Monday, April 25, 2011

Books by Steven Pinker

In the fields of psychology and linguistics, the 56-year-old Harvard professor Steven Pinker is a brilliant thinker, writer and lecturer, on a par with Richard Dawkins in the domains of biology and genetics, and Brian Greene in the cosmological arena.

Pinker's theories and conclusions—based upon methodical analyses of experimental results obtained in field work and in psychological laboratories, often borrowed from colleagues—are totally revolutionary, indeed earth-shaking, and yet he seems to avoid being outlawed and branded as a horseman of the Apocalypse.

He succeeds in coming across as an unassuming academic who rambles on rapidly in a quiet voice, keeping a low profile: a kind of anti-Dawkins. Maybe his apparently peaceful attitude towards religion provides the professor with a reassuring homely bearing, enhanced by his marvelous mop of curly hair. In an interview for The Guardian in 1999, he said: "I was never religious in the theological sense. I never outgrew my conversion to atheism at 13, but at various times was a serious cultural Jew." Whatever the reason, I'm intrigued that Pinker's utterly mind-boggling descriptions of the realities of humanity have not stirred up harsh opposition.

His ideas have been expressed in five wonderful easy-to-read books, which compose two parallel trilogies, as shown here:

The language trilogy, at the top, starts with the book that made Pinker famous: The Language Instinct (1994). Then it includes a technical book on linguistics, Words and Rules (1999), and culminates in The Stuff of Thought (2007), which envisages language as "a window into human nature". This same book plays a double role in that it terminates Pinker's trilogy on human nature, which starts with How the Mind Works (1997) and evolves through a beautifully blasphemous book (from the viewpoint of politically-correct behavior and thinking), The Blank Slate (2002). Click the above chart to access a talk of 2007 in which Pinker presents the themes of his last book.

In my article of April 2010 entitled God travels incognito [display], I spoke of a novel by Pinker's wife Rebecca Goldstein.

Use the search box up in the top left-hand corner of this blog to access other articles in which I've mentioned Steven Pinker and his books.

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