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Steven Pinker (born 1954) is a Canadian linguist, psychologist, notable atheist, and author of both academic and popular books on his areas of special interest. In 2003 he became Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and of the computational theory of mind.
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. 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) argues that violence has decreased as humans have adopted more complex social organizations, have improved communications, and have built networks of trade, and that the perception that we live in an unusually violent time rather than a remarkably peaceful one exemplifies confirmation bias (shit happens, we're just noticing it more with so much media coverage).
Political correctness gone mad
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. The alt right siezed 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.
Some of his books:
- The Language Instinct (1994) ISBN 978-0-06-097651-4
- How the Mind Works (1997) ISBN 978-0-393-31848-7
- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002) ISBN 978-0-670-03151-1
- The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (2004) ISBN 978-0670063277
- The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) ISBN 978-0-670-02295-3
- The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (2014) ISBN 978-0670025855
- Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018) ISBN 978-0525427575
- 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.
- For an opposite view, see Evans' book.
- A short critique of The Language Instinct appears in Tomasello.
- Watch it on YouTube here
- Social media is dumbing us down