Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. Currently Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Pinker has also taught at Stanford and MIT. His research on vision, language, and social relations has won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and the American Psychological Association. He has also received eight honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and often writes for The New York Times, Time, and other publications. He has been named Humanist of the Year, Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers,” and Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”
Question: What question should we be asking ourselves?
Pinker: I think the kind of question to . . . that would be good to ask is, “What’s good about our condition – not just what’s bad about it – and how did we get here? How do we get to enjoy it?” Not just what went wrong, which is very easy to ask; but also what went right? Also, the other question I would want people to ask is, “What really is our current state of affairs? How bad are things compared to other times and places? How polluted is our environment compared to the way it was 100 years ago? How much war and peace is there compared to what there was at other times? How much murder, and rape and homicide?” Get an objective picture of our current state of affairs so as to have a rational basis for asking what went right in the things that we do value. How can we bottle it, and purify it and concentrate it so that we can enjoy more of whatever that is in the future.