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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Edifice of Pinkerism - By SETH LERER

Not since the 18th century has there been so much argument about the mind. In that era, philosophers such as John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant argued about the relationships between thought and speech, and between sensation and knowledge, in terms that we still mull over today. Are human beings born with innate ideas, or are we just blank slates, filled up by experience as we grow up? Is language something that uniquely makes us human? Do words really represent things in the world or are they markers of ideas inside our brains? Is there a language of thought itself, or do different languages embrace and shape the world in different ways?

Such questions have been asked afresh in recent years, not only by philosophers and linguists, but also by cognitive scientists and evolutionary biologists seeking the origins of human sensibility. Among the most prolific and most public of the current generation of inquirers into human understanding is the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. In a veritable bookshelf of recently published volumes, he has argued for what might be called a soft innatism: a theory of mind that holds that certain concepts or ways of thinking are hardwired into our brains at birth.

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Blogger Pawson said...

Prof. Steven Pinker is a renowned celebrity who popularizes a particular approach to science, namely pinkerism. It is a dubious scientific contribution to the field of science considering poor methodical database. His first works in the field of linguistics and cognitive psychology which earned him the title of professor were very promising because they offered a broadening of the scientific horizon encompassing both science and humanities (e.g. computational theory of mind with linguistics). However after his breakthrough book "The Language Instinct", which introduced him to the wider audience, his consequent work became more and more dubious in terms of scientific achievement and became instead pinkerism, i.e. a pseudo-scientific subterfuge at introducing quasi-scientific ideology to the non-scientific audience.
As a result, Steven Pinker transmuted from a serious scholar into a political activist, following in the footsteps of his giant predecessor and opposite number, namely Noam Chomsky. However contrariwise to prof. Chomsky, Pinker's scientific importance is tantamount to the aforementioned pinkerism, because apart from the glamor and glitter of his image and the title of professor his achievements lack the ingenuity of the Universal Grammar theory developed by prof. Chomsky to say the least.
To conclude one can learn as much from Pinker's books about humans as from Moby Dick about whaling. Mr Pinker is just another modern day sophist and his work does more harm to science because it befuddles other people by constructing false data and presenting them as a scientific fact that is seemingly irrefutable. Moreover, he appears publicly claiming a number of unfounded ideas pertaining to philosophy and science, which are beyond the scope of his research. Therefore instead of working for science he resembles a linguistic maven who uses rhetorical gimmicks to dismiss ideas that he does not like.

February 17, 2011 4:41 AM  

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