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Steven Pinker

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Steven Pinker, 2005
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Psychology
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Popping into your mind

Steven Pinker (1954–), a Canadian linguist, psychologist, and notable atheist, has written both academic and popular books on his areas of special interest. In 2003 he became Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.[1] He has become known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and of the computational theory of mind.[2]

His book The Language Instinct (1994) popularized Noam Chomsky's theory that language is an innate faculty of mind, and to that he added that this faculty evolved by natural selection, improving human abilities to communicate.[note 1][note 2] The Blank Slate (2002) is a polemic against human exceptionalism, arguing against the "blank slate" hypothesis that the entire human personality is acquired through socialization and environmental conditioning, the "noble savage" belief that all human capacity for vice, violence, and crime is similarly learned from a morally corrupt environment, and that there is a "ghost in the machine", a mind or soul that is separate from the brain. The Better Angels Of Our Nature (2011) makes the case that violence has decreased as humans adopt more complex social organizations, improve communications, and build networks of trade, and that the perception that we live in an unusually violent time rather than a remarkably peaceful one exemplifies confirmation bias.

Pinker received the 2013 Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance of America,Wikipedia with Dawkins calling him a "personal hero".[3]

Political correctness gone mad[edit]

Pinker gave a short speech regarding political correctness, and how making inconvenient or uncomfortable facts unsayable can lead some people to be a bit more vulnerable to the alt-right.[4] The alt right seized on a short clip of him saying "the often highly literate, highly intelligent people who gravitate to the alt-right". And with the support of the alt-right, he got the condemnation of the left, due to social media like Twitter being terrible for context.[5] Pinker's book Enlightenment Now, where he claims the left has been captured by "identity politicians, political correctness police, and social justice warriors", was criticized for mischaracterizing left politics.[6]

Criticism[edit]

Pinker has been called "The World's Most Annoying Man," by journalist and social activist Nathan J. Robinson. [7] Robinson's criticism is in part that Pinker is a Pollyanna who downplays problems like climate change, white supremacy, or unregulated capitalism, expecting that things will just sort themselves out. He has been criticized by Jeremey Lent for his charts, arguing he cherry picks time-frames and charts that will make everything look like things have always been improving while ignoring bad things.[8]

Pinker has also been criticized for mischaracterizing history and spreading misinformation and perpetuating colonialist and eurocentric narratives about progress and history.[9]

The historian of science Evelyn Fox Keller notes that Pinker conflates technical heritability (the contribution of genetic difference to trait difference within a specific environment) with the more colloquial meaning of 'heritability' which is that something is genetically determined. [10] His confusion over the science may be one of the reasons he has found himself lumped with proponents of race science, such as Charles Murray. [11]

Association with Epstein[edit]

Jeffrey Epstein, Lawrence Krauss and Steven Pinker

Pinker has been criticized for his association with recently infamous child prostitute pimp Jeffrey Epstein, accepting transportation to Ted talks on Epstein's plane and appearing in a photograph with Epstein and Lawrence Krauss.[12][13] When Epstein was indicted for sex crimes in 2006, Pinker testified as a linguist for the defense. Pinker was asked by his friend Alan Dershowitz to opine "on the precise meaning of a federal law about using the internet to entice minors into prostitution or other illegal sex acts."[14][15]

Publications[edit]

Here are some of his books.

Further reading[edit]

  • Vyvyan Evans (2014). The Language Myth: Why Language Is Not an Instinct. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Michael Tomasello (1995). Language is Not an Instinct, review of The Language Instinct in Cognitive Development 10, pages 131-156. Elsevier. 

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. For an opposite view, see Evans' book.
  2. A short critique of The Language Instinct appears in Tomasello.

References[edit]