New York Times 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 and popular science writers.
Now, in The Stuff of Thought, Pinker marries two of the subjects he knows best: language and human nature. The result is a fascinating look at how our words explain our nature. What does swearing reveal about our emotions? Why does innuendo disclose something about relationships? Pinker reveals how our use of prepositions and tenses taps into peculiarly human concepts of space and time, and how our nouns and verbs speak to our notions of matter. Even the names we give our babies have important things to say about our relations to our children and to society.
With his signature wit and style, Pinker takes on scientific questions like whether language affects thought, as well as forays into everyday life--why is bulk e-mail called spam and how do romantic comedies get such mileage out of the ambiguities of dating? The Stuff of Thought is a brilliantly crafted and highly readable work that will appeal to fans of readers 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. (Sept.)
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September 10, 2007
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