Monday, April 9, 2012

            In the fourth century B. C. E., Aristotle introduced the idea that the mind was a blank slate. On the other hand, we had Plato’s idea that the human mind was an entity that pre-existed somewhere in the heavens before it was sent down to Earth.
            In the seventeenth century, John Locke, an English philosopher, brought back the idea of the mind being a “white paper”. His idea of the tabula rasa was that humans were born with an empty mind and that knowledge is gained solely by one’s sensory experiences. This idea emphasized that an individual had the freedom to author his or her own personality. However, Locke believed that humans were born with some innate ability to process experience.
            Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, believed that humans were born with some pre-existing ideas. These ideas, according to him, included knowledge in mathematics and the belief in God.  
            Continental rationalist Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz recognized that there must exist a middle ground between the two extreme ideas of Locke and Descartes. He believed that although rational ideas are innate, they must be “activated” by experience.

             Nowadays, it has been proven that most of the brain is preprogrammed to take in, process, and organize sensory input. These parts then improve their ability to perform their tasks throughout the person’s life.  The only part of the brain that has been proven to be a “blank slate” is the neo-cortex which is involved in thought and decision-making.

             Even before people had a deep understanding of the brain and the mind, philosophers like Aristotle and Plato were making predictions on whether intelligence was something inborn or something gained through experience.
            According to Locke and Aristotle humans were born with an empty mind and intelligence depended mostly on sensory experiences. On the other side of the argument were Descartes and Plato who believed that humans were already born with some type of innate intelligence. Leibniz unified both ideas to resemble something more like the ideas we have today. He said that the brain was already preprogrammed but that needed input in order to function.

How could philosophers like Aristotle and Plato make predictions on whether intelligence was a matter of nature or nurture when they didn't even have an understanding on how the brain worked?

New World Encyclopedia. (2008, April 04). Tabula rusa. Retrieved from

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