Pinker's How the Mind Works + The Blank Slate

From: Anand (
Date: Thu Sep 12 2002 - 19:34:53 MDT

Thumbs up on How the Mind Works. I believe it's one of the better
first-step cognitive science books available. (Peter Gray's Psychology,
4th Edition, is also good.) The following is a selection of topics
found in the book:


2˝-D sketch; adaptationism; analogy-making; art; artificial
intelligence; autism; autostereograms; the Baldwin effect; Bayes'
theorem; beauty; categories; Church-Turing Thesis; cognitive dissonance;
the cognitive niche; combinatorics; common sense reasoning; complex
mental organs (complex functional adaptations); the computational theory
of mind; connectionism; creativity; critiques and misunderstandings of
natural selection (adaptation, exaptation, just-so-stories et al.);
critiques of the computational theory of mind (the Chinese Room, Gödel's
Theorem); doomsday-machine theory; emotions; error back-propagation;
essentialism; evolutionary psychology; feminism; goals;
genes/environment; geron theory; inference; intentionality; intuitive
psychology, biology, maths, physics; intuitive-impetus theory; kin
selection theory; language acquisition; laughter; learning; literature;
logic (standard, cheater-detector); mental imagery; mental
representation; mental rotation; mentalese; metaphors; mind-blindness;
modularity; morality; multiple-view theory; music; myopic discounting;
natural selection; nature/nurture; nepotism; neural networks (one- and
two-layer); parent-offspring conflict; path integration (dead
reckoning); perception; perceptrons; the Perky effect; personality
(Judith Harris's work et al.); perspective; philosophy; population
genetics; the Prisoner's Dilemma; probability theory; rationality;
reciprocal altruism; religion; romantic love; self-control; selfish
genes; sex relations; sexual selection; sexuality; social motives;
social relations (friendship, kinship, marriage, rivalry, status, war);
split brains; Standard Social Science Model (SSSM); statistical
reasoning (Tversky and Kahneman's work et al.); stereoscopic vision;
stereograms; strategy; studies of twins (reared together and apart);
symbolism; triune-brain theory; types of consciousness (self-knowledge,
informational access, qualia); values; vision; Wason selection task; the
Westermarck effect; and wit.


Pinker's The Blank Slate has a US release date of September 26. The
following is the jacket description:



Our conceptions of human nature affect every aspect of our lives, from
the way we raise our children to the political movements we embrace. Yet
just as science is bringing us into a golden age of understanding human
nature, many people are hostile to the very idea. They fear that
discoveries about innate patterns of thinking and feeling may be used to
justify inequality, to subvert social change, to dissolve personal
responsibility, and to strip life of meaning and purpose.

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, bestselling author of The Language
Instinct and How the Mind Works, 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). Each dogma carries a moral burden, so their defenders
have engaged in desperate tactics to discredit the scientists who are
now challenging them.

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 a rich human nature. He disarms
even the most menacing threats with clear thinking, common sense, and
pertinent facts from science and history. Despite its popularity among
intellectuals during much of the twentieth century, he argues, the
doctrine of the Blank Slate may have done more harm than good. It denies
our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces hardheaded
analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our
understanding of government, violence, parenting, and the arts.

Pinker shows that an acknowledgment of human nature that is grounded in
science and common sense, far from being dangerous, can complement
insights about the human condition made by millennia of artists and
philosophers. All this is done in the style that earned his previous
books many prizes and worldwide acclaim: wit, lucidity, and insight on
matters great and small.



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