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Full title The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature [permalink]
Language English
Author Steven Pinker (author)
Publisher Penguin Books
Category Psychology
Publication year 2002
ISBN 0-14-200334-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 509
Synopsis

A very good synthesis of and commentary on the nature-nurture debate from the point of view of an evolutionary psychologist. The book is divided into six parts named "The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine" (in which Pinker outlines the debate and discusses the three doctrines in the title), "Fear and Loathing" (in which he describes the reactions from scientists and lay people to the discoveries of the modern sciences of human nature), "Human Nature with a Human Face" (in which he discusses four fears — inequality, imperfectibility, determinism, and nihilism — that seem to flow from the dismantling of the three doctrines outlined in the first chapter), "Know Thyself" (in which he attempts to allay fears by making human nature explicit), "Hot Buttons" (in which he deals with five topics — politics, violence, gender, children, and the arts — and explain how the sciences of human nature touch on these), and "The Voice of the Species" (which is a single chapter where Pinker draws examples from poetry and literature to illustrate his main points and bring the book to a natural end).

Review

A very good book about human nature, and why gut feelings and folk theories on psychology are often wrong (or not right enough). This is the first book on evolutionary psychology I've read, so I had a little trouble keeping up with the parts of the book that described its history and methods, but I think I got the gist of those parts. I especially enjoyed the last part of the book, titled "The Voice of the Species", where Pinker quotes various poets and authors (such as Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and Kurt Vonnegut), in passages illuminating human nature. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book!

Images Back of The Blank Slate.Spine of The Blank Slate.Front of The Blank Slate.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • PART I The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine
    • Chapter 1 The Official Theory
    • Chapter 2 Silly Putty
    • Chapter 3 The Last Wall to Fall
    • Chapter 4 Culture Vultures
    • Chapter 5 The Slate's Last Stand
  • PART II Fear and Loathing
    • Chapter 6 Political Scientists
    • Chapter 7 The Holy Trinity
  • PART III Human Nature with a Human Face
    • Chapter 8 The Fear of Inequality
    • Chapter 9 The Fear of Imperfectibility
    • Chapter 10 The Fear of Determinism
    • Chapter 11 The Fear of Nihilism
  • PART IV Know Thyself
    • Chapter 12 In Touch with Reality
    • Chapter 13 Out of Our Depths
    • Chapter 14 The Many Roots of Our Suffering
    • Chapter 15 The Sanctimonious Animal
  • PART V Hot Buttons
    • Chapter 16 Politics
    • Chapter 17 Violence
    • Chapter 18 Gender
    • Chapter 19 Children
    • Chapter 20 The Arts
  • PART VI The Voice of the Species
  • Appendix: Donald E. Brown's List of Human Universals
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
Full title Freedom Evolves [permalink]
Language English
Author Daniel Dennett (author)
Publisher Viking Books
Categories Philosophy, psychology and science
Publication year 2003
ISBN 0-670-03186-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 347
Images Back flap of Freedom Evolves.Back of Freedom Evolves.Spine of Freedom Evolves.Front of Freedom Evolves.Front flap of Freedom Evolves.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface

Chapter 1: Natural Freedom

  • Learning What We Are
  • I Am Who I Am
  • The Air We Breathe
  • Dumbo's Magic Feather and the Peril of Paulina

Chapter 2: A Tool for Thinking About Determinism

  • Some Useful Oversimplifications
  • From Physics to Design in conway's Life World
  • Can We Get the Deus ex Machina?
  • From Slow-motion Avoidance to Star Wars
  • The Birth of Evitability

Chapter 3: Thinking About Determinism

  • Possible Worlds
  • Causation
  • Austin's Putt
  • A Computer Chess Marathon
  • Events without Causes in a Deterministic Universe
  • Will the Future Be Like the Past?

Chapter 4: A Hearing for Libertarianism

  • The Appeal of Libertarianism
  • Where Should We Put the Much-needed Gap?
  • Kane's Mode of Indeterministic Decision-making
  • "If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything"
  • Beware of Prime Mammals
  • How Can It Be "Up to Me"?

Chapter 5: Where Does all the Design Come From?

  • Early Days
  • The Prisoner's Dilemma
  • E Pluribus Unum?
  • Digression: The Threat of Genetic Determinism
  • Degrees of Freedom and the Search for Truth

Chapter 6: The Evolution of Open Minds

  • How Cultural Symbionts Turn Primates into Persons
  • The Diversity of Darwinian Explanations
  • Nice Tools, but You Still Have to Use Them

Chapter 7: The Evolution of Moral Agency

  • Benselfishness
  • Being Good in Order to Seem Good
  • Learning to Deal with Yourself
  • Our Costly Merit Badges

Chapter 8: Are You Out of the Loop?

