All entries by this author

Evolutionary Psychology and its Enemies: an interview with Steven Pinker

Nov 9th, 2002 | By Ophelia Benson

Steven Pinker has a new book out, The Blank Slate. We have been closely observing and reporting on the reception of this particular volume of science for the public, because that reception and the probable reasons for it are closely related to the subject matter of Butterflies and Wheels. Evolutionary explanations of human nature and behavior and ways of thinking make many people very suspicious and afraid, and hence willing to make some highly dubious arguments.

But as many people have noticed and pointed out in the last few years (e.g. E.O. Wilson in The Philosophers’ Magazine), the tide does seem to be turning. Pinker’s book has been getting a largely favorable or at least attentively respectful hearing, … Read the rest

Invisible Assumptions

Nov 8th, 2002 7:19 pm | By

This review in the London Review of Books considers a number of inter-connected ideas that are so taken for granted, so entrenched, so the way we all think now, that they are invisible and hence not questioned, even (or least of all?) by people who pride themselves on questioning such things, and even make a living at it, or at attempting it.

For instance the assumption that the self and concern with it are warm and objectivity is cold. And the assumtion that warmth is good and coldness is bad. Then, the assumption that the way to consider these issues is via morality rather than epistemology (which could imply that morality is more important than epistemology and hence should be … Read the rest

But the psychology of stupidity is so interesting! *

Nov 8th, 2002 | Filed by

‘Economists had long assumed that beliefs and decisions conformed to logical rules.’ What a strange thing to assume. But Kahneman and Tversky did the studies that corrected the mistake.… Read the rest

Perhaps the war is over

Nov 7th, 2002 11:50 pm | By

Steven Pinker’s new book The Blank Slate is reviewed
in The Nation, the US’s oldest leftist magazine (which I’ve been reading for years), this week. The review is long, favourable, and not opposed to evolutionary psychology. I say ‘not opposed’ rather than sympathetic because the latter seems an absurd word to use about scientific research. It’s not as if evolutionary pyschology is going to have hurt feelings because some people disapprove of it. As Steven Johnson points out, advocates of the ‘blank slate’ view of human nature are being made into Flat Earthers by the science. But there are still a good few of them about, and it is both surprising and heartening to find a sentence like the … Read the rest

Favorable review of Pinker’s book in The Nation *

Nov 7th, 2002 | Filed by

Are the stars reversing course? If evolutionary psychology is accepted in The Nation, perhaps the protracted attempt at denial finally is ending.… Read the rest

Dawkins on the Church *

Nov 6th, 2002 | Filed by

The damage religion does to the mind is worse than sexual abuse by the parish priest.… Read the rest

Textbook Publishers Bow to Pressure from Right *

Nov 6th, 2002 | Filed by

Because the Bible doesn’t say fossil fuels were formed millions of years ago, so neither should books in Texas classrooms.… Read the rest

National Geographic Strangely Uncritical *

Nov 6th, 2002 | Filed by

An article about the conflict between preservation of a historic site and use by an ‘alternative’ religion gives oddly short shrift to the scholarly half of the equation.… Read the rest

Not Good for the Mind

Nov 5th, 2002 4:13 pm | By

Richard Dawkins says that the real damage done to children by the Catholic Church is not “a little fondling,” but what it does to their minds. This is not a conventional or (in the general estimation, especially in the US) polite thing to say, but I think it is profoundly true. There is the fear of hell, for one thing, as Dawkins says, and as we’re all familiar with from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as well as our own pasts or those of friends. One does have to wonder why people are so immovably convinced of the general benevolence of religion, when that kind of terror-mongering is part of it.

But even more than that, … Read the rest

Sinister people or hoaxers? *

Nov 5th, 2002 | Filed by

A Sokal Hoax turned back to front? And why does the Chronicle of Higher Education call it just deserts?… Read the rest

Two for the price of one *

Nov 5th, 2002 | Filed by

The intersection of two vexed subjects, evolutionary psychology and the differences between men and women, is examined in A Mind of Her Own.… Read the rest

Proving the point *

Nov 4th, 2002 | Filed by

Steven Pinker points out that New York Times book reviewer resorts to the very fallacy the book is about.… Read the rest

Dignity and *

Nov 4th, 2002 | Filed by

Mystery, humility, human finitude; science has nothing to say about who we are; the self cannot be an illusion; free will must be true…Such are the platitudes that greet a book on bioethics by a presidential pundit.… Read the rest

Cleaning the closets

Nov 3rd, 2002 7:50 pm | By

There is a difference between amassing a great many facts, and acquiring or conveying knowledge or understanding. There is also a difference between exploring every possible detail and speculative possibility of Poet X’s sex life, and writing a good intellectual biography. The review of yet another new biography of Byron indicates that we have yet another example of the first part of the equation instead of the second. There has been a rash of such biographies in the last decade or so, profoundly anti-intellectual works that undertake to clean out the closets of various writers and thinkers without stopping to ask why we care about those closets if we don’t care about the work. We know more than we knew … Read the rest

Elitism or Meritocracy?

Nov 3rd, 2002 5:50 pm | By

Frank Dobson, a Labour M.P. and former Secretary of State for Health, has an article in today’s Observer that assails the ‘elitist’ policies of Tony Blair’s government, particularly in education and health care. The health issue seems reasonably straightforward: he says that less money is being spent in poorer areas, and that does sound like a policy that favours the already favoured. But in education, surely things are not quite so simple. There is a worry, among those who agree with Dobson, about a proposal for super A-levels to challenge super-clever children. Dobson parses the idea this way:

“This idea that gifted children need super A-levels comes from people who want a privileged minority to be able to look down

Read the rest

Science Studies

Nov 2nd, 2002 | By

In 1994, Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt published Higher Superstition,
and the pigeons have still not recovered from the shock of that particular cat.
Higher Superstition is a funny-painful ‘deconstruction’ or rather demolition
of an array of trendy anti-science ‘studies’, stances, branches of putative
scholarship: Postmodern, cultural constructivist, feminist, sociological, environmental.
Most of these orientations are on the left, although it has been frequently
pointed out (e.g. by Richard J. Evans in his article on Postmodern history on
this site) that PoMo is at least as useful to the right as it is to the left
and that there are indeed right-wing Postmodernists. But the majority of the
attacks on science come from the left (and could be … Read the rest

David Lodge thinks *

Nov 2nd, 2002 | Filed by

Which tells us more about consciousness, fiction or cognitive science?… Read the rest

Credentials *

Nov 2nd, 2002 | Filed by

Philosophers uncover conceptual connections and thus help to make ethical debate better informed.… Read the rest

Bizarre claims *

Nov 2nd, 2002 | Filed by

Philosophers will insist on getting Dawkins wrong.… Read the rest

Truth and lies *

Nov 1st, 2002 | Filed by

Bernard Williams defends the truth, while also exploring when we need to tell lies.… Read the rest