The Blank Slate

The Modern Denial of Human Nature

The Blank Slate

'A passionate defence of the enduring power of human nature ... both life-affirming and deeply satisfying' Daily Telegraph Recently many people have assumed that we are blank slates shaped by our environment. But this denies the heart of our being: human nature. Violence is not just a product of society; male and female minds are different; the genes we give our children shape them more than our parenting practices. To acknowledge our innate abilities, Pinker shows, is not to condone inequality, but to understand the very foundations of humanity. 'Brilliant ... enjoyable, informative, clear, humane' New Scientist 'If you think the nature-nurture debate has been resolved, you are wrong ... this book is required reading' Literary Review 'An original and vital contribution to science and also a rattling good read' Matt Ridley, Sunday Telegraph 'Startling ... This is a breath of air for a topic that has been politicized for too long' Economist

Scientific and Religious Habits of Mind

Irreconcilable Tensions in the Curriculum

Scientific and Religious Habits of Mind

The open, inquiring nature of science is fundamentally incompatible with the closed, authoritarian nature of most religious training. Reasons for rejection of personal god concepts by Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Bertrand Russell are used by this author to underline this incompatibility and to show how each of these important scientists came to reject organized religion. Conflicts between scientific and religious habits of mind are described and ideas for education are offered. Common assumptions about our natural environment and human nature are shown to be obstacles to scientific literacy and to a sound liberal education. Research on the nature of the relationship between scientific and religious habits of mind is proposed, recognizing the potential incompatibilities between these important influences in society.

Connections and Symbols

Connections and Symbols

Connections and Symbols provides the first systematic analysis of the explosive new field of Connectionism that is challenging the basic tenets of cognitive science. Does intelligence result from the manipulation of structured symbolic expressions? Or is it the result of the activation of large networks of densely interconnected simple units? Connections and Symbols provides the first systematic analysis of the explosive new field of Connectionism that is challenging the basic tenets of cognitive science. These lively discussions by Jerry A. Fodor, Zenon W. Pylyshyn, Steven Pinker, Alan Prince, Joel Lechter, and Thomas G. Bever raise issues that lie at the core of our understanding of how the mind works: Does connectionism offer it truly new scientific model or does it merely cloak the old notion of associationism as a central doctrine of learning and mental functioning? Which of the new empirical generalizations are sound and which are false? And which of the many ideas such as massively parallel processing, distributed representation, constraint satisfaction, and subsymbolic or microfeatural analyses belong together, and which are logically independent? Now that connectionism has arrived with full-blown models of psychological processes as diverse as Pavlovian conditioning, visual recognition, and language acquisition, the debate is on. Common themes emerge from all the contributors to Connections and Symbols criticism of connectionist models applied to language or the parts of cognition employing language like operations; and a focus on what it is about human cognition that supports the traditional physical symbol system hypothesis. While criticizing many aspects of connectionist models, the authors also identify aspects of cognition that could he explained by the connectionist models. Connections and Symbols is included in the Cognition Special Issue series, edited by Jacques Mehler.

On Our Minds

How Evolutionary Psychology Is Reshaping the Nature versus Nurture Debate

On Our Minds

There is no question more fundamental to human existence than that posed by the nature-versus-nurture debate. For much of the past century, it was widely believed that there was no essential human nature and that people could be educated or socialized to thrive in almost any imaginable culture. Today, that orthodoxy is being directly and forcefully challenged by a new science of the mind: evolutionary psychology. Like the theory of evolution itself, the implications of evolutionary psychology are provocative and unsettling. Rather than viewing the human mind as a mysterious black box or a blank slate, evolutionary psychologists see it as a physical organ that has evolved to process certain types of information in certain ways that enables us to thrive only in certain types of cultures. In On Our Minds, Eric M. Gander examines all sides of the public debate between evolutionary psychologists and their critics. Paying particularly close attention to the popular science writings of Steven Pinker, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Jay Gould, Gander traces the history of the controversy, succinctly summarizes the claims and theories of the evolutionary psychologists, dissects the various arguments deployed by each side, and considers in detail the far-reaching ramifications—social, cultural, and political—of this debate. Gander's lucid and highly readable account concludes that evolutionary psychology now holds the potential to answer our oldest and most profound moral and philosophical questions, fundamentally changing our self–perception as a species. -- Boguslaw Pawlowski

The Evolution of Evil

The Evolution of Evil

The collection of essays attempt to clarify the problem of evil as shaped by evolutionary biology, examining its scientific, historical, philosophical, and theological elements, and offering a new approach to a Christian theodicy.

Language, Cognition, and Human Nature

Selected Articles

Language, Cognition, and Human Nature

Language, Cognition, and Human Nature collects together for the first time much of Steven Pinker's most influential scholarly work on language and cognition. Pinker's seminal research explores the workings of language and its connections to cognition, perception, social relationships, child development, human evolution, and theories of human nature. This eclectic collection spans Pinker's thirty-year career, exploring his favorite themes in greater depth and scientific detail. It includes thirteen of Pinker's classic articles, ranging over topics such as language development in children, mental imagery, the recognition of shapes, the computational architecture of the mind, the meaning and uses of verbs, the evolution of language and cognition, the nature-nurture debate, and the logic of innuendo and euphemism. Each outlines a major theory or takes up an argument with another prominent scholar, such as Stephen Jay Gould, Noam Chomsky, or Richard Dawkins. Featuring a new introduction by Pinker that discusses his books and scholarly work, this collection reflects essential contributions to cognitive science by one of our leading thinkers and public intellectuals.

From Perfectibility to Perversion

Meliorism in Eighteenth-century France

From Perfectibility to Perversion

"From Perfectibility to Perversion: Meliorism in Eighteenth-Century France" traces the evolution of human perfectibility discourse during the second half of the eighteenth century and the early post-Revolutionary era in France. Examining key articulations of Enlightenment meliorism as it shifts between open-ended models of human perfectibility and -fixist- conceptions of the human body, this book will appeal to a range of specialists because it draws on a variety of primary sources, from Buffon and Rousseau to important medical theorists of the pre- and post-Revolutionary period, and juxtaposes seemingly disparate domains of inquiry in informative and provocative fashion."

Ordering America

Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization

Ordering America

Ordering America, painting a felicitous portrait of Western civilization, shows that its defining ideals--rooted in man ́s common human nature, a perception newly substantiated by modern evolutionary psychology--were best fulfilled by realization of the American founding order. Twentieth-century progressivism and postmodern multiculturalism detoured America down the way of social constructionism--human nature and equality are produced by culture and the state, through groups. The book sets a course to revive the Western ideals and return to an opportune center-right American order, applying latest scientific insights and restoring individual responsibility and reciprocity under more limited, still energetic government befitting our century.