  • Drawing the Wrong Moral
  • Whenever the Spirit Moves You
  • A Mind-writer's View
  • A Self of One's Own

Chapter 9: Bootstrapping Ourselves Free

  • How We Captured Reasons and Made Them Our Own
  • Psychic Engineering and the Arms Race of Rationality
  • With a Little Help from My Friends
  • Autonomy, Brainwashing, and Education

Chapter 10: The Future of Human Freedom

  • Holding the Line against Creeping Exculpation
  • "Thanks, I Needed That!"
  • Are We Freer Than We Want to Be?
  • Human Freedom Is Fragile
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title Lying [permalink]
Language English
Authors Annaka Harris (editor) and Sam Harris (author)
Categories Essay, philosophy and psychology
Publication year 2011
Original publication year 2011
Pages 66
Synopsis

Lying is a very short book about the implications and morality of lying. In short, Harris argues (successfully, in my opinion) that one should never lie, even about the smallest things, if what you're trying to do is build good relationships with people. He even goes into border cases, such as a wife asking her husband if she looks good in a dress (one can answer the sub-text of a question, not necessarily the literal meaning of it) and someone hiding a Jew when a Nazi comes a-knockin' on the door (in that case, you're not really trying to build a lasting relationship with the person).

Review

Sam Harris is a really talented writer, and reading his material is never boring. This book is no exception, and the fact that it's as short as it is, is a point in its favor. It's the perfect length when all you're doing is making an argument, not laying out in detail a theory. (I wish more writers would be similarly inspired to brevity.)

Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • What Is a Lie?
  • The Mirror of Honesty
  • Two Types of Lies
  • White Lies
  • Trust
  • Faint Praise
  • Secrets
  • Lies in Extremis
  • Mental Accounting
  • Integrity
  • Big Lies
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
Full title Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Wiseman (author)
Publisher Macmillan
Categories Psychology and science
Publication year 2007
ISBN 978-0-330-44811-6 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 299
Synopsis

Quirkology is a word coined by the author, and is the study of the more quirky side of human activity. The book draws a number of conclusions, such as that women van drivers are more likely to take more than ten items through the express line at supermarkets, that words containing the letter K are funny, and that women's personal ads would garner more replies if written by a man (the opposite is not true).

Richard Wiseman has spent twenty years studying these matters, but the book also briefly mentions other seminal studies in psychology (such as Milgram's obedience study and studies concerning memory and the manipulation thereof).

Review

I can thoroughly recommend the book, although as the title suggests, it's mostly about quirky little things about human behavior. The book wasn't all that interesting, but it's definitely entertaining.

Images Back of Quirkology.Spine of Quirkology.Front of Quirkology.
Full title The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature — Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901–1902 [permalink]
Language English
Author William James (author)
Categories Philosophy, psychology and religion
Publication year 1902
Online version Link
Synopsis

This is the manuscript version of a series of lectures that the Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James gave in Edinburgh between 1901 and 1902 (the so-called Gifford series of lectures given annually at a number of Scottish universities). It explores, as the title implies, varieties of religious experience, from different parts of the world in different times and by different means (although, perhaps only to modern readers, the absence of a full discussion on animistic or primitive or tribal religion is conspicuous). These lectures contain a plethora of case studies, excerpts, and poignant vignettes on whatever the subject happens to be, which really helps give the expositions more context.

Review

I think I will have to re-read this book eventually, as I don't feel I can give a proper review not having really understood it completely.

Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • LECTURE I: Religion and Neurology
  • LECTURE II: Circumscription of the Topic
  • LECTURE III: The Reality of the Unseen
  • LECTURES IV AND V: The Religion of Healthy-mindedness
  • LECTURES VI AND VII: The Sick Soul
  • LECTURE VIII: The Divided Self, and the Process of its Unification
  • LECTURE IX: Conversion
  • LECTURE X: Conversion—concluded
  • LECTURES XI, XII, AND XIII: Saintliness
  • LECTURES XIV AND XV: The Value of Saintliness
  • LECTURES XVI AND XVII: Mysticism
  • LECTURE XVIII: Philosophy
  • LECTURE XIX: Other Characteristics
  • LECTURE XX: Conclusions
  • Postscript

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