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Steven Pinker Quotes

Steven Arthur Pinker

Steven Pinker quotes: on language, the mind, and human nature.

“Each of us is dealt a unique hand of tastes and aptitudes, like curiosity, ambition, empathy, a thirst for novelty or for security, a comfort level with the social or the mechanical or the abstract. Some opportunities we come across click with our constitutions and set us along a path in life.”

“Reason is just a means to an end, and the end depends on the reasoner’s passions.”

“Recall that intelligence is the pursuit of goals in the face of obstacles.”

“Without goals the very concept of intelligence is meaningless.”

“Being smarter gives you a tailwind throughout life. People who are more intelligent earn more, live longer, get divorced less, are less likely to get addicted to alcohol and tobacco, and their children live longer.”

“Smarter people tend to think more like economists.”

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

“Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

“If you give people literacy, bad ideas can be attacked and experiments tried, and lessons will accumulate.”

“Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity’s highest callings.”

“A successful learner must be constrained to draw some conclusions from the input and not others.”

“Language surely does affect our thoughts, rather than just labeling them for the sake of labeling them. Most obviously, language is the conduit through which people share their thoughts and intentions and thereby acquire the knowledge, customs, and values of those around them.”

“Humans are so innately hardwired for language that they can no more suppress their ability to learn and use language than they can suppress the instinct to pull a hand back from a hot surface.”

“Parents provide their children with genes as well as an environment, so the fact that talkative parents have kids with good language skills could simply mean that and that the same genes that make parents talkative make children articulate.”

Words let us say the things we want to say and also things we would be better off not having said. They let us know the things we need to know, and also things we wish we didn’t.”

“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.”

“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.”

“The more you think about and interact with other people, the more you realize that it is untenable to privilege your interests over theirs, at least not if you want them to listen to you. You can’t say that ‘my interests are special compared to yours’ any more than you can say that ‘the particular spot that I am standing on is a unique part of the universe because I happen to be standing on it that very minute.'”

“If you aren’t just brought up in your tribe but interact with other people either directly or vicariously, through journalism and literature, you see what life is like from other points of view and are less likely to demonize them or dehumanize others and more likely to empathize with them.”

“Anything that makes it easier to imagine trading places with someone else increases your moral consideration for that other person.”

“I think the reason that swearing is both so offensive and so attractive is that it is a way to push people’s emotional buttons, and especially their negative emotional buttons. Because words soak up emotional connotations and are processed involuntarily by the listener, you can’t will yourself not to treat the word in terms of what it means.”

“People know there is a difference between what you do and what you accept. There is a difference between me knowing that people swear, me hearing people swear and me swearing, and everyone accepting that this is something you can do as much as you like.”

“All our behaviors are a result of neurophysiological activity in the brain. There is no reason to believe there is any magic going on.”

“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.”

“Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose.”

“The starting point for becoming a good writer is to be a good reader. Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks.”

“Good writing takes advantage of a reader’s expectations of where to go next. It accompanies the reader on a journey, or arranges the material in a logical sequence (general to specific, big to small, early to late), or tells a story with a narrative arc.”

“The key is to assume that your readers are as intelligent and sophisticated as you are, but that they happen not to know something you know.”

“I learned to focus my energy on high-quality, long-term projects rather than lower-quality projects with quicker payoffs.”

“I teach classes 28 weeks of the year, but the rest of the time I do research and write books.”

“My laptop has freed me to travel.”

“And no, the extra years of life will not be spent senile in a rocking chair. Of course the longer you live, the more of those years you’ll live as an older person, with its inevitable aches and pains. But bodies that are better at resisting a mortal blow are also better at resisting the lesser assaults of disease, injury, and wear.”

“It makes no sense to scrimp all your life so that you can have one hell of a ninetieth birthday bash.”

“What is progress? You might think that the question is so subjective and culturally relative as to be forever unanswerable. In fact, it’s one of the easier questions to answer. Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony. All these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress.”

“In our society, the best predictor of a man’s wealth is his wife’s looks, and the best predictor of a woman’s looks is her husband’s wealth.”

“Happy people live in the present; those with meaningful lives have a narrative about their past and a plan for the future.”

“We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or naive to work toward a better one.”

“Knowing there is a world that will outlive you, there are people whose well-being depends on how you live your life, affects the way you live your life, whether or not you directly experience those effects. You want to be the kind of person who has the larger view, who takes other people’s interests into account, who’s dedicated to the principles that you can justify, like justice, knowledge, truth, beauty and morality.”

“I would argue that nothing gives life more purpose than the realization that every moment of consciousness is a precious and fragile gift.”

Related: Adam Grant quotes.

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