At 9:03 A.M. a second plane crashed into the south tower. But upon closer inspection you can see that it is not the pushing that kills the man, gravity and the ground do the work—but our minds tightly group together the causal events intended by the free will of an agent, initiated by a physical movement, and leading directly to the physical result. The Stuff of Thought, By Steven Pinker Language is so familiar that we don't notice how strange it is. THE STUFF OF THOUGHT. ; Films for the Humanities & Sciences (Firm); Films Media Group. Let’s say we observe a boulder that rolls down a hill (from a rockslide, or perhaps someone pushed it) and it hits a fence and knocks the fence over. He thinks about gathering provisions and rowing across the river. The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature is a 2007 book by experimental psychologist Steven Pinker.In this—his fifth book on the topics of language and cognitive science written for a general audience—Pinker "analyzes how our words relate to thoughts and to the world around us and reveals what this tells us about ourselves". What does language tell us about human nature? Article created (October 2007) Just created the article today. The, offers sufficient reason to give such a short period of time its own tense. For example, when we refer to large bodies of water or areas of land, we usually talk about them as if they were flat 2-D surfaces. Estha thinks about how Ammu had honored him by letting him copy Mammachi's recipe for banana jam into her new recipe book. [3], Through this lens, Pinker asks questions such as "What does the peculiar syntax of swearing tell us about ourselves?" Get this from a library! Surprising, thought-provoking and incredibly enjoyable, there is no other book like it - Steven Pinker will revolutionise the way you think about language. Of course we can talk about these less-referenced dimensions if we need to (“try to choose a thicker wire”, “the lake is deep enough to hide the Loch Ness Monster”). Many of us have had occasion to reflect on how prevalent metaphors are in the way think and talk. He analyses what words actually mean and how we use them, and he reveals what this can tell us about ourselves. We’ll see that this human-action centered way of describing the world carries over in the realm of time as well. Steven Pinker is one of the world's most influential thinkers and writers on the human condition. But what governs the fine distinctions of when we use one preposition or another? This New York Times bestseller is an exciting and fearless investigation of language 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. Thus, if you do nothing, five people will be killed, and if you switch tracks, one person will be killed. About The Stuff of Thought This New York Times bestseller is an exciting and fearless investigation of language 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. The Stuff of Thought. November 28, 2007. We refer to time by dividing it up into what can and can’t be changed and also pay particular attention to when activities start and stop. One particular metaphor is particularly deeply embedded, that of thinking of time in spatial terms. So argues Harvard academic and popular science writer Steven Pinker in The Stuff of Thought, a logical extension of his previous books. There is an alternate track, however, and you can throw the lever to switch to the other track, which has one person on it. Besides reading the book (which of course I highly recommend), you can listen to Steven Pinker’s hour-long talk at Google in 2007: For a 20-minute version, here is Pinker’s 2007 TED Talk: Categories: Society and Culture, The Human Mind and Psychology, Tags: cognitive psychology, language, linguistics, metaphor, Steven Pinker. Another interesting way we talk about space is how we talk about discreet objects in our environment. Why do so many swear words involve topics like sex, bodily functions, or … His popular and highly praised books include The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Sense of Style, The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. When there are instructions to cut the middle of a wire, people don’t wonder if they should try to split it lengthwise. In contrast to active agents, we don’t blame a tree when a branch falls on us, or a mountain when we are caught in a rockslide, rather we blame luck or ourselves for putting ourselves in that situation. When it comes to doing harm, how directly we cause it makes a lot of difference, and it is illustrated in the famous Trolley Problem, which has much discussed in philosophy, legal studies, and psychology: Imagine that you are aboard a train that is headed towards five workers who will be caught unawares and run over by the train. The primary theme in The Stuff of Thought is that we have developed and shaped language to serve our functional aims in communicating with others about the world around us (Pinker’s phrase is being able to communicate ‘who did what to whom’), thus analyzing language usage reveals insights about these functional aims. I found the first book to be more profound, and the second book to be more fascinating. “We were eating dinner when you called”. LANGUAGE AS A WINDOW INTO HUMAN NATURE. For example if Jim is riding in the passenger seat of a car with his head and one arm sticking out of the window, we still say that ‘Jim is in the car’, because for our functional purposes, we are describing him as being transported in the vehicle–he loses all dimensions and becomes a blob(sorry, Jim) . (Note: I do wonder if we could combine the two metaphors into a single one of us walking as on a treadmill, or in a river, with both ourselves and the landscape moving toward each other, and each of the two metaphors reflecting a different perspective.). Or put another way, "Just what does the 'fuck' in 'fuck you' actually mean? In physics we don’t describe things as uncaused causes, but we do this all the time when talking about everyday life. On the other hand, you don't want to boss people around lightly. In The Stuff of Thought, Pinker presents a fascinating look at how our words explain our nature. In “The Stuff of Thought,” Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist and a professor at Harvard, listed a few functions of swearing. Why is it that ‘on’ seems correct