Why doesn't Joe Rogan invite Noam Chomsky

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002)

by Steven Pinker

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The human mind, the philosopher John Locke once asserted, is like a sheet of paper that nature has left completely empty and that is only described by culture. This view has long been a thorn in the neuropsychologist and linguist Steven Pinker Eye. In his new book he tries to refute them by confronting them on hundreds of pages with the latest findings in neurosciences and cognitive sciences, infant research and evolutionary biology. So far so good. But Pinker also wants to prove that the humanities and social sciences and even not a few biologists continue to deny that there is a genetically anchored human nature - and the fatal consequences it has if one denies its existence. But obviously Pinker has just another, extremely pessimistic view of man, and that is based primarily on the daring and ideologically suspicious assumptions of evolutionary psychology. Apart from that, a highly stimulating and linguistically virtuoso book.... (more)
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Pinker deftly blends a deep understanding of philosophy and a thorough review of scientific literature to critic the dearly-held 19070’s intellectual doctrines of the blank slate, the noble savage and the ghost of the machine. Like Better Angles of our Nature, the book is expansive, thorough and convincing - liberally citing from the literature to make his points with data.

Whether we like it or not, we have a common human nature and it's imparted by our genes. While this does not mean our destiny is predetermined, it does shape our lives and our society. To ignore it, or worse, actively deny it exists, is folly.

What was particularly striking was how recognizable the debunked arguments are still in today's intellectual debates. As explored in the book, many intellectuals espouse theories they want to be true, largely because they fit with their ideology, even if they have no basis in fact. After reading this book, you'll see these arguments frequently in debates of many of societies most passionate disagreements.

A quote I think succinctly summarizes Pinker's argument:
“Acknowledging human nature does not mean overturning our personal world views, and I would have nothing to suggest as a replacement if it did. It means only taking intellectual life out of its parallel universe and reuniting it with science and, when it is borne out by science, with common sense. The alternative is to make intellectual life increasingly irrelevant to human affairs, to turn intellectuals into hypocrites, and to turn everyone else into anti-intellectuals. " ( )
The arguments of what affects us more as a human, or inherent nature or our environment, have been going on for years, and this is Pinker's attempt to look at the arguments for and against.

A lot of what he puts forward here is fascinating stuff, from details of collaboration between fishing crews, boys brought up as girls after failed operations, test and observations on twins brought up apart and so on. But he spent an awful lot of the time being very critical on subject as diverse as feminism and philosophy, and it didn't really play a part of this book.

Disappointing in the end, as some of his other books that I have read have been so much more coherent. ( )