Harvard professor gives talk


Steven Pinker believes that theories on human nature are connected to our value system. That a person’s behavior isn’t controlled completely by their environment. That these values have been suppressed by the ideas of “dead white European males.”

Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor, lectured from his new book, “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature,” last night before about 150 people in Van Meter Auditorium.

The book proposes a theory that human nature and environment have an influence on a person’s behavior, psychology professor Sharon Mutter said.

Most intellectuals are against the idea of human nature because it could validate immoral tendencies like rape, Pinker said. The name of the book comes from one of Pinker’s reasons for this denial.

Philosopher John Locke is credited for the idea of “The Blank Slate,” that all people are taught how to act and inherit nothing from their parents, Pinker said.

Columbia junior Daniel DeCaro was familiar with some of the philosophers Pinker talked about.

“I’ve read a lot of stuff from John Locke, (Thomas) Hobbes, all of the background stuff he was basing his arguments on,” he said.

Mutter said Pinker’s ideas in the book are interesting, but controversial.

“I don’t agree with all of them, but they do make me think,” she said.

Yesterday afternoon, Pinker participated in a question and answer session at Tate Page Hall.

The war in Iraq was brought up by an audience member to question a chapter on violence in “The Blank Slate,” specifically the pre-emptive strike policy of President Bush’s administration.

Pinker said he rejects the idea of violence caused by socially corrupt institutions.

As a committee member of the Cultural Enhancement Series Mina Doerner, a Potter College administrative assistant, helped invite Pinker to Western at the suggestion of a business professor.

When a person’s perceptions are challenged by ideas like Pinker’s, it is beneficial, Doerner said.

Mutter agreed.

“We think it’s important to bring people in who will expand our minds a little bit,” Mutter said.

Reach Bobby Harrell at [email protected]