quotes from how the mind works

August 19, 2010
I just finished Steven Pinkers excellent "How The Mind Works" -- in reading it electronic form I made a backlog of quotes from it, often him quoting others but some new passages as well...

"Friday is covering Saturday and Sunday so I can't have Saturday and Sunday if I don't go through Friday."
--Preschooler in a study by psychologist Melissa Bowerman, showing how children spontaneously develop there own space and motion metaphors

"I don't like spinach, and I'm glad I don't, because if I liked it I would eat it, and I just hate it."
--Charles Darrow

"No, but for two brothers or eight cousins."
--Biologist J.B.S.Haldane when asked if he would lay down his life for his brother... genetic humor!

"It takes a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange so far as to ask 'why' of any instinctive human act."
--William James

"If there were a verb meaning 'to believe falsely,' it would not have any significant first person, present indicative."
--Ludwig Wittgenstein

"There's one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him; if he says yes, you know he's crooked."
--Mark Twain

"Was it a millionaire who said 'Imagine no possessions'?"
--Elvis Costello

"Natural selection does not forbid cooperation and generosity; it just makes them difficult engineering problems, like stereoscopic vision."
--Steven Pinker

Parental love causes the fundamental paradox of politics: no society can be simultaneously fair, free, and equal. If it is fair, people who work harder can accumulate more. If it is free, people will give their wealth to their children. But then it cannot be equal, for some people will inherit wealth they did not earn. Ever since Plato called attention to these tradeoffs in The Republic, most political ideologies can be defined by the stance they take on which of these ideals should yield.
--Steven Pinker

In the laboratory, some early experiments claimed that men and women showed identical physiological arousal to a pornographic passage. The men, however, showed a bigger response to the neutral passage in the control condition than the women showed to the pornography. The so-called neutral passage, which had been chosen by the female investigators, described a man and a woman chatting about the relative merits of an anthropology major over pre-med. The men found it highly erotic!
--Steven Pinker. This says so much to be about the male condition. Like Susan Sarandon's character says in "Bull Durham", "a guy'll listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay"...

"Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing."
--H.L. Mencken

The conclusion of the book was a pitch for the idea that maybe brains aren't smart enough to understand themselves; that we're darn lucky to be able to figure out so much of the universe, from atomic theory to art, with a brain that was basically setup to help us navigate complex social relationships and manage hunting and gathering... as he puts it:

We can well imagine creatures with fewer cognitive faculties than we have: dogs to whom our language sounds like "Blah-blah-blah-Ginger-blah-blah," rats that cannot learn a maze with food in the prime-numbered arms, autistics who cannot conceive of other minds, children who cannot understand what all the fuss around sex is all about, neurological patients who see every detail in a face except whose it is, stereoblind people can understand a stereogram as a problem in geometry but cannot see it pop out in depth. If stereoblind people did not know better, they might call 3-D vision a miracle, or claim that it just is and needs no explanation, or write it off as some kind of trick.

So why should there not be creatures with more cognitive faculties than we have, or with different ones? They might readily grasp how free will and consciousness emerge from a brain and how meaning and morality fit into the universe, and would be amused by the religious and philosophical headstands we do to make up for our blankness when facing these problems. They could try to explain the solutions to us, but we would not understand the explanations.
--Steven Pinker, "How The Mind Works"
Wish I had someone who was an advocate for divs vs tables, layout-wise, and not sick of arguing about it. To me it seems that tables provide a robust, flexible, "stretchy" grid-style layout, and avoid some of the weird alignment crap you can get into with float and overflow issues with div-- but I hate designers thinking I'm sort of Web 1.0 baboon for thinking this way. It's not like I'm advocating giving up CSS styling...
Skywriters at the Public Garden- it says INTL AIRSHOW- you know skywriting is cool but the dot-matrix type seems a bit lazy...