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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human…

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (original 2002; udgave 2009)

af Steven Pinker (Forfatter), Victor Bevine (Fortæller), Audible Studios (Publisher)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
4,069502,271 (4.09)69
This title makes explicit the argument that has been the backdrop to the author's previous books. It claims that the ideas of the "noble savage" and the "blank slate" which underpin modern attitudes to human nature are untruthful in deflecting responsibility from the individual onto society.
Titel:The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
Forfattere:Steven Pinker (Forfatter)
Andre forfattere:Victor Bevine (Fortæller), Audible Studios (Publisher)
Info:Audible Studios (2009)
Samlinger:Own, Audiobook, Read

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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature af Steven Pinker (2002)


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Entertaining and enlightening. Pinker went heavy on the technical language at a few points but I think it was necessary and very well put. I'm a lot more certain of heredity and a lot anxious about it. ( )
  kierkegaards.poet | Jun 7, 2021 |
Pinker deftly blends a deep understanding of philosophy and a thorough review of scientific literature to critic the dearly-held 19070’s intellectual doctrines of the blank slate, the noble savage and the ghost of the machine. Like Better Angles of our Nature, the book is expansive, thorough and convincing - liberally citing from the literature to make his points with data.

Whether we like it or not, we have a common human nature and it’s imparted by our genes. While this does not mean our destiny is predetermined, it does shape our lives and our society. To ignore it, or worse, actively deny it exists, is folly.

What was particularly striking was how recognizable the debunked arguments still are in today’s intellectual debates. As explored in the book, many intellectuals espouse theories they want to be true, largely because they fit with their ideology, even if they have no basis in fact. After reading this book, you’ll see these arguments frequently in debates of many of societies most passionate disagreements.

A quote I think succinctly summarizes Pinker’s argument:
“Acknowledging human nature does not mean overturning our personal world views, and I would have nothing to suggest as a replacement if it did. It means only taking intellectual life out of its parallel universe and reuniting it with science and, when it is borne out by science, with common sense. The alternative is to make intellectual life increasingly irrelevant to human affairs, to turn intellectuals into hypocrites, and to turn everyone else into anti-intellectuals.” ( )
  064 | Jan 24, 2021 |
Steven Pinker describes the "blank slate" hypothesis, that humans are essentially uniform clay on which external influences (culture, society, etc.) are responsible for the entirety of identity. This is particularly discussed in the context of gender (and "second wave" or "gender feminism"), and race, and uses studies to demonstrate that some traits are innate/inherited. Most of the book is about the implications of the "blank slate" and what it means for it to be true or not true.

What really struck me is how much "trouble" he would get in for presenting this argument today. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.

I must confess that I'm broadly sympathetic to almost every point made by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate. For the most part, he lays out the case against social constructivism clearly and convincingly. There are a few areas where he seems out of his depth of expertise, but it is refreshing to see such a work of wide scope attempted by someone so insightful. In fact, I would argue that The Blank Slate is one of the most significant works produced by any public intellectual this century. Whether one agrees with the thesis or not, Pinker's arguments are put forward so thoroughly and powerfully that any counterargument must contend with them. ( )
  drbrand | Jun 8, 2020 |
The arguments of what affects us more as a human, or inherent nature or our environment, have been going on for years, and this is Pinker's attempt to look at the arguments for and against.

A lot of what he puts forward here is fascinating stuff, from details of collaboration between fishing crews, boys brought up as girls after failed operations, test and observations on twins brought up apart and so on. But he spent an awful lot of the time being very critical on subject as diverse as feminism and philosophy, and it didn't really play a part of this book.

Disappointing in the end, as some of his other books that I have read have been so much more coherent. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
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It is breathtaking, rabid stuff. In particular, Pinker's monstering of Marxists and feminists is likely to reduce most university common-rooms to states of gibbering apoplexy. So be it, Pinker will doubtless respond: my only concern is to tell the truth about human nature. The question is: does he actually land any telling punches in the process?
tilføjet af souloftherose | RedigerThe guardian, Robin McKie (Sep 15, 2002)

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"Not another book on nature and nurture! Are there really people out there who still believe that the mind is a blank slate?"


Everyone has a theory of human nature.
The denial of human nature has spread beyond the academy and has led to a disconnect between intellectual life and common sense. I first had the idea of writing this book when I started a collection of astonishing claims from pundits and social critics about the malleability of the human psyche: that little boys quarrel and fight because they are encouraged to do so; that children enjoy sweets because their parents use them as a reward for eating vegetables; that teenagers get the idea to compete in looks and fashion from spelling bees and academic prizes; that men think the goal of sex is an orgasm because of the way they were socialized. The problem is not just that these claims are preposterous but that the writers did not acknowledge they were saying things that common sense might call into question. This is the mentality of a cult, in which fantastical beliefs are flaunted as proof of one’s piety. That mentality cannot coexist with an esteem for the truth, and I believe it is responsible for some of the unfortunate trends in recent intellectual life. One trend is a stated contempt among many scholars for the concepts of truth, logic, and evidence. Another is a hypocritical divide between what intellectuals say in public and what they really believe. A third is the inevitable reaction: a culture of “politically incorrect” shock jocks who revel in anti-intellectualism and bigotry, emboldened by the knowledge that the intellectual establishment has forfeited claims to credibility in the eyes of the public.

