Steven Pinker:
THE BLANK SLATE (Viking, 2002)

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(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Pinker argues that humans are born with predispositions to behavior, predispositions that have been fine-tuned by millions of years of natural selection. This is widely accepted among scientists of all disciplines, so the only reason to insist on the subject must be "political" (there are still many people outside the sciences who want to believe otherwise, for whatever political agenda). The "nature vs nurture" debate has been settled a long time ago: both contribute to what I am. Genetic information provides me with some predisposition to behavior, and experience fine-tunes those predispositions. Pinker has not written a scientific book, but merely a pamphlet to vent his political views (and his anger to social groups such as feminists and Marxists). Pinker seems to identify the "nurture" school of thought (the view that initially our brains are "blank slates" and only experience molds them, i.e. the denial of human nature) as the cause of all evils, including evils in the arts and psychology (the book was probably written before September 11, as it misses Islamic fundamentalism among the evils of the world). As a defense of evolutionary psychology and of the computational theory of mind, this is his weakest book. As a socio-historical analysis, its main claim is that the cognitive revolution of the 1950s has liberated society from a dangerous dogma (that humans can be shaped arbitrarily by using the appropriate training techniques) and has granted legitimacy again to the idea of human nature.

Given that human nature, as described by Pinker, is hardly perfect or even desirable, one hardly feels reassured. But, I guess, that's besides the point.

Highly readable.

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