Sunday, September 22, 2002

Economist.com: Who's afraid of the new science? (review of The Blank Slate) "At a film your bliss is disturbed by the chatter of small children. What is it, you wonder, about dark rooms and bright screens that loosens little kids' tongues? Then their parents start rabbiting away over the popcorn, and the answer becomes obvious: they taught their spawn to act this way. But hold it, say behavioural geneticists. What if the children inherited a gabby disposition straight from the parents in their cocktail of genes? Learning could well have had nothing to do with it.
Steven Pinker's provocative new book is full of catchy examples like this that he uses to highlight two radically different ways of conceptualising and explaining our behaviour: one with an eye to culture, learning and the social sciences, the other with an eye to nature, genetic inheritance and experiment. He makes no bones about where he stands. Social science and its popularisers have, he thinks, systematically ignored or derided recent strides by neuroscience, artificial intelligence, behavioural genetics and evolutionary psychology. Though he seems to have a point to score or a joke to crack about almost every topic on earth, he makes his main argument persuasively and with great verve."
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