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« Kapuscinski | Main | Free Reading -- Random Jottings »

September 12, 2002

Free Reads -- Steven Pinker

Friedrich --

The ever-resourceful Arts and Letters Daily (here) points out a long q&a with Steven Pinker, here.

Have you read Pinker? He's immensely brainy, interested in things that interest me, and a good popularizer. He brings together neuroscience, evo-bio and linguistics, and then explains himself in verve-y, plain English.


His new book, "The Blank Slate," is a terrific intro to these subjects and their intersections, although most of what he says won't come as startling news to people already familiar with the material.

But his thesis -- the ludicrousness of the notion that there is no such thing as human nature, that people are endlessly malleable "blank slates" -- is always pleasing to hear argued. And he writes a useful chapter (that'll be of special interest to readers of this blog) where he discusses the implications of this kind of thinking for the arts, and introduces the reader to evolutionary esthetics. (Rah, rah! Sis boom bah!)

Sample passage from the book:

Western societies are good at providing things that people want: clean water, effective medicine, varied and abundant food, rapid transportation and communication. They perfect these goods and services not from benevolence but from self-interest, for the profits to be made in selling them. Perhaps the aesthetics industry also perfected ways of giving people what they like -- art forms that appeal basic human tastes, such as calendar landscapes, popular songs, and Hollywood romances and adventures. So even if an art form matured in the West, it may be not an arbitrary practice spread by a powerful navy but a successful product that engages a universal human aesthetic.



posted by Michael at September 12, 2002


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