Iris Berent, "The Blind Storyteller: How We Reason about Human Nature" (Oxford UP, 2020)


Do newborns think-do they know that 'three' is greater than 'two'? Do they prefer 'right' to 'wrong'? What about emotions--do newborns recognize happiness or anger? If they do, then how are our inborn thoughts and feelings encoded in our bodies? Could they persist after we die? Going all the way back to ancient Greece, human nature and the mind-body link are the topics of age-old scholarly debates. But laypeople also have strong opinions about such matters. Most people believe, for example, that newborn babies don't know the difference between right and wrong-such knowledge, they insist, can only be learned. For emotions, they presume the opposite-that our capacity to feel fear, for example, is both inborn and embodied. These beliefs are stories we tell ourselves about what we know and who we are. They reflect and influence our understanding of ourselves and others and they guide every aspect of our lives. In a twist that could have come out of a Greek tragedy, Berent proposes that our errors are our fate. These mistakes emanate from the very principles that make our minds tick: our blindness to human nature is rooted in human nature itself. 

An intellectual journey that draws on philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, cognitive science, and Berent's own cutting-edge research, The Blind Storyteller: How We Reason about Human Nature (Oxford UP, 2020) grapples with a host of provocative questions, from why we are so infatuated with our brains to what happens when we die. The end result is a startling new perspective on our humanity.

You can find Dr. Berent on Twitter at @berent_iris. 

Joseph Fridman is a researcher, science communicator, media producer, and educational organizer. He lives in Boston with two ragdoll kittens and a climate scientist.You can follow him on Twitter @joseph_fridman, or reach him at his website,

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