Steven Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker

Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker

Canadian-born U.S. Experimental Psychologist, Cognitive Scientist, Linguist, and Popular Science Author, Psychology Professor at Harvard University

Author Quotes

Trivers, pursuing his theory of the emotions to its logical conclusion, notes that in a world of walking lie detectors the best strategy is to believe your own lies. You can?t leak your hidden intentions if you don?t think they are your intentions. According to his theory of self-deception, the conscious mind sometimes hides the truth from itself the better to hide it from others. But the truth is useful, so it should be registered somewhere in the mind, walled off from the parts that interact with other people.

Ultimately what draws us to a work of art is not just the sensory experience of the medium but its emotional content and insight into the human condition. And these tap into the timeless tragedies of our biological predicament: our mortality, our finite knowledge and wisdom, the differences among us, and our conflicts of interest with friends, neighbors, relatives, and lovers.

Under the microscope, brain tissue shows a staggering complexity?a hundred billion neurons connected by a hundred trillion synapses?that is commensurate with the staggering complexity of human thought and experience.

Unlike features of a landscape like trees and mountains, people have feet. They move to places where opportunities are best, and they soon invite their friends and relatives to join them.

This so-called culture war, I suspect, is the product of a history in which white America took two different paths to civilization. The North is an extension of Europe and continued the court- and commerce-driven Civilizing Process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that sprang up in the anarchic parts of the growing country, balanced by their own civilizing forces of churches, families, and temperance.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to compute it.

Though as a psychologist I like to think that nothing human is foreign to me, I admit to having been repeatedly flabbergasted by the insouciance, and sometimes relish, with which our ancestors carried out and witnessed unspeakable cruelties.

Though it isn't obvious from the bowdlerized versions in Walt Disney , the tales are filled with murder, infanticide, cannibalism, mutilation, and sexual abuse - Grimm fairy tales indeed.

Though knowledge itself increasingly ignores boundaries between fields, professors are apt to organize their pedagogy around the methods and history of their academic subculture rather than some coherent topic in the world.

Though many intellectuals, following in the footsteps of Saints Augustine and Jerome, hold business people in contempt for their selfishness and greed, in fact a free market puts a premium on empathy.

Though many of my arguments will be coolly analytical ? that an acknowledgment of human nature does not, logically speaking, imply the negative outcomes so many people fear ? I will not try to hide my belief that they have a positive thrust as well. Man will become better when you show him what he is like, wrote Chekhov, and so the new sciences of human nature can help lead the way to a realistic, biologically informed humanism. They expose the psychological unity of our species beneath the superficial differences of physical appearance and parochial culture. They make us appreciate the wondrous complexity of the human mind, which we are apt to take for granted precisely because it works so well. They identify the moral intuitions that we can put to work in improving our lot. They promise a naturalness in human relationships, encouraging us to treat people in terms of how they do feel rather than how some theory says they ought to feel. They offer a touchstone by which we can identify suffering and oppression wherever they occur, unmasking the rationalizations of the powerful. They give us a way to see through the designs of self-appointed social reformers who would liberate us from our pleasures. They renew our appreciation for the achievements of democracy and of the rule of law. And they enhance the insights of artists and philosophers who have reflected on the human condition for millennia.

three-quarters of all the deaths from all 141 democidal regimes were committed by just four governments, which Rummel calls the dekamegamurderers: the Soviet Union with 62 million, the People?s Republic of China with 35 million, Nazi Germany with 21 million, and 1928?49 nationalist China with 10 million.

To a linguist, the phenomenon is familiar: the euphemism treadmill. People invent new "polite" words to refer to emotionally laden or distasteful things, but the euphemism becomes tainted by association and the new one that must be found acquires its own negative connotations. "Water closet" becomes "toilet" (originally a term for any body care, as in "toilet kit"), which becomes "bathroom," which becomes "rest room," which becomes "lavatory." ? The euphemism treadmill shows that concepts, not words, are in charge. Give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name. (We will know we have achieved equality and mutual respect when names for minorities stay put.)

To ignore gender would be to ignore a major part of the human condition.

To kill one man is to be guilty of a capital crime, to kill ten men is to increase the guilt ten-fold, to kill a hundred men is to increase it a hundred-fold. This the rulers of the earth all recognize, and yet when it comes to the greatest crime?waging war on another state?they praise it! . . . If a man on seeing a little black were to say it is black, but on seeing a lot of black were to say it is white, it would be clear that such a man could not distinguish black and white.... So those who recognize a small crime as such, but do not recognize the wickedness of the greatest crime of all?the waging of war on another state?but actually praise it?cannot distinguish right and wrong.

To make changes you have to make some enemies, but you also have to be careful not too make too many enemies. He made far too many enemies.

To predict someone's behavior perfectly we would need an X-ray machine for the soul.

they aren't identical lumps of clay.

Thinking is computation, I claim, but that does not mean that the computer is a good metaphor for the mind. The mind is a set of modules, but the modules are not encapsulated boxes or circumscribed swatches on the surface of the brain. The organization of our mental modules comes from our genetic program, but that does not mean that there is a gene for every trait or that learning is less important than we used to think. The mind is an adaptation designed by natural selection, but that does not mean that everything we think, feel, and do is biologically adaptive. We evolved from apes, but that does not mean we have the same minds as apes. And the ultimate goal of natural selection is to propagate genes, but that does not mean that the ultimate goal of people is to propagate genes.

Third, don?t confuse an anecdote or a personal experience with the state of the world. Just because something happened to you, or you read about it in the paper or on the Internet this morning, it doesn?t mean it is a trend. In a world of seven billion people, just about anything will happen to someone somewhere, and it?s the highly unusual events that will be selected for the news or passed along to friends. An event is a significant phenomenon only if it happens some appreciable number of times relative to the opportunities for it to occur, and it is a trend only if that proportion has been shown to change over time.

There's a misconception that survival of the fittest means survival of the most aggressive. The adjective 'Darwinian' used to refer to ruthless competition; you used to read that in business journals. But that's not what Darwinian means to a biologist; it's whatever leads to reproductive success.

There's guilt about our treatment of native peoples in modern intellectual life, and an unwillingness to acknowledge there could be anything good about Western culture.

There's no reason that we should give up that lever on people's behavior - namely, the inhibition systems of the brain - just because we're coming to understand more about the temptation systems.

There's no such thing as free will in the sense of a ghost in the machine; our behavior is the product of physical processes in the brain rather than some mysterious soul.

These 'anthropologists of peace' (who in fact are rather aggressive academics - the ethologist Johan van der Dennen calls them the Peace and Harmony Mafia.

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Canadian-born U.S. Experimental Psychologist, Cognitive Scientist, Linguist, and Popular Science Author, Psychology Professor at Harvard University