Steven Pinker: The Language of Thought

I really like Steven Pinker, and I think he's an extremely intelligent man, with many interesting things to say, especially about language and evolution, but I always manage to disagree with him on some very fundamental positions, the biggest one of which is, in my opinion, his crazy belief that human musical ability is nothing more than "evolutionary cheesecake": an accidental exaptation of the process of evolution by natural selection, which was not actually selected for. He thinks, in other words, that we can sing because we can speak, whereas I think, on the contrary, that we can speak because we can sing. Our causal arrows point in opposite directions. Hopefully Pinker corrects his ways and admits defeat one of these days...

On a tangent of this venue of disagreement, I thought it was hilarious how after he published his really voluminous book How the Mind Works, Jerry Fodor published an extremely short and devastating response entitled The Mind Doesn't Work that Way. How can anyone not find that funny?

In any case, the fact that I disagree with Pinker on a number of points is no reason not to show his brilliant mind at work... In this TED Talks presentation, Pinker gives us a brief glimpse into his latest book, dealing with the relationship between language and thought. He explores this realm by dissecting the linguistic structure of seemingly identical phrases and showing how their structure ultimately produces different results. You also get to learn how to efficiently manipulate language and create some plausible deniability for yourself if you ever find yourself in situations where you need to bribe, threaten, manipulate or solicit sex from someone; in short, if you're a Republican (oh snap!!!) Might come in handy sometime...

In this talk at least, Pinker seems to be influenced by Kant's epistemology, so he talks about the underlying categories of the understanding that permeate our experience of the world, making a compelling case supporting the late German philosopher's intuitions, but ignoring, unfortunately, the role of the possibility of pre-linguistic thought (thought not involving linguistic structures), which is a vastly evasive, but interesting topic in its own right.



Evolutionary cheesecake? Please...
.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Embed this blog on your site