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The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature

Language as a Window into Human Nature

Steven Pinker

Buch (Taschenbuch, Englisch)
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  • The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature

    Penguin Books UK

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    Penguin Books UK
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    Penguin Books UK

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    Allen Lane

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This New York Times bestseller is an exciting and fearless investigation of language from the author of Better Angels of Our Nature and The Sense of Style and Enlightenment Now.

"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
--The New York Times Book Review

Bestselling author Steven Pinker possesses that rare combination of scientific aptitude and verbal eloquence that enables him to provide lucid explanations of deep and powerful ideas. His previous books - including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Blank Slate - have catapulted him into the limelight as one of today's most important popular science writers. In The Stuff of Thought, Pinker presents a fascinating look at how our words explain our nature. Considering scientific questions with examples from everyday life, The Stuff of Thought is a brilliantly crafted and highly readable work that will appeal to fans of everything from The Selfish Gene and Blink to Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

"Engaging and provocative...filled with humor and fun."
-Douglas Hofstadter, Los Angeles Times

"Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him."
--Richard Dawkins

"Curious, inventive, fearless, naughty."
-New York Times Book Review

"An important and inviting book."

"There's plenty of stuff to think about, but a lot of fun stuff too."
-Boston Globe


"Unfailingly engaging to read."
--New York Review of Books

Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family professor of Psychology and Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been named one of
Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Today and
Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers. His other books include
The Better Angels of our Nature and
The Blank Slate.


Einband Taschenbuch
Seitenzahl 512
Altersempfehlung ab 18 Jahr(e)
Erscheinungsdatum 01.09.2008
Sprache Englisch
ISBN 978-0-14-311424-6
Verlag Penguin Books UK
Maße (L/B/H) 21.3/14.1/3.5 cm
Gewicht 430 g
Abbildungen b/w illustrations throughout


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    On September 11, 2001, at 8:46 A.M., a hijacked airliner crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. At 9:03 A.M. a second plane crashed into the south tower. The resulting infernos caused the buildings to collapse, the south tower after burning for an hour and two minutes, the north tower twenty-three minutes after that. The attacks were masterminded by Osama bin Laden, leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, who hoped to intimidate the United States into ending its military presence in Saudi Arabia and its support for Israel and to unite Muslims in preparation for a restoration of the caliphate.

    9/11, as the happenings of that day are now called, stands as the most significant political and intellectual event of the twenty-first century so far. It has set off debates on a vast array of topics: how best to memorialize the dead and revitalize lower Manhattan; whether the attacks are rooted in ancient Islamic fundamentalism or modern revolutionary agitation; the role of the United States on the world stage before the attacks and in response to them; how best to balance protection against terrorism with respect for civil liberties.

    But I would like to explore a lesser-known debate triggered by 9/11. Exactly how many events took place in New York on that morning in September?

    It could be argued that the answer is one. The attacks on the buildings were part of a single plan conceived in the mind of one man in service of a single agenda. They unfolded within a few minutes and yards of each other, targeting the parts of a complex with a single name, design, and owner. And they launched a single chain of military and political events in their aftermath.

    Or it could be argued that the answer is two. The north tower and the south tower were distinct collections of glass and steel separated by an expanse of space, and they were hit at different times and went out of existence at different times. The amateur video that showed the second plane closing in on the south tower as the north tower billowed with smoke makes the twoness unmistakable: in those horrifying moments, one event was frozen in the past, the other loomed in the future. And another occurrence on that day-a passenger mutiny that brought down a third hijacked plane before it reached its target in Washington-presents to the imagination the possibility that one tower or the other might have been spared. In each of those possible worlds a distinct event took place, so in our actual world, one might argue, there must be a pair of events as surely as one plus one equals two.

    The gravity of 9/11 would seem to make this entire discussion frivolous to the point of impudence. It's a matter of mere "semantics," as we say, with its implication of picking nits, splitting hairs, and debating the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. But this book is about semantics, and I would not make a claim on your attention if I did not think that the relation of language to our inner and outer worlds was a matter of intellectual fascination and real-world importance.

    Though "importance" is often hard to quantify, in this case I can put an exact value on it: three and a half billion dollars. That was the sum in dispute in a set of trials determining the insurance payout to Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center site. Silverstein held insurance policies that stipulated a maximum reimbursement for each destructive "event." If 9/11 comprised a single event, he stood to receive three and a half billion dollars. If it comprised two events, he stood to receive seven billion. In the trials, the attorneys disputed the applicable meaning of the term event. The lawyers for the leaseholder defined it in physical terms (two collapses); those for the insurance companies defined it in mental terms (one plot). There is nothing "mere" about sema