La concepción que podamos tener de la naturaleza humana afecta a todos los aspectos de nuestra vida, desde la forma en que educamos a nuestros hijos hasta las ideas políticas que defendemos. Sin embargo, en un momento en que la ciencia está avanzando espectacularmente en estos temas, muchas personas se muestran hostiles al respecto. Temen que los descubrimientos sobre los patrones innatos del pensar y el sentir se puedan emplear para justificar la desigualdad, subvertir el orden social, anular la responsabilidad...
La concepción que podamos tener de la naturaleza humana afecta a todos los aspectos de nuestra vida, desde la forma en que educamos a nuestros hijos hasta las ideas políticas que defendemos. Sin embargo, en un momento en que la ciencia está avanzando espectacularmente en estos temas, muchas personas se muestran hostiles al respecto. Temen que los descubrimientos sobre los patrones innatos del pensar y el sentir se puedan emplear para justificar la desigualdad, subvertir el orden social, anular la responsabilidad personal y confundir el sentido y el propósito de la vida.
En La tabla rasa, Steven Pinker explora la idea de la naturaleza humana y sus aspectos éticos, emocionales y políticos. Demuestra que muchos intelectuales han negado su existencia al defender tres dogmas entrelazados: la “tabla rasa” (la mente no tiene características innatas), el “buen salvaje” (la persona nace buena y la sociedad la corrompe) y el “fantasma en la máquina” (todos tenemos un alma que toma decisiones sin depender de la biología). Cada dogma sobrelleva una carga ética, y por eso sus defensores se obcecan en tácticas desesperadas para desacreditar a los científicos que los cuestionan.
Pinker aporta calma y serenidad a estos debates al mostrar que la igualdad, el progreso, la responsabilidad y el propósito nada tienen que temer de los descubrimientos sobre la complejidad de la naturaleza humana. Con un razonamiento claro, sencillez en la exposición y ejemplos procedentes de la ciencia y la historia, el autor desmonta incluso las amenazas más inquietantes. Y demuestra que un reconocimiento de la naturaleza humana basado en la ciencia y el sentido común, lejos de ser peligroso, puede ser un complemento a las ideas sobre la condición humana que miles de miles de artistas y filósofos han generado. Todo ello aderezado con un estilo que, en sus obras anteriores, le sirvió para conseguir muchos premios y el aplauso internacional: ingenio, lucidez y agudeza en el análisis de todos los asuntos, sean grandes o pequeños.
Besides challenging conventional wisdom about how we think, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has a talent for conveying his findings about the brain, language and perception with a clarity and cleverness that has brought him a following outside his field.
"When a gifted scientist and a gifted writer are all in one, you have Steven Pinker," writes fellow cognitive scientist Michael S. Gazzaniga. With his crisp prose style and zany, pop culture-inflected sense of humor, the MIT psychology professor has become famed for his ability to turn something like a discussion of regular and irregular verb forms into a rollicking good read.
As a psychology student at McGill University in Montreal, Pinker was drawn to the emergent field of cognitive science: "I found alluring the combination of psychology, computer science, artificial intelligence, the philosophy of mind, and linguistics," he said in a Scientific American interview. He earned his Ph.D. at Harvard, where his mentor was the psychology professor Roger Brown, who was a pioneer in the study of language acquisition and one of the first to apply Noam Chomsky's theories of language to field research. After accepting a post at MIT in 1982, Pinker began studying language acquisition in children, amassing enough data to demonstrate that children have an inborn facility for language.
Pinker's academic works on language development were admired by many of his peers, but in 1994 he soughtand gaineda broader audience with The Language Instinct, which suggests that human language is a biological adaptation, like web-spinning in spiders, rather than (as it is sometimes seen) a cultural invention, like the wheel. Pinker's lively and engaging treatise held tremendous appeal for a popular audience. Michael Coe, writing in The New York Times, called The Language Instinct "A brilliant, witty and altogether satisfying book."
But if humans have an instinct for language, how was that instinct acquired? That question led Pinker to the field of evolutionary psychology, and to the writing of his next book, How the Mind Works. If a particular behavior is common among humans, evolutionary psychologists reason, that behavior probably contributed to the ability of earlier humans to survive and pass along their genes. How the Mind Works, which uses this approach to examine behaviors from music-making to murder, was a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Following its release, Pinker publicly tangled with Stephen Jay Gould over the scientific legitimacy of evolutionary psychology. Although the two scientists clashed on some issues, Pinker admired Gould's ability to write entertaining explications of complex ideas"profundity with a light touch," as Pinker wrote in his Time magazine eulogy for Gould.
Pinker's next book, Words and Rules, returned to the subject of language; specifically, it explores the different mechanisms involved in learning regular and irregular verb forms. In a recent book The Blank Slate, Pinker tackled the objections some people have to a biological view of human nature. "There are fears that if you acknowledge that people are born with anything, it implies that some people have more of it than others, and therefore it would open the door to political inequality or oppression, for example," he explained in a New York Times interview. The Blank Slate is Pinker's attempt to demonstrate that there's no inherent contradiction between evolutionary psychology and the concepts of free will and moral behavior. "It's a fallacy to think that hunger and thirst and a sex drive are biological but that reasoning and decision making and learning are something else, something non-biological," he said. "They're just a different kind of biology."
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Journalists often comment on Pinker's rock-star mane of curls, and indeed Pinker once flirted with the idea of becoming a rock musician: "I have to confess that watching rock 'n' roll concerts, I did fantasize about being up on stage," he told The Guardian. "Not in the lead. I never wanted to be Mick Jagger. Maybe the bass-player or the drummer. But I never, ever played air guitar."
Research at Pinker's lab, in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, focuses on the different mental processes involved in using grammatical rules (e.g., an English plural can be formed by adding –s to the end of a noun) and using exceptions to the rules (e.g., the plural of mouse is not mouses but mice). The lab has undertaken magnetoencephalographic (MEG) studies to identify "the time course of the processing of words and rules in the brain."
Pinker was named among Newsweek's "100 Americans for the Next Century" and included in Esquire's "Register of Outstanding Men and Women."