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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Aventis science prize 2003 - Pinker
The Blank Slate, Allen Lane
Pinker leads the betting
Steven Pinker is bookies favourite for the 2003 Aventis Prize with The Blank Slate, about the nature-nurture debate. BBC News Online's Helen Briggs weighs up the entry.

The term Blank Slate comes from a translation of the medieval Latin tabula rasa, implying a smooth tablet or a mind unmarked by experience.

Pinker believes we live in a world that prefers to see the mind as a blank page ready to be overwritten by culture rather than something already shaped by our genes and evolution.

He questions why the idea of human nature has become a taboo subject, exploring "hot buttons" like violence, gender and aggression.

Pinker shows that the nature-nurture debate is far from over. His stamping ground is "the moral, emotional, and political colourings of the concept of human nature in modern life".

He argues that by denying the biological roots of humanity, we do ourselves a disservice. The idea of a Blank Slate has distorted our values in child rearing, sentencing, politics and education, he says, and we have nothing to fear from the idea that we are shaped to some extent by our genes, only a more realistic understanding of what it means to be human.

  • Steven Pinker is Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, US, and the author of the best-sellers The Language Instinct and How The Mind Works.

  • He has been shortlisted twice before for the Aventis Prize and is favourite to win this year.

  • Odds 2/1

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