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

The strongest argument against totalitarianism may be a recognition of a universal human nature; that all humans have innate desires for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The doctrine of the blank slate... is a totalitarian's dream.

The stuff of life turned out to be not a quivering, glowing, wondrous gel but a contraption of tiny jigs, springs, hinges, rods, sheets, magnets, zippers, and trapdoors, assembled by a data tape whose information is copied, downloaded and scanned.

The supposedly immaterial soul, we now know, can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, started or stopped by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or by insufficient oxygen.

The task of evolutionary psychology is not to weigh in on human nature, a task better left to others. It is to add the satisfying kind of insight that only science can provide: to connect what we know about human nature with the rest of our knowledge of how the world works, and to explain the largest number of facts with the smallest number of assumptions.

The theory that religion is a force for peace, often heard among the religious right and its allies today, does not fit the facts of history.

The things children experience while they are growing up are just as important as the things they are born with.

The three laws of behavioral genetics may be the most important discoveries in the history of psychology. Yet most psychologists have not come to grips with them, and most intellectuals do not understand them? Here are the three laws: The First Law. All human behavioral traits are heritable. The Second Law. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes. The Third Law. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

The three-year-old, then, is a grammatical genius - master of most constructions, obeying rules far

The topics in psychology that most interest laypeople?love, hate, work, play, food, sex, status, dominance, jealousy, friendship, religion, art?are almost completely absent from psychology textbooks.

The transparency and intelligibility of a country with a free market economy can reassure its neighbors that it is not going on a war footing, which can defuse a Hobbesian trap and cramp a leader?s freedom to engage in risky bluffing and brinkmanship.

The shocking truth is that until recently most people didn?t think there was anything particularly wrong with genocide, as long as it didn?t happen to them.

The sign over supermarket express checkout lanes, TEN ITEMS OR LESS, is a grammatical error, they say, and as a result of their carping whole-food and other upscale supermarkets have replaced the signs with TEN ITEMS OR FEWER. The director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance has apologized for his organization?s popular T-shirt that reads ONE LESS CAR, conceding that it should read ONE FEWER CAR. By this logic, liquor stores should refuse to sell beer to customers who are fewer than twenty-one years old, law-abiding motorists should drive at fewer than seventy miles an hour, and the poverty line should be defined by those who make fewer than eleven thousand five hundred dollars a year. And once you master this distinction, well, that?s one fewer thing for you to worry about.45

The reason I'm not a neurobiologist but a cognitive psychologist is that I think looking at brain tissue is often the wrong level of analysis. You have to look at a higher level of organization.

The reason the United States is not so likely to invade Iran is precisely because of the lessons learned from Iraq. And conversely, the Iranian push towards nuclear capability is calculated to deter invasions like the kind deposing Saddam Husain.

The Rights Revolutions too have given us ideals that educated people today take for granted but that are virtually unprecedented in human history, such as that people of all races and creeds have equal rights, that women should be free from all forms of coercion, that children should never, ever be spanked, that students should be protected from bullying, and that there?s nothing wrong with being gay. I don?t find it at all implausible that these are gifts, in part, of a refined and widening application of reason.

The rules of friendship are tacit, unconscious; they are not rational. In business, though, you have to think rationally.

The scriptures present a God who delights in genocide, rape, slavery, and the execution of nonconformists, and for millennia those writings were used to rationalize the massacre of infidels, the ownership of women, the beating of children, dominion over animals, and the persecution of heretics and homosexuals. Humanitarian reforms such as the elimination of cruel punishment, the dissemination of empathy-inducing novels, and the abolition of slavery were met with fierce opposition in their time by ecclesiastical authorities and their apologists. The elevation of parochial values to the realm of the sacred is a license to dismiss other people?s interests, and an imperative to reject the possibility of compromise.

The political scientist James Payne suggests that ancient peoples put a low value on other people?s lives because pain and death were so common in their own. This set a low threshold for any practice that had a chance of bringing them an advantage, even if the price was the lives of others.

The predators may respond to the defensive reprisals of their prey as if they were the ones under attack, and experience a moralized wrath and a thirst for revenge. Thanks to the Moralization Gap, they will minimize their own first strike as necessary and trivial while magnifying the reprisal as unprovoked and devastating. Each side will count the wrongs differently?the perpetrator tallying an even number of strikes and the victim an odd number? and the difference in arithmetic can stoke a spiral of revenge,

The problem lies in the credo that one can do everything with a generic model as long as it is sufficiently trained.

The problem with the religious solution [for mysteries such as consciousness and moral judgments] was stated by Mencken when he wrote, Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing. For anyone with a persistent intellectual curiosity, religious explanations are not worth knowing because they pile equally baffling enigmas on top of the original ones. What gave God a mind, free will, knowledge, certainty about right and wrong? How does he infuse them into a universe that seems to run just fine according to physical laws? How does he get ghostly souls to interact with hard matter? And most perplexing of all, if the world unfolds according to a wise and merciful plan, why does it contain so much suffering? As the Yiddish expression says, If God lived on earth, people would break his window.

The problem with thoughtless signposting is that the reader has to put more work into understanding the signposts than she saves in seeing what they point to,

The psychology of art is entangled with the psychology of esteem, with its appreciation of the rare, the sumptuous, the virtuosic, and the dazzling.

The quotation falsely attributed to Stalin, 'One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,' gets the numbers wrong but captures a real fact about human psychology. (p. 220)

The real medium of artists, whatever their genre, is human mental representations.

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