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)
Do you read the book before you dislike my reviews?
There is something about Steven Pinker that I like. For the nonbelievers, his explanation of having a blank slate and the theory of human nature makes sense. I've been reading a lot of Dr. Pinker's books and lectures and most of his material relates to the human mind, violence, and our natural instincts and desires.
As I read more of his work, I'm starting to believe that I am somewhat an atheist because a lot of his ideas are easy to absorb, like a wet paper towel. Even when I was in Sunday school, I didn't really drink the Kool Aid. I'm not saying that is neither bad or good, but for me, I always questioned.
As for "The Blank Slate", so far this is my favorite book. It gives an overall view of the blank slate theory. Just enough to get your feet wet, but not overbearing with one topic and leave you with boredom.
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.
Another great read by Pinker that takes on the nature versus nurture debate head on. He argues against the blank slate and gives good evidence why the people your kids hang out with have significant input as well.
Yes. It was very lengthy. One get's a sense that the theories and their support can be represented in less words and time. Sometimes the narrative drifts to evaluating individual scientists with some degree of spite.
The four fallacies; The Blank Slate, The Moral Savage, Deterministic Environment and The Ghost in The Machine
No Change, good title
Good book, I feel it could be shorter with no loss of substance.
No B.S. reviews. I'll never soft-pedal bad writing or inept narration.
The Blank Slate is an intellectual tour-de-force into heretofore unacknowledged aspects of the human mind. Pinker pieces together information from many scholarly sources to substantiate his claims, and the book is thoughtful and well-researched from first to last. Very occasionally, the thoroughness of Pinker's logic can be a bit overwhelming, but the end does, indeed, justify the means. The book is packed with insight into human nature, and intensely interesting. Easily one of the most intellectually satisfying books I have ever listened to. Victor Bevine's reading is more than adequate, with none of the kind of trivializing affectations that can ruin a challenging listen. Highly recommended.
We live in an age of affirmation, not to be confused with information. Its easy for us to spend time only consuming news or data that affirms what we already believe. Good science does not suffer that. Good science uncovers truth and it does not care if it steps on the toes of any dogma, religion, or philosophy. This book is about such science.
An educator and senior who listens to his books from his phone through his hearing aids.
He who could explain all variance in nature would know what God knows. He who could manipulate all nature's variance would be God.
Pinker makes a convincing, witty, engaging, and creditable argument that at 50% of what we are is heritable.
How the Mind Work and The Language Instinct.. They were both excellent productions
No, it took about two weeks of one-hour commutes during which I listened at 1.5 times normal speed.
Private intellectual, writer, and retired academic. Currently R&D director for Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc.
The book starts slow and peaks in the middle, while the last few chapters were nearly worthless. There is a lot of good scientific overview in this book, yet the cultural bias of Pinker comes through so strongly that I often questioned the use of my time to finish the book. I have read many of the popular, and some unpopular, works on the same topic but this is one of the most hubris-tic of the lot. For me there was little new actual information, but lots of intellectual hubris and unsupported certainty. Additionally, this book fails to embrace much of the current thought on topics such as epi-genetics and the conscious/unconscious dichotomy as expressed in books like the happiness hypothesis.
If you are interested in this topic I do recommend that you read this book. However, you may want to prepare your self for Pinker's hubris by reading sex at dawn first.
I was particularly troubled by his attacks on other scientists, and the time he spends dragging their names through his mud. While after investing 20+ hours in this text I feel that I have been left with little of actual value, and even less that was memorable.
This audiobook lacks structure. You don't quite know where it's going, and some issues are not takled as deeply as they should be. So once you're done, it feels like you've been to a 15 minute lecture.
It's not bad, and worth listening to anyway. But it was disapointingly light in its problem raising.
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.
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