Thought: book review has my ideas back to front

 

Steven Pinker1

 

   1. Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

 

Sir

 

Patricia Churchland's review of my book The Stuff of Thought ('Poetry in motion' Nature 450, 29–30; 2007) says virtually nothing about the book's contents, and gets two of its main claims backwards. A lengthy section of the book argues against the idea that "thought is like external language in all important respects." And the theory of Jerry Fodor's that Churchland calls "font-change semantics" (whereby a person's knowledge of the meaning of a word, such as cut, consists of a single mental symbol, such as 'cut') is one that I argue against, together with Fodor's innateness ad libitum claim, also mistakenly attributed to me.

 

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.