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The Edifice of Pinkerism

The New York Sun Arts and Letters section includes a book review by Seth Lerer of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. The book presents Pinker’s views on the argument which has been around since the days of Locke and Hume of whether the human mind includes innate ideas from birth or is “a blank slate, filled up by experience as we grow up”. He also addresses the questions of whether language is uniquely human, whether words represent things in the world or merely ideas in the brain, and whether there is a language of thought. Interestingly Pinker seems to believe that the basic words in the language of thought involve state changes: coming vs going, animate vs inanimate, human vs nonhuman, etc. We perceive the changes around us and also manipulate the world to cause state changes.

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