Quotes in

Quotes by Steven Pinker

126 quotes found  
All of us have a theory about human nature.
Remember your math: an anecdote is not a trend.
Opposing reason is, by definition, unreasonable.
Isn't keeping statistics on violence a form of violence?
Life has become better, and no one seems to know about it.
Societies that empower women are less violent in every way.
Racism, because it favors color over talent, is bad for business.
We are visual creatures. Visual things stay put, whereas sounds fade.
All of the violence that doesn't occur doesn't get reported on the news.
The art of photography is all about directing the attention of the viewer.
Language mavens commonly confuse their own peeves with a worsening of the language.
We may be seeing a coming together of the humanities and the science of human nature.
Among the perquisites of freedom is the freedom of people to screw up their own lives.
The beauty of reason is that it can always be applied to understand failures of reason.
Most intellectuals today have a phobia of any explanation of the mind that invokes genetics.
Today we take it for granted that war happens in smaller, poorer and more backward countries.
We will never have a perfect world, but it's not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.
No matter how important learning and culture and socialization are, they don't happen by magic.
Time spent with friends makes a life happier; time spent with loved ones makes it more meaningful.
The first step toward wisdom is the realization that the laws of the universe don't care about you.
Evolutionary psychology is one of four sciences that are bringing human nature back into the picture.
I'm very interested in language because it reflects our obsessions and ways of conceptualising the world.
Everyone's pedigree merges into everyone else's pedigree. So if you go back far enough, everyone is related.
I think a lot of moral debates are not over what is the basis of justice, but who gets a ticket to play in the game.
You can't hear a word and just hear it as raw sound; it always evokes an associated meaning and emotion in the brain.
There's the common veneration (not just by the religious) of faith, namely believing something without a good reason.
In societies no less than individuals, acknowledging our limitations may ultimately be more humane than denying them.
Photography is a kind of virtual reality, and it helps if you can create the illusion of being in an interesting world.
One of the perks of being a psychologist is access to tools that allow you to carry out the injunction to know thyself.
Like the early days of the Internet, the dawn of personal genomics promises benefits and pitfalls that no one can foresee.
As women are empowered, violence can come down, for a number of reasons. By all measures, men are the more violent gender.
In fact, war may be just another obstacle an enlightened species learns to overcome, like pestilence, hunger, and poverty.
Most wars are not fought over shortages of resources such as food and water, but rather over conquest, revenge, and ideology.
There is a growing movement called Humanism, which promotes a non-supernatural basis for meaning and ethics: good without God.
Violence is often caused by a surfeit of morality and justice, at least as they are conceived in the minds of the perpetrators.
Light is so empowering that it serves as the metaphor of choice for a superior intellectual and spiritual state: enlightenment.
People are under the impression that dictionaries legislate language. What a dictionary does is keep track of usages over time.
I suspect music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of... our mental faculties.
Anything that makes it easier to imagine trading places with someone else increases your moral consideration for that other person.
Language is a window into human nature, but it is also a fistula, an open wound through which we're exposed to an infectious world.
All our behaviours are a result of neurophysiological activity in the brain. There is no reason to believe there is any magic going on.
Statisticians tell us that people underestimate the sheer number of coincidences that are bound to happen in a world governed by chance.
We really are creatures of a violent world, biologically speaking - watching violence and learning about it is one of our cognitive drives.
To make changes you have to make some enemies, but you also have to be careful not too make too many enemies. He made far too many enemies.
The more you think about and interact with other people, the more you realize that it is untenable to privilege your interests over theirs.
We're living in primate heaven. We're warm, dry, we're not hungry, we don't have fleas and ticks and infections. So why are we so miserable?
Human nature is complex. Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control.
There has to be innate circuitry that does the learning, that creates the culture, that acquires the culture, and that responds to socialization.
But it’s in the nature of progress that it erases its tracks, and its champions fixate on the remaining injustices and forget how far we have come.
Democracy is an imperfect way of steering between the violence of anarchy and the violence of tyranny, with the least violence you can get away with.
It begins with skepticism. The history of human folly, and our own susceptibility to illusions and fallacies, tell us that men and women are fallible.
The stirrings of morality emerge early in childhood. Toddlers spontaneously offer toys and help to others and try to comfort people they see in distress.
But the newest research is showing that many properties of the brain are genetically organized, and don't depend on information coming in from the senses.
My opinions about human nature are shared by many psychologists, linguists, and biologists, not to mention philosophers and scholars going back centuries.
As people age, they confuse changes in themselves with changes in the world, and changes in the world with moral decline—the illusion of the good old days.
Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else's thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person's vantage point.
People are not clones in a monoculture, so what satisfies one will frustrate another, and the only way they can end up equal is if they are treated unequally.
An eye for beauty locks onto faces that show signs of health and fertility - just as one would predict if it had evolved to help the beholder find the fittest mate.
I think this confusion leads intellectuals and artists themselves to believe that the elite arts and humanities are a kind of higher, exalted form of human endeavor.
There is a correlation between economic inequality and personal violence. The explanation for the correlation isn't completely clear; there are a number of possibilities.
Violence and religion have often gone together, but it's not a perfect correlation, and it doesn't have to be a permanent connection, because religions themselves change.
By exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, science forces us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet.
However much we might deplore the profit motive, or consumerist values, if everyone just wants i-Pods we would probably be better off than if they wanted class revolution.
Capitalism' is a dirty word for many intellectuals, but there are a number of studies showing that open economies and free trade are negatively correlated with genocide and war.
I think that communism was a major force for violence for more than 100 years, because it was built into its ideology - that progress comes through class struggle, often violent.
People today sometimes get uncomfortable with empirical claims that seem to clash with their political assumptions, often because they haven't given much thought to the connections.
Morality is not just any old topic in psychology but close to our conception of the meaning of life. Moral goodness is what gives each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings.
Look at almost any passage, and you'll find that a paragraph has five or six metaphors in it. It's not that the speaker is trying to be poetic, it's just that that's the way language works.
Climate change could produce a lot of misery and waste without necessarily leading to large-scale armed conflict, which depends more on ideology and bad governance than on resource scarcity.
The reason I'm not a neurobiologist but a cognitive psychologist is that I think looking at brain tissue is often the wrong level of analysis. You have to look at a higher level of organization.
Plants can't very well defend themselves by their behavior, so they resort to chemical warfare, and plants are saturated with toxins and irritants to deter creatures like us who want to eat them.
Cognitive psychology tells us that the unaided human mind is vulnerable to many fallacies and illusions because of its reliance on its memory for vivid anecdotes rather than systematic statistics.
Art works because it appeals to certain faculties of the mind. Music depends on details of the auditory system, painting and sculpture on the visual system. Poetry and literature depend on language.
As individual people, embedded in our daily lives, of course we're interested in what makes one person different from another. We've got to hire one person and not another, marry one person and not another.
Consciousness surely does not depend on language. Babies, many animals, and patients robbed of speech by brain damage are not insensate robots; they have reactions like ours that indicate that someone's home.
I've never argued that humans are massively hot-wired. What I was trying to point out was that you can't understand how we learn unless you identify the learning mechanisms. And these have some genetic basis.
Even if he does occasionally hurt people's feelings -- he occasionally hurts my feelings -- but I'm a big boy. I can get over it. I can argue back. We really need somebody to question the way a university is run.
If you look in general at people who live in anarchy, they have quite high rates of death from either homicide or warfare or both. Anarchy is one of the main reasons for violence, and it may be the most important.
I do look for openings where I can overturn popular misconceptions, but unlike Christopher Hitchens, I am neither a contrarian nor a lone heretic. I like to have a significant number of academics watching my back.
There is no society ever discovered in the remotest corner of the world that has not had something that we would consider the arts. Visual arts - decoration of surfaces and bodies - appears to be a human universal.
Life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abundance is better than want, freedom is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.
My worst boss was a departmental chair who never learned to appreciate new developments in the field. He had contempt for students and younger researchers, and he saw the job of running the department as a nuisance.
In the 1970s, many intellectuals had become political radicals. Marxism was correct, liberalism was for wimps, and Marx had pronounced that 'the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.'
Roads, better harnesses for horses, time-keeping devices, financial instruments like a currency that was recognized everywhere in the kingdom, enforceable contracts - all of this made commerce more appealing than plunder.
The thinkers of the Enlightenment sought a new understanding of the human condition. The era was a cornucopia of ideas, some of them contradictory, but four themes tie them together: reason, science, humanism, and progress.
Why do people believe that there are dangerous implications of the idea that the mind is a product of the brain, that the brain is organized in part by the genome, and that the genome was shaped by natural selection?

In the past two decades anthropologists have gathered data on life and death in pre-state societies rather than accepting the warm and fuzzy stereotypes. What did they find? In a nutshell: Hobbes was right, Rousseau was wrong.
Conventions are unstated agreements within a community to abide by a single way of doing things - not because there is any inherent advantage to the choice, but because there is an advantage to everyone making the same choice.
According to a recent study of the brains of identical and fraternal twins, differences in the amount of gray matter in the frontal lobes are not only genetically influenced but are significantly correlated with differences in intelligence.
In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints ... and gods.
America had, for one thing, lived in anarchy for - until much more recently than Europe. We had the Wild West, where the cliche of the cowboy movies was the nearest sheriff is 90 miles away, and so you had to pack a gun and defend yourself.
Whenever you speak to someone, you are presuming the two of you have a certain degree of familiarity - which your words might alter. So every sentence has to do two things at once: convey a message and continue to negotiate that relationship.
Academics lack perspective. In a debate on whether the world is round, they would argue, 'No,' because it's an oblate spheroid. They suffer from 'the curse of knowledge': the inability to imagine what it's like not to know something that they know.
Every aspect of thought and emotion is rooted in brain structure and function, including many psychological disorders and, presumably, genius. The study confirms that the brain is a modular system comprising multiple intelligences, mostly nonverbal.
It's natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity's highest callings.
Evolutionary psychologists seem to want to unmask our noblest motives as ultimately self-interested - to show that our love for children, compassion for the unfortunate and sense of justice are just tactics in a Darwinian struggle to perpetuate our genes.
The European wars of religion were more deadly than the First World War, proportionally speaking, and in the range of the Second World War in Europe. The Inquisition, the persecution of heretics and infidels and witches, they racked up pretty high death tolls.
Cognitive psychology has shown that the mind best understands facts when they are woven into a conceptual fabric, such as a narrative, mental map, or intuitive theory. Disconnected facts in the mind are like unlinked pages on the Web: They might as well not exist.
I have never been a fan of science fiction. For me, fiction has to explore the combinatorial possibilities of people interacting under the constraints imposed by our biology and history. When an author is free to suspend the constraints, it's tennis without a net.
If the myth of pure evil is that evil is committed with the intention of causing harm and an absence of moral considerations, then it applies to very few acts of so-called 'pure evil' because most evildoers believe what they are doing is forgivable or justifiable.
126 quotes found