The history of our intellectual climate and conventional wisdom is marred by those who have “read the manifesto but not the book,” by sheepish critics whose greatest achievement in attacking theories they so dislike is the mere erecting and burning of strawmen. Their attacks are impassioned but tend to stem from a misunderstanding of the theory itself. Such is the subject of this section. Having covered the four major theories of human nature in Part One, (Locke’s Blank Slate, Rousseau’s Noble Savage, Descartes’ Ghost in the Machine, and briefly the Judeo-Christian theory informed by the Holy Bible) along with their implications and implementations, Pinker now looks to analyze advocate and critic alike for each of these theories. Continuing our series on Pinker’s Blank Slate, let’s take a look at Part Two, “Fear and Loathing.”
Bear with me as I preface this soon-to-be series on Steven Pinker’s five-hundred-page epic, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. The book is quite long for (meta-)scientific nonfiction, and, boy, is it dense! I would be doing all of my readers a disservice by skimming over its valuable insights–so let’s break the one-review-for-one-book structure I’ve maintained for so long. And let’s trade it in for a more suitable structure for this book, which is quite deserving of special treatment. So, instead of cramming five hundred pages into a quick post, let’s take it part by part. With that, this is part one of a six-part series on Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate:
“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.” – Ricahrd Dawkins, The Selfish gene
With a Dawkins book, you order the vanilla but get a scoop of everything. From primordial soup to chess robots, the Prisoner’s Dilemma to population control, Dawkin’s classic Selfish Gene is a broad and fascinating book. Its central argument may seem of little value to the non-biologist, but the implication of a gene-centered evolutionary process, as opposed to individual-centered, are massive.
What if I were to tell you that the most successful men and women were not so because they were the best and the brightest–that all of our favorite rags-to-riches stories were incomplete and misleading? Well, our author, Malcolm Gladwell, is convinced that this is true, and he makes a moderately convincing case.
“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” – Anthony Oettinger
The above quote is often attributed to the absurdly witty Groucho Marx, and who would second guess it? The man gave us English-exploiting jokes like, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read,” and, “I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in them, I’ll never know.” The true author of this quote, however, is Anthony Oettinger, a linguist and computer scientist who, in the 1960s, tried to make an artificial intelligence that could comprehend English sentences.
“We foist evil onto other things, too frightened to admit it is within us.” – C.G. Jung
In this riveting summary of his scientific findings, evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss asserts, quite convincingly, that previous theories on murder “simply don’t hold up.” I’m sure you’ve heard interviews on the news discussing the motive for a murderer’s crime: some claim it’s violent video games, a disconnect with religion, insanity, poor parenting, and so on and so forth. Those who claim murder has its origins in violent television shows, movies, and video games cannot explain why Continue reading The Murderer Next Door: Why Our Minds are Designed to Kill – A Book Review
Had Alfred Adler’s What Life Could Mean To You taken on the meaning of life, I would call his stance an eloquent and attractive cop-out. However, this book does not question the very fabric our being (like Edward O. Wilson’s impressive The Meaning of Human Existence). Instead, it concerns the meaning individuals assign themselves. Adler’s approach is broad and bold—perhaps at times too bold. Overall, What Life Should Mean to You is unique in its real-life applicability and its perspective on meaning but too simplistic to present convincing arguments. Continue reading What Life Could Mean to You – A Book Review
Few have the merit or authority to title a book as boldly as Edward O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. I count this man part of that few, and his execution of answering such a question was unique and mostly effective, save for occasional tangents not wholly relevant to its title. In brief, I feel this book is immensely well-written and equally important. Continue reading The Meaning of Human Existence – A Book Review