The Blank Slate The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker

As a psychologist, I’ve always gave more importance to the nature vs nurture debate. The Blank Slate The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker shows the importance of nature. It was a fascinating read. I don’t agree with everything said in the book, but I still gave it 5 stars and I would recommend it. At University we were taught about the importance of nature in the development of the child, so I was a bit shocked to see that some experts say there is a Blank Slate. Do these experts really think that all that we’ve inherited from our parents are the colour of our eyes, our hair, and unfortunate health conditions? He mentions in the book that the willingness to commit antisocial acts are heritable. It made me remember of the heritable aspect of alcoholism, something I came across in my studies at the University.

Pinker starts the book by talking about three concepts: Blank Slate, Noble Savage, and The Ghost in the Machine. After presenting them, he mentions four fears of accepting that we have inherited aspects from our ancestors: inequality, imperfectibility, determinism, and nihilism. Each is discussed in its own chapter.

The Blank Slate The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker

“Tough both Nazi and Marxist ideologies led to industrial-scale killing, their biological and psychological theories were opposite. Marxists had no use for the concept of race, were averse to the notion of genetic inheritance, and were hostile to the very idea of a human nature rooted in biology.” I think this just proves how, a search for equality, in its extreme form, can lead to millions of people killed in countries like Russia and China. Just like the search for the “Aryan” race did.

Recently, the discussion is based on the environment as a factor for antisocial behaviour: abuse excuse, violence in media, and so on. But our nature plays a part, and unless we as a society are ready to face the reality, we can’t actually do anything to change and improve it. That does not and should never justify discrimination, as Pinker says in the book too. The fact that we are different doesn’t mean that some are better, but means just that: we are different.

In the latter part of the book, he talks about politics, violence, gender, children, and the arts. In the gender chapter I was fascinated to read that: “The brains of men differ visibly from the brains of women in several ways. Men have larger brains with more neurons (even correcting for body size), though women have a higher percentage of grey matter.” The intelligence of both men and women is the same on average, so is not known why these differences exist.

That chapter, about gender, was my favourite. Especially with the new trends and feminist idea that can be a bit extreme at times. I don’t think that in every single job men and women should have a 50-50 spread. What I think is that women should be encouraged to do what they like. If they are interested in Arts & Humanities, then this is the path they should go on, not made to believe that these are less important than careers in STEM. Of course I would think that, considering my background.
I also don’t think that CEOs should be 50-50 men and women. Those are business decisions that should be based on meritocracy. For me, equality means equal pay for equal job and, of course, being able to access the same opportunities, if desired.

Next chapter is about children. Here I found myself agreeing with him and disagreeing with him on the same page.

“Concrete behavioral traits that patently depend on content provided by the home or culture are, of course, not heritable at all: which language you speak, which religion you worship in, which political party you belong to. But behavioural traits that reflect the underlying talents and temperaments are heritable: how proficient with language you are, how religious, how liberal or conservative. General intelligence is heritable, and so are the five major ways in which personality can vary: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion-introversion, antagonism-agreeableness, and neuroticism.” (OCEAN).

Unfortunately, some of the studies he mentions are not as complex as I would have liked, for lack of possibility. The differences between siblings and twins, raised together or apart, are fascinating. But all the studies where the children were adopted, were, obviously, made with, mainly, white American middle class families. The government will not give children to poor working class families for obvious reasons. Hence, the environment is not as diverse, good school, good neighbours, holidays, technology. What would happen with white American middle class children if they would be raised in a working class family, would there be a significant difference or nature would be more important than nurture?

Besides this last comment, I think The Blank Slate The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker was great. As the title suggests, many people and experts live in a modern denial of our nature. Also, I’m eager to read other books by the same author.

The Blank Slate The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes. The last two chapters weren’t as interesting and not as to the point as the rest of the book, skip those if you wish.
Published by: Penguin Books
Year it was published: 2003 (First time published in 2002)
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Non-fiction. Psychology.
Pages: 509

About the author: Steven Pinker is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is an experimental psychologist who conducts research in visual cognition, psycholinguistics, and social relations. He wrote nine books, including The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Sense of Style, How the Mind Works.
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