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)
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.
Granted I'm only a little over two hours into this book, but I'm giving up. This is, to say it bluntly, trash -- one of the most unsatisfying pieces of sophistry I've read in a long while. The author knocks down scores of straw men to make his case, quoting, often out-of-context, mostly 17th, 18th and 19th century philosophers. His conclusions and summaries of psychology and psychologists are sometimes just simple-minded, but far too often just simply wrong. I honestly don't get how this was accepted for publication, let alone made it as an Audible audio book. Granted, I might have found gold inside if I had stuck with it longer -- but if there's really gold there, the author or his editors ought to have introduced it with something a little more compelling than this garbage. Just my opinion but: Don't bother.
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.
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.
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.
This is a very interesting review of the relevant philosophic background to contemporary thought. And, very convincing regarding the existence of an evolutionarily based human nature. Pinker, however, because he focuses on the individual as rational agent, is dismissive of the function of society in forming thought. Thus, despite his attempts at political balance, the work is fundamentally conservative in nature. This becomes particularly evident in the final section on art, where the limits of his approach lead to over-reaching. He reduces art to nothing more than its commercial function, that is, how it appeals to consumers. At the same time he is disparaging of the intent of artists to transform the way people see their world, effectively ridiculing this as simply another form of self-promotion.
Although clearly of good personal intents, that is, for example, he rejects older versions of the human nature idea that were used to support racism, by obscuring the formative function of society, this tends of suppress criticism of the social order per se. Good as far as it goes, but needs to be balanced by more socio-politically oriented theory as well.
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