in one case but ‘in’ seems correct in the other? Steven Pinker is a man stuffed with thoughts and gifted with language, a combination that has won him an unusually wide audience. The fact that it often serves as a vehicle of the same, does not mean that it is more basic, i.e. A thought in this substance produces the thing that is imaged by the thought. Reading the book was simply thrilling because every chapter pointed out numerous quirks in our everyday language use that we hardly even notice, and then gave a compelling explanation for them, so it simultaneously increased my awe at the complexities of language and generated many insights into how our minds think about the world, ourselves, and society around us. Pinker says of this example: It's become so common that we don't even notice that it is a philosophical rumination rather than a direct imperative. An unnamed narrator describes in third person the thoughts and actions of Jimmy Cross, the lieutenant of an Army unit on active combat duty in the Vietnam War. Here, Pinker largely abandons the heredity vs. environment debate for a discussion of … Epicurus was the first to raise men above the curse of superstition and the wicked deeds it leads to, such as the sacrifice of Iphianassa (Iphigenia) at Aulis by Agammenon, and the fear that people have from priests that they will be endlessly tormented after death. "Nothing ever springs miraculously from nothing... all are formed fr… I know they definitely address the Newtonian physics aspect much differently. The Stuff Of Thought (2007) offers an in-depth look at language and, more specifically, what it can tell us about human nature and the complexities of the human mind. The unfolding of history on the morning of September 11 in New York can be thought of as one event or two events depending on how we mentally describe it to ourselves, which in turn depends on what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore. The Stuff of Thought succeeds where his last book, The Blank Slate, failed. ; Films for the Humanities & Sciences (Firm); Films Media Group. Pinker argues that language provides a window into human nature, and that "analyzing language can reveal what people are thinking and feeling." We distinguish actions that supposedly directly cause a result vs. actions that merely enable that result. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. “The Stuff of Thought” explores the duality of human cognition: the modesty of its construction and the majesty of its constructive power. I am fond of this idea, but the book framed it in a different, more precise way that I also thought was really cool. How do our words relate to our thoughts? [1] "The Stuff of Thought" is an exhilarating work of non-fiction. Perhaps part of the reason Western society has a hard time concentrating on the present is that its timeframe is so small in comparison to the past and future timeframes. In this—his fifth book on the topics of language and cognitive science written for a general audience—Pinker "analyzes how our words relate to thoughts and to the world around us and reveals what this tells us about ourselves". If you would venture that it is because ‘in’ requires some sort of concave structure or container, then that appears to be right, but then how much concavity is required to transition from ‘on’ to ‘in’? meaning that thought itself is just a function of language working itself out so to speak. The present is what is happening ‘now’, a very short period of time, suggested to last about three seconds (the time to make a quick unrehearsed decision, the decay of short-term memory, a typical line of poetry or musical motif, etc.). The. The Stuff of Thought [has] the two most important qualities in a good popular science book: it makes the subject accessible, and it makes its readers think. In a Part I of this post, I summarized what I thought were the most interesting points in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct. Two more points about metaphors. What are we doing, language-wise, when we swear, use innuendo or name our babies? [1] Put another way, Pinker "probes the mystery of human nature by examining how we use words". “Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty.” –The New York Times Book Review 4. In The Stuff of Thought, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker continues the inquiries he posed about verbal communication in The Language Instinct (1994) and about human nature in the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Blank Slate (GOOD Jan/Feb 2003). 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Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. ― Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. -Deborah Camerson, The Guardian The pleasure of Pinker's book is in watching the careful skill with which he … Do you do this? Thus, we may say “The comet will be visible at 1:45 pm tomorrow” or “I will be in my opera box for the opening curtain”. ( Log Out /  past/present/future). Language shapes thought; language, at least in some senses, is thought. Think about your own answers to these dilemmas and what is driving your intuitions. And in the high art of ‘literary fiction’, generating an unusual metaphor by pointing out some parallel between jarringly disparate images that evokes some subtle insight, is a mark of a writer’s power. 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 … Pinker suggests that this transition occurs when the hand can functionally control the object, move it around securely, etc. In The Stuff of Thought , Pinker presents a fascinating look at how our words explain our nature. Although the book discusses Standard American English, many of the insights are similar to, or have parallels in, many other languages. For example, if Mary were to talk Joe out of his act, we might say she prevented Steve’s death, but if Daniel stopped Mary before she could stop Joe, we wouldn’t normally say that Daniel was ‘responsible’ for killing Steve. So you split the difference by saying something that literally makes no sense while also conveying the message that you're not treating them like some kind of flunky. However, besides the fact just pointed out that over-used metaphors can effectively ‘die’ with respect to their analogical power, we see that people still judge the aptness of metaphors (“no, that’s not a good parallel…”), we often mix metaphors to suit our purposes, and new metaphors are being generated constantly by comedians*, little children (“can you ladder me up the stairs?’), authors, and everyone else. You are on a footbridge above the train track and you see the train coming on towards the five workers. Like “An event is a stretch of time, and time, according to physicists, is a continuous variable-an inexorable cosmic flow, in Newton's world, or a fourth dimension in a seamless hyperspace, in Einstein's. However, when we realize this is developed with a pre-Newtonian understanding of how we see cause and effect in nature, this makes sense. Change ). We have incorporated into our language an intuitive pre-Newtonian physics and an implicit theory of free will. Below I will list four summary points of what I found to be most interesting: 1. by Steven Pinker ‧RELEASE DATE: Sept. 11, 2007. In 1995, he published The … Thus, we may use phrases such as the following, which reflect this force-dynamic view: If we were describing things based on a Newtonian point of view, we would talk about a collision between two objects and the effects of the impact on each, rather than the narrative framework of an actor acting on a resistor, and either being successful or not. In some cases when we may even reduce objects to zero-D blobs when the geometric proportions are not relevant. CBT zeroed in on negative things that marquee across your mind, which were coined as “automatic thoughts.” The verdict: They don’t necessarily mean anything. Note that in modern times we do sometimes talk about these other levels of causality, at a lower level when we talk about someone acting due to psychopathy, and at a higher level when we justify some act as a response to a societal pressure—however, this is not the norm in most conversations. In the last post, The Language Instinct: How Mind Creates Language, we talked about Steven Pinker’s thoughts on language as a human instinct, today we are going to discuss another interesting book by the same author: The Stuff of Thought About Steven Pinker. The Stuff of Thought [has] the two most important qualities in a good popular science book: it makes the subject accessible, and it makes its readers think. I’m curious if Eastern languages address this differently. On the one hand, you do want the salt. The Stuff of Thought (2007) is Steven Pinker’s fifth popular science book, designed to complete two different trilogies that explore language, the mind and human nature. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. This metaphor is so deeply embedded that we usually don’t even notice it. Other topics that are covered include: verb sub-classes with fine-grained shades of meaning (which we apply almost subconsciously), a discussion of swear words and taboo words, a philosophic perspective on assigning proper names, and a brief introduction to pragmatics (that area of linguistics which deals with conveying meaning outside of strict grammatical sentence construction). We use a large number of metaphors implicitly in English, though many have lost their analogical power. 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 . Publisher's Summary Brought to you by Penguin. How do our words relate to our thoughts? Change ), You are commenting using your Facebook account. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of The Order of Things. Lt. Cross is preoccupied by thoughts of Martha, a … The Stuff of Thought (2007) is Steven Pinker’s fifth popular science book, designed to complete two different trilogies that explore language, the mind and human nature. At the beginning of chapter 5 of the book, Pinker analyzes the introduction to the U.S. As a young man, Okonkwo becomes one of the greatest wrestlers in the clan. Memorable speeches use clever metaphors to capture our attention and illustrate a point. The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories by Tim O’Brien that was first published in 1990. There is some controversy over some languages such as those of the Hopi & the Piraha language, which some linguists contend have no concept of the past or of recursive sentence structure. Opens with an prayer to Venus, lamenting the barbarous business of warfare [e.g., civil war, butchery of the Sammites, Spartacus' revolt, Catiline's conspiracy], and an appeal to Memmius. Beside you is a large man, whom, if you pushed onto the track, would certainly stop the train and spare the five workers. It's a bit of a social dilemma. Article needs in depth explanation of Pinker's arguments contained within The Stuff of Thought and a section on criticism of the work.Dpetley 00:13, 10 October 2007 (UTC) . In English, as well as other languages, we often use the same grammatical constructions for certain statements about the future and our own future intentions. It closely resembles an ‘impetus’, or force-dynamic paradigm, where we envision that the rock is initially endowed with a certain impetus that set it in motion, and then when it strikes the fence, it transfers some of that impetus to the fence, and if that is stronger than the inherent impetus of the fence to stay still, will cause the fence to give way. In The Stuff of Thought, Pinker presents a fascinating look at how our words explain our nature. Okonkwo values strength and aggression, traits he believes are masculine, and his worst fear is to be thought of as feminine or weak, like his father, Unoka. When we refer to where things are in space, we use prepositions such as ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘under’, ‘by’, ‘next to’, ‘on top of’, ‘near’, ‘far’, etc. I think the diversity arises in the nuances, which of course can be fascinating & enlightening. “The Things They Carried” catalogs the variety of things his fellow soldiers in the Alpha Company brought on their missions. 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Period of time its own tense t think there are also ways to describe activities referencing. That Thought itself is Just a function of language to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts email..., Okonkwo becomes one of the same, does not mean that often. Foucault 's the Order of things inside his body, or have parallels in, many other languages describe without...
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