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  1. James J. Lee & Steven Pinker, Rationales for Indirect Speech: The Theory of the Strategic Speaker.
    Speakers often do not state requests directly but employ innuendos such as Would you like to see my etchings? Though such indirectness seems puzzlingly inefficient, it can be explained by a theory of the strategic speaker, who seeks plausible deniability when he or she is uncertain of whether the hearer is cooperative or antagonistic. A paradigm case is bribing a policeman who may be corrupt or honest: A veiled bribe may be accepted by the former and ignored by the latter. (...)
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  2. Related Link & Steven Pinker, All About Evil.
    Barbarism was by no means unique to the past 100 years, Jonathan Glover tells us, but ''it is still right that much of 20th-century history has been a very unpleasant surprise.'' This was the century of Passchendaele, Dresden, Nanking, Nagasaki and Rwanda; of the Final Solution, the gulag, the Great Leap Forward, Year Zero and ethnic cleansing -- names that stand for killings in the six and seven figures and for suffering beyond comprehension. The technological progress that inspired the optimism (...)
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  3. Steven Pinker, (Adapted From €œWords and Rules†Colin Cherry Memorial Lecture 24/3/99 Imperial College, London).
    Language comes so naturally to us that we are apt to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is. Over the next hour you will sit in your chairs listening to a man make noise as he exhales. Why would you do such a thing? Not because the sounds are particularly melodious, but because the sounds convey information in the exact sequence of hisses and hums and squeaks and pops. As you recover the information, you think the thoughts that (...)
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  4. Steven Pinker, Against Nature.
     There is an old song by Tom Paxton, later made famous by Peter Paul, and Mary, in which an adult reminisces about a childhood toy: A wonder to behold it was, With many colors bright. And the moment I laid eyes on it It became my heart's delight. It went ZIP! when it moved, And POP! when it stopped, and WHIRRR! when it stood still. I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.
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  5. Steven Pinker, Evolutionary Psychology: An Exchange.
    volutionary psychology is the attempt to understand our mental faculties in light of the evolutionary processes that shaped them. Stephen Jay Gould [NYR, June 12 and June 26] calls its ideas and their proponents "foolish," "fatuous," "pathetic," "egregiously simplistic," and some twenty-five synonyms for "fanatical." Such language is not just discourteous; it is misguided, for the ideas of evolutionary psychology are not as stupid as Gould makes them out to be. Indeed, they are nothing like what Gould makes them (...)
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  6. Steven Pinker, Groups and Genes.
    My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who owned a small necktie factory on the outskirts of Montreal. While visiting them one weekend, I found my grandfather on the factory floor, cutting shapes out of irregular stacks of cloth with a fabric saw. He explained that by carving up the remnants that were left over when the neckties had been cut out and stitching them together in places that didn't show, he could get a few extra ties out of each (...)
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  7. Steven Pinker, Grammar Puss.
     Language is a human instinct.   All societies have complex language, and everywhere the languages use the same kinds of grammatical machinery like nouns, verbs, auxiliaries, and agreement. All normal children develop language without conscious effort or formal lessons, and by the age of three they speak in  fluent  grammatical  sentences, outperforming the most sophisticated computers. Brain damage or congenital conditions can make a person a linguistic savant while severely retarded, or unable to speak normally (...)
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  8. Steven Pinker, In Defense of Dangerous Ideas In Every Age, Taboo Questions Raise Our Blood Pressure and Threaten Moral Panic. But We Cannot Be Afraid to Answer Them.
    Tell us what you think This essay was first posted at Edge (www.edge.org) and is reprinted with permission. It is the Preface to the book 'What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable,' published by HarperCollins. Write to controversy@suntimes.com..
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  9. Steven Pinker, Life in the Fourth Millennium.
    People living at the start of the third millennium enjoy a world that would have been inconceivable to our ancestors living in the 100 millennia that our species has existed. Ignorance and myth have given way to an extraordinarily detailed understanding of life, matter and the universe. Slavery, despotism, blood feuds and patriarchy have vanished from vast expanses of the planet, driven out by unprecedented concepts of universal human rights and the rule of law. Technology has shrunk the globe and (...)
