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Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought" is about language. Yet - it is not just about the language. It's a deep philosophical tractate about the very nature of mind and its interaction with the world.
"Language is a window into human nature, exposing deep and universal features of our thoughts and feelings. The thoughts and feelings cannot be equated with the words themselves"
The central theme of the book is an attempt to uncover the abstract layer that our mind uses to think, to perceive, to be conscious. Going from the concepts of innate words, through polysemy, metaphors, names, and language games we play - Steven slowly makes evident the existence of deeper, more abstract, but also more precise layer of the human mind. There are numerous examples that illustrate the specific reflection of this abstract "stuff" in our language. Equally amazing is to find reflections of concepts of space, time and causality in the forms of our language.
I'm glad to notice that Pinker goes far beyond the biological interpretation of our mind. When you read "The stuff of thought" you have the impression that this author finally writes about the software our brain runs. To me - this software is the "stuff", although Pinker does not formulate such thesis.
Here is a small weakness of the book - while Pinker convinces the reader to his main argument - and the reader expects to learn more about "the stuff of thought" - he suddenly comes short on this subject.
But the book ends with fantastic chapter "Escaping the Cave" where the cave is Platon's metaphorical cave. The language is our cave, but it also can help us to escape this cave. Here lies its strength, beauty and power...
21 of 21 people found this review helpful
I loved this book! I had enjoyed "The Blank Slate" by Pinker. One of the downsides is that I used to think I was a bit of an intellectual...once you read or hear Pinker, you realize how high the bar of genuine intellect truly goes. The guy is "freakin" brilliant.
Some reviewers complained that the material was too dense for audiobook format. There were a few sections in which I found it helpful to back the story up and re-listen...but the format was fine.
Both my parents were academics and language lovers, so Pinkers obvious erudition and use of occasionally obscure verbiage was enjoyable to me, not off-putting.
The basic premise of the book is that human nature, and brain "hard-wiring" is illuminated by the way we use language.
The only reason this didn't get five stars is that I liked Bill Bryson's "A Brief History of Nearly Everything" even a bit better, and I consequently wanted to rate it even higher.
If you liked "Outliers" and appreciate genuine philisophical depth and orginality, you will like this book. Pinker knows and brings to bear on his thesis about a remarkable number of fields. Just as I felt about "The Blank Slate," my private thought was, "If I can ever be half as articulate and intellectually gifted as this guy, I would be ecstatic."
But be warned...if you are aren't willing to do just a bit of intellectual "heavy lifting" in parts, this book may not be for you. Pinker is not writing for the undergrads and underachievers here...he does not bother to dumb things down.
In summary, I learned about my own character and nature, as well as others, while thinking about ideas elucidated and spawned by this book.
It is a winner.
Port Orange, FL
18 of 18 people found this review helpful