Steven Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker

Steven
Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker
1954

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

Author Quotes

The real principle is that between is used for a relationship of an individual to any number of other individuals, as long as they are being considered two at a time, whereas among is used for a relationship of an individual to an amorphous mass or collectivity.

The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breastfeeding their babies.--Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.

The optimal number of connectives depends on the expertise of the reader. Readers who are familiar with the subject matter will already know a lot about what is similar to what else, what causes what else, and what tends to accompany what else, and they don?t need to have these connections spelled out in so many words. They may even get confused if the writer spells out the obvious ones:

The mind is a neural computer.

The more you think about and interact with other people, the more you realize that it is untenable to privilege your interests over theirs, at least not if you want them to listen to you. You can?t say that my interests are special compared to yours any more than you can say that the particular spot that I am standing on is a unique part of the universe because I happen to be standing on it that very minute.

'The most common of all follies,' wrote H. L. Mencken, 'is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.' In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints . . . and gods.

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

The indispensability of reason does not imply that individual people are always rational or are unswayed by passion and illusion. It only means that people are capable of reason, and that a community of people who choose to perfect this faculty and to exercise it openly and fairly can collectively reason their way to sounder conclusions in the long run. As Lincoln observed, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you?re pretending to communicate.

The main danger in using these forms is that a more-grammatical-than-thou reader may falsely accuse you of making an error. If they do, tell them that Jane Austen and I think it?s fine.

The mind cannot be a blank slate, because blank slates don't do anything. . . . The inscriptions will sit there forever unless something notices patterns in them, combines them with patterns learned at other times, uses the combinations to scribble new thoughts onto the slate, and reads the results to guide behavior toward goals.

The human mind has evolved a defense against contamination by biological agents: the emotion of disgust. Ordinarily triggered by bodily secretions, animal parts, parasitic insects and worms, and vectors of disease, disgust impels people to eject the polluting substance and anything that looks like it or has been in contact with it. Disgust is easily moralized, defining a continuum in which one pole is identified with spirituality, purity, chastity, and cleansing and the other with animality, defilement, carnality, and contamination. And so we see disgusting agents as not just physically repellent but also morally contemptible. Many metaphors in the English language for a treacherous person use a disease vector as their vehicle?a rat, a louse, a worm, a cockroach. The infamous 1990s term for forced displacement and genocide was ethnic cleansing.

The idea from the cognitive revolution that the mind is a system of universal, generative computational modules obliterates the way that debates on human nature have been framed from centuries. It is now simply misguided to ask whether humans are flexible or programmed, whether behavior is universal or varies across cultures, whether acts are learned or innate, whether we are essentially good or essentially evil. Humans behave flexibly because they are programmed: their minds are packed with combinatorial software than can generate an unlimited set of thoughts and behavior. Behavior may vary across cultures, but the design of the mental programs that generate it need not vary. Intelligent behavior is learned successfully because we have innate systems that do the learning. And all people may have good and evil motives, but not everyone may translate them into behavior in the same way.

The idea that boys want to sleep with their mothers strikes most men as the silliest thing they have ever heard. Obviously, it did not seem so to Freud, who wrote that as a boy he once had an erotic reaction to watching his mother dressing. But Freud had a wet-nurse, and may not have experienced the early intimacy that would have tipped off his perceptual system that Mrs. Freud was his mother. The Westermarck theory has out-Freuded Freud.

The idea that children are passive repositories to be shaped by their parents has been massively overstated. A child's peer group is a far greater determinant of its development and achievements than parental aspiration.

The importance of genes in organizing the normal brain is underscored by the many ways in which nonstandard genes can give rise to nonstandard minds.

The inability to set aside something that you know but that someone else does not know is such a pervasive affliction of the human mind that psychologists keep discovering related versions of it and giving it new names.

The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader?s gaze so that she can see it for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. The truth can be known, and is not the same as the language that reveals it; prose is a window onto the world. The writer knows the truth before putting it into words; he is not using the occasion of writing to sort out what he thinks. Nor does the writer of classic prose have to argue for the truth; he just needs to present it. That is because the reader is competent and can recognize the truth when she sees it, as long as she is given an unobstructed view. The writer and the reader are equals, and the process of directing the reader?s gaze takes the form of a conversation.

The historical trajectory of violence affects not only how life is lived but how it is understood.

The human capacity for compassion is not a reflex that is triggered automatically by the presence of another living thing.

The goal of education is to make up for the shortcomings in our instinctive ways of thinking about the physical and social world. And education is likely to succeed not by trying to implant abstract statements into empty minds but by taking the mental models that are our standard equipment, applying them to new subjects in selective analogies, and assembling them into new and more sophisticated combinations.

The great appeal of the doctrine that the mind is a blank slate is the simple mathematical fact that zero equals zero.

The dominant theories of elite art and criticism in the 20th century grew out of a militant denial of human nature. One legacy is ugly, baffling, and insulting art. The other is pretentious and unintelligible scholarship. And they?re surprised that people are staying away in droves?

The dread of a permanently wicked human nature takes two forms. One is a practical fear: that social reform is a waste of time because human nature is unchangeable. The other is a deeper concern, which grows out of the Romantic belief that what is natural is good. According to the worry, if scientists suggest it is natural - part of human nature - to be adulterous, violent, ethnocentric, and selfish, they would be implying that these traits are good, not just unavoidable.

The elegant study... is consistent with the themes of modern cognitive neuroscience. Every aspect of thought and emotion is rooted in brain structure and function, including many psychological disorders and, presumably, genius. The study confirms that the brain is a modular system comprising multiple intelligences, mostly nonverbal.

Author Picture
First Name
Steven
Last Name
Pinker, fully Steven Arthur Pinker
Birth Date
1954
Bio

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