The Stuff of Thought

The Stuff of Thought

Infobox Book
name = The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Steven Pinker
cover_artist =
country = USA
language = English
series =
subject = Philosophy
genre =
publisher = Penguin Group (Viking Press)
release_date = 2007
media_type =
pages = 499
isbn = ISBN 978-0-670-06327-7
preceded_by = The Blank Slate
followed_by =
"The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature" is a "New York Times" best-selling book by Harvard experimental psychologist Steven Pinker published in 2007. It is his fifth book on the topics of language and cognitive science written for a general audience. In it, Pinker "analyzes how our words relate to thoughts and to the world around us and reveals what this tells us about ourselves."cite web
url= |title=The Stuff of Thought |accessdate=2008-08-03
last=Pinker |first=Steven |authorlink=Steven Pinker |work=Steven Pinker |publisher=Harvard University
] Put another way, Pinker "probes the mystery of human nature by examining how we use words".Citation
last=Press |first=Michelle |date=September 2007 |title=Reviews: Cyclic Universe•World of Words•Nuclear Terror
periodical=Scientific American |publisher=Scientific American, Inc. |volume=297 |issue=3 |pages=120
url = |accessdate=2008-08-03


Pinker argues language provides a window on human nature, and "analyzing language can reveal what people are thinking and feeling." He asserts the idea that language must do two things:
# convey a message to an audience, and
# negotiate the social relationship between the speaker and the audience.

Therefore, language functions at these two levels at all times. For example, a common-place statement such as, "If you could pass the salt, that would be great," functions as both a request (though none is inherent to that statement) and a means of being polite or non-offensive (through not directing the audience to demands). Pinker says of this example: cquote2|It's become so common that we don't even notice that it is a philosophical rumination rather than a direct imperative. It's a bit of a social dilemma. On the one hand, you do want the salt. On the other hand, you don't want to boss people around lightly. So you split the difference by saying something that literally makes no sense while also conveying the message that you're not treating them like some kind of flunky.Citation
last=Calamai |first=Peter |date=2007-01-21 |accessdate=2008-08-03 |title=Of thought and metaphor |periodical=Toronto Star
publisher=Torstar |url=

Through this lens, Pinker asks questions such as "What does the peculiar syntax of swearing tell us about ourselves?" Or put another way, "Just what does the 'fuck' in 'fuck you' actually mean?", which is covered in the chapter "The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television". The arguments contained within ride on the backs of his previous works, which paint human nature as having "distinct and universal properties, some of which are innate – determined at birth by genes rather than shaped primarily by environment."

ee also

* Computational theory of mind
* Sociobiology
* Evolutionary psychology
* Imprinting
* Chomsky, Noam
* Hofstadter, Douglas
* Social semiotics
* Kant, Immanual

Other books by Pinker

* "The Language Instinct" (1994)
* "How the Mind Works" (1999)
* "Words and Rules" (2000)
* "The Blank Slate" (2002)


External links

* [ Steven Pinker's Harvard Department of Psychology website]
*Douglas Hofstadter's review for "The Los Angeles Times" [,0,2425998.story]
*William Saletan's review for "The New York Times Book Review", []
*Seth Lerer's review for "The New York Sun", []

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