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  10. Steven Pinker, Strangled by Roots.
    New technologies often have unforeseeable consequences. Michael Faraday could not have anticipated the rise of the electric guitar and its effects on our culture, nor did the inventors of the laser realize they had laid the ground for a thriving industry of tattoo removal. And it is safe to say that Watson and Crick could not have foreseen a day when an analysis of Oprah Winfrey's DNA would tell her that she was descended from the Kpelle people of the Liberian (...)
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  11. Steven Pinker, The Cognitive Niche: Coevolution of Intelligence, Sociality, and Language.
    Although Darwin insisted that human intelligence could be fully explained by the theory of evolution, the codiscoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, claimed that abstract intelligence was of no use to ancestral humans and could only be explained by intelligent design. Wallace’s apparent paradox can be dissolved with two hypotheses about human cognition. One is that intelligence is an adaptation to a knowledge-using, socially interdependent lifestyle, the “cognitive niche.” This embraces the ability to overcome the evolutionary fixed defenses of (...)
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  12. Steven Pinker, The Science of Difference.
    hen I was an undergraduate in the early 1970s, I was assigned a classic paper published in Scientific American that began: "There is an experiment in psychology that you can perform easily in your home. ... Buy two presents for your wife, choosing things ... she will find equally attractive." Just ten years after those words were written, the author's blithe assumption that his readers were male struck me as comically archaic. By the early '70s, women in science were no (...)
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  13. Steven Pinker, The Seven Wonders of the World.
    In my life I will receive no greater privilege than the honorary degree from this great institution and the invitation to address you today. I am connected to McGill up, down, and sideways, by countless relatives, neighbors, friends, and students who have taught and learned here. Twenty-three years ago I took part in this ceremony when I received my bachelor's degree in psychology. Forty-five years ago I also took part in this ceremony, though I am only forty-four. Yes, my mother (...)
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  14. Steven Pinker, What the F***?
    ucking became the subject of congressional debate in 2003, after NBC broadcast the Golden Globe Awards. Bono, lead singer of the mega-band U2, was accepting a prize on behalf of the group and in his euphoria exclaimed, "This is really, really, fucking brilliant" on the air. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is charged with monitoring the nation's airwaves for indecency, decided somewhat surprisingly not to sanction the network for failing to bleep out the word. Explaining its decision, the FCC (...)
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  15. Steven Pinker & Joseph Shimron, The Nature of Regularity and Irregularity: Evidence From Hebrew Nominal Inflection.
    Most evidence for the role of regular inflection as a default operation comes from languages that confound the morphological properties of regular and irregular forms with their phonological characteristics. For instance, regular plurals tend to faithfully preserve the base’s phonology (e.g., rat-rats), whereas irregular nouns tend to alter it (e.g., mouse- mice). The distinction between regular and irregular inflection may thus be an epiphenomenon of phonological faithfulness. In Hebrew noun inflection, however, morphological regularity and phonological faithfulness can be distinguished: Nouns (...)
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  16. Steven Pinker, All About Evil.
    Glover is a moral philosopher, whose stock in trade is the hypothetical moral dilemma. (A trolley is hurtling out of control. Five workers down the track don't see it and will be killed if it continues. You can throw the switch and save them, but it will cause the death of one person standing on a spur. What should you do?) In this ''moral history of the 20th century,'' Glover deftly analyzes some of its real and terrible moral dilemmas. Is (...)
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  17. Steven Pinker, A History of Violence.
    n sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and According to historian Norman Davies, "[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just (...)
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  18. Steven Pinker, Are Your Genes to Blame?
    The discovery that genes have something to do with behavior came as a shock in an era in which people thought that the mind of a newborn was a blank slate and that anyone could do anything if only they strove hard enough. And it continues to set off alarm bells. Many people worry about a Brave New World in which parents or governments will try to re-engineer human nature. Others see genes as a threat to free will and personal (...)
