Human Nature


Eng. 101


Human nature is one of the most looked upon concepts in the world today. Everyone is trying to figure out what they believe, what others should believe, and what they can do to make others believe in the same ideas as them. Many philosophers have different points of view about the topic. Steven Pinker is one of these philosophers. He states his view point in many of his writings. These writings include The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works. Many people raise the question asking; ‘What are these books about and what message do they convey about Human Nature,’ and this paper is going to reveal both.


In The Blank Slate, 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). Each dogma carries a moral burden, so their defenders have engaged in the 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 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.(1)


In another work by Pinker, How the Mind Works, he explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life.(1) This book raises many questions that should be thought of in everyday life today. These questions are: Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? How do "Magic-Eye" 3-D stereo grams work? Why do we feel that a run of heads makes the coin more likely to land tails? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do men challenge each other to duels and murder their ex-wives? Why are children bratty? Why do fools fall in love? Why are we soothed by paintings and music? And why do puzzles like the self, free will, and consciousness leave us dizzy?(1)


Some of the points illustrated in The Blank Slate are as follows: “three scientific developments are sometimes cited as evidence discouraging a complex human nature. For example, the Human Genome Project reported in 2001 that there are 34,000 genes. This number may not be accurate, but this does not rule out natural brain circuitry. Connectionists claim learning can be explained by a general-purpose device, an almost blank slate. The problem is neural networks fail at realistic problems. Although there have been demonstrations of remarkable brain flexibility, such as the auditory cortex taking over visual functions in rewired ferrets and congenitally blind people using their visual cortex to read Braille, the actual story is less dramatic. Primary cortex is just one of many modules and many behaviors of interest such as fear, sex and aggression reside in sub cortical regions. Finally there are strong arguments supporting complex innate human nature. Logic dictates there can be no learning without underlying mechanisms. Evolutionary biology has shown complex adaptations exist and that natural selection can account for their evolution. Cognitive science has identified distinct modes of processing information. Size of genome can accommodate complex innate mechanisms and neuroscience shows brain’s basic architecture is under genetic control.”(3) All of this is simply describing, in great detail, the thoughts of Pinker in a very small portion of The Blank Slate. He is stating how he supports his belief that everything we do has something to do with the brain. Pinker believes that every human action is controlled by the genes that, in turn, control the brain.(4) Obviously, Pinker was