What is your outlook?
Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist who conducts research in visual cognition, psycholinguistics, and social relations. He grew up in Montreal and earned his BA from McGill and his Ph.D. from Harvard. Currently Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard, he has also taught at Stanford and MIT. He has won numerous prizes for his research, his teaching, and his nine books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Humanist of the Year, a recipient of nine honorary doctorates, and one of Foreign Policy’s “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and writes frequently for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications.
His tenth and most recent book is 05 February, 2009 Question: Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the way the world is headed? Pinker is a cautious optimist.
Pinker: I’m a cautious optimist about the near future. I think that by a lot of measures, things have gotten better. There’s less homicide now. There’s less rape. There’s less war. There’s less civil war. There are more freedoms. We know more. We live richer lives. We can listen to vast amounts of music at the press of a button. We have available a mind boggling library of information from the Internet, from sources like Amazon and other resources made available by the online world. The blogosphere allows for a richness of debate that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. By a lot of indicators, things have gotten better and there’s no reason to think that that won’t trend . . . that trend won’t continue. The blot on the horizon is that there are some things that can happen that may be improbable; but if they do happen will be very, very bad, such as a nuclear device exploded by a terrorist. So the note of caution in my optimism is that although I think it’s . . . the chances are that things will get better, there are some low probability events that if they do occur, they will be very nasty indeed.
Question: Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the way the world is headed?
Pinker is a cautious optimist.
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