Author Topic: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now  (Read 18399 times)

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #60 on: February 27, 2018, 09:20:58 AM »
let's not throw stuff like that around

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #61 on: February 27, 2018, 01:11:04 PM »
let's not throw stuff like that around

My sentiments exactly.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #62 on: February 27, 2018, 07:10:21 PM »
I don’t hate him.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #63 on: February 28, 2018, 04:31:21 PM »
I don’t hate him.


You just want to push him in a canal because he's not a working class Geordie. But not in a hateful way, obvs.


Nassim Taleb has been cited as demolishing Pinker's statistical competence, but this article on Pinker's site offers a very strong rebuttal. https://stevenpinker.com/files/comments_on_taleb_by_s_pinker.pdf

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #64 on: February 28, 2018, 04:36:30 PM »
You just want to push him in a canal because he's not a working class Geordie. But not in a hateful way, obvs.

You have to understand. Some CaBbers just can't countenance a man having a full head of hair after 27.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #65 on: February 28, 2018, 04:37:44 PM »
Even his haters have gotta admit that Pinker has lovely hair

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #66 on: February 28, 2018, 04:40:23 PM »
If Steven's hair is the last thing I see before I'm destroyed by logic, then I'm down with that.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #67 on: March 01, 2018, 08:46:52 AM »
You just want to push him in a canal because he's not a working class Geordie. But not in a hateful way, obvs.

Mate. I called him a ponce because he’s got big hair and poses for intellectual glamour shots; you then freaked out about anti-semitism. I didn’t know he was Jewish and don’t care. Here’s a secret: I don’t want to push him into a canal either, so yes, precisely ‘not in a hateful way’. Have you heard of exaggeration/comedy/cookdandbombd? The mundane answer is I don’t really care about any of this. I like John Gray, and I am sceptical about Pinker’s optimistic world-view, but that’s about it. I hope you’ll be able to sleep tonight now.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #68 on: March 01, 2018, 03:42:58 PM »
I can only say that my psychology of language professors call his language instinct ideas "a charming fairy-tale". From the little research I've done that seems to be pretty accurate.

Oh what a shame, i loved that book.

Fell asleep halfway through the more generalised follow-up, 'How The Mind Works', though.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #69 on: March 01, 2018, 05:21:50 PM »
Mate. I called him a ponce because he’s got big hair and poses for intellectual glamour shots; you then freaked out about anti-semitism. I didn’t know he was Jewish and don’t care. Here’s a secret: I don’t want to push him into a canal either, so yes, precisely ‘not in a hateful way’. Have you heard of exaggeration/comedy/cookdandbombd? The mundane answer is I don’t really care about any of this. I like John Gray, and I am sceptical about Pinker’s optimistic world-view, but that’s about it. I hope you’ll be able to sleep tonight now.

Mate. I was comically extrapolating from your tribal/class prejudice to racial prejudice and then you freaked out about being light-heartedly labelled as an anti-semite. Which you probably are. (Not really, I am joking.).

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #70 on: March 01, 2018, 05:28:58 PM »
"i'm not mad, actually laughing"

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #71 on: March 01, 2018, 06:13:57 PM »
Mate. I was comically extrapolating from your tribal/class prejudice to racial prejudice and then you freaked out about being light-heartedly labelled as an anti-semite. Which you probably are. (Not really, I am joking.).

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #72 on: March 13, 2018, 03:30:07 PM »
David A Bell sticks the knife in.

Quote from: 'The PowerPoint Philosophe'
The great writers of the Enlightenment, contrary to the way they are often caricatured, were mostly skeptics at heart. They had a taste for irony, an appreciation of paradox, and took delight in wit. They appreciated complexity, rarely shied away from difficulty, and generally had a deep respect for the learning of those who had preceded them.

