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RADICAL-PSYCHOLOGY-NETWORK  2002

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Subject:

Turning the Tables on the Tabula Rasa

From:

Human Nature Review <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

The Radical Psychology Network <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 14 Oct 2002 20:31:50 -0500

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Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 444-448 ( 14 October )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/pinker.html

Essay Review

Turning the Tables on the Tabula Rasa
by
David P. Barash

A review of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
by Steven Pinker
509 pp, Viking, 2002

First, a confession of sorts: For some time now, I've been suspicious of anyone
who comes to evolution some time after their primary training. After all, to
paraphrase Winston Churchill's observation about the British people and the
RAF, never have so many said so much about something they understand so little!
All too often, born-again evolutionists tend to conform to a bimodal
distribution, either disparaging evolutionary insights - often without
understanding them, or even trying to do so - or starry-eyed true believers,
whose enthusiasm exceeds their common sense. And so, I was initially leery of
Steven Pinker, trained as he was in visual cognition and the psychology of
language. His 1994 book, The Language Instinct, pretty much dispelled these
concerns, sufficiently so that I included a selection from it in my reader,
Ideas of Human Nature (1998). Next, How the Mind Works (1997) caused me to
switch from judgementalism to being an eager recipient of Pinker's lovely
insights and turns of phrase.

Now, with The Blank Slate (2002), I've come all the way: instead of directing
skepticism toward a presumed sociobiologic arriviste, I've become an
enthusiastic student of a newly-revealed Master. Pinker's thinking and writing
are first-rate . maybe even better than that. The Blank Slate is much-needed,
long overdue and - if you are interested in what might be called the "human
nature wars" - somewhere between that old stand-by, "required reading," and
downright indispensable. It is unlikely to change the minds of those who are
rigidly committed to the blank slate perspective, but for anyone whose "nature"
includes even a modicum of open-mindedness, it should prove a revelation.

Sometimes I read the latest book on human nature simply because I feel obliged
to do so, arming myself with a response when friends and colleagues ask my
opinion. But some books are far more pleasure than obligation; these I read not
only for fun, but also to learn something, if only a nice way of crafting an
argument. Pinker is definitely in the latter category, except that he is not
only a master phrase-turner, but pretty handy with concepts, too.

Full text
http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/pinker.html
The Blank Slate
http://human-nature.com/r/0670031518.htm
By Steven Pinker
http://human-nature.com/r/pinker.htm

National Public Radio
New Space Object/ Steven Pinker
http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?prgID=5&prgDate=10/11/2002

Guests:

Charles Liu
Astrophysicist
Department of Astrophysics and Hayden Planetarium
American Museum of Natural History
New York, New York

Steven Pinker
Author, How the Mind Works (W.W. Norton and Company, 1997); The Language
Instinct (Paperback: Harper Perennial, 2000 )
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Viking/ Penguin
Putnam, 2002)
Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts

What makes us who we are? In his new book, The Blank Slate: The Modern
Denial of Human Nature, psychologist Steven Pinker argues that much of who we
are is in our genes. In this hour, we'll talk with Pinker about his book, and
his thoughts on the intersection of biology and sociology. Plus, scientists
have discovered the biggest object in the solar system since Pluto.

Audio - Pinker interview begins at 13.28
http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/totn/20021011.totn.03.ram

________

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
by Steven Pinker
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Viking Press; ISBN: 0670031518; (September 26, 2002)
AMAZON - US
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0670031518/darwinanddarwini/
AMAZON - UK
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0713992565/humannaturecom/

Editorial Reviews
Book Description
Our conceptions of human nature affect everything aspect of our lives, from
child-rearing to politics to morality to the arts. Yet many fear that
scientific discoveries about innate patterns of thinking and feeling may be
used to justify inequality, to subvert social change, and to dissolve personal
responsibility.

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker explores the idea of human nature and its
moral, emotional, and political colorings. He shows how many intellectuals have
denied the existence of human nature and instead have embraced three dogmas:
The Blank Slate (the mind has no innate traits), The Noble Savage (people are
born good and corrupted by society), and The Ghost in the Machine (each of us
has a soul that makes choices free from biology). Each dogma carries a moral
burden, so their defenders have engaged in desperate tactics to discredit the
scientists who are now challenging them.

Pinker provides calm in the stormy debate by disentangling the political and
moral issues from the scientific ones. He shows that equality, compassion,
responsibility, and purpose have nothing to fear from discoveries about an
innately organized psyche. Pinker shows that the new sciences of mind, brain,
genes, and evolution, far from being dangerous, are complementing observations
about the human condition made by millennia of artists and philosophers. All
this is done in the style that earned his previous books many prizes and
worldwide acclaim: irreverent wit, lucid exposition, and startling insight on
matters great and small.

About the Author
Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the
mind. His popular and highly praised books include Words and Rules, How the
Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards
for his teaching and scientific research, Pinker is Peter de Florez professor
of psychology in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Synopsis

In this title, Steven Pinker makes explicit the argument which has been a
backdrop to his previous books and many other popular science titles. He argues
that much of our social commentary, conventional wisdom, and academic orthodoxy
is wrongly rooted in the doctrines of the noble savage (civilisation is the
source of human corruption) and the blank slate (the mind has no innate
structure; all thoughts and feelings seep into our heads from surrounding
culture). He explores the impact of these notions on our attitudes to
sexuality, ideology, political correctness and the arts, and insists that we
need to be more honest about human nature.

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