Steven Pinker, the Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology at MIT and author of How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, discusses his latest book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
Steven Pinker explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. He shows how many intellectuals have denied the existence of human nature by embracing three linked dogmas: the blank slate (the mind has no innate traits), the noble savage (people are born good and corrupted by society), and the ghost in the machine (each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology). Pinker tries to inject calm and rationality into these debates by showing that equality, progress, responsibility, and purpose have nothing to fear from discoveries about rich human nature. He claims that the blank slate concept denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces hardheaded analyzes of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of government, violence, parenting, and the arts.
This talk was taped November 14, 2002.