Steven Pinker: Modern Denial of Human Nature

THU, NOV 14, 2002 (1:34:45)

Steven Pinker, the Peter de Florez Professor of Psychology at MIT and author of How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, discusses his latest book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Steven 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). 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 claims that the blank slate concept denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces hardheaded analyzes of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of government, violence, parenting, and the arts.

+ BIO: Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Pinker is one of the world’s leading authorities on language and the mind, and the the author of seven books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, and The Stuff of Thought.

+ BIO: Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University, adjunct professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine, and senior director of Harvard Project Zero. Among numerous honors, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1981. In 1990, he was the first American to receive the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Award in Education, and in 2000, he received a fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He has received honorary degrees from 20 colleges and universities, including institutions in Ireland, Italy, and Israel. In 2004, he was named an honorary professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai. The author of over 20 books translated into 23 languages, and several hundred articles, Gardner is best known in educational circles for his theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion that there exists but a single human intelligence that can be assessed by standard psychometric instruments. During the past two decades, he and colleagues at Project Zero have been working on the design of performance-based assessments; education for understanding; the use of multiple intelligences to achieve more personalized curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and the nature of interdisciplinary efforts in education.

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