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Steven Pinker (born 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. He has become 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) 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.
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 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.
Here are 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.
- See the Wikipedia article on Computational theory of mind.
- 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