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Blank slates

2002-12-12 16:31:29+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

On the flight back from Hong Kong I tried to start The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature[Wiki]. In the first third, Steven Pinker lays out the best attacks against the notion that intelligence can be genetic I've ever seen. It's not what he claims to do, but after the umpteenth strawman or flawed example I just tired of it. A few Pinker books back, a friend commented that I should probably read one, but only needed to read one. This evening I'm going to take that friend to task.

I'm not sure it's worth going back and finding the exact passages, but I became disillusioned after he claimed that some particular object-subject-verb combination was unthinkable, when I'd just discussed with my hosts an extremely similar construction occurring in Cantonese. Then this morning I was reading B. R. Myers' A Readers Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose[Wiki](an abridged version was published in The Atlantic last year) and saw him quote (albeit in the context of a strong rebuke) another example of such a construction.

I believe in Pinker's basic assertion, that elements of intelligence are genetic, but I don't think I'm going to subject myself to the rest of his pretentious and flawed arguments for the matter, and I'm not sure it's even worth going back to accurately critique what I've already read.

[ related topics: Books Psychology, Psychiatry and Personality moron ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 17:21:38+00 by: other_todd

You should read only one Pinker book. What your friend didn't tell you is that it needs to be a specific one: The Language Instinct.

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 18:51:50+00 by: Dan Lyke

Are you sure? Reading that it's evidence of common brain structure that all the (cited) languages have a word for the absence of light made me extremely skeptical that he had anything worth reading. And his notion of "language" seems extremely limited, too.

Maybe I'll see if I can borrow it from someone.

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 19:22:13+00 by: Jeffery [edit history]

You may find some interesting qualitative ideas and some quantitative results concerning the intelligence of children at: http://www.iahp.org.

#Comment made: 2002-12-12 19:28:31+00 by: babar

I read The Language Instinct after taking a linguistics course in college. Granted, my school fell into an anti-Pinker camp, but I didn't find many of his arguments convincing. Yes, there is probably a genetic basis for aspects of language, but that is true for any activity. Language can be thought of as a pattern-recognition and memory task, just like anything else, and you can learn it later in life.

I find his tone really creepy, like he is the only one who knows what is really going on inside people's brains, and he's being kind enough to explain why we'll never be as good as he is.

#Comment made: 2002-12-13 17:33:28+00 by: other_todd

Ah, let me be clear: I'm not saying I agree (or disagree) with Pinker. I don't have enough information to have a position. I was talking about the book's merits strictly as reading material. I found it fascinating and provocative - the latter meaning that it made me think. Some of that was thinking about whether he is in outer space.