Over at Gene Expression, “Darth Quixote’s” (George Menard’s rewriting of Cervantes? That’s a bad joke, isn’t it?) 10-question interview with Steven Pinker was posted today. You can read it here. The questions are pretty good, for the most part, and Pinker’s answers are interesting. I agree with Pinker on the issue of politics getting in the way of science, whether the politics are right-wing or left. I have no problem with research on potentially innate differences between populations, in part because I think the political implications of the results will be dictated by pre-existing biases, and not the actual results. So, if it turns out that the distribution of intelligence as measured by, say, IQ is different from that of another, those of us on the left and people on the right will continue to hold their current positions on race. Mine is that people should be treated as individuals, not as members of a race, and that won’t change (the same goes for gender, religious group, ethnicity, or whatever), and no foreseeable empirical finding will change that.
His answer to the last question, about his next book, is intriguing. In it, he hints that he’s going to answer some major philosophical questions (color me skeptical). His answer:
The subtitle of the book is “Language as a Window Into Human Nature,” and The Stuff of Thought deals with many aspects of human cognitive and social evolution–how a mind that evolved to think about rocks and plants and enemies can invent physics and math and democracy; why people impose taboos on topics like sex and excretion and the divine; why they threaten and bribe and seduce in such byzantine ways. I also discuss many real-world applications of semantics–words that have impeached one president and that many feel should impeach another; language that continues to embroil the Middle East; whether Democrats can win back the White House by winning the metaphor wars; whether language traps us in a self-referential circle (as the postmodernists believe) or offers us contact with truth and reality.
I wonder to what extent he and I are on the same side of the “metaphor wars” divide.” I can only hope that this won’t be another book telling people that we think in Lakoffian metaphors, though I have seen nothing in Pinker’s work to imply that he takes cognitive linguistics all that seriously.