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  19. Steven Pinker, Block That Metaphor!
    he field of linguistics has exported a number of big ideas to the world. They include the evolution of languages as an inspiration to Darwin for the evolution of species; the analysis of contrasting sounds as an inspiration for structuralism in literary theory and anthropology; the Whorfian hypothesis that language shapes thought; and Chomsky's theory of deep structure and universal grammar. Even by these standards, George Lakoff's theory of conceptual metaphor is a lollapalooza. If Lakoff is right, his theory can (...)
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  20. Steven Pinker, Crazy Love.
    The thought of a loved one can turn our wits upside down, ratchet up our heart rate, impel us to slay dragons and write corny songs. We may become morose, obsessive, even violent. Lovesickness has been blamed on the moon, on the devil, but whatever is behind it, it doesn't look like the behavior of a rational animal trying to survive and reproduce. But might there be a method to this amorous madness?
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  21. Steven Pinker, Decoding the Candidates.
    Next week voters will consider two major candidates for president who have spent many months talking to them. The voices and messages are familiar enough by now. But what has also become clear is that one of these two men has fought a long and losing battle with the English language.
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  22. Steven Pinker, How Do We Come Up with Words?
    The addition of vocabulary to the English language is, of course, nothing new. Every word in the dictionary was originally the brainchild of some wordsmith, lost in the mists of history, whose coinage caught on and was passed down the generations.
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  23. Steven Pinker, How Much Art Can the Brain Take?
    As if that weren't enough of a puzzle, the more biologically frivolous and vain the activity, the more people exalt it. Art, literature, and music are thought to be not just pleasurable but noble. They are the mind's best work, what makes life worth living. Why do we pursue the biologically trivial and futile and experience them as sublime? To many educated people the question seems horribly philistine, even immoral. But it is unavoidable for anyone interested in the makeup of (...)
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  24. Steven Pinker, How to Get Inside a Student's Head.
    AMBRIDGE, Mass. — The scant mention of education in President Bush's State of the Union address suggests that the administration feels its work on the subject is done, at least for now. Last year's sweeping bill was a significant achievement, but as with most federal initiatives, it dealt primarily with administrative issues like financing and achievement tests. Little attention was given to the actual process of education: how events in the classroom affect the minds of the students.
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  25. Steven Pinker, How to Think About the Mind.
    Sept. 27 issue - Every evening our eyes tell us that the sun sets, while we know that, in fact, the Earth is turning us away from it. Astronomy taught us centuries ago that common sense is not a reliable guide to reality. Today it is neuroscience that is forcing us to readjust our intuitions. People naturally believe in the Ghost in the Machine: that we have bodies made of matter and spirits made of an ethereal something. Yes, people acknowledge (...)
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  26. Steven Pinker, Language as an Adaptation to the Cognitive Niche.
    Th is chapter outlines the theory (fi rst explicitly defended by Pinker and Bloom 1990), that the human language faculty is a complex biological adaptation that evolved by natural selection for communication in a knowledgeusing, socially interdependent lifestyle. Th..
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  27. Steven Pinker, Listening Between the Lines.
    With the House of Representatives set to decide next week whether to open an impeachment inquiry, President Clinton's fate may ultimately depend on his theories of language. In his grand jury testimony, Mr. Clinton expounded on the semantics of the present tense (''It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is'') and of the words ''alone,'' ''cause'' and, most notoriously, ''sex.''.
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  28. Steven Pinker, Presidents Behaving Badly.
    Why do so many famous men gamble their reputations, their careers, and their marriages on reckless sexual encounters? It's hard to believe the "James Bond" theory, that men crave the esteem that society bestows on the dashing stud. Men try to conceal their liaisons, not advertise them, and when they fail, their reward is ridicule from Leno and Letterman, not the respect of a nation.
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  29. Steven Pinker, Regular Habits.
    Language comes so naturally to us that we are apt to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is. Over the next hour you will sit in your chairs listening to a man make noise as he exhales. Why would you do such a thing? Not because the sounds are particularly melodious, but because the sounds convey information in the exact sequence of hisses and hums and squeaks and pops. As you recover the information, you think the thoughts that (...)
