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

Take space. It has to be either finite or infinite, yet neither possibility sits well with our intuitions. When I try to imagine a finite universe, I get Marcel Marceau miming on an invisible wall with his hands. Or, after reading about manifolds in books on physics, I see ants creeping over a sphere, or people trapped in a huge inner tube unaware of all the exposure around them. But in all these cases the volume is stubbornly suspended in a larger space, which shouldn't be there at all, but which my minds eye can't help but peek at.

Technology, ideology, and social and cultural changes periodically throw out new forms of violence for humanity to contend with.

Terrorist bombings, like rampage shootings, are events that maximize the amount of publicity per amount of damage. That's why people do them, because they know they will set off a media frenzy.

Thanks to the redundancy of language, yxx cxn xndxrstxnd whxt x xm wrxtxng xvxn xf x rxplxcx xll thx vxwxls wxth xn x (t gts lttl hrdr f y dn't vn kn whr th vwls r)

That isn't really a question that can be answered.

The 9/11 strikes left an indelible impact on our minds, but in relative terms, the scale of casualties actually wasn't all that high.

The actual organization of behavior goes on the level of the individual nerve cells and their connections, and we have a hundred billion nerve cells, probably a hundred trillion connections. It's just mind-boggling to think of all the different ways in which they're arranged in a baby's head.

Some people believe that the nuclear bomb should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, since it scared the major powers away from war by equating it with doomsday.

Some people think that evolutionary psychology claims to have discovered that human nature is selfish and wicked. But they are flattering the researchers and anyone who would claim to have discovered the opposite. No one needs a scientist to measure whether humans are prone to knavery. The question has been answered in the history books, the newspapers, the ethnographic record, and the letters to Ann Landers. But people treat it like an open question, as if someday science might discover that it's all a bad dream and we will wake up to find that it is human nature to love one another.

Statisticians tell us that people underestimate the sheer number of coincidences that are bound to happen in a world governed by chance.

Stripped to its essentials, every decision in life amounts to choosing which lottery ticket to buy? Most organisms don't buy lottery tickets, but they all choose between gambles every time their bodies can move in more than one way. They should be willing to 'pay' for information---in tissue, energy, and time---if the cost is lower than the expected payoff in food, safety, mating opportunities, and other resources, all ultimately valuated in the expected number of surviving offspring. In multicellular animals the information is gathered and translated into profitable decisions by the nervous system.

Strunk was born in 1869, and today?s writers cannot base their craft exclusively on the advice of a man who developed his sense of style before the invention of the telephone (let alone the Internet), before the advent of modern linguistics and cognitive science, before the wave of informalization that swept the world in the second half of the twentieth century.

Students do everything on laptops these days, so I definitely think electronic books are a trend that's going to expand.

Solving a problem in a hundred years is, practically speaking, the same as not solving it at all.

Some of the most rewarding scientific pursuits begin with the discovery of a paradox. Nature does not go out of its way to befuddle us, and if some phenomenon seems to make no sense no matter how we look at it, we are probably in ignorance of deep and far-ranging principles.

So no, it's not all in the genes, but what isn't in the genes isn't in the family environment either. It can't be explained in terms of the overall personalities or the child-rearing practices of parents.

So there is no scientific question as to whether experience, learning, and practice affect the brain; they surely do if we are even vaguely on the right track.

So what's in a name? The answer, we have seen, is, a great deal. In the sense of a morphological product, a name is an intricate structure, elegantly assembled by layers of rules and lawful even at its quirkiest. And in the sense of a listeme, a name is a pure symbol, part of a cast of thousands, rapidly acquired because of a harmony between the mind of the child, the mind of the adult, and the texture of reality.

Social psychologists have amply documented that people have a powerful urge to do as their neighbors do. . . . But [they] point out that human conformity . . . has genuine rationale in social life?indeed, two rationales. The first is informational, the desire to benefit from other people's knowledge and judgment. . . . [the second is] normative, the desire to follow the norms of a community, whatever they are.

Social psychologists have found that we are overconfident, sometimes to the point of delusion, about our ability to infer what other people think, even the people who are closest to us.27 Only when we ask those people do we discover that what?s obvious to us isn?t obvious to them. That?s why professional writers have editors.

Societies that empower women are less violent in every way.

Since no one acquires the truth by divine revelation, we must also respect those who explore theories that may turn out to be incorrect.

Since violence is largely a male pastime, cultures that empower women tend to move away from the glorification of violence and are less likely to breed dangerous subcultures of rootless young men.

Small differences in the genes can lead to large differences in behavior.

Smarter people tend to think more like economists.

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