Linguist Steven Pinker questions the very nature of our thoughts — the way we use words, how we learn, and how we relate to others. In his best-selling books, he has brought sophisticated language analysis to bear on topics of wide general interest.

Why you should listen

Steven Pinker's books have been like bombs tossed into the eternal nature-versus-nurture debate. Pinker asserts that not only are human minds predisposed to certain kinds of learning, such as language, but that from birth our minds -- the patterns in which our brain cells fire -- predispose us each to think and behave differently.

His deep studies of language have led him to insights into the way that humans form thoughts and engage our world. He argues that humans have evolved to share a faculty for language, the same way a spider evolved to spin a web. We aren't born with “blank slates” to be shaped entirely by our parents and environment, he argues in books including The Language Instinct; How the Mind Works; and The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

Time magazine named Pinker one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004. His book The Stuff of Thought was previewed at TEDGlobal 2005. His recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature looks at our notion of violence.

For the BBC, he picks his Desert Island Discs >>

What others say

"'Better Angels' is a monumental achievement. His book should make it much harder for pessimists to cling to their gloomy vision of the future. Whether war is an ancient adaptation or a pernicious cultural infection, we are learning how to overcome it. " — Slate.com

Steven Pinker’s TED talks

Steven Pinker on the TED Blog
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Culture

Why this might just be the most significant TED Talk ever posted

March 17, 2014

I want to give you the back story behind today’s TED Talk and make the case that it’s one of the most significant we’ve ever posted. And I’m not just talking about its incredible animation. I’m talking about its core idea. Two years ago the psychologist Steven Pinker and the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, who are […]

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News

Your weekend reading: In defense of the red line, a public health heroine

September 14, 2013

Intriguing reads from around the Internets this week: Two journalists on why the red line on chemical warfare is necessary. [Foreign Affairs] The story of Sara Josephine Baker, a doctor who saved 90,000 inner-city children by the time she died in 1945. [NYRB] “You can’t defend the humanities by declaring it off limits to amateurs.” […]

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Culture

9 great talks about talking

April 17, 2013

TED Talks cover an incredible breadth of topics – from mathematical origami to self-repairing architecture to personalized medicine. Some talks explore what lies at the very essence of TED — the act of talking. The 10 talks below explore the various dynamics of speech — from phonology to cognition to the socio-cultural role of language in […]

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Quotes from Steven Pinker

Anything that makes it easier to imagine trading places with someone else increases your moral consideration for that other person.
Steven Pinker
TED2007 • 1.4M views Sep 2007
Persuasive, Informative
The decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon. You can see it over millennia, over centuries, over decades and over years.
Steven Pinker
TED2007 • 1.4M views Sep 2007
Persuasive, Informative
The more you think about and interact with other people, the more you realize that it is untenable to privilege your interests over theirs.
Steven Pinker
TED2007 • 1.4M views Sep 2007
Persuasive, Informative