- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (Aug. 26 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143114247
- ISBN-13: 978-0143114246
- Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.7 x 21.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #42,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature Paperback – Aug 26 2008
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"Engaging and provocative...filled with humor and fun."
-Douglas Hofstadter, Los Angeles Times
"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him."
"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
-New York Times Book Review
"An important and inviting book."
"There's plenty of stuff to think about, but a lot of fun stuff too."
"Unfailingly engaging to read."
--New York Review of Books
About the Author
Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family professor of Psychology and Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Today and Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers. His other books include The Better Angels of our Nature and The Blank Slate.See all Product description
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Soon Homer finds him hating low brow humour, can predict the end of movies, and finds it hard to talk to his friends... the common man.
So Homer put the crayon back in.
Steven Pinker has not.
I love the irony of how a man that loves language and linguistics so much that he improves his vocabulary well above the common man and hence has trouble communicating.. then he uses it to over analyze how we perceive, develop and use our language skills.
Steven Pinker is a fantastic writer, and the language just flows out of him. He bedazzles us with rhymes. idioms, twisters and puzzles and can introduce a new study to analyze faster than lightning.
I found this book highly entertaining, delicious even.
However, in his excitement to share this knowledge he overflows us with too much content. It was like spending an evening at a gala event with waiters walking around with the most delicious o'dourves. I relished the first one, but before I could really appreciate all the flavours and understand the ingredients, the next delectable tidbit was presented. Soon I found that the waiters had lined up and were stuffing these tasty facts down my throat at lightning speed. New terms never heard of were tossed out as everyday language, and even though they rolled off the tongue poetically it was all too much, too fast.
I wrote the book of as highly entertaining, filled with theory and nothing too practical. and alas it will all be soon forgotten because he didn't allow us to savor anything.
To convince us that small distinctions in language can make a real-world difference, Pinker opens with an insurance claim from the September 11, 2001 destruction of the two World Trade Center towers. The insurer had an upper limit on what they would pay for any single "event" that damaged the buildings. Was the damage caused by the single event of a terrorist attack, as claimed by the insurer? Or was it caused by the separate events of two airplane crashes, as counter-claimed by the buildings' owners? There was no clear answer in the careful legal language of the insurance contract.
There are two ways to read Pinker's book. The first is to read the whole thing, from introduction to closing paragraph. He describes the mental models we build while understanding and reasoning with language. Metaphor helps us use our concrete experience, such as the up/down distinction created by gravity, to inform more abstract dimensions such as better/worse. Pinker also explores the social dimensions that allow us to negotiate relationships while seeming to simply convey information. Having outlined the basics, Pinker turns to more entertaining aspects of language to sharpen our understanding. There is a far-ranging discussion of profanity which describes the "correct" way to swear and explains why some words are taboo. The discussion of the social dimension of naming ranges from generational fads to why some newly coined terms catch on and become part of the language. The long path through the book is satisfying and enjoyable.
The second approach is for the time-constrained or selective reader. In the final chapter, the author provides "...a word's-eye view of human nature, one that emerges from the phenomena of the [preceding] chapters..." This overview outlines the aspects of sensation, cognition, and social relations that shape and are shaped by language. One can read this section of the chapter in a few minutes and note which aspects are unexpected or intriguing. This subset is a guide to the most beneficial sections of the book. Not the full treatment, but still a good read.
This book is recommended for those readers looking for a better understanding of the relationship between language and thought.
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The Stuff of Thought ought to be titled The Stuff of Language - a tale told by a linguist full of sound and parsing...Read more