Sunday, October 14, 2007


I just finished Stephen Pinker's "The Language Instinct" which was brilliant on several levels. I am fascinated by the early section discussing the nature of grammar within languages and his assertion that this relates to our inherent ability to formulate grammar and to understand it....his thoughts and arguments are broad-ranging and strongly presented, and his writing is pithy and accessible. That said, I felt too much that he was trying to persuade me, rather than thathe was presenting facts for me to examine, which I found somewhat distasteful...he does go against the gigantic Chomsky in places, so maybe he felt compelled to present his arguments strongly...still it is a brilliant book that I will be rereading...this time in sections as well as all the way through.

I will offer you a quote that he has on the final page though.

It is longish, and as a blogger who tends to skim over the quotes in posts, please give this a shot.

Among lay people, race is lamentably salient, but for biologists it is virtually invisible. Eighty-five percent of human genetic variation consists of the differences between one person and another within the same ethnic group, tribe or nation. Another eight percent is between ethnic groups, and a mere seven percent is between "race"s." In other words, the genetic difference between, say, two randomly picked Swedes is about twelve times as large as the genetic difference between the average of Swedes and the average of Apache or Warlpiris. Bodmer and Cavalli-Sforza (Human geneticists who noted this fact) suggests that the illusion is the result of an unfortunate coincidence. many of the systemic differences among races are adaptations to climate: melanin protects skin against the tropical sun, eyelid folds insulate eyes from dry cold and snow. But the skin, the part of the body seen by the weather, is also the part of the body seen by others people. Race is, quite literally, skin deep, but to the extent that perceive rs generalize from external to internal differences, nature has duped them into thinking that race is important. The X-Ray vision of the molecular geneticist reveals the unity of our species."

Thank you Misters Pinker, Bodmer and Cavalli-Sforza.


Beth said...

Would that we could all "see" the unity of our species. It would make for a much better world.
Great, informative quotation.

Nomad said...

Great post and so very interesting.

I plugged you and posted your fwd too. I liked it and yes, it did make me feel good, but I think it is pretty true. That is why sometimes it is so hard to describe to someone what is special or unique about our know? (eh!)

Glad you liked to book I love it is one of my favs, when I have a sunny afternoon and an appetite I LOVE to pull it out and browse!!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that your average pygmy is as genetically close to an average (say) Mongolian as all that, but the sad part is racial prejudices only cause a small part of human violence to each other. Perhaps because of proximity, its generally easier to fight with your neighbour than someone continents away. Look at Yugoslavia, Arabs v Jews, Northern Ireland, Greeks v. Turks etc. etc.

Old man of the sea

oreneta said...

Beth: It would certainly help...

Heya right back Nomad: How's it going up there????

OMofS: Sadly your quite right, it would certainly help though especially on a day to day level for many people.

Anonymous said...

Here's to let you know that I'm truly looking forward to borrowing Pinker's book when I come to visit in Feb!
Am catching up on your blog as I took off from Riga for 5 days for fun and relaxation in Hamburg.WOW saw an incredible Moliere production there - for the first time ever, I was enthralled from start to finish.
Short, snappy play and radically modern family situation that could be anywhere in the world, but still so grounded in the here and now.
I was speechless with awe at the daring and vision of the director and his set designer.
Another example how the theatre world has changed - it's not the actors that attract me anymore.
Oh, forgot that it's my scene and not yours, but then, literature nevertheless.

oreneta said...

GM: I would love the theater to be my scene again, right now with little ones, and the theater in Catalan, sadly not....but I have to agree, I think that the director's imput, especially if he or she is good, can profoundly impact on the quality of the show...indeed, at times it can be the show in many ways.