Enlightenment Now has few of these qualities. It is a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history and a starkly technocratic prescription for the human future. It also gives readers the spectacle of a professor at one of the world’s great universities treating serious thinkers with populist contempt. The genre it most closely resembles, with its breezy style, bite-size chapters, and impressive visuals, is not 18th-century philosophie so much as a genre in which Pinker has had copious experience: the TED Talk (although in this case, judging by the book’s audio version, a TED Talk that lasts 20 hours).

The whole review is worth reading.

Unfortunately I still haven't had time to read the book, but it sounds exactly like Better Angels. A shame really, as you would have thought some of the criticisms of that book might have pushed him to raise his game.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #73 on: March 13, 2018, 04:46:59 PM »
Every article linked to in this thread, by Pinker and otherwise, is so eloquent and absorbing. I've had a great time with them, even if it's left me confused as to what I should be thinking (I'm pro-intellectual, but pretty stupid myself.) Philosophers usually irritate me, analysing statistics is what I like to see. If Pinker is wrong, then at least he's responsible for some very well-written rebuttals. When that article had a pop at TED talks, though, it was a bit off and seemed as elitist as Pinker is accused of being.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #74 on: March 13, 2018, 09:30:19 PM »
Every article linked to in this thread, by Pinker and otherwise, is so eloquent and absorbing. I've had a great time with them, even if it's left me confused as to what I should be thinking (I'm pro-intellectual, but pretty stupid myself.) Philosophers usually irritate me, analysing statistics is what I like to see. If Pinker is wrong, then at least he's responsible for some very well-written rebuttals. When that article had a pop at TED talks, though, it was a bit off and seemed as elitist as Pinker is accused of being.

Well a lot of TED talks are just fluff. And tickets are very expensive, I doubt anyone outside of the elite is attending.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #75 on: March 13, 2018, 09:41:07 PM »
Well a lot of TED talks are just fluff. And tickets are very expensive, I doubt anyone outside of the elite is attending.

Fair point about the fluff, but I was thinking about the video option, and the many, many loving/angry comments beneath them on youtube.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #76 on: November 21, 2019, 07:59:40 PM »


From 2014

He's also in the flight logs

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #77 on: November 21, 2019, 10:06:34 PM »
He's already responded to this (see also here).

He even offered testimony for Epstein's legal team. I think the whole thing is more evidence that Pinker is... I don't want to say dumb, because he's clearly not an idiot, but he isn't exactly the most sensible person. It's the same mixture of arrogance and ignorance that causes him to wade into areas of research that he fundamentally doesn't understand. The expert witness thing also proabbly appealed to his vanity. I doubt he's a nonce though.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #78 on: November 23, 2019, 10:58:29 AM »


So Pinker knew Anthony Bourdain, big deal.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #79 on: December 24, 2019, 01:43:34 AM »
Pinker's explanation of how the photo came to be taken with someone he just so happened to be seated next to would be more plausible if the origin of the photo wasn't Pinker's own facebook page.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #80 on: February 27, 2020, 10:22:46 AM »
I read this recently in parallel with Larry Siedentop's Inventing the Individual, The Origins of Western Liberalism.  The two books complement and oppose one another, as both look broadly to explain why our society has formed in the way it has; they cover periods which do not overlap - antiquity to the Renaissance for Siedentop, mid-eighteenth century to today for Pinker - yet each focuses on a principal reason which superficially appears to contradict the one put forward by the other.

Siedentop suggests that liberalism in the West evolved out of Christianity, and implies that it simply wouldn't have happened without it.  Nowhere in ancient society, he says, was there the idea that each individual human being was of equal value to all others.  It arose for the first time in the teachings of St Paul.   That Christian societies over the centuries did not fully recognise the implications of this does not refute the argument.  Early Christian thought and its emphasis on the moral equality of souls was the seed that allowed liberal ideas to flower, no matter how long the germination.

Pinker doesn't trace the roots of Enlightenment ideas, implying that they suddenly emerged in a Big Bang of intellectual clarity.  I don't know if he has read Siedentop's book - it came out in 2014, before Enlightenment Now - and I suspect his initial reaction would be to reject its argument out of hand.  I think there is something to it though: the Enlightenment was both a product and a refutation of what had come before.

