from the world's big
Humans Make Language, Language Makes Us Human
Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist interested in language as a window into the human mind. In this excerpt from his linguistics lecture for the Floating University, he illuminates some of the mysteries surrounding children’s hardwired ability to learn language.
In this excerpt from his linguistics lecture for the Floating University, Steven Pinker illuminates some of the mysteries surrounding children’s hardwired ability to learn language.
Language is so central to everything we are and do from toddlerhood on that unless you are a) a linguist or b) right now raising a toddler it’s easy to forget just how amazing our capacity to produce and decode speech actually is. For the most part, language just works – by some mysterious process, people all over the world absorb the complex, underlying rules of their native grammars and store a vast lexicon of words and idioms in long-term memory. Effortlessly, we share stories, make demands, manipulate and delight one another with language. Almost never does the conversation come to a screeching halt as someone reels from vertigo over this linguistic highwire act we’re constantly engaged in.
What's the Significance?
How is this possible? The book presents convincing statistics about the likelihood of dying by violence in different eras, and even takes into account the cataclysmic death tolls of modern wars, but the deeper questions here are how and why a significant portion of humanity has managed to “tame” itself.
If we are, on balance, a less violent, more cooperative species than when we began, language has played an enormous role in this evolution. From the “humanitarian revolution” of the Enlightenment to today’s internet-driven global integration, it is the language that enables us to share and spread transformative ideas. Our meta-examination of language has resulted in the simplified (yet powerful) languages of computers and will one day be instrumental in producing true artificial intelligence – an event that will render our world unrecognizable from the vantage point of today.
Although language is literally “second nature,” understanding how it works is the key to mastering our most valuable tool, the one that is capable of maximizing our species’ capacity for good, or for evil.
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.