October 04, 2007

Pinker and The Brain

Speaking of missing important cultural events, I was so caught up in the Fiddy-Kanye battle around September 11 this year that something even more inane and trivial passed me by.

Steven Pinker released a new book.

Entitled The Stuff of Thought, it is (*yawn*) another "window into human nature".

Says Publisher's Weekly:
Bestselling Harvard psychology professor Pinker (The Blank Slate) investigates what the words we use tell us about the way we think. Language, he concludes, reflects our brain structure, which itself is innate. Similarly, the way we talk about things is rooted in, but not identical to, physical reality.
Or, put another way:
Bestselling Harvard psychology professor Pinker (The Blank Slate) investigates what the Words and Rules we use tell us about How The Mind Works. The Language Instinct, he concludes, reflects our brain structure, which is not a Blank Slate. Similarly, Overregularization in Language Acquisition (Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development), physical reality.
On a more meta note, I find the Pinker vendetta that this blog has developed fairly bemusing. Back in 2002, I read The Language Instinct for a project I was working on at Emerson. I even met and interviewed Steven Pinker for it (this was just as the Blank Slate was coming out so he wasn't quite as much of a celebrity yet). He seemed like a smart guy and I bought Blank Slate and mostly enjoyed it.

About the same time, Alison was starting at McGill and Pinker began to turn up all over the place on her reading lists. We both found it kind of funny that he was so ubiquitous and so this faux frustration developed whenever we saw his name anywhere (we were a pretty cool couple). As we both did more social science we found his sweeping rejection of a lot of it increasingly obnoxious, but it was still all part of the same playful animosity, which eventually became enshrined in the Pinker character in CWG.

Then, in true labelling theory style (see, social science isn't all bullshit), my anti-Pinkerism came to be seen as a key part of my blog persona, so I began to feel compelled to pound on him whenever the opportunity arose. Now, although I never had anything personal against Pinker (he was actually pretty nice to me when we met), the vendetta has taken on a life of its own and I can't really stop. But I feel like anyone stumbling on to this site will just assume I have an irrational hatred of him for no reason, which I really don't. I just think it's funny to pretend I do.

Psyche! He's a total douchebag.

1 comment:

Pawson said...

Prof. Steven Pinker is a renowned celebrity who popularizes a particular approach to science, namely pinkerism. It is a dubious scientific contribution to the field of science considering poor methodical database. His first works in the field of linguistics and cognitive psychology which earned him the title of professor were very promising because they offered a broadening of the scientific horizon encompassing both science and humanities (e.g. computational theory of mind with linguistics). However after his breakthrough book "The Language Instinct", which introduced him to the wider audience, his consequent work became more and more dubious in terms of scientific achievement and became instead pinkerism, i.e. a pseudo-scientific subterfuge at introducing quasi-scientific ideology to the non-scientific audience.
As a result, Steven Pinker transmuted from a serious scholar into a political activist, following in the footsteps of his giant predecessor and opposite number, namely Noam Chomsky. However contrariwise to prof. Chomsky, Pinker's scientific importance is tantamount to the aforementioned pinkerism, because apart from the glamor and glitter of his image and the title of professor his achievements lack the ingenuity of the Universal Grammar theory developed by prof. Chomsky to say the least.
To conclude one can learn as much from Pinker's books about humans as from Moby Dick about whaling. Mr Pinker is just another modern day sophist and his work does more harm to science because it befuddles other people by constructing false data and presenting them as a scientific fact that is seemingly irrefutable. Moreover, he appears publicly claiming a number of unfounded ideas pertaining to philosophy and science, which are beyond the scope of his research. Therefore instead of working for science he resembles a linguistic maven who uses rhetorical gimmicks to dismiss ideas that he does not like.

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