In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits - a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century - denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts.
Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense.
NOTE: Some changes to the original text have been made with the author's approval.
©2003 Steven Pinker; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"[P]ersuasive and illuminating." (Publishers Weekly)
This book is about innate human nature. The author is very well read on the topic and provides great insight into how the human mind can work.
Highly recommend it.
This is one of the most important book that had read.... I read many....
With a broad spectrum of topic, the author systematically deconstructed the force behind human and social behavior that shape our society today. Truly is a classic...
The Emily Dickinson verse, at the end, is an exquisite touch.
If there ever be a missing point in the book, it would be a discussion of modern society self-destructive/unsustainable path.
The Blank Slate ranks very high. I learned more from this book than any other I have listened to.
My favorite character would be the human mind itself, for this book is an exploration of the nature of the mind and hence the nature of being
The book was well narrated
The Ignoble Savage - The Modern Denial of Human Nature
This is a good book, and better yet an important book. It's important because it shows that American intellectual and political life is based on ideas that have no basis in fact. Like it or not, the holy trinity of the "Blank Slate", the "Noble Savage", and the "Ghost in the Machine" dominate (usually without question) public life in America. The fact that they are fictions, inevitably means that politicians (typically, but not always Democrats) promote policies that will inevitably fail. Of course, the failures will be ignored because no one ever dares to ask why the policies failed.
The first two ideas (the "Blank Slate" and the "Noble Savage") are mainly the follies of the left. Indeed, any attack on them is treated as religious apostasy (and punished without mercy). The third idea (the "Ghost in the Machine") is perhaps more the passion of the right.
Before I read this book, I expected a detailed review of the data supporting the influence of genes vs. the environment. Of course, Steven Pinker provides a great wealth of data demolishing the ideological fantasies of the left (and to some extent the right). However, that's not the main emphasis of the book. The book is mostly devoted to a very detailed exploration of moral philosophy. That's not a critique, just quite unexpected.
Rather than delving into the factual data demolishing the holy trinity in great(er) detail, the author expends most of his effort into examining the moral and philosophical implications of human nature. Pinker is always plausible, but not always convincing, at least to this reader.
Steven Pinker is clearly a conventional liberal, at least in moral, philosophical, and policy terms. However, his book is deeply subversive of conventional liberalism (at point Pinker is clearly well aware of). At some level that makes Pinker's interpretation of the world conservative. Pinker (to his credit) examines the deep historical origins of liberalism and conservatism. To simplify, liberals believe in the infinite perfectibility of man and conservatives believe that man in constrained by his tragic nature.
Having reviewed the voluminous evidence, Pinker explicitly says that the conservative vision of human nature is correct and liberals are wrong. He even quotes E.O. Wilson
“Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species”
That said, Pinker is no Republican and there is no reason to think he has ever voted for one. However, to his enduring credit he has demolished the supposed logical foundations of much of contemporary liberalism.
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
A monumental work debunking the still (unbelievably) widely held idea that the human mind is a blank slate shaped by culture. (The most simple thought shows that the blank slate theory begs the question: how can the mind come from culture, when, by simple reasoning, one can easily deduce that culture, in fact, MUST come from the mind--there was no free floating original "culture" waiting for the first mind to come into existence.) Pinker uses all the latest technology and scientific knowledge to make his points, and though this book does not have the usual Pinker pop culture winks and playful wit, it will still be easy enough for most laymen to understand and profit from.
The book is about the nurture versus nature debate, and Pinker is very straight forward with his presentation of facts. The bottom line is that the broad scientific consensus is that - as Pinker illustrates - we are not born as tabula rasa. The nurture side of the nature versus nurture debate is still widely supported by the popular media however, so those not inclined to critical thought will be put off by Pinker's approach. I only gave it three stars because Pinker leaves off the scientific discourse about half way through, and segues into a more personal narrative which seems designed to redeem himself to those he just offended. I wasn't bothered by this part of it, but found myself bored with its subjective nature.
This book is fascinating. I can't imagine a person not being more enriched by taking the time to read and think about the arguments in this book.
As definitely and clearly as i can state it: Get this book.
The author is an excellent writer and a courageous one as well. Pinker is a Harvard professor who still believes in Veritas. He explains the origin of the belief that the human mind is infinitely pliable and the overwhelming evidence against this belief. The book also makes it clear why this view of human nature continues to have a hold on so many despite the evidence against it and the fact that everyone intuitively knows it is not true.
His explanation of why modern and post-modern art has such snob appeal despite its obvious flaws was a revelation for me.
His discussion of gender differences in thinking and behavior was refreshingly honest.
It gave me hope that there are still really bright and articulate people out there who care about the truth more than political correctness.
If you don't believe in he blank slate when you are young then you have no heart; if you don't believe in the role of heredity in shaping variations of human behavior when you are older then you have no brains.
Urban planner. Environmentalist. Geek.
This book is worth the evisceration of the humanities and post-modernism alone. After having participated in Gender Studies debates in which students refused to condemn genital mutilation, it was refreshing to read Pinker attack the foundations of cultural relativism. Same goes for the banality of modern art. Such a solid takedown is not just enlightening; it's straight-up entertaining.
His central point is solid. The idea that differences between humans can only be explained by culture and upbringing, and not genetics, fails not only the test of science, but also morality. Our respect for the freedom and well-being of others should not be based on fragile assumptions about how the mind works, which may be disproven. We should respect others because we respect others, no matter what neuroscience and genetics may tell us.
I had no idea how broadly the idea of the blank state has, and continues to, underlie thinking in our society. This book is the antidote to a major problem and I couldn't recommend it enough.
The book was impressive both for its enlightened ability to cast debates from multiple angles and for the rigorous detail of the evidence from which it casts it's arguments. sheds light in many modern debates, scientific, political and philosophical.
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