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Dig-dug, think-thunk

Charles Yang: Writes about Words and Rules: the Ingredients of Language by Steven Pinker, 24 August 2000

Words and Rules: the Ingredients of Language 
by Steven Pinker.
Phoenix, 176 pp., £7.99, October 2000, 0 7538 1025 5
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... these days. That, however, is what Words and Rules is about and, as if to sweep any doubts away, Steven Pinker assures us of the subject’s importance: the study of the past tense is ‘the only case I know in which two great systems of Western thought may be tested and compared . . . like ordinary scientific hypotheses’. As for his own theory of ...

Wired for Sound

Daniel Dennett, 23 June 1994

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language 
by Steven Pinker.
Allen Lane, 493 pp., £20, April 1994, 0 7139 9099 6
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Patterns in the Mind: Language and Human Nature 
by Ray Jackendoff.
Harvester, 256 pp., £11.95, October 1993, 9780745009629
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... a brave and independent thinker who never got swept up in the various intrigues and manias, and Steven Pinker, one of Chomsky’s star colleagues but also one who has staunchly resisted the local strains of contagious hysteria, have each written an accessible, entertaining, authoritative introduction to the modern science of language. Both books ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Google’s Ngram Viewer, 20 January 2011

... are almost exactly reversed as medical terms, economic conditions and common sensibilities alter. Steven Pinker, who had a hand in the Science paper, is delighted about it all. ‘There is so much ignorance. We’ve had to speculate what might have happened to the language.’ The Google database is certainly a tool, and will, I imagine, become a better ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book, 15 August 2019

... was skint). The writer Malcolm Gladwell went on the jet, but says he had no idea who Epstein was. Steven Hoffenberg, who cheated investors out of $460 million, claims that Epstein was not just a friend but a co-conspirator in his own crimes. Nobody has ever seen a reliable list of Epstein’s financial clients. The publication of Epstein’s contacts list ...

Smarter, Happier, More Productive

Jim Holt: ‘The Shallows’, 3 March 2011

The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember 
by Nicholas Carr.
Atlantic, 276 pp., £17.99, September 2010, 978 1 84887 225 7
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... scoff at such claims. The brain is not ‘a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience’, Steven Pinker has insisted. Its wiring may change a bit when we learn a new fact or skill, but its basic cognitive architecture remains the same. And where is the evidence that using the internet can ‘massively remodel’ the brain? The only germane study ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: Sokal 2.0, 25 October 2018

... friends you shall know them. Among those most delighted by this episode have been Niall Ferguson, Steven Pinker, David Deutsch and Douglas Murray: weirdly few non-white non-men. I recommend that, on their next visit to Portland, these people spend some time in a dog park or ...

Let’s eat badly

William Davies: Irrationality and its Other, 5 December 2019

Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason 
by Justin E.H. Smith.
Princeton, 344 pp., £25, April 2019, 978 0 691 17867 7
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... and justified. These are tasks that many rationalists, in the ‘new atheist’ tradition of Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins, have been happy to pursue. Arguing as much with (what they perceive as) the relativism of the left as with the dogmatism of the right, these bombastic defenders of Western reason exhibit a spirit of hostility towards anyone ...

The Trouble with Psychological Darwinism

Jerry Fodor, 22 January 1998

How the Mind Works 
by Steven Pinker.
Penguin, 660 pp., £25, January 1998, 0 7139 9130 5
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Evolution in Mind 
by Henry Plotkin.
Allen Lane, 276 pp., £20, October 1997, 0 7139 9138 0
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... the art. They differ a bit in their intended audience; Plotkin’s is more or less a text, while Pinker hopes for a lay readership. Pinker covers much more ground but he takes an ungainly six hundred pages to do it, compared to Plotkin’s svelte volume. Both authors are unusually good at exposition, ...

When We Were Nicer

Steven Mithen: History Seen as Neurochemistry, 24 January 2008

On Deep History and the Brain 
by Daniel Lord Smail.
California, 271 pp., £12.95, December 2007, 978 0 520 25289 9
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... psychology that has become popular in recent years: that of Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Steven Pinker and their acolytes, who argue that we still have biologically fixed Stone Age minds constituted by mental models evolved to solve problems of Pleistocene environments, principally those of the African savanna of three million years ago. Smail ...

The Darwin Show

Steven Shapin, 7 January 2010

... several others on sunspots; Leibniz and Newton on the calculus; Priestley and Scheele on oxygen; Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam on electroweak gauge theory; and, of course, Darwin and the undercelebrated Alfred Russel Wallace on evolution by natural selection. Every instance of what has been called ‘simultaneous discovery’ lends credence to the notion ...

It knows

Daniel Soar: You can’t get away from Google, 6 October 2011

The Googlisation of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) 
by Siva Vaidhyanathan.
California, 265 pp., £18.95, March 2011, 978 0 520 25882 2
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In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives 
by Steven Levy.
Simon and Schuster, 424 pp., £18.99, May 2011, 978 1 4165 9658 5
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I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 
by Douglas Edwards.
Allen Lane, 416 pp., £20, July 2011, 978 1 84614 512 4
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... cunningly, PageRank), one of Google’s founders and now once more its CEO; and his model, as Steven Levy explains in In the Plex, was the system of scholarly citation, by which journal articles and books are considered important if they are referred to by other important journal articles and books. Levy is big on origins. Not everyone will think much of ...

A Knife at the Throat

Christopher Tayler: Meticulously modelled, 3 March 2005

Saturday 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 280 pp., £17.99, February 2005, 0 224 07299 4
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... psychology and the materialist theories of consciousness propounded by such writers as Steven Pinker and Antonio Damasio. He also has a cautious faith in the ennobling potential of literature and the redemptive capacities of romantic love. Enduring Love sets the two kinds of thinking against one another, but his recent novels are more ...

Why would Mother Nature bother?

Jerry Fodor, 6 March 2003

Freedom Evolves 
by Daniel Dennett.
Allen Lane, 347 pp., £20, February 2003, 0 7139 9339 1
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... of Dennett’s, and many other current sources. You can even read it in the New York Times, where Steven Pinker has recently urged teaching it to innocent children in grade school. O, brave new world! It’s a dubious brew of neo-Darwinism and blatant anthropomorphism, and it indulges talk of ‘selfish’ genes and redwood trees with ‘points of ...

Misrepresentations

Dmitri Levitin: The Islamic Enlightenment, 22 November 2018

The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment 
by Alexander Bevilacqua.
Harvard, 340 pp., £25.95, February 2018, 978 0 674 97592 7
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The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle between Faith and Reason 
by Christopher de Bellaigue.
Vintage, 404 pp., £10.99, February 2018, 978 0 09 957870 3
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... and political liberalisation. For some, this metanarrative is a cause for celebration (Steven Pinker, for example, in his recent book Enlightenment Now); others – religious opponents of secularisation (Alasdair MacIntyre), or Marxist critics of liberal modernity (Theodor Adorno) – are more condemnatory. The second conception is typically ...

In the Long Cool Hour

Amia Srinivasan: Pragmatic Naturalism, 6 December 2012

The Ethical Project 
by Philip Kitcher.
Harvard, 422 pp., £36.95, November 2011, 978 0 674 06144 6
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... Churchland claims. ‘Our moral nature is what it is because our brains are as they are.’ Steven Pinker writes that the ‘human moral sense turns out to be an organ … with quirks that reflect its evolutionary history and its neurobiological foundations.’ Thus Daniel Dennett feels able to claim that Darwinism is a ‘universal acid’ that ...

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