Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Steven Pinker reveals "The Stuff of Thought"

Steven Pinker is my kind of scholar, He uses his science in highly creative ways to explore what makes us tick. Professor Pinker has a wonderful gift for the art of explaining, and he does so in a fascinatingly comprehensible and humorous way.

In his book "The Stuff of Thought" Pinker looks into language as a window to human nature. By far the most interesting chapter is "The Games People Play" in which Pinker explains why we resort to the most common hypocrisy: innuendo, euphemism and double-speak.

Below, Pinker lectures various chapters from "The Stuff of Thought" at Google, "The Games people play" is at the 40 minute mark. Previous chapters about causality (18 minute mark) and swearing as a window to emotion (20:35) are also great.

In "The Blank Slate" Pinker tackles the fallacy of the human mind as a blank slate (meaning that nothing is innate and all is learned, no nature, all nurture) A notion first attributed to the philosopher John Locke.
Pinker debunks this gracefully and even provides an answer to why this fallacy is sometimes appropriate for politics "When the concept of fairness is confused with the concept of sameness".

I also heartily recommend his previous books "How the mind works", and " The Language Instinct" the latter explains universal grammar and the innate capacity for speech (there is also a good audio book version of "The Language instinct" read by Lalla Ward)