Steven Pinker is a world-renowned author, experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist at Harvard University. Considered one of the most influential thinkers in the world, he has written a substantial amount of literature on language, human nature and the mind, and received multiple awards along with widespread critical acclaim. His calm demeanor and sense of humor are evident in the various books he’s published throughout his illustrious career. He’s also earned a number of teaching awards and acknowledgements by the American Psychological Association, National Academy of Sciences, Cognitive Neuroscience Society and other notable institutions. He previously taught at Stanford University and MIT.
No stranger to media attention, Pinker has been featured on NPR, BBC Radio, America’s Morning News and The Colbert Report, among other major outlets and programs. He is often asked to speak about mental imagery, visual attention, shape recognition, children’s language development, the neural bases of words and grammar, the psychology of innuendo and euphemisms, and various other language phenomena. He has contributed articles to The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, Slate, Nature and The Atlantic and is often asked to give lectures around the world.
Brain World had the rare opportunity to speak with Dr. Pinker about his work, writing and life in general.
Brain World: What are the scientific advantages of studying language?
Steven Pinker: First of all, there is the basic scientific question of how does this amazing system of communication work? How is it that you and I can just make noises over the telephone — hundreds of miles apart — and share ideas about complicated abstract subjects? In this case, we are talking about language itself, but we could be talking about physics or sports or reality TV, all just by making noise. I consider language one of the most fascinating and deep scientific questions, especially because it is very closely tied to what it means to be human.