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Nature Vs Nurture

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THE Blank Slate Theory: Nature versus Nurture


The discussion surrounding Stephen Pinkers' book The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature has sparks some rather interesting arguments as to whether our being is a result of nature, genetics or is it learned through nurturing. The discussion revolved around Pinkers idea that there is no such thing as the Blank Slate theory, when it comes to human nature. He believes "that the human mind, like the human body, has been designed by natural selection through the process of biological evolution" (Bailey & Gillespie, 2002, p.2).The Blank Slate theory derived from John Locke, a great philosopher who lived in the 16th century. In John Locke's philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that the (human) mind is at birth a "blank slate" void of all characters, without any ideas or rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing it formed solely by our sensory experiences. As understood by Locke, tabula rasa meant that the mind of the individual was born "blank", and it also emphasized the individual's freedom to author his or her own soul. Each individual was free to define the content of his or her character - but his or her basic identity as a member of the human species cannot be so altered. Implicit in this theory is the belief that individuals are infinitely and arbitrarily malleable by society: by changing the individual's environment, and thus sensory experiences, one can shape the individual with few, if any, restrictions.

Steven Pinker challenges the Blank Slate theory. He thinks, we are genetically coded to be whatever we are. The experiences we encounter only have a minuscule impact on how we grow. Pinker argues about the idea of which nurture plays a more important role than nature in the development of the human mind. He believes a child is born with a personality, and parents cannot cause their children to have a different personality to that which is given. Pinker states in an interview by Bailey and Gillespie that:

Blank slates do not do anything they just sit there. Human beings do things. They make sense of their environment they acquire language they interact with one another. They use reasoning to bring about things that they want. Even if you acknowledge, as you have to acknowledge, that learning, socialization, and culture are indispensable aspects of human behavior you have to admit that you can't have culture unless you have some kind of innate circuitry that can invent and acquire culture to begin with.(p.5)

Pinker also has an interesting notion, that there is no such thing as intelligence as we know it. If everyone is born void of everything, how do we explain intellectual difference among humans? One of his ways to solve the difference, because it is given to us genetically is to have its checks and balance. We have to match social structure to genetics. Pinker stated that the Blank Slate theory made divisions among humans socially, intellectually, racially and by gender.



Research participants stemmed from his research with twins where Pinker with the help of Jennifer Ganger, PhD. They gathered data

On the development of words, sentences and past tense forms in a large sample of identical and fraternal twins. In the research he looked at there gradual development of their language, if it looked like the development appear in closer synchrony in identical twins (who share all their genes) than in fraternal twins (who share half their genes, among those that vary), it would suggest that language development is paced in part by a genetically influenced maturational timetable. (Pinker research 2002



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