CAS Hosts Aiken Lecture Speaker Steven Pinker
- By Craig E Wells
Known for his verve, his wit, and his profound ideas--many of them explained by referencing pop culture--Steven Pinker helps non-specialists understand the science behind human thought and action. This ground-breaking talk will take place on Thursday, October 10 at 5:00 PM in Ira Allen Chapel. Pinker will explore the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world.
Pinker, a Harvard College Professor and the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology, is an experimental psychologist who is interested in all aspects of language and mind. Much of his initial research was in visual cognition, the ability to imagine shapes, recognize faces and objects, and direct attention within the visual field. But beginning in graduate school he cultivated an interest in language, particularly language development in children, and this topic eventually took over his research activities. Aside from his experimental papers in language and visual cognition, he wrote two fairly technical books early in his career. One outlined a theory of how children acquire the words and grammatical structures of their mother tongue. The second focused on one aspect of this process, the ability to use different kinds of verbs in appropriate sentences, such as intransitive verbs, transitive verbs, and verbs taking different combinations of complements and indirect objects. For the next two decades his research focused on the distinction between irregular verbs like bring-brought and regular verbs like walk-walked. The reason is that the two kinds of verbs neatly embody the two processes that make language possible: looking up words in memory, and combining words (or parts of words) according to rules. He has also studied language development in twins and the neuroimaging of language processes in the brain, and has recently begun lines of research on the nature of reminding and on the function of innuendo and other forms of indirect speech.