Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Mea Culpa - Pinker and his critics

I think in general that Steven Pinker goes way overboard on the nativist angle, and so recently approvingly passed on this Churchland review in the Nov. 1 issue of Nature critical of Pinker's new book, "The Language of Thought." - I hadn't actually read the book. These retorts by Marc Hauser and Pinker himself in the Dec. 6 issue make me realize that I should have. I have zapped my original post, and I'm now going to read the book......(one thing about doing a blog is that you read fewer good long books). I admit to a residual grumpyness about Pinker (a brilliant man) from his visit to Wisconsin a number of years ago as a featured speaker. He was dragged through the usual torture of serial 30 minute interviews with local "prominent persons" (I was the Zoology Chair at that time), and during our conversation I found him to be quite remote. At his talk he read from a typescript - word for word - a lecture that I had already heard twice before.


  1. Thanks for posting these (although the link to Pinker's response isn't quite working the way it should.

    I finished Pinker's book a couple of weeks ago (on audiobook), and found it very interesting. I like the analogy of Pinker to a jazz player, who riffs on many topics, rarely going into much depth, but sparking a lot of thought.

    And yeah, Churchland's "review" is awful. She barely mentions anything about the book. I personally found a lot to disagree with Pinker about (I'm pretty antagonistic towards strong innateness claims, and many of his conclusions in The Stuff of Thought are spurious), but I buy the general premise of the book, which is that the way in which we use language reveals insights into our underlying non-linguistic representations of the world, especially regarding our conceptions of things like space and time.

    Churchland's comments make me wonder if she even read the book.

  2. Sorry about the bad link to Pinker's review of Churchland's review... I fixed it.