Steven Pinker, cognitive psychologist and writer, is interviewed by Kirsty Young for Desert Island Discs.
Tagged with “pinker” (21)
This week’s show is dedicated to a discussion of the six books shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.
Next week the winner of the prestigious Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books will be announced. Previous winners have included Jared Diamond (twice), Stephen Hawking, Steve Jones, Bill Bryson and Stephen Jay Gould.
To discuss the merits of the shortlisted books (see below), Alok Jha is joined by one of the prize judges, Kim Shillinglaw, who is commissioning editor for science and natural history at BBC TV, and by science writer Ruth Francis, formerly of head of press at Nature Publishing Group.
During the course of this week the Guardian will review all the books online. We’re also giving away two complete sets of the shortlisted titles in our usual science trivia competition.
- The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
- The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene
- The Information by James Gleick
- My Beautiful Genome by Lