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Surprising Science

Steven Pinker – The Defeat of Defeatism – Think Again – a Big Think Podcast #138

Dammit, Spock, can your cold, calculating reason fathom the mysteries of the human heart?

I admit it. I confess. I’ve got a touch of what my guest today calls “progressophobia”. Ever since Charles Dickens got hold of me back in middle school, and William Blake after that, I’ve been a little suspicious of the Great Onward March of science and technology. Gene therapy, healthier crops, safer, more efficient forms of nuclear energy? Very nice, very nice. But what about eugenics, climate change, and Fukushima?For every problem human ingenuity solves, doesn’t human nature create a new one, on a bigger scale? Dammit, Spock, can your cold, calculating reason fathom the mysteries of the human heart?


But you know what? After devouring all 453 pages and 75 graphs of psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book ENLIGHTENMENT NOW, I admit defeat. The defeat of defeatism. This man has done the math. Since the 18th century things have been getting better in pretty much every dimension of human well-being. Health, safety, education, happiness, you name it… And we’ve done it with the most reliable tools we have: reason, science, and Enlightenment humanism.

Surprise conversation-starter clips in this episode

Vivek Wadhwa on “your life in 2027” (note: we watched from 25:42 to 27:40) 

ADDED BONUS! Find out what Professor Pinker thinks of Jason Gots’ word ‘Philoso-fro’, coined in honor of his hairdo. 

About Think Again – A Big Think Podcast: Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

You’ve got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel? Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting? Some of the best conversations happen when we’re pushed outside of our comfort zones. Each week on Think Again, we surprise smart people you may have heard of with short clips from Big Think’s interview archives on every imaginable subject. These conversations could, and do, go anywhere.



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