Fighting over font-change semantics

Philosopher Patricia Churchland wrote a damning review of Steven Pinker’s new book, ‘The Stuff of Thought’, for Nature and it’s caused a bit of a rumble.

One particular highlight was that she described a theory from Pinker’s book, that suggests that language and thought can refer to meaning in a similar way, as:

…about as applicable to real meaning as ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ is to real life. Aptly ridiculed by critics as ‘font-change semantics’, the theory still has its disciples. Including Steven Pinker.

Apart from showing a woeful misunderstanding of Dungeons and Dragons, Churchland also failed to notice that Pinker had never proposed this theory in his book. In fact, his book argues against it.

In this week’s Nature, psychologist Marc Hauser writes in to say Churchland doesn’t seem to have read the book, and Pinker comes back with his own rebuke:

The book apparently stimulated the reviewer to free-associate to her own beliefs that psychological phenomena can be explained at the level of neurons and that human thinking is in the service of motor control. The fact that I (like most cognitive psychologists) have not signed up to these views is the only point of contact between my book and her review.

While definitely being more entertaining than your average book review , it doesn’t even come close to matching the slanging match between Hans Eyesenck and Stephen Jay Gould, where they ending up arguing over the ‘relative exposure of our respective arses’ in The New York Review of Books.

2 thoughts on “Fighting over font-change semantics”

  1. In my humble opinion, Churhland is right in reveal the implicit message Mr. Pinker tries to send in his book about what actually is the evolutionary escenario relating language and cogniton.
    Mr. Pinker thoughts language and cognition overlap, that is, the neural systems suberserving cogntion are the same of those neural systems suberving cognition and even tries to claim language is the basis of cognition.
    Churchland also traces very well the intelectual path and lineage of Mr. Pinker who is the most adhere to the “cogntive point of view” in language, defending what in philosophy is known as “sentential propositionalism”.
    The chain of authors adhering to this stand point of view is the following: Chomsky-Fodor-Pinker.
    Churchland just only argues that we have to pay more attention to neurobiology in linguistic studies and in this respect “motor” performance becomes first then cognition (in the service to action) and then language (as a recursive system sharing many commonalities with motor systems)

  2. I would like to say in the second paragraph:
    “Mr. Pinker thoughts language and cognition overlap, that is, the neural systems suberserving cogntion are the same of those neural systems suberving language and even tries to claim language is the basis of cognition.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s