Steven Pinker’s Linguistic Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal: an essay on thinking by James L. Secor, Ph.D.

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Because of my infatuation with the absurd, I see it in many a place. In fact, I often don’t need to make it obvious; the writer does this on his own. In this case, I expanded on his idiocy–long since disproven as a theory of language–via letting a class of students engage in lit crit & analysis. This was a college class in China. They went haywire and tore him apart; from that, I fashioned this writing. Of course, most Westerners wouldn’t have the slightest idea why he was talking through his hat. . .which is why he could get away with it. Steven Pinker’s worth in linguistics is noteworthy as no linguist of any merit and no linguistics journals even so much as cite him; he is the modern world’s greatest pseudo-intellectual.

 

The Essay …

Jonathan Swift showed just how silly an “enlightened” stance can be in Gulliver’s visit to the land of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms, huge horses full of a lot of horse sense, spoke beautifully and convincingly of themselves and their brilliance and intellectual superiority; but they, in their reason and rationality, enslaved Yahoos. These superior beings also believed that Gulliver could not have come from some island across the ocean because they believed, rationally and reasonably, that such an island did not exist and, therefore, it did not. Despite having no experience upon which to make such a judgment. Yet, experience is a state of consciousness. Karl Popper maintains, in Unended Quest (p. 218), that “it is silly or at least high-handed to deny the existence of mental experiences or mental states or states of consciousness; or to deny that mental states are as a rule closely related to states of the body, especially physiological states.” Which would seem to confirm the Houyhnhnms in their intellectual behavior for, after all, they are basing their judgment on the experience of themselves and their superior knowledge and intellectual ability. They never met any others their superiors. So, it stands to reason, that they believe as they believe and are right to do so.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut writes in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. And other novels of absurdity. Novels of people with individual mental states of consciousness.

On and off throughout history, science has had a bad name because of such thinkers, men (in most cases) who have a particular mental experience. More often than not via the same lingual pyrotechnics as Jonathan Swift used to elucidate such foolishness. With this in mind, it would be good if critical appraisers could be a tad more discriminating in their choice of scientists to congratulate and hold up as shining examples of their art discipline. Steven Pinker is considered to be such an enlightened one by popular publishers and science journalists. Steven Pinker is considered the leading figure in language and linguistics studies in the US, especially via neurological investigations. Dr. Pinker is a psychologist, which of course means he knows better via an understanding of the deeper reaches of motivation to behavior. And Dr. Pinker is a Houyhnhnm thinker, a man who runs in the face of David Hackett Fischer’s Historian’s Fallacies and Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument and any of Karl Popper’s assumption-questioning writings–even though he cites Popper in The Stuff of Thought–because he hasn’t the experience of them. A few examples will, I think, suffice to elucidate the priceless thinking and intellectual cerebration science writers hail as Dr. Pinker ‘s ground-breaking theories.

To begin at the end, as Edgar Alan Poe suggests writers do:

“[N]ear death experiences are not the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain” (The Mystery of Consciousness). This presupposes that there is a separation of the body and the soul. But it is just a tautological dismissal that, in reality, proves nothing because death/near-death is a time of low oxygen in the brain. This happens when people smoke and drink, too, but they report no similar experience. Occasionally, those who ingest LSD or magic mushrooms relate such experiences, without oxygen starvation. Dr. Pinker is saying that these people did not experience what they experienced. There is no scientific evidence to verify this dismissive judgment, yet it cannot be dismissed as it comes from Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm thinking, as purportedly supported by Dr. Popper. It is, then, of no import that such a statement as this is an opinion of science; for, as a Houyhnhnm there is no reason except his say so. Indeed, he’s from Harvard, a university that consistently produces the superiorest of the superior. Dr. Pinker engages in characteristic Houyhnhnm tautological perseveration to prove his point that alternative states of consciousness are not real. He believes they can be explained by some kind of physical state: they are the result of oxygen deprivation to the brain because, well, oxygen deprivation is part of the experience. Like smoking or drinking. This is Houyhnhnm science.

Earlier in the same essay, published in Time (19 Jan. 2007), Dr. Pinker states, “Consciousness surely does not depend on language.” How unfortunate that, in fact, it does depend on language, for without language no one would know of anyone’s consciousness, no one would be able to admit of it, nor would one be able to talk about one’s own consciousness of one’s self, outside of consciousness of the world around one. We are languaging animals: our world is described and built and adapted by our language (Cf. Humberto Maturana generally).  Without talking about it (expressing it), how is one to communicate that one is conscious? And, indeed, which state of consciousness one is in, for there is more than one consciousness. Well, perhaps being an experience and experience, as we’ve already noted, is a Houyhnhnm characteristic, it is not out of order that Dr. Pinker can maintain that it doesn’t exist just because someone says so.

Yet, in this essay (The Mystery of Consciousness), Dr. Pinker makes the most amazing and contradictory statement: there is a seat of consciousness and it is in the “higher” part of the brain. He supports himself by citing Crick, the other half of the DNA discoverer duo. However, earlier on, he maintains that consciousness consists “of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain.” He even notes that Bernard Baars “likens consciousness to a global blackboard.” Perhaps it is premature and somewhat arrogant to ask: Which is it Dr. Pinker? Is there a seat of consciousness, like the seat of language in Wernicke’s or Broca’s areas? Or is it a brain-wide phenomenon? But let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk, rather about how consciousness can be only “neural computation” while conveniently excluding soft matter physics. If consciousness is a physical seat in the grey matter of the brain, it stands to reason, I think, that there may be external stressors that affect a cell’s functioning on the cellular level as well as the macroscopic level: swelling in the brain effects behavioral aberrations which, I think, have something to do with “neural computation.” If a change happens on such a large scale, a change must have happened on the cellular level since the cells themselves are not static entities–or perhaps there is some other reason for the brain to pulsate. That is, the environment in which nerve cells operate affects their operation and this tee-tiny alteration creates, in the aggregate as cells do not operate in isolation from other cells, a greatly enhanced alteration in the behavior these cells cause to happen, as an expression of themselves. Even the pulsation affects, macro- and microscopically, of “neural computation” of the cells in the body react to contiguous and non-contiguous cells’ “neural computation.”

Dr. Pinker’s thinking seems to be quite linear and rather simplistic and very, very concrete. Indeed, his thesis that you cannot talk about consciousness because he can’t talk about it is untenable. Dr. Pinker is a genius Houyhnhnm.

His dismissive Houyhnhnm attitude runs throughout his writing, that is, “I don’t believe it, so it’s all pish-posh.” At the same time, Dr. Pinker is attempting, via classical science (physics), to explicate consciousness/perception/emotion when in fact classical science divides the world into two–body and spirit–and cannot explain what happens in the mind via the physical brain because the mind is not a physical reality. (Show me the mind, Dr. Pinker.) Classical science has trouble seeing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; that is, the brain and all that goes to make it up creates something greater than itself. As if to thwart the thinking of the Houyhnhnm, Karl Popper says the mind is the producer of human language, it is “the producer of theories, of critical arguments, and many other things such as mistakes, myths, stories, witticisms, tools, and works of art” (Unended Quest, p. 221). Dr. Pinker could not get his mind around Bertrand Russell’s grandmother’s plague upon him: “What is mind? No matter! What is matter? Never mind!” What Popper seems to be saying is that the mind is what allows Pinker to say and do whatever it is he says and does, albeit this is a decidedly un-Houyhnhnm-like thing to believe.

Dr. Pinker also says, “everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.”

Who is “everyone”? (Perhaps a rather un-Houyhnhnm-like query because everyone knows who everyone is.)

The hard problem is “explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation.” That is, consciousness is a mysterious physical anomaly in classical physical bio-chemistry. There is a kind of tyranny of the biological, the physical, here in that Dr. Pinker purports to be able to explain the non-physical by the physical, which is, in and of itself, a mystery. Not to mention the apparent opposition to what he’s already said. If consciousness is physical, Dr. Pinker, show me it because I’m only a Yahoo. Simply saying it is so doesn’t make it so, unless one is a Houyhnhnm or a religious leader.

There are some people, notably I.N. Marshal, who do not believe consciousness is a mystery or, rather, that it is a mystery by way of being a problem for which there is an explanation. Marshal, Zohar and others approach consciousness from a quantum mechanical viewpoint. (Dr. Pinker flippantly speaks to this science later.) Dr. Pinker sees the brain as a computational entity; it doesn’t do anything else but computer neurologically. David Deutsch, on the other hand, believes that to call the brain a computational thing is not only limiting but wrong (Cf. The Fabric of Reality). Truly an anti-Houyhnhnm proposition that seems to point to Dr. Pinker’s confusing brain with mind or, rather, considers there to be no difference: brain is mind and mind is brain (The Stuff of Thought, p. 259). Everything is rational and reasonable and solely to be found in the neural functioning of the physical brain. Everything for Dr. Pinker resides in the physical brain. The brain’s functioning is the answer to everything. The brain rules! The brain also leaves us no choice. We are at its mercy. But it’s a mystery as to how this happens and what this mercy is. Even Dr. Pinker admits it’s a mystery when he says we have an innate language instinct. Why? Because instinct is a mystery in and of itself. And so it is that Dr. Pinker is talking in circles.  This is Houyhnhnm science.

What happened to environment and heredity in Dr. Pinker’s theories is also a mystery.

Dr. Pinker even talks of language as if it were bits and pieces that are put together according to certain rules–like the brain is bits and pieces put together according to certain rules–implying that to not follow the rules results in non-language and–perhaps I stretch the point here–stupidity. (Where does that leave James Joyce, Antonin Artaud or the Absurdists?) Stupidity is Dr. Pinker’s forte: all his argumentation is reducing ideas he does not agree with, including Lakoff and Johnson’s, to the ridiculous, using bits and pieces of their writings in order to lambaste the entirety of their theories and impart to them ideas or beliefs that are, in reality, his conclusions based on conscious misinterpretation such that the argument to ridicule is itself ridiculous and therefore his ridiculous statements don’t sound so ridiculous, that is, they sound sensible (Cf. The Stuff of Thought in its entirety). Houyhnhnm scientific thinking.

Dr. Pinker never bothers to prove his opinion; corroboration by his own testing is not scientific proof, according to Popper; it is more in the way of a laboratory simulation. Laboratory simulation always produces what you want to prove so it proves nothing, in fact. Except that it is Houyhnhnm science.

Dr. Pinker, in “Words Don’t Mean What They Mean” (another Time Inc. article, of 6 Sept. 2007, an excerpt from The Stuff of Thought), lays lines on his listeners, role plays, sidesteps, shilly-shallies and engages in “all manner of vagueness and innuendo.” We also do as he tells us we do, without apparent thought: assume “that the speaker is rational.” Dr. Pinker’s rationality is of the Houyhnhnm variety. So Dr. Pinker is seen to be eminently intellectually gifted and full of astounding insight, as gullible Gulliver saw the Houyhnhnms.

The most insidious Houyhnhnm argument Pinker makes results in his debunking quantum mechanics. To wit:- “Some mavericks, like the mathematician Roger Penrose, suggest the answer might someday be found in quantum mechanics. But to my ear, this amounts to the feeling that quantum mechanics sure is weird, and consciousness sure is weird, so maybe quantum mechanics can explain consciousness.” Well, Einstein thought quantum mechanics was weird, too. It’s of no consequence that Einstein’s been proven wrong on this point. Of course, the logic that uses one extremist to debunk the entirety of a science and Richard Feynman is Houyhnhnm logic. Isn’t it? Gulliver was a maverick.

Dr. Pinker wishes to take the mystery out of language via scientific examination and neural explanation and, to do so, he posits that language is an instinct. . .a very mysterious thing indeed is instinct. Instinct is, I think, something that cannot be explained: it just is. And as it is, it is mysterious in its being. In his infinitely regressive method of analysis, Dr. Pinker ever reaches the point where he can explain nothing and it’s at this point that language becomes instinct (Cf. The Stuff of Thought). So, in truth, Dr. Pinker explains nothing and keeps language in the realm of the mysterious. But it sounds good. Wow! Language is built in. We’re different. The Houyhnhnm cerebration is that if I say it is thus, it is thus. And therefore it’s science.

A fool (Yahoo) might ask, “How?” and show his stupidity in thinking that debunking the mysteriousness of language by attributing it to the mysteriousness of instinct is ridiculous. . .if not mysterious. Even so, Dr. Pinker cannot explain the languaging of deaf people or Koko the gorilla–unless his definition of language is in its speaking; that language is not language unless it’s spoken. Which makes writing not language, maybe?

Again in “Can’t find the words? Make ’em up,” Dr. Pinker resorts to Houyhnhnm-specious thinking in his Chinese example of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via the Chinese for light in weight (qīng 轻) and heavy (zhòng 重). However, qīng has many meanings in Chinese, such as light green, clear and innocent. So does zhòng:  middle, hit, numerous.  In Chinese, mostly, the sound of the word is just the sound, but the pitch changes the meaning. For instance, qīng 青 (light green), qīng 请 (please), qīng 清 (clear, usually referring to river, stream, lake), qíng 情 (passion). All “qing.” All have the sound “qing,” But their meanings have nothing to do with each other. The implication Pinker is making is that there is a parallel between sound and meaning that holds across the language and, therefore, all languages (even though he debunks this in The Stuff of Thought). It doesn’t. Especially as Chinese is a tonal language. Dr. Pinker is not aware, apparently, that there are at least nine characters in Chinese with the pronunciation of qīng (first tone); some do not have opposites.

If a Yahoo looks at large (dà 大) and small (xiăo 小) he might find that, yes, da is the strong fourth downward tone but xiao is the sing-song third tone. Not only this but da changes its tone with usage, that is, in context. And what are we to make of inside (nèi 内) and outside (wài 外) or up (shàng 上) and down (xià 下)? These opposites are the same tone. Using Pinker’s Houyhnhnm mind, we can easily take gāoxìng (高兴happy) as, at best, so-so and bēishāng (悲伤sad) as good feeling. This is ridiculous. Gāo 高 (high) and dī 低 (low) are both high tones but, according to Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm theorizing, mean differently, that is, dī cannot be low because its tone is high. What is worse, we can take bái 白 (white) as the same as hēi 黑 (black), that is, as white, because black is dark and the tone is not: if we follow Pinker’s statement, then we confound black and white. It’s a terrible Yahoo argument, of course, for how could a top Houyhnhnm psychologist lead his readers to confuse black and white, right and wrong?

There are only four tones in Chinese (five if you count the neutral tone), so onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via tones is extremely limited and apparently has little to do with sound meaning, according to the Yahoo Chinese who developed their language. Further, all these also challenge “families of words share a teeny snatch of sound and a teeny shred of meaning.” In Chinese, word families share a shape, not necessarily a sound or meaning. For instance, the shape family of ku口 (mouth) yields gē哥 (song), dīng叮 (mosquito bite), jiā加 (add), nà呐 (no meaning by itself), xuān喧 (noisy), zào噪 (chirp, as with insects or birds)–just a few of the 300+ kŏu口family characters.

This association of sound with meaning is the kind of thing we used to do as children and laugh about. Dr. Pinker, here, is making a Houyhnhnm-specious argument. He also does not speak or read Chinese–nor does his audience, which is why he can get away with such a Houyhnhnm statement. Further, generalizing from one instance to the entire corpus is intellectually indefensible. Factual errors on the part of an academician and scientist are not acceptable. Though, perhaps, the superior mentation of Houyhnhnms can be forgiven.

Except that in the early part of the 20th century, the onomatopoetic theory of language had already been disproven by linguists and philosophers, though, of course, for many modern doctorate holders, that’s ancient history: it is often the case that, in scholarly writing–especially dissertations–references more than 5-10 years old are verboten. Not only history is lost in this way but knowledge. Yet, Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s universal grammar theory and that was put forth in the early part of the 20th century. A conundrum, to be sure. Indeed, “the names which occur in human speech cannot be interpreted in any such invariable manner. They are not designed to refer to substantial things, independent entities which exist by themselves. They are determined rather by human interests and human purposes. But these interests are not fixed and invariable. Nor are the classifications to be found in human speech made at random; they are based on certain constant and recurring elements in our sense experience” (Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 134). It seems, then, that Dr. Pinker is taking words not only out of context but isolating them as individual units and attempting to build a theory of language from these bits and pieces that have no relationship to each other and no relationship to use or culture. There is no juxtaposition. For Dr. Pinker, words are, well, just words. They don’t appear with other words and they don’t change their meaning in association with other words. Writers, those picayune Muse-inspired applied linguists par excellence, who are never taken into account by linguists as knowing anything at all about language (and therefore never consulted or, heaven forbid, studied), know this to be untrue. Indeed, for Natalie Goldberg, this is a major aspect of writing: words rub up against each other and change their meaning or connotation (Cf. Wild Mind). And Gendlin’s theories are based on contextual usage (Cf. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit and other writings). Dr. Pinker seems to be measuring language–and he seems to be confounding la langue withla parole–as if it were a scientific thing, a state of being, and this is not possible. He is trying to deduce the characteristics of an electron solely by figuring out where it is and how big it is. It and its action, its behavior when moving in context, are different things. But, then, that’s quantum mechanics and that’s already been displaced into File 13 by Dr. Pinker.

Thus, as the name of an object has little to do with the truth of the object but, rather, emphasizes particular aspects of the object, we come across the many words for “snow” in certain Eskimo languages and “hit” in some Amerindian languages and the various counters in Japanese for different entities: long and thin (hon本), round (ko個), flat (mai枚), people (nin人). Or, if we look at the moon, as Washington Irving did in his History of New York, we find that the Greek word mēn emphasizes its measure of time while the Latin word luna, luc-na refers to its brightness.

But even more to the point, Chinese words are made of two characters, for the most part. In fact, in Chinese, a single character does not often have meaning. So, what does he make of bō 玻 and lí 璃, which have no meaning when in isolation but when used together, as in bōlí 玻璃, which means “glass.” There are many similar examples, such as pútáo 葡萄 (grape), yīngsù罂桃 (opium), luòtuó 骆驼 (camel), pángxiè 螃蟹 (crab), to name a few words in which the individual characters (the first ones in this instance) are meaningless by themselves.

This fact also challenges Dr. Pinker’s statement that “long words may be used for things that are big or coarse, staccato words for things that are sharp or quick.” “Staccato” and “ratatatat” are long words–and staccato–yet are for sharp or quick sounds. There is nothing short here, which is the implication in Dr. Pinker’s thesis above. The problem is that almostall Chinese words are short, which means, according to Dr. Pinker, that Chinese cannot talk about big and coarse things. Actually, Chinese can: let’s see. . .zhéxué 哲学 (philosophy) and zhū 猪 (pig)–that’s big; xīnguì 新贵 (parvenu) and cūsù 粗俗 (vulgar)–that’s coarse. Taking into account all these factors, we can safely come to the conclusion that Dr. Pinker’s theory is as right as he thinks because it is appropriate to Dr. Pinker’s thinking, which is Houyhnhnm thinking.

Dr. Pinker’s definition of onomatopoeia is that it is solely sound-based; but in Japanese there are two major types: giseigo and gitaigo, the latter referring to actions. A third group, of which gōtcha-gōtcha is a good example, refers to states of being (upset stomach or being mixed up in this instance). In Chinese, onomatopoeia is used, mainly, for giving strong impressions, expressing things realistically and representing the rhythms of various activities.* Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, yet he cannot uphold this thesis in Chinese or Japanese. But Dr. Pinker is a cutting edge Houyhnhnmist!

Dr. Pinker also notes that most “sn~” words refer to the snout (nose). This kind of assertion plays because: 1) he’s an authority; and 2) no one’s going to actually count all those words. . .except for a second language learner who counted and found 60% of the “sn~” words in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary had nothing to do with the nose. Not a very worthwhile observation, of course, as students are your penultimate Yahoos.

In his The Language Instinct, Dr. Pinker engages in the most egregious Houyhnhnm analysis of how children gain an understanding of how to use language given that they are not open to hearing constant repetitions of patterns: he shows us how they, children, use higher intellectual functioning to come to a conclusion, his conclusion. In truth, children are incapable of even the simplest of arithmetic computations. Not only do children not have this ability to logically analyze backwards from a given until they are much older, Pinker is going about his explanation backwards, as if the end product is the cause when it is more probably the effect of the learning (Cf. Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species, for a different take on this).

Dr. Pinker first slides around issues by using ifs, shoulds, coulds–suppositions that assume much but prove nothing.  “[C]hildren should start off assuming that their language requires the largest possible governing category, and then to shrink the possibilities inward as they hear the telltale sentences” resulting in “this subtle pattern of predictions.” But they already don’t hear constant repetition. Children are also supposed to “assume, by default, that languages have a fixed constituent order. They would back off from that prediction if and only if they hear alternative word orders, which indicate that the language does permit constituent order freedom. The alternative is that the child could assume that the default case was constituent order freedom.” [Bolded words not in the original.] Eh? “Constituent order freedom”? What kind of children does he know? Children who can classify at age 2 or 3?

Dr. Pinker is thinking, it seems, that children have the same mental agility as he, an adult Houyhnhnm, and can engage in axiom-making and assumption-getting that go with higher inductive and deductive reasoning. He is having children reason as an adult Houyhnhnm might. This is fallacious reasoning. One that, perhaps, Jonathan Swift perhaps might could have used in Gulliver’s Travels or any of his other satires. Children can’t add one and one, Dr. Pinker. Children can’t tell that 10 cc of liquid in a short, round glass is the same as 10 cc of liquid in a tall, thin glass. Unless, perhaps, of course, they are Houyhnhnm children, little people full of horse sense. Again that ancient philosopher of language, Ernst Cassirer: “If a child when learning to talk had simply to learn a certain vocabulary, if he only had to impress on his mind and memory a great mass of artificial and arbitrary sounds, this would be a purely mechanical process.” But, of course, Dr. Pinker does believe that the brain is only involved in mechanical processing. However,

It would be very laborious and tiresome, and would require too great conscious effort for the child to make without a certain reluctance since what he is expected to do would be entirely disconnected from actual biological needs. The ‘hunger for names’. . .reminds us that we are here confronted with a quite different problem. By learning to name things a child does not simply add a list of artificial signs to his previous knowledge of ready-made empirical objects. He learns rather to form the concepts of those objects, to come to terms with the objective world. . . . And language, taken as a whole, becomes the gateway to a new world. All progress here opens a new perspective and widens and enriches our concrete experience (Essay on Man, p. 132).

 

So it would seem that learning all of these words is learning an objective world. As Suzanne Langer posits in many of her writings, especially Mind, the brain’s job is to find meaning.

The brain we humans have took millions of years to evolve but the language we use evolved (evolves) in hundreds or thousands of years. So, language cannot be an evolution-dependent item, as Dr. Pinker posits. But it could be, as Dr. Deacon notes, a co-evolutionary item, à la Baldwinian evolution/selection (Cf. The Symbolic Species). But Dr. Terrence Deacon is not among the media’s edge-defying Houyhnhnm scientists. Who knows why. Perhaps because he’s not colorful enough. Or maybe he’s too fond of gorillas, especially gorillas that symbolize (Koko). And gorillas are a lower life form. They are not Houyhnhnms. And–horror upon horror!–Dr. Deacon consults with Koko.

Dr. Pinker does not like Dr. Deacon. Actually, Dr. Pinker doesn’t seem to like anyone who doesn’t think as he does. This becomes obvious in The Stuff of Thought, especially as he cites himself 20 times, twice as often as any other writer/theorist–and Terrence Deacon not at all. His weight in the corpus of linguists around the world is evident via their not citing him at all in their work.

But Steven Pinker is colorful and animated and popular and that’s what’s needed in selling a Houyhnhnm science. As long as it sounds great, it’s good. As long as it’s making fame and fortune for a previously unknown psychologist, it’s cutting edge.

It is of no account that the Yahoos in the Old West called these kinds of people con-men or snake oil salesmen and Medievalists charlatans. They are not, of course, Houyhnhnms and, therefore, jealous in their jibes.

_______________

 

Works Cited

Books

Cassirer, Ernst. An Essay on Man. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944.

Deacon, Terrence W. The Symbolic Species: the co-evolution of language and the brain.New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.

Deutsch, David. The Fabric of Reality. New York; Penguin Brooks, 1997.

Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies. New York: Harper & Row, Pubs., 1970.

Gendlin, Eugene. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1997.

Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind. New York: Bantam, 1990.

Langer, Suzanne. Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling (3 vols.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967-1982.

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1994.

__________. The Stuff of Thought. London: Allen Lane, 2007.

Popper, Karl. Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge Classics, 1969.

__________. Unended Quest. London: Routledge Classics, 1994.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. London: xx, 16xx.

Toulman, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Vonnegut, Kurt. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater. New York: Dell Publishing, 1965.

Internet

Brockman, John. Edge. http://www.edge.org/

Pinker, Steven. Can’t find the words? Make ’em up at http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article2474562.ece

__________. The Mystery of Consciousness at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394,00.html

__________. Words Don’t Mean What They Mean at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1659772,00.html

 

*Huang Jia’ning is a tri-lingual interpreter: Chinese-English-Japanese. It is thanks to his input that I was able to discuss the problems with interlanguage onomatopoeia, despite my years in both China and Japan. Also, Zhu Li’an is a Level II Interpreter with international experience and a publishing history, including a new translation of Oscar Wilde’s work. We worked together to refine this information.

In case you are wondering who I am, a long time social activist and playwright growing up in the theatre of the late 60s and 70s, I fell in love with absurdism. This has continued into prose and got me notoriety during my doctoral years in a school that was conventional and traditional and not much interested in the outside world. I took this into Japanese theatre. Along the way, doctoral studies opened up a slew of doors so that, for me, it was not a terminal degree but a beginning place for further studies: history, language, comparative lit, comparative religion. And I lived in Japan and China for a total of 12 years, so some cultural overlay shows up in my writing. More of me can be found at https://talesofthefloatingworld.wordpress.com and https://branded.me/james-secor. Otherwise, I’m a virtual unknown.

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4 thoughts on “Steven Pinker’s Linguistic Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal: an essay on thinking by James L. Secor, Ph.D.

  1. James L. Secor

    Most people just don’t know. His arguments sound great until you look at how he argues: he picks one point from the masters and ridicules it no end, then, when he puts for the his idea, it sounds good. Getting away with the Chinese was easy: no one in general really knows. He’s an arrogant ass–from my dealings with him; and he never ever has done any experiments or studies. His PhD is in Psychology (Harvard), but not a practicing psychologist, just a teacher. The reviews of his books in the NYT Review of books are damning. For my cynical self, he kind of proves that Americans prefer–even love–pseudo-intellectuals. I started not watching TED talks after I saw him on stage.

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  2. Micki Peluso

    Intriguing article, James, one I will read again. The fact that the mind and brain are two different parts of the human, the mind perhaps containing the essence or soul of the being. Lots to think about with this one. Well done.

    Micki

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