In her latest book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein makes the case for the importance of philosophy -- even as neuroscience tells us more about our brains, and connective technologies teach us more about the world around us. It's written in the form of a Socratic dialog, a form that Goldstein is passionate about teaching and exploring.
Meanwhile, her novels, from The Mind-Body Problem (Contemporary American Fiction) to 2011's 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (Vintage Contemporaries), use techniques of fiction to untangle philosophical questions, such as: How should we balance heart and mind? What should we have faith in?
In 1996 Goldstein became a MacArthur Fellow, receiving the prize popularly known as the “Genius Award.” She was designated Humanist of the Year 2011 by the American Humanist Association. She's also the author of Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, a combination memoir and history.
Steven Pinker's books have been like bombs tossed into the eternal nature-versus-nurture debate. Pinker asserts that not only are human minds predisposed to certain kinds of learning, such as language, but that from birth our minds -- the patterns in which our brain cells fire -- predispose us each to think and behave differently.
His deep studies of language have led him to insights into the way that humans form thoughts and engage our world. He argues that humans have evolved to share a faculty for language, the same way a spider evolved to spin a web. We aren't born with “blank slates” to be shaped entirely by our parents and environment, he argues in books including The Language Instinct; How the Mind Works; and The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
Time magazine named Pinker one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004. His book The Stuff of Thought was previewed at TEDGlobal 2005. His 2012 book The Better Angels of Our Nature looks at our notion of violence.
For the BBC, he picks his Desert Island Discs >>