The Stuff of Thought
Language as a Window into Human Nature
This New York Times bestseller is an exciting and fearless investigation of language from the author of Rationality, The Better Angels of Our Nature and The Sense of Style and Enlightenment Now.
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
--The New York Times Book Review
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. His previous books - including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Blank Slate - have catapulted him into the limelight as one of today's most important popular science writers. In The Stuff of Thought, Pinker presents a fascinating look at how our words explain our nature. 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.
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: human beings take "the analogue flow of sensation the world presents to them" and "package their experience into objects and events." Examining how we do this, the author summarizes and rejects such linguistic theories as "extreme nativism" and "radical pragmatism" as he tosses around terms like "content-locative" and "semantic reconstrual" that may seem daunting to general readers. But Pinker, a masterful popularizer, illuminates this specialized material with homely illustrations. The difference between drinking from a glass of beer and drinking a glass of beer, for example, shows that "the mind has the power to frame a single situation in very different ways." Separate chapters explore concepts of causality, naming, swearing and politeness as the tools with which we organize the flow of raw information. Metaphor in particular, he asserts, helps us "entertain new ideas and new ways of managing our affairs." His vivid prose and down-to-earth attitude will once again attract an enthusiastic audience outside academia.