Steven Pinker: Modern Denial of Human Nature



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.

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23 thoughts on “Steven Pinker: Modern Denial of Human Nature

  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    I wonder why he doesn't talk about the actual real human interaction with warmth and love that is exchanged between the parent and child , mother or father. He acts as if every individual mother and father is the same as every other individual mother and father and they are not… some mothers or fathers are cold and calculating and some mothers or fathers are warm and loving and nurturing and understanding, it matters little, the genetics, the DNA … it just doesn't matter …what matters is touch and warmth and kindness and inclusion …love…

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    I wonder why Pinker doesn't talk about things like the touch and the holding of a mother…

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    There seems to be an assumption that when children grow up in the same home that everything happens to them in the same way and at the same time and at the same age. There are a tremendous number of variables of what can happen to two people in the same home apart from each other. This seems almost completely ignored and yet IMO it's the main factor. When are we going to hear from some real experts who are actually thinking about these things.

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    I like Pinker, mostly because he is a relatively "mainstream" scientist that goes against the mainstream, but I have a lot of criticism of his work. I know that my criticism is mostly anecdotal, but I think he puts too much on the genes and uncontrolled environment and too little on the parenting.

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    There may be differences induced in identical twins living in the same home that are generated by the presence of the other twin (competition encourages differentiation). It might offset any similarities induced by living together?

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    53:10 we are not stardust we are not golden and we are not going back to the garden, get used to it…. He is wrong about that

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    This has to have been presented before the Major Epigenetic find of the last decade or so…

    Genes are unsurprisingly more germaine than the Meta-Systems of ''Gene Expression''. Epigenetics can easily explain much in the way of ''Nature on the Development of Children, Foetussen, etc''. Much of my at-home research and in following my likes within this subject led to me writing class papers on topics containing these ideas as premises. Wherein which act they act as descriptors for the differences seen in foetussen in utero and after they have grown up as identical twins triplets, etc., and of course as a partial descriptor for differences in non-identical humans. Since non-idential people have much more obvious forms of genetic differentiation which explain differences in behaviour, physical organ structure, metabolic processes, and so on.

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    If you want the answer to anything, ask Steven Pinker! This man GETS it!

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    His definition of Anarchy is off. You can ONLY have rational law, rational police, rational order f there isn't a contradictory moral rule that says person "A" cannot use force (the citizen) and person "B" MUST use force to extract funds (the State).

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    Pinker would admit that culture influences a persons propensity to be disgusted at certain things, so how can he then say that parenting plays almost no role in shaping behavior. Certain aspects of parenting will certainly shape a child's behavior, however this may not be evident if the studies are done within a culture where parenting styles and values are largely simular and are a result of culture.

    The identical twins study has too many variables to draw conclusion. The twins talk to each other, one looks right one looks left, and that's clearly enough to say that their experiences are different. When one twin assumes a behavioral position the other might assume a complementary position instinctivley as a result of a desire to be socially useful or conforming.

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    This guy really doesn't seem to go deep…pretty much all I'm hearing is statistics and surface variables. I don't see how you could pinpoint anything about specific behaviour with what he's saying. To me, it doesn't explain anything.

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  • November 4, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    I scrolled through the comments to make sure Pinker was being criticized by people who (1) misinterpret his ideas, (2) don't like the faulty interpretations they attribute to him, and (3) don't understand the science behind the ideas.
    I was not disappointed.

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