Billie Pritchett's Reviews > The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
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's review
Jul 10, 10

Read in July, 2010

The thesis of Steven Pinker's Stuff of Thought is that one can examine language (any language) and discover human beings' innate concepts, which in turn reveal the way human beings' naturally structure the world. Pinker thinks that across all languages, the relevant similarities suggest that a class of innate concepts exist as part of human cognition and particularities of and across languages arise due to human roles in specific environments. Here would be an example of the relationship between some of the innate concepts Pinker argues exist and the interpretation and use of those innate concepts relative to a specific environment. The 9/11 World Trade Center attack could be construed as one event or two, depending on whether one considers each building collapsing as two separate events or one considers the terrorists' intent to carry out an action and the subsequent carrying out of that action, that is, destroying the two towers, as a single event. EVENT in this case would be an innate concept but the application of the concept would vary depending on how one frames the attack. (That is an example Pinker discusses, and he reminds that if one thinks it is trivial, just such a discussion arose in court when the owner of the site of the Twin Towers stood to gain either seven billion dollars, if the 9/11 World Trade Center attack constituted two events, or three and a half billion dollars if it was one event.) At any rate, this was an illuminating book, if somewhat occasionally boring.

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