Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In 75 jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.
Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature—tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking—which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.
With intellectual depth and literary flair, Pinker makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.
A brilliant inquiry into the origins of human nature. One of the world's leading experts on language and the mind explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts. Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense.
"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read... also highly persuasive." —Michael Lemonick, Time
“Charming and erudite . . . The wit and insight and clarity he brings . . . is what makes this book such a gem.” —Time.com
Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing—and why should we care?
In this entertaining and eminently practical book, the cognitive scientist, dictionary consultant, and New York Times–bestselling author Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the twenty-first century. Using examples of great and gruesome modern prose while avoiding the scolding tone and Spartan tastes of the classic manuals, he shows how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right. The Sense of Style is for writers of all kinds, and for readers who are interested in letters and literature and are curious about the ways in which the sciences of mind can illuminate how language works at its best.
Language, Cognition, and Human Nature collects together for the first time much of Steven Pinker's most influential scholarly work on language and cognition. Pinker's seminal research explores the workings of language and its connections to cognition, perception, social relationships, child development, human evolution, and theories of human nature.
This eclectic collection spans Pinker's thirty-year career, exploring his favorite themes in greater depth and scientific detail. It includes thirteen of Pinker's classic articles, ranging over topics such as language development in children, mental imagery, the recognition of shapes, the computational architecture of the mind, the meaning and uses of verbs, the evolution of language and cognition, the nature-nurture debate, and the logic of innuendo and euphemism. Each outlines a major theory or takes up an argument with another prominent scholar, such as Stephen Jay Gould, Noam Chomsky, or Richard Dawkins. Featuring a new introduction by Pinker that discusses his books and scholarly work, this collection reflects essential contributions to cognitive science by one of our leading thinkers and public intellectuals.
"Pinker is an intellectual giant in the field, one of the most important psychologists and thinkers in our day. This compilation is outstanding, a fitting crown on his career so far, although I suspect he has much more to contribute. Even though I'd read a handful of these papers before, there were some that I was unaware of that are gems. Even those I'd read before, I re-read, and got even more on the second reading." -- David Buss, author of Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind
"With wit and acumen, Pinker introduces us to some of his most important scientific contributions. These glimpses into the development of these foundational articles and of course the articles themselves will be of great interest to academics and to his many fans beyond the walls of academia." -- David C. Geary, author of Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Difference
Before Steven Pinker wrote bestsellers on language and human nature, he wrote several technical monographs on language acquisition that have become classics in cognitive science. Learnability and Cognition, first published in 1989, brought together two big topics: how do children learn their mother tongue, and how does the mind represent basic categories of meaning such as space, time, causality, agency, and goals? The stage for this synthesis was set by the fact that when children learn a language, they come to make surprisingly subtle distinctions: pour water into the glass and fill the glass with water sound natural, but pour the glass with water and fill water into the glass sound odd. How can this happen, given that children are not reliably corrected for uttering odd sentences, and they don’t just parrot back the correct ones they hear from their parents? Pinker resolves this paradox with a theory of how children acquire the meaning and uses of verbs, and explores that theory’s implications for language, thought, and the relationship between them.
As Pinker writes in a new preface, “The Secret Life of Verbs,” the phenomena and ideas he explored in this book inspired his 2007 bestseller The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. These technical discussions, he notes, provide insight not just into language acquisition but into literary metaphor, scientific understanding, political discourse, and even the conceptions of sexuality that go into obscenity.
“A monumental study that sets a new standard for work on learnability.”—Ray Jackendoff, Tufts University
“The author's arguments are never less than impressive, and sometimes irresistible, such is the force and panache with which they are deployed.”—Paul Fletcher, Times Higher Education Supplement
“Learnability and Cognition is theoretically a big advance, beautifully reasoned, and a goldmine of information.”—Lila Gleitman, University of Pennsylvania
"A brilliant, mind-altering book....Everyone should read this astonishing book."—The Guardian
“If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this—the most inspiring book I've ever read." —Bill Gates (May, 2017)
A provocative history of violence—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Stuff of Thought and The Blank Slate
Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species' existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Timesbestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.
How does language work? How do children learn their mother tongue? Why do languages change over time, making Shakespearean English difficult for us and Chaucer's English almost incomprehensible? Why do languages have so many quirks and irregularities? Are they all fundamentally alike? How are new words created? Where in the brain does language reside? In Words and Rules, Steven Pinker answers these and many other questions. His new book shares the wit and style of his classic, The Language Instinct, but explores language in a completely different way. In this book, Pinker explains the profound mysteries of language by picking a deceptively single phenomenon and examining it from every angle. The phenomenon—regular and irregular verbs—connects an astonishing array of topics in the sciences and humanities: the history of languages; the theories of Noam Chomsky and his critics; the attempts to simulate language using computer simulations of neural networks; the illuminating errors of children as they begin to speak; the nature of human concepts; the peculiarities of the English language; major ideas in the history of Western philosophy; the latest techniques in identifying genes and imaging the living brain. Pinker makes sense of all of this with the help of a single, powerful idea: that language comprises a mental dictionary of memorized words and a mental grammar of creative rules. The idea extends beyond language and offers insight into the very nature of the human mind. This is a sparkling, eye-opening, and utterly original book by one of the world's leading cognitive scientists.
"Witty, lucid, and ultimately enthralling." —Robert McCrum, The Observer
In this extraordinary book, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists, does for the rest of the mind what he did for language in his 1994 bestseller The Language Instinct. He explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. And he does it with the wit, clarity, and verve that earned The Language Instinct, worldwide critical acclaim and awards from major scientific societies. Pinker explains the mind by "reverse-engineering" it—figuring out what natural selection designed it to accomplish in the environment in which we evolved. The mind, he writes, is a system of "organs of computation" that allowed our ancestors to understand and outsmart objects, animals, plants, and each other. How the Mind Works explains many of the imponderables of everyday life. Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? How do "Magic-Eye" 3-D stereograms work? Why do we feel that a run of heads makes the coin more likely to land tails? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do men challenge each other to duels and murder their ex-wives? Why are children bratty? Why do fools fall in love? Why are we soothed by paintings and music? And why do puzzles like the self, free will, and consciousness leave us dizzy? This arguments in the book are as bold as its title. Pinker rehabilitates unfashionable ideas, such as that the mind is a computer and that human nature was shaped by natural selection. And he challenges fashionable ones, such as that passionate emotions are irrational, that parents socialize their children, that creativity springs from the unconscious, that nature is good and modern society corrupting, and that art and religion are expressions of our higher spiritual yearnings. How the Mind Works presents a big picture, but it is not a personal musing; it is a grand synthesis of the most satisfying explanations of our mental life that have been proposed in cognitive science and evolutionary biology, with insights from disciplines ranging from neuroscience to economics and social psychology. It is also fascinating, provocative, and thoroughly entertaining.
"A display of fiercely intricate intelligence and nobody with the least interest in language should miss reading it."—The Times (London)
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."—New York Times Book Review
This New York Times bestseller is an exciting and fearless investigation of language from the author of Better Angels of Our Nature and The Sense of Style
Bestselling author Steven Pinker possesses that rare combination of scientific aptitude and verbal eloquence that enables him to provide lucid explanations of deep and powerful ideas. His previous books - including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Blank Slate - have catapulted him into the limelight as one of today's most important popular science writers. In The Stuff of Thought, Pinker presents a fascinating look at how our words explain our nature. Considering scientific questions with examples from everyday life, The Stuff of Thought is a brilliantly crafted and highly readable work that will appeal to fans of everything from The Selfish Gene and Blink to Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
"A brilliant, witty, and altogether satisfying book." —Michael Coe, New York Times Book Review
Everyone has questions about language. Some are from everyday experience: Why do immigrants struggle with a new language, only to have their fluent children ridicule their grammatical errors? Why can't computers converse with us? Why is the hockey team in Toronto called the Maple Leafs, not the Maple Leaves? Some are from popular science: Have scientists really reconstructed the first language spoken on earth? Are there genes for grammar? Can chimpanzees learn sign language? And some are from our deepest ponderings about the human condition: Does our language control our thoughts? How could language have evolved? Is language deteriorating? Today laypeople can chitchat about black holes and dinosaur extinctions, but their curiosity about their own speech has been left unsatisfied—until now. In The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading scientists of language and the mind, lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, how it evolved. But The Language Instinct is no encyclopedia. With wit, erudition, and deft use of everyday examples of humor and wordplay, Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling theory: that language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution like web-spinning in spiders or sonar in bats. The theory not only challenges convention wisdom about language itself (especially from the self-appointed "experts" who claim to be safeguarding the language but who understand it less well than a typical teenager). It is part of a whole new vision of the human mind: not a general-purpose computer, but a collection of instincts adapted to solving evolutionarily significant problems—the mind as a Swiss Army knife. Entertaining, insightful, provocative, The Language Instinct will change the way you talk about talking and think about thinking. New in 2007: The new “PS” edition contains an update on the science of language since the book was first published, an autobiography, an account of how the book was written, frequently asked questions, and suggestions for further reading.
"A provocative and thoroughly enjoyable [collection] from start to finish."—Publishers Weekly
Here is the best and newest on science and nature: the psychology of suicide terrorism, desperate measures in surgery, the weird world of octopuses, Sex Week at Yale, the linguistics of click languages, the worst news about cloning, and much more. Chapters by Scott Atran, Ronald Bailey, Philip M. Boffey, Austin Bunn, Jennet Conant, Daniel C. Dennett, Gregg Easterbrook, Garrett G. Fagan, Jeffrey M. Friedman, Atul Gawande, Horace Freeland Judson, Geoffrey Nunberg, Mike O'Connor, Peggy Orenstein, Virginia Postrel, Jonathan Rauch, Chet Raymo, Ron Rosenbaum, Steve Sailer, Robert Sapolsky, Eric Scigliano, Meredith F. Small, Max Tegmark, and Nicholas Wade.
"A fiercely reasoned, bently written landmark of psychological science." —Roger Brown
This classic study is still the only comprehensive theory of child language acquisition—one that begins with the infant, proceeds step by step according to explicit learning algorithms, mirrors children's development, and ends up with adult grammatical competence. Now reprinted with new commentary by the author that updates of every section, Language Learnability and Language Development continues to be an indispensible resource in developmental psycholinguistics.
How are words represented in the mind and woven into sentences? How do children learn how to use words? Currently there is a tremendous resurgence of interest in lexical semantics. Word meanings have become increasingly important in linguistic theories because syntactic constructions are sensitive to the words they contain. In computational linguistics, new techniques are being applied to analyze words in texts, and machine-readable dictionaries are being used to build lexicons for natural language systems. These technologies provide large amounts of data and powerful data-analysis techniques to theoretical linguists, who can repay the favor to computer science by describing how one efficient lexical system, the human mind, represents word meanings. Lexical semantics provides crucial evidence to psychologists, too, about the innate stuff out of which concepts are made. Finally, it has become central to the study of child language acquisition. Infants are not born knowing a language, but they do have some understanding of the conceptual world that their parents describe in their speech. Since concepts are intimately tied to word meanings, knowledge of semantics might help children break into the rest of the language system. Lexical and Conceptual Semantics offers views from a variety of disciplines of these sophisticated new approaches to understanding the mental dictionary.
"A monumental study that sets a new standard for work on learnability." —Ray Jackendoff
In tackling a learnability paradox that has challenged scholars for more than a decade—how children acquire predicate-argument structures in their language—Steven Pinker synthesizes a vast literature in the fields of linguistics and psycholinguistics, and outlines explicit theories of the mental representation, the learning, and the development of verb meaning and verb syntax. He describes a new theory that has some surprising implications for the relation between language and thought.
Does intelligence result from the manipulation of structured symbolic expressions? Or is it the result of the activation of large networks of densely interconnected simple units? Connections and Symbols provides the first systematic analysis of the explosive new field of connectionism that is challenging the basic tenets of cognitive science. These lively discussions by Jerry A. Fodor, Zenon W. Pylyshyn, Steven Pinker, Alan Prince, Joel Lechter, and Thomas G. Bever raise issues that lie at the core of our understanding of how the mind works: Does connectionism offer a truly new scientific model or does it merely cloak the old notion of associationism as a central doctrine of learning and mental functioning? Which of the new empirical generalizations are sound and which are false? And which of the many ideas such as massively parallel processing, distributed representation, constraint satisfaction, and subsymbolic or microfeatural analyses belong together, and which are logically independent? Now that connectionism has arrived with full-blown models of psychological processes as diverse as Pavlovian conditioning, visual recognition, and language acquisition, the debate is on. Common themes emerge from all the contributors to Connections and Symbols: criticism of connectionist models applied to language or the parts of cognition employing language—like operations; and a focus on what it is about human cognition that supports the traditional physical symbol system hypothesis. While criticizing many aspects of connectionist models, the authors also identify aspects of cognition that could be explained by the connectionist models.
How do we recognize objects? How do we reason about objects when they are absent and only in memory? How do we conceptualize the three dimensions of space? Do different people do these things in different ways? And where are these abilities located in the brain? During the past decade cognitive scientists have devised new experimental techniques; researchers in artificial intelligence have devised new ways of modeling cognitive processes on computers; neuropsychologists are testing new models of brain organization.. Many of these developments are represented in this collection of essays. The papers, though reporting work at the cutting edge of their fields, do not assume a highly technical background on the part of readers, and the volume begins with a tutorial introduction by the editor, making the book suitable for specialists and non-specialists alike.