Tag: Steven Pinker

Why Are We the Way We Are? Renowned Psychologist Explains in Lawrence University Convocation

Acclaimed author and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, whose views on the role of biology in determining human behavior has produced best selling books and raised scientific eyebrows, discusses the concept of nature vs. nurture Tuesday, Jan. 20 in a Lawrence University convocation. Pinker presents “The Blank Slate” at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. He also will conduct a question and-answer session at 2 p.m. in Riverview Lounge of the Lawrence Memorial Union. Both events are free and open to the public.

Widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading experts on the workings of the human mind, Pinker sparked widespread debate with his latest book, “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction in 2003 and recipient of the American Psychological Association’s William James Book Prize and the Eleanor Maccoby Book Award.

In “The Blank Slate,” he explores why what he says is the extreme position — that cultural and environmental influences are everything — is so often seen as moderate and the moderate position — that human behavior is innate — is seen as extreme. According to Pinker, the brain at birth is not simply a blank slate but a genetic history of humankind.

As an experimental psychologist, Pinker’s early interests focused on visual cognition and language, particularly language development in children. In 1994, he published the first of his four books, “The Language Instinct,” in which he made the case that language is a biological adaptation. The New York Times Book Review included it on its Editor’s Choice list of the 10 best books of that year.

In 1997, Pinker explained how people think, feel, laugh, question and enjoy in his second book, “How the Mind Works,” which became a best-seller, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was named one of the 10 best books of the decade by Amazon.com. Two years later, he published “Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language,” which chronicles his research on regular and irregular verbs as a way of explaining how human language works.

A native of Montreal, where he earned his undergraduate degree at McGill University, Pinker, 49, has spent much of his academic career bouncing between the psychology departments of Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he conducted a postdoctoral fellowship. After a year of teaching at Harvard, he returned to MIT in 1982, where he remained until last year, returning to Harvard as the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology.

In addition to his numerous book awards, Pinker has been named one of the “100 Americans for the Next Century” by Newsweek magazine and been a recipient of the National Academy of Sciences’ Troland Award and the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award.

Lawrence University Convocation Series Explores the Mind, the Environment, Personal Inspiration and Our Funny Bone

Humorist David Sedaris, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, best-selling author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (SARK) and environmental historian William Cronon will visit the Lawrence University campus in the coming year as part of the college’s 2003-2004 convocation series.

Richard Warch, who begins his 25th and final year as Lawrence University president, opens the convocation series Thursday Sept. 25 with his annual matriculation address. All convocations are held in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel and are free and open to the public.

Sedaris, an author, playwright and National Public Radio commentator, will break with Lawrence convocation tradition with a rare evening appearance when he speaks Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 7:10 p.m. Convocations are typically held at 11:10 a.m.

A regular contributor to Esquire magazine, Sedaris was named humorist of the year in 2001 by Time magazine and is a past recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor. He is the author of several best-selling books, including “Barrel Fever,” and “Holidays on Ice.” His most recent book, “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” is a series of humorous autobiographical essays.

Pinker, professor of psychology at the Center for Cognitive Neurosciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presents “The Blank Slate” on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Named one of the “100 Americans for the Next Century” by Newsweek magazine, Pinker is considered one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists. His book, “How the Mind Works,” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998 and his most recent work, 2002’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature,” has thrust Pinker to the forefront of public debate about human nature and the development of the human mind.

SARK, a frequent guest on National Public Radio, presents “Make Your Creative Dreams Real” on Thursday, March 4. She has written 11 personal growth, inspiration and creativity books, including the 1997 self-help best-seller “Succulent Wild Women.” She wrote her first book at the age of 10, and currently has more than two million books in print. She was featured in the PBS series, “Women of Wisdom and Power” and the documentary film, “The World According to SARK.”

On Tuesday, May 25, Cronon headlines Lawrence’s annual Honors Convocation with the address “The Portage: History and Memory in the Making.”

The Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1992, Cronon studies American environmental history and the history of human interactions with the natural world. He has written four books including “Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West,” which earned Cronon the 1992 Bancroft Prize as the best work of American history published during the previous year and was one of three nominees for the Pulitzer Prize in History, and 1995’s “Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature.”

Cronon was named a Rhodes Scholar as an undergraduate at UW-Madison, and has since been honored as a Danforth Fellow and as a Guggenheim Fellow. In 1985, he was awarded one of the MacArthur Foundation’s prestigious “genius grants.”