Posted by: Matt | June 12, 2008

The Blank Slate

The Blank Slate
Steven Pinker
439 pgs

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.

Rating: 7.5



  1. I’ve got a different Pinker book on my shelf as I too have been wanting to read him for awhile. I didn’t realize he wrote about subjects other than language. This one sounds interesting – although as you mention, it would be nice if he would offer some kind of explanation.

  2. I have been meaning to read this book FOREVER. (Well, since it came out.) Easier to refute than to theorize, eh?. Maybe that’s the next book.

  3. I’ve always believed that we are born with a portion of our personality already formed. Genes give us disease, physical attributes and intellect, so why not at least part of our personalities too? That’s why I have such an effervescence about me–I got my personality from my fun-loving grandmother (and I got my humility from my Dad). ( :

    I’ll have to read this. Thanks, Matt!

  4. verbivore – I think he’s written about quite a few subjects though I know language is his specialty.

    Carrie K – It feels like it’s been forever since I first heard about it and wanted to read it. 🙂

    chartroose – We definitely get some of our personality from our genes, I always thought so too. Leave it to scientists to try to deny what we all probably feel.

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