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  30. Steven Pinker, Racist Language, Real and Imagined.
    Last week David Howard, an aide to the Mayor of Washington, resigned after a staff meeting in which he called his budget ''niggardly.'' A colleague thought he had used a racial epithet, though in fact ''niggard'' is a Middle English word meaning ''miser.'' It has nothing to do with the racial slur based on Spanish for ''black,'' which came into English centuries later.
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  31. Steven Pinker, Sniffing Out the Gay Gene.
    IT sounds like something out of the satirical journal Annals of Improbable Research: a team of Swedish neuroscientists scanned people's brains as they smelled a testosterone derivative found in men's sweat and an estrogen-like compound found in women's urine. In heterosexual men, a part of the hypothalamus (the seat of physical drives) responded to the female compound but not the male one; in heterosexual women and homosexual men, it was the other way around. But the discovery is more than just (...)
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  32. Steven Pinker, 'S Reply to Ahouse & Berwick's Review of How the Mind Works.
    How the Mind Works is a synthesis of cognitive science and evolutionary biology that aims to explain the human mind with three ideas: (1) Computation: thinking and feeling consist of information-processing in the brain; (2) Specialization: the mind is not a single entity, but a complex system of parts designed to solve different problems; (3) Evolution: as with the organs of the body, our complex mental faculties have biological functions ultimately related to survival and reproduction. The book lays out criteria (...)
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  33. Steven Pinker, The Baby.
    DEBBIE MANDEL: The funny face of a baby makes us smile at potential and fresh life that is uninhibited. Everyone has an inner child that he wishes to release to..
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  34. Steven Pinker, The Brain's Versatile Toolbox.
    The human brain is an extraordinary organ. It has allowed us to walk on the moon, *to discover the of matter and life,* and to play chess almost as well as a computer. But this virtuosity raises a puzzle. The brain of Homo sapiens achieved its modern form and size between fifty and a hundred thousand years ago, well before the invention of agriculture, civilizations, and writing in the last ten thousand years. Our foraging ancestors had no occasions to do (...)
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  35. Steven Pinker, The Evolutionarypsychology of Religion.
    Do we have a “God gene,” or a “God module”? I'm referring toclaims that a number of you may have noticed. Just last week, a cover story of Timemagazine was called "The God Gene:Does our deity compel us to seek a higher power?" Believe it or not, somescientists say yes. And a number of years earlier, there were claims that thehuman brain is equipped with a “God module,” a subsystem of the brain shaped byevolution to cause us to have a (...)
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  36. Steven Pinker, The Evolutionary Social Psychology of Off-Record Indirect Speech Acts.
    This paper proposes a new analysis of indirect speech in the framework of game theory, social psychology, and evolutionary psychology. It builds on the theory of Grice, which tries to ground indirect speech in pure rationality (the demands of e‰cient communication between two cooperating agents) and on the Politeness Theory of Brown and Levinson, who proposed that people cooperate not just in exchanging data but in saving face (both the speaker’s and the hearer’s). I suggest that these theories need to (...)
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  37. Steven Pinker, The Irregular Verbs.
    The irregulars are defiantly quirky. Thousands of verbs monotonously take the -ed suffix for their past tense forms, but ring mutates to rang, not ringed, catch becomes caught, hit doesn't do anything, and go is replaced by an entirely different word, went (a usurping of the old past tense of to wend, which itself once followed the pattern we see in send-sent and bend-bent). No wonder irregular verbs are banned in "rationally designed" languages like Esperanto and Orwell's Newspeak -- and (...)
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  38. Steven Pinker, The Known World.
    These are just a few examples of scientific illiteracy — inane misconceptions that could have been avoided with a smidgen of freshman science. (For those afraid to ask: pencil “lead” is carbon; hydrogen fuel takes more energy to produce than it releases; all living things contain genes; a clone is just a twin.) Though we live in an era of stunning scientific understanding, all too often the average educated person will have none of it. People who would sneer at the (...)