I enjoyed Pinker's book a lot, but it did feel a little like a superfluous addendum to Better Angels of Our Nature, which for me was a book every bit as original as Siedentop's, and rather more thoroughly researched (I would estimate Inventing the Individual has barely 5% of the citations and references of either of the two Pinker books). 

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #81 on: February 29, 2020, 03:38:07 AM »
Thanks, that was very interesting. Maybe one way of solving the apparent contradiction is to think about the Enlightment not as a rejection of Christian or Renaissance thought in general, and more as a rejection of the excesses of the late Renaissance style that immediately preceded it.

I got a really jolting sense of the change in style by going from reading a book that feels like a final high tide of Rennaisance thinking, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, diffuse, packed with quotations and tangents and over the top displays of erudition, religiously all over the place, onto the protoEnlightment Discourses and Meditations by Decartes written just twenty years later, explicitly written with a conviction that people have to figure things out for themselves without reference to great scholars of the past, should express themselves as clearly as possible, building clear and logical chains of argumentation. At so many points, in his straightforward confessional tone, in his earnestness, there are echoes of the Confessions by Saint Augustine, who I think came pretty close to saying I think therefore I am more than once.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #82 on: February 29, 2020, 04:45:42 PM »
a book that feels like a final high tide of Rennaisance thinking, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, diffuse, packed with quotations and tangents and over the top displays of erudition, religiously all over the place

I have a copy of this but it looks too daunting, I've never read it.  How did you approach it, did you read it straight through or just dip in and out?

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #83 on: February 29, 2020, 10:56:51 PM »
I'm looking forward to this book being published. The author is excellent and although primarily a literary scholar I think he will be careful with the bigger responsibility.

Is there a thing such as a lesser known Robert Burton/Thomas Browne/John Dee? I found The Astrological Diary of The Seventeenth Century Samuel Jeake of Rye appealing - helped with Michael Hunter and Annabel Gregory's introduction to it - but wonder if there were essay writers from that period that not many people speak about now, even if it is because they were rubbish.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #84 on: March 02, 2020, 10:15:31 AM »
I have a copy of this but it looks too daunting, I've never read it.  How did you approach it, did you read it straight through or just dip in and out?
Definitely dipping in and out, it's more an encyclopaedia than one long thesis. Each of the numbered sections is about five pages and there's enough to think of in each of those.
I wrote about some of my favourite bits in this earlier thread.
https://www.cookdandbombd.co.uk/forums/index.php/topic,74140.0.html
I'm looking forward to this book being published. The author is excellent and although primarily a literary scholar I think he will be careful with the bigger responsibility.

Is there a thing such as a lesser known Robert Burton/Thomas Browne/John Dee? I found The Astrological Diary of The Seventeenth Century Samuel Jeake of Rye appealing - helped with Michael Hunter and Annabel Gregory's introduction to it - but wonder if there were essay writers from that period that not many people speak about now, even if it is because they were rubbish.
Don't know, still have major holes in my knowledge of this period, never looked at stuff like the The Compleat Angler, or the pre-English Civil War proto-left writers like Abiezer Coppe or Gerald Winstaley, but my guess is that sone of the best 'unknown' essay writers would be people whose other work obscures their essays, Donne or Milton for example, or maybe some of the scientists and philosophers,  (all general histories of philosophy, even the ones that stuff like Thomas Aquinas in some details seem to skip over rennasisance philosophy a bit). Maybe The Anatomy would be read less if Burton had discovered gravity?

