Issue 31

Steven Pinker: Things I like / Things I Dislike

Susan Sontag’s diaries reveal a witty fondness for the humble list as a way of conferring value and exploring the realms of her knowledge. Her lists of likes and dislikes have become justly notorious. Here, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and celebrated author Steven Pinker picks up that baton


Graphs, especially plots of human progress / Irregular verbs / Hardware stores / Beethoven’s 7th / Scala Sans typeface / Humane abolitions (human sacrifice; slavery; executions; corporal punishment; dueling; harems) / Aspirations to new abolitions (extreme poverty; interstate war; nuclear weapons) / Neon signs, especially on old motels and bars / Children’s speech errors (We holded the baby rabbits; Don’t giggle me!; Button me the rest) / German camera equipment / The mind-body problem (philosophical conundrum and Rebecca Goldstein novel) / Hard bop jazz / Children’s explanations (“Clouds are water vapor; smoke is fire vapor”) / Beachcombing / Astral Weeks / Let It Bleed / Rubber Soul, Derek and the Dominos / Blonde on Blonde / The Band / Blue / Deep analogies / Stereo (3D) photography / Stylish academic writing / Old synagogues / Herons / Long city walks / Paradoxes of behavior explained / Italian racing bicycles / Combinatoriality (words in phrases, bases in DNA, subroutines in programs, thoughts about thoughts) / Danish audio equipment / Perceptual illusions / 1960s British cars / Bayes’ theorem / Ghost signs on brick walls / Billie, Ella, Sarah, Dinah / Driving rural roads / Cognitive illusions / Lighthouses / Game theory / Art, Oscar, Thelonious, McCoy / Colour (experience and theory) / Morbid epitaphs / Style manuals / Alliteration and parallelism (“colour of our skin…content of our character”) / Bennie, Ziggy, Duke, Count / Moby Dick / Klezmer / Hummingbirds / North By Northwest, Vertigo, Rear Window / Streamline Moderne architecture / Huckleberry Finn / Film noir / Show Me (sexiest song ever?) / Jewish humor / Ether Monument (Boston statue commemorating anesthesia) / Pale Fire / Rock concert films, especially The Last Waltz / Tandem bicycling and kayaking / The Godfather Parts I & II / Ghost towns / 1984 / Montreal bagels / English Breakfast tea / Frogs and toads / Isaac Bashevis Singer / Iconography of the British monarchy / Flamboyant solitary wildflowers, like Lady’s Slippers / Pygmalion / Swallowtails / Guernica / The Montreal Canadiens hockey team / Samuel Adams Boston Lager


SUVs / Curse of knowledge (experts who think what’s obvious to them is obvious to everyone) / Chocolate / Plastic signs / Twitter snark / Products bloated in size, features, menus / Property of the British monarchy / Nonstandard abbreviations / Harsh toothpaste / Academese, legalese, corporatese, bureaucratese / Classic soul & rock songs used in ads / Prepared zingers in debates / The Godfather Part III / Mindless copy-editing… / “Safe” meaning “No one disagrees with me” / Humorlessness / Contemporary pop / Leftists who assume all good people are, too / Guns / Contemporary classical / Sameness mistaken for fairness / Weak tea / Statistically illiterate journalism / Noisome dogs / Claims that something “changes your brain” / Language peeves mistaken for errors / Ostentatious erudition mistaken for insight / Clichés / Innumerate environmentalism (banning plastic straws while shuttering nuclear power plants) / Acidic coffee / Mentioning a slur and mistaken for using it / University administrator boilerplate / Soft apples / Pompous dialogue in historical dramas / Baffling user interfaces (press buttons in arbitrary combinations or for 2 seconds) / Censorship / Brutalist architecture / False dichotomies / Boom boxes on beaches / Rejection of truth, objectivity, reason / Car alarms / Sacrifice confused with virtue / “The kids today” / Single events mistaken for trends / Warm beer / Superhero & fantasy movies / Shocking conceptual art / Authoritarian populist, national conservate, neo-reactionary politics / Religion credited as the source of morality / Establishing spheres of influence, rectifying historic humiliations / Disgusting food in chic restaurants (offal, raw egg, game) / Social media shaming mobs / Proprietary chargers / Science schmaltz (distorting biology for dubious moral uplift)

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