Well, I’ve decided to do my little book reviews as a blog post too, and then have a page that links to them, maybe with excerpts for the most recent ones. So, the book I’m reading right now is Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
This book is all about the nature vs. nurture question. Pinker uses evidence from the most recent in neurocience, biology, philosophy, and other fields to argue that the blank slate, or tabula rasa, is a false idea. We are not really blank slates, but rather, much of what we will become is determined by our genetics. He explains how this argument has been treated as politically incorrect, because so many are afraid that admitting that there are things about ourselves that are determined by our biology will lead to fodder for racists, sexists, and all the other kinds of -ists there are out there. But he makes a great argument as to how the reality, that nature plays a very significant role, is not a depressing realization, but rather can be seen as a good thing.
At the moment, I’m nearly finished with part one, which lays out the basics of the three ideas that he will argue against: the blank slate, the noble savage, and the ghost in the machine. I am growing a strong interest in the current information regarding how much of an effect genes have, but I’ve always had an interest in what he refers to as “the ghost in the machine.” This is basically dualism vs. monism, or the question of whether or not we really have “souls” that reside in the body but can exist outside of it, such as in the afterlife after the body’s death. I, being a humanist, am a monist. I do not believe in the afterlife, and I do not believe that we have a soul, or that we are, in essence, anything more than all the neurons in our brain that store our thoughts and guide our actions. I believe that our brains are very complex, but that everything we are is stored in real, physical material, the material that is in our brains. This seems to be what he is going to argue as well. It is always fascinating to read the arguments of someone who is involved in neuroscience at a very deep level, and I also love reading about the history of the idea of dualism, and what parts of that history he picks out as important.
I’m only 1/5th of the way done with the book, but it’s great, and I can’t wait to read the whole thing.