Final analysis Steven Pinker

Erik Strand

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, comes out swinging in defense of Darwin with his latest book, The Blank Slate (in paperback this September from Penguin USA). This Harvard-based proponent of evolutionary psychology argues that misconceptions about human nature, such as the idea that we enter the world a “tabula rasa,” may be detrimental to both scientific inquiry and society as a whole.

How can we benefit from an understanding of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology?

Many of our policies hinge on some notion of human nature. Education depends on a theory of learning: What do children find natural and [for what do they] need the assistance of a teacher? Or consider the criminal justice system: The point of laws is to influence behavior, so you use a theory of human nature to design laws. Government and social organization hinge on questions such as whether humans are inherently selfish or will naturally work for the common benefit.

Will The Blank Slate change the way parents think about their kids?

They might rose the illusion that they can micromanage their children’s personalities. Parents can influence their children in terms of neighborhood–what peer group they immerse their children in. But many parents think that whether their child will grow up to be conscientious or lackadaisical, neurotic or self-confident, depends crucially on how they’re treated in the home. I hope parents would hove some skepticism about those claims.

Why is evolutionary psychology all the rage right now?

Often, introductory psychology lecturers defiantly tell their classes, “Everything you’ve come here to study you will not get in this course.” Topics like love sexual attraction, religion, work, jealousy, anger, guilt, morality–all of the things that give life its color–are omitted from many psychology curricula. Instead. students get a cafeteria of topics like attention, attitude formation and short-term memory. Evolutionary psychology addresses. in a scientific way, all of the juicy topics that have been banished from the psychology curriculum.

What else are you interested in?

Biology, for sure. I like picking up snails and lizards … little boy stuff. I still like beachcombing, picking up rocks and seeing what crawls out from underneath.

Where do you do your best thinking?

I think anywhere and everywhere–walking around, in the shower, bike-riding–which is why I am often so absentminded. But my best ideas occur to me while writing. I’ll start off with something half-baked or clearly wrong and only get it right when I try to put the idea into words.

Are you an iconoclast?

I guess I must be, although I’m an iconoclast with a fair number of allies. I push ideas that I think are not sufficiently appreciated. Often they come from other people. I’m not–at least I hope I’m not–a lone kook.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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