The Blank Slate Book Summary - The Blank Slate Book explained in key points
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The Blank Slate summary

Steven Pinker

The Modern Denial of Human Nature

4.5 (163 ratings)
32 mins

Brief summary

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker explores the debate on human nature and social constructionism. Pinker argues that genes play a significant role in shaping human behavior and challenges the idea of a completely blank slate.

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    The Blank Slate
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    There have been three popular but faulty theories about human nature.

    The mysteries of the human mind have proved a fascinating subject for millennia, as we’ve striven to understand and anticipate people's behavior.

    Many of our older, popular theories about human nature came from religion: In Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, the mind is considered separate from our physical form and lives on after the body dies.

    These days, science is less influenced by religion, and we’ve ended up with three main theories regarding the nature of the human mind.

    The first is known as the Blank Slate theory, and it’s often attributed to seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke. It suggests that there is no inherent human nature – that we’re born with a clean slate, so to speak, and everything that makes us who we are gets picked up along the way.

    This theory emphasizes the role of social influences in forming the customs, thoughts and behaviors we exhibit. So, any behavioral patterns that groups of people share, whether they’re of a particular race, ethnic group or gender, are all gained through experience. This means that if an individual grew up with another set of parents and a different education routine, and was exposed to different media, they would turn out to be a completely different person.

    Another popular belief is known as the Noble Savage theory, which is often attributed to the eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He believed that humans are inherently selfless and peaceful, but this natural state gets corrupted by civilized societies that promote greed and lead to violence.

    The third concept is known as the Ghost in the Machine theory, which dates back to the seventeenth-century and the philosopher René Descartes. He believed that humans are composed of two separate systems, one that relates to the physical body and one that relates to the mind. People who adhered to this belief thought that the mind was complex in ways that simple mechanical terms couldn’t explain.

    The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine are also known as empiricism, romanticism and dualism. But as we’ll see in the next blink, there’s another theory that can explain how the mind works.

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    What is The Blank Slate about?

    The Blank Slate (2002) is about the huge role that evolution and genetics play in making us who we are. Steven Pinker makes a strong case against the belief that everyone is born a blank slate and influenced only by their upbringing, arguing instead that biology is a far more important factor in shaping our behaviors and personalities.

    The Blank Slate Review

    The Blank Slate (2002) is a thought-provoking book that challenges our beliefs about human nature. Here's why you should read it:

    • Through rigorous research and analysis, it dismantles the idea that we are blank slates shaped solely by our environment, offering a new perspective on human behavior.
    • By exploring topics like genetics, culture, and evolution, the book delves into the complexity of what makes us who we are, providing a deeper understanding of human nature.
    • With its accessible and intellectually stimulating approach, the book keeps readers captivated, ensuring that the exploration of human nature is anything but monotonous.

    Best quote from The Blank Slate

    The idea that minds are shaped by culture served as a bulwark against racism and was the theory one ought to prefer on moral grounds.

    —Steven Pinker
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    Who should read The Blank Slate?

    • Students of psychology, biology, and philosophy
    • Teachers and parents
    • Readers eager to understand human nature

    About the Author

    Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist and one of the world’s most renowned writers on language, the human mind and nature. Pinker has won numerous awards from organizations such as the American Humanist Association and has been included in Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, and his influential books include The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature.

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    The Blank Slate FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Blank Slate?

    The main message of The Blank Slate is that human behavior is not solely determined by genetics, but is also influenced by culture and individual experiences.

    How long does it take to read The Blank Slate?

    The reading time for The Blank Slate varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Blank Slate a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Blank Slate is a thought-provoking book that challenges traditional views on human nature. It is definitely worth reading for those interested in psychology and philosophy.

    Who is the author of The Blank Slate?

    The author of The Blank Slate is Steven Pinker.

    What to read after The Blank Slate?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Blank Slate, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Rationality by Steven Pinker
    • The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
    • Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
    • The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
    • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
    • The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
    • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
    • The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane
    • Deep Work by Cal Newport
    • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman