took risks in presenting his information without bias
It was hard to get out of the car.
The ideas are so well presented that the book seems like an easy read. But some of the concepts are actually very hard to grasp. Some of the points are controversial, and some people will strongly disagree with them. But Pinker's discussion will help anyone understand clearly what the controversies are.
I decided to get the audiobook and I keep getting more out of each listen.
Steven Pinker is thorough as a scientist, and provocative as a writer. Amazing book, even if I would disagree with the author in a number of places.