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:
“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.