Monthly ArchiveNovember 2004

Non-fiction 28 Nov 2004 14:20

The Blank Slate

coverThe Blank Slate
Steven Pinker

A little surprisingly, the title of the book actually describes what it stands against, mostly. The goal of this book is to fight against decades of pseudo-science and politically-based theories on human behaviour, and their effect on social (and other) policies affecting the lives of people.

The “blank slate” theory claims that human brains are infinitely maleable and that people are born “empty” (blank); therefore, any behaviour, ideas and thoughts people have depend entirely on things learned from the environment. A common companion to this, the “noble savage” theory, claims that people in their “natural” state (that is, living in primitive societies) are innately peaceful and averse to violence; therefore, all violence in our society derives from the environment in which people are raised.

The basic idea of the book is that people are born with universal features, common to all of us, that make up human nature and that explain why we behave the way we do. It doesn’t claim that all details of our behaviour are innate or inherited, but it does show that our genes have a much larger influence than is generally acknowledged.

To most people slightly familiar with evolutionary psychology (even of only from popular science articles) and even with Pinker’s previous books, all the facts he presents will be familiar; what will be surprising, then, is the resistance by other “scientists” to these ideas, presented (and smashed) by the author as a way to expose their hidden agendas. Most of it seem to come from fallacies associated with the two failed theories listed above, the blank slate and the noble savage, which lead people to identify “natural” with “good” and to be afraid that, if something comes from the genes and is, thus, natural, it will then necessarily be good. In this world view, even things like rape and racism would have to be viewed as good because they have genetic and evolutionary influences; because of this, accepting (and even researching) these influences becomes a taboo. A large part of the book is devoted to defusing this connection.

This is a very good book, and it should be required reading for any “humanities” students. It is very good to see unscientific and politically-motivated ideas being exposed for what they are; I only wish this would get more exposure in the popular media.

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Non-fiction 22 Nov 2004 11:23

The Australian Stockmarket

coverThe Australian Stockmarket
Ron Bennetts

This book provides a very good introduction to stocks investment in general, with a strong emphasis on the Australian market. It goes further than a simple description of the market, though: it begins with a history of stock markets in general, talks about investment strategies (with failry detailed (and boring) technical descriptions) and the several different financial products available, and explores the taxation effects of different strategies.

It is not a book for someone who knows nothing about the stock market and is not really interested in learning; that is, it will not give you foolproof ways of getting rich quick. But, if you want to know more about what is out there, how the market works and how to best use it, and are prepared to invest some time in learning and working on it, this book is for you (if you happen to be in Australia or plan on investing here, that is). You will finish this book knowing about options, futures, derivatives, floats, the ASIC, SEATS, what your broker charges you, how long a bear market usually lasts, how to read the finance pages in your newspaper, and so on.

For me it was a very useful book, and I think it will be good for any novices to investments in Australia.

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