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Steven Pinker: biography, theory and main contributions

Steven Pinker: biography, theory and main contributions

March 31, 2024

Steven Pinker is a linguist, psychologist and writer known mainly for his role in the diffusion of different ideas related to evolutionary psychology, with communication, with visual perception and cognition and with the computational theory of the mind, as well as by his own theories about the development of language and the decline of violence.

In this article We will analyze the theory and contributions of Steven Pinker , focusing on their perspectives on communication, human nature and the decline of violence. To begin we will make a brief review of his biography and his professional career.

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Biography of Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker was born in Montreal in 1954 in a Jewish family that had emigrated to Canada from Poland and present-day Moldova. He received his doctorate in Experimental Psychology from Harvard University in 1979; his tutor was Stephen Kosslyn, a prominent author in the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

Later it was researcher and professor at Stanford University and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , often known as "MIT". Between 1994 and 1999 he was co-director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Center in this renowned institution.

Currently Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and continues his work as a theorist, researcher, writer and science communicator. He is also a relevant figure in the press and frequently participates in conferences and debates on various topics related to science and the human being in general.

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Contributions, publications and merits

Pinker has carried out numerous publications and research on visual perception, psycholinguistics and interpersonal relationships which have been awarded by outstanding institutions, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association and the Cognitive Neuroscience Society.

He has also written 14 books on these topics and human nature in general, with emphasis on the cognitive and evolutionary perspectives. The most celebrated are "The instinct of language: how language creates the mind", "How the mind works", "The clean slate: The modern denial of human nature" and "The decline of violence and its implications."

Theories of communication and the human being

At the beginning of his professional career Pinker carried out research on the development and characteristics of language in children. His results led him to give public support to Noam Chomsky's theory, which states that human beings have Innate brain abilities that allow the understanding of language .

Pinker's methodology at this time was based on studying the behavior of people and going back in phylogenetic evolution to explain the development of brain functions. Using this method he elaborated hypotheses about language and other phenomena, such as three-dimensional vision and logical reasoning.

According to Pinker, the innate capacity of human beings for language depends fundamentally on two cognitive processes: the memorization of words and their manipulation through grammatical rules s, equally learned. These proposals of biologist have received criticism focused on moral or philosophical aspects.

This author defends in a general way the idea that genes determine a significant proportion of human behavior. Although she has affirmed that she identifies with egalitarian feminism, she has been criticized for her assertions about the existence of biological differences between people of different ethnicities, as well as between men and women.

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The decline of violence

In his popular book "The decline of violence and its implications" Pinker argues that, from a proportional and historical point of view, the frequency of violent behavior has tended to decrease worldwide, especially in the last two centuries. In this work he explores the widespread perception that violence has become more present today.

According to Pinker, the decline in violence began with the rise of the states , characterized by the obtaining of the monopoly of the behaviors of this type, while they were punished in most of the individuals by means of the use of the law.This would have allowed a large number of people to coexist with a lower risk of murder.

Subsequently factors such as the expansion of trade, the humanitarian revolution associated with the movement of the Enlightenment, the rise of cosmopolitanism or the rejection of slavery contributed even more to the decrease in the relative number of violent conducts.

Pinker suggests that the experience of the two World Wars was fundamental in the decline of violence that occurred during the twentieth century. It also cites as relevant variables globalization, movements for the rights of minorities and non-human animals, as well as a supposed decrease in the weight of ideologies.

This author attributes the common perception that violence is more and more frequent to confirmation bias and affirms that we have entered the epoch called "the Long Peace". Several authors have criticized these ideas arguing that they enhance the lack of concern for violence and conflicts and interpret reductionist numerical data.

Steven Pinker: Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain (March 2024).

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