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #85 on: March 03, 2020, 09:16:58 PM »
Thanks for that reply. The two 'proto-left' writers are unknown to me. I realised in the meantime that the Fyfield Books series of Selected Writings is a good way to explore various older exemplary prose. The Izaak Walton edition, for example, includes his accounts of notable lives along with selections from "The Compleat Angler". The series includes mostly religious writers that can go off on tangents or establish distinctive styles of devotional writing/sermons but also Nicholas Hilliard's "Art of Limning" and Thomas Campion's "Ayres and Observations" etc. Not sure if this is actually of interest to many people in the Steven Pinker thread.

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #86 on: September 24, 2020, 09:18:21 AM »
Well I'm really late, but I thought that this book was great. I regard it is a more accessible update to "Better Angels of Our Nature". His agenda is refreshingly explicit (in a way his opponents never would be): the world is getting better, and the reason for this is because we as humans know better than to resign ourselves to our misfortunes. This is not a history book about the enlightenment[1] but it brings enlightenment values to bear for the problems of the age: the pessimism of the religious extremists on the one hand, George Monbiot on the other. While these advocate a return to the past, Pinker affirms a scientifically-minded confidence (not faith) in the future of human ingenuity.

Pinker has a great nose for choosing what evidence to present to make his point: whether it's numerical, historical or an amusing quote containing wisdom. Pinker never merely implies anything, as his critics tend to do (often they imply "if you go along with Pinker, you are naive/a hopeless optimist/statistically unschooled/ideologically presumptuous etc. etc.). Instead, he treats you like an intelligent reader capable of assessing such evidence and and seeing to what extent it supports the conclusions offered.

What's more, he's right! Whether about the biological nature of language ("The Language Instinct"), the erroneous intellectual heritage of Locke's  "tabula rasa" ("The Blank Slate"), the importance of standards in literary language ("The Sense of Style"), or about the moral values descended from the enlightenment. He really is one of the greatest writers and thinkers of our time. Not because he is narrowly specialized, but exactly because he is not. In short, Pinker is exactly the right person to carry the torch of the ideals of the enlightenment: he is a humanist in both definitions: "scholarly" and "humane".
 1. though if you read his bibliography you will see, scattered through at appropriate points, sensitive biographies of the its major players

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #87 on: September 24, 2020, 06:23:11 PM »
any mention of child sex trafficking rings in the book?

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Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #88 on: September 24, 2020, 06:54:26 PM »
They've never been better.

Re: Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
« Reply #89 on: September 30, 2020, 11:58:59 AM »
Well I'm really late, but I thought that this book was great. I regard it is a more accessible update to "Better Angels of Our Nature". His agenda is refreshingly explicit (in a way his opponents never would be): the world is getting better, and the reason for this is because we as humans know better than to resign ourselves to our misfortunes. This is not a history book about the enlightenment[1] but it brings enlightenment values to bear for the problems of the age: the pessimism of the religious extremists on the one hand, George Monbiot on the other. While these advocate a return to the past, Pinker affirms a scientifically-minded confidence (not faith) in the future of human ingenuity.

Pinker has a great nose for choosing what evidence to present to make his point: whether it's numerical, historical or an amusing quote containing wisdom. Pinker never merely implies anything, as his critics tend to do (often they imply "if you go along with Pinker, you are naive/a hopeless optimist/statistically unschooled/ideologically presumptuous etc. etc.). Instead, he treats you like an intelligent reader capable of assessing such evidence and and seeing to what extent it supports the conclusions offered.

 1. though if you read his bibliography you will see, scattered through at appropriate points, sensitive biographies of the its major players

I'm not especially interested in debunking specific sections of his book. It seems to me that the central argument that 'the world is getting better' is just an insulting stupid premise and cannot possibly be summarized with such a broad statement. A lot of aspects of the current state of the world are incredibly precarious and due to our recent history and  global failure to react and plan for the future are very likely to come crashing down with tremendous cost to humanity and the environment. The subtext of the book is that Pinker thinks we should all be a lot more grateful and reverent for how things are and stop complaining. I don't get the feeling that Pinker was ever interested in finding out the truth, and instead only of finding stats to point to to support the position he had already arrived at.

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