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Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress- In Reviewniverse

“If you had to choose a moment in history to be born,….-if you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born, you’d choose now- Barack Obama 2016

Throughout the book Pinker challenges the reader’s worldview with supportive data and basic reasoning to show that in fact, the world today is a much better place to live since science and reasoning have taken hold.

He contends that despite this, progressives have taken a stance of denial and denouncement of progress. He spreads this along not only the intellectuals who seem to have embraced the idea that the world is continuing to get worse, but among the common folk like you and me as well.

He explains this with the Optimism Gap, in which an individual thinks that their own future will be great, but the rest of the world will suffer- or that their neighborhood is somehow better off than the rest of the country. This, he says, is easy to understand when considering the media we consume on a daily basis. Facebook, CNN, Fox News, Twitter- each fire a constant daily stream of the worst things happening in some obscure corner of our world. “Whether or not the world is really getting worse,” Pinker says, “the nature of news will interact with our cognition to make us think that it is…” He further illustrates that we have no choice in the matter: “…As long as bad things have not vanished from the face of the earth, there will always be enough incidents to fill the news…” (Pinker)

The availability heuristic and other cognitive biases fill our minds to give us a picture of our world that places us where we are and where we always will be. That is beneficial for most of us, but to our worldview it is a consistent problem. For example: Those who accept Climate Change are less likely to take action when given information that suggests that it is a battle we can never win. This is a serious problem when it comes to actually solving the important issues- because we still can solve that issue! Take that example and spread it out among the thousands of other problems we see in the world and you will find a select few ‘naive optimists’ actually working daily to solve the problem, and a world full of non-believers despite the massive progress that has been made.


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Pinker’s always interesting to read. My introduction to him was through the background material for Literary Darwinism. He’s one of the key thinkers in Evolutionary Psychology. The more I read of his work, the more I wanted to read. Edward O. Wilson’s work is very compatible and the two thinkers often interact directly.

I definitely get the same feeling reading his work. I had been skeptical of evolutionary psychology for quite some time before reading Pinker- came to him through linguistics actually. Never heard of Edward O. Wilson though- I’ll have to look him up!

Thank you for reading and leaving a comment!!

Another one to add to your list is Chris Boehm, an evolutionary anthropologist, and his book Moral Origins. Came across Boehm while reading Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe. Boehm’s work does a good job of showing the interrelation between evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology, especially the nature vs nurture,/genes vs culture questions

Oh that sounds like the perfect read- I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about how we can interpret evolutionary psychology as something more than speculative. It would be nice to have some grounding in the field.

Thank you for this. If you ever have authors you’d like to share, please send their names my way!

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