Pinker, S. R. (2002). The Blank Slate. New York: Viking.
As people have evolved into complex beings, there has been somewhat of a mismatch between the intended use of our cognitive functions and the way we put them to use today. New technological innovations force people to deal with things that our ancestors could never have envisioned. Everyone is born with intuitions. It is believed that they are formed early in life and made up of a combination of genes and developing brain functions. There are several core intuitions that help people to understand and evolved in the world in which they live.
“-As in intuitive physics, which we use to keep track of how objects fall, bounce, and bend. Its core intuition is the concept of the object, which occupies one place, exists for a continuous span of time, and follows laws of motion and force. These are not Newton’s laws but something closer to the medieval conception of impetus, an “oomph” that keeps an object in motion and gradually dissipates.
-An intuitive version of biology or natural history, which we use to understand the living world. Its core intuition is that living things house a hidden essence that gives them their form and powers and drives their growth and bodily functions.
-An intuitive engineering, which we use to make and understand tools and other artifacts. Its core intuition is that a tool is an object with a purpose-an object designed by a person to achieve a goal.
-An intuitive psychology, which we use to understand other people. Its core intuition is that other people are not objects or machines but are animated by the invisible entity we call the mind or the soul. Minds contain beliefs and desires and are the immediate cause of behavior.
-A spatial sense, which we use to navigate the world and keep track of where things are. It is based on a dead reckoner, which updates coordinates of the body’s location as it moves and turns, and a network of mental maps. Each map is organized by a different reference frame: the eyes, the head, the body, or salient objects and places in the world.
-A number sense, which we use to think about quantities and amounts. It is based on an ability to register exact quantities for small numbers of abject (one, two, and three) and to make rough relative estimates for larger numbers.
-A sense of probability, which we use to reason about the likelihood of uncertain events. It is based on the ability to track the relative frequencies of events, that is, the proportion of events of some kind that turn out one way or the other.
-An intuitive economics, which we use to exchange goods and favors. It is based on the concept of reciprocal exchange, in which one party confers a benefit on another and is entitled to an equivalent benefit in return.
-A mental database and logic, which we use to represent ideas and to infer new ideas from old ones. It is based on assertions about what’s what, what’s where, or who did what to whom, when, where, and why. The assertions are linked in a mind-wide web and can be recombined with logical and causal operators such as AND, OR, NOT, ALL, SOME, NECESSARY, POSSIBLE, and CAUSE.
-Language, which we use to share the ideas from our mental logic. It is based on a mental dictionary of memorized words and a mental grammar of combinatorial rules. The rules organize vowels and consonants into words, words into bigger words and phrases, and phrases into sentences, in such a way that the meaning of the combination can be computed from the meanings of the parts and the way they are arranged.” (Pinker, 2002, pp 220-221)
With the eruption of technology and science, people possess no intuitive understanding of these things. This is why it is difficult grasp concepts that our ancestors never had to deal with. By learning and putting together bits of information, people are able to get somewhat of a concept of how new innovations work.
Traditional education believes that children are blank slates. It is believed that young children receive information to be memorized and tested on, as well as being instilled with social values and attitudes to shape the rest of their lives. On the opposite side, many cognitive scientists believe that children are not blank slates and that the purpose of education is to make up for where the mind is lacking. They believe that children already have the capabilities of reasoning and learning and that they just need to be untaught the basic intuitions so that they can adapt and adjust to new ones. For this reason, learning may be hard for children because it is not something that their minds are equipped to deal with and process intuitively.
A person’s “theory of mind” is something uniquely human. It is the ability to comprehend life and death and to understand people’s behaviors because of their beliefs and desires. The soul is an integral part of the human body. It is created at conception and is extinct at death. A major controversy in the subject of souls is cloning. Clones are replications without the souls. They are the body without the mind. Determining when a soul is in the body has been put up to much debate. Since the brain slowly develops, grows, and slowly disintegrates, who is to say that a fetus of an elderly person in a coma has any less of a soul than a 30 year old. For this reason there has been much discussion about abortion and euthanasia.
Another topic of much controversy is that of genetically modified food. Many people think that this type of food is harmful to people, but it is really the natural food that is dangerous. Plants are equipped with many harmful poisons and toxins so that people do not eat them. Since we live in a time where there are many reports about the hazards of chemicals, people assume that those chemicals are what make genetically modified foods unsafe. People do mot partake in many activities because they believe the risks to be extremely high, but with better knowledge about technological advances, people will be able to make better and more informed choices.
Trading and exchanging goods is part of human nature. There are four different categories that these transactions fall into. The first is communal sharing. This is where groups of people share things without worrying about who is getting what. The second category is authority ranking. This is where someone in an authority position takes what they want from people in lower positions. The third type is called equality matching. This is where people exchange goods at different times and where the goods are of comparable costs. They keep track of their transactions until they feel like they are “even”. If a trade is not reciprocated, the uneven party may feel cheated and betrayed. The fourth type is called market pricing, where rents, prices, wages, and interest determine the economy. This is the most complex relying on money, math, and writing. The physical fallacy is when it is believed that a good has a fixed value instead of a being worth what someone will pay for it at a given time. Education is the most important aspect in making it harder for people to be taken advantage of with these types of exchanges.
With human’s ability to combine different things infinitely, is the most important aspect of human’s survival. Many think that human’s might have come to the end of their cognitive development. Many of the innate intuitions do not give us the capabilities to grasp things such as space, time, and matter. There are many mysteries in our universe which may never be understood, but time and study has helped to make them at least a little bit more acceptable and comprehendible.
I. Core Intuitions
A. What are they?
II. Children and Education
A. Children are blank slates
B. Children are born with reasoning
III. “Theory of Mind”
A. The presence of a soul
B. Controversy about souls
IV. Genetically Modified Foods
A. Is natural really better?
V. Categories of Transactions
A. Four types of transactions