Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

I listened to an audiobook version of "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker. It was interesting, though somewhat long-winded at times (almost 23 hours)... making sure to hammer home each claim with strikes from every conceivable angle of evidence.

The idea of the book is refreshing and fun... that different people are born with different brains. I expected some differences. But it goes a lot deeper than I thought.

Some of the more interesting results he discusses include evidence from twin and sibling studies showing that about 50% of the variation in many behaviours can be attributed directly to genetics. Cool.

The book then takes a surprising turn, describing the three laws of behaviour genetics by Eric Turnkeimer.
  1. All human behavioural traits are heritable.
  2. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.
  3. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.
Hard to believe, but Pinker spends some time unpacking the evidence behind those results. It's quite an eye-opener.

But, you'll have to check the book out yourself to get that story.

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