The Blank Slate
I’ve been wanting to read a Steven Pinker book for a few years now and I’ve finally gotten around to doing so. I chose The Blank Slate thinking it was something completely different than it was. Oh well, it was still interesting, after I got over the confusion I had caused myself.
The Blank Slate is basically a refutation of the classic theory that humans are born with no traits or characteristics. What we become, our personality, behavior, attitudes, everything is a reaction to our surroundings, our family, friends and environment. Pinker basically tears this idea apart. It reads more like a lengthy article in a layman’s science journal than a book. While he destroys the theory of the blank slate he discusses the role of genetics in who we are. According to the research he cites, the variation in our traits is 50% due to genetics.
The strange and confusing thing about this book is that he never really lets on what he believes turns us into who we are. He discusses genetics as I mentioned but beyond that he avoids giving a good explanation on what shapes human minds. In addition, the first section of the book which discusses the blank slate theory in depth is at times difficult to understand. Or at least it was for me.
Despite these weaknesses The Blank Slate is a good read. There are some fascinating ideas about culture and the mind which might leave you questioning things you’ve always believed about why we are the way we are.