Finally, the denial of human nature has not just corrupted the world of critics and intellectuals but has done harm to the lives of real people. The theory that parents can mold their children like clay has inflicted childrearing regimes on parents that are unnatural and sometimes cruel. It has distorted the choices faced by mothers as they try to balance their lives, and multiplied the anguish of parents whose children haven’t turned out the way they hoped. The belief that human tastes are reversible cultural preferences has led social planners to write off people's enjoyment of ornament, natural light, and human scale and force millions of people to live in drab cement boxes. The romantic notion that all evil is a product of society has justified the release of dangerous psychopaths who promptly murdered innocent people. And the conviction that humanity could be reshaped by massive social engineering projects led to some of the greatest atrocities in history.
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The moral, then, is that familiar categories of behavior—marriage customs, food taboos, folk superstitions, and so on—certainly do vary across cultures and have to be learned, but the deeper mechanisms of mental computation that generate them may be universal and innate. People may dress differently, but they may all strive to flaunt their status via their appearance. They may respect the rights of the members of their clan exclusively or they may extend that respect to everyone in their tribe, nation-state, or species, but all divide the world into an in-group and an out-group. They may differ in which outcomes they attribute to the intentions of conscious beings, some allowing only that artifacts are deliberately crafted, others believing that illnesses come from magical spells cast by enemies, still others believing that the entire world was brought into being by a creator. But all of them explain certain events by invoking the existence of entities with minds that strive to bring about goals. The behaviorists got it backwards: it is the mind, not behavior, that is lawful.
Moreover, many of the traits affected by genes are far from noble. Psychologists have discovered that our personalities differ in five major ways: we are to varying degrees introverted or extroverted, neurotic or stable, incurious or open to experience, agreeable or antagonistic, and conscientious or undirected. Most of the 18,000 adjectives for personality traits in an unabridged dictionary can be tied to one of these five dimensions, including such sins and flaws as being aimless, careless, conforming, impatient, narrow, rude, self-pitying, selfish, suspicious, uncooperative, and undependable. All five of the major personality dimensions are heritable, with perhaps 40 to 50 percent of the variation in a typical population tied to differences in their genes. The unfortunate wretch who is introverted, neurotic, narrow, selfish, and undependable is probably that way in part because of his genes, and so, most likely, are the rest of us who have tendencies in any of those directions as compared with our fellows.

It’s not just unpleasant temperaments that are partly heritable, but actual behavior with real consequences. Study after study has shown that a willingness to commit antisocial acts, including lying, stealing, starting fights, and destroying property, is partly heritable (though like all heritable traits it is exercised more in some environments than in others). People who commit truly heinous acts, such as bilking elderly people out of their life savings, raping a succession of women, or shooting convenience store clerks lying on the floor during a robbery, are often diagnosed with “psychopathy” or “antisocial personality disorder.” Most psychopaths showed signs of malice from the time they were children. They bullied smaller children, tortured animals, lied habitually, and were incapable of empathy or remorse, often despite normal family backgrounds and the best efforts of their distraught parents. Most experts on psychopathy believe that it comes from a genetic predisposition, though in some cases it may come from early brain damage. In either case genetics and neuroscience are showing that a heart of darkness cannot always be blamed on parents or society.
The difference between proximate and ultimate goals is another kind of proof that we are not blank slates. Whenever people strive for obvious rewards like health and happiness, which make sense both proximately and ultimately, one could plausibly suppose that the mind is equipped only with a desire to be happy and healthy and a cause-and-effect calculus that helps them get what they want. But people often have desires that subvert their proximate wellbeing, desires that they cannot articulate and that they (and their society) may try unsuccessfully to extirpate. They may covet their neighbor’s spouse, eat themselves into an early grave, explode over minor slights, fail to love their stepchildren, rev up their bodies in response to a stressor that they cannot fight or flee, exhaust themselves keeping up with the Joneses or climbing the corporate ladder, and prefer a sexy and dangerous partner to a plain but dependable one. These personally puzzling drives have a transparent evolutionary rationale, and they suggest that the mind is packed with cravings shaped by natural selection, not with a desire for personal wellbeing.
Counting societies instead of bodies leads to equally grim figures. In 1978 the anthropologist Carol Ember calculated that 90 percent of hunter-gatherer societies are known to engage in warfare, and 64 percent wage war at least once every two years. Even the 90 percent figure may be an underestimate, because anthropologists often cannot study a tribe long enough to measure outbreaks that occur every decade or so (imagine an anthropologist studying the peaceful Europeans between 1918 and 1938). In 1972 another anthropologist, W. T. Divale, investigated 99 groups of hunter-gatherers from 37 cultures, and found that 68 were at war at the time, 20 had been at war five to twenty-five years before, and all the others reported warfare in the more distant past. Based on these and other ethnographic surveys, Donald Brown includes conflict, rape, revenge, jealousy, dominance, and male coalitional violence as human universals.

It is, of course, understandable that people are squeamish about acknowledging the violence of pre-state societies. For centuries the stereotype of the savage savage was used as a pretext to wipe out indigenous peoples and steal their lands. But surely it is unnecessary to paint a false picture of a people as peaceable and ecologically conscientious in order to condemn the great crimes against them, as if genocide were wrong only when the victims are nice guys.
HISTORY AND CULTURE, then, can be grounded in psychology, which can be grounded in computation, neuroscience, genetics, and evolution. But this kind of talk sets off alarms in the minds of many nonscientists. They fear that consilience is a smokescreen for a hostile takeover of the humanities, arts, and social sciences by philistines in white coats. The richness of their subject matter would be dumbed down into a generic palaver about neurons, genes, and evolutionary urges. This scenario is often called “reductionism,”…
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This title makes explicit the argument that has been the backdrop to the author's previous books. It claims that the ideas of the "noble savage" and the "blank slate" which underpin modern attitudes to human nature are untruthful in deflecting responsibility from the individual onto society.

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