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  39. Steven Pinker, The Logic of Indirect Speech.
    When people speak, they often insinuate their intent indirectly rather than stating it as a bald proposition. Examples include sexual come-ons, veiled threats, polite requests, and concealed bribes. We propose a three-part theory of indirect speech, based on the idea that human communication involves a mixture of cooperation and conflict. First, indirect requests allow for plausible deniability, in which a cooperative listener can accept the request, but an uncooperative one cannot react adversarially to it. This intuition is sup- ported by (...)
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  40. Steven Pinker, The Mystery of Consciousness.
    The young women had survived the car crash, after a fashion. In the five months since parts of her brain had been crushed, she could open her eyes but didn't respond to sights, sounds or jabs. In the jargon of neurology, she was judged to be in a persistent vegetative state. In crueler everyday language, she was a vegetable.
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  41. Steven Pinker, The Stupidity of Dignity.
    Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" (...)
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  42. Steven Pinker, There Will Always Be an English by Steven Pinker.
    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- What will English be like a hundred years from now? No one has ever observed what happens when a language is used for a century in a global village. Will MTV and CNN infiltrate every yurt and houseboat and drive out all other languages? Will regional accents go extinct, leaving everyone sounding like a Midwestern newscaster? Some language lovers worry that e-mail and chat rooms will influence writing & F2F (face-to-face) lang. & leadd it 2 loose it's (...)
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  43. Steven Pinker, Words and Rules.
    The vast expressive power of language is made possible by two principles: the arbitrary soundmeaning pairing underlying words, and the discrete combinatorial system underlying grammar. These principles implicate distinct cognitive mechanisms: associative memory and symbolmanipulating rules. The distinction may be seen in the difference between regular inflection (e.g., walk-walked), which is productive and open-ended and hence implicates a rule, and irregular inflection (e.g., come-came, which is idiosyncratic and closed and hence implicates individually memorized words. Nonetheless, two very different theories have (...)
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  44. Steven Pinker, Words Don't Mean What They Mean.
    In the Movie Tootsie, The character played by Dustin Hoffman is disguised as a woman and is speaking to a beautiful young actress played by Jessica Lange. During a session of late-night girl talk, Lange's character says, "You know what I wish? That a guy could be honest enough to walk up to me and say, 'I could lay a big line on you, but the simple truth is I find you very interesting, and I'd really like to make love (...)
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  45. Steven Pinker, Will the Mind Figure Out How the Brain Works?
    Imagine this scene from the future. You are staring at a screen flickering with snow. Scientists have hidden one of two patterns in the dots, and eventually you spot one. But you don't have to tell the scientists what you are seeing; they already know. They are looking at the electrical signals from one of the billions of cells in your brain. When the cell fires, you see one pattern; when it stops, you see another‹your awareness can be read from (...)
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  46. Steven Pinker & Ray Jackendoff (forthcoming). The Faculty of Language: What's Special About It? Ms. Harvard University and Brandeis University. Cognition.
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  47. Steven Pinker (2011). Representations and Decision Rules in the Theory of Self-Deception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34 (1):35-37.
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  48. Steven Pinker & Ray Jackendoff (2009). The Reality of a Universal Language Faculty. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32 (5):465-466.
    While endorsing Evans & Levinson's (E&L's) call for rigorous documentation of variation, we defend the idea of Universal Grammar as a toolkit of language acquisition mechanisms. The authors exaggerate diversity by ignoring the space of conceivable but nonexistent languages, trivializing major design universals, conflating quantitative with qualitative variation, and assuming that the utility of a linguistic feature suffices to explain how children acquire it.
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  49. Steven Pinker (2008). 17 The Fear of Determinism. In John Baer, James C. Kaufman & Roy F. Baumeister (eds.), Are We Free?: Psychology and Free Will. Oxford University Press. 311.
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  50. S. Pinker (2007). Dating, Swearing, Sex and Language: A Conversation with Questions Between Steven Pinker and Ian McEwan. Areté: The Arts Tri-Quarterly, 24, Winter 2007 24.
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