In an exclusive preview of his book The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker looks at language and how it expresses what goes on in our minds — and how the words we choose communicate much more than we realize.
Steven Pinker’s books have been like bombs tossed into the eternal nature-versus-nurture debate. Pinker asserts that not only are human minds predisposed to certain kinds of learning, such as language, but that from birth our minds — the patterns in which our brain cells fire — predispose us each to think and behave differently.
His deep studies of language have led him to insights into the way that humans form thoughts and engage our world. He argues that humans have evolved to share a faculty for language, the same way a spider evolved to spin a web. We aren’t born with “blank slates” to be shaped entirely by our parents and environment, he argues in books including The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (P.S.); How the Mind Works; and The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
In 2003, Harvard recruited Pinker for its psychology department from M.I.T.; Time magazine named Pinker one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004. His latest book is The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, previewed at TEDGlobal 2005. He is working on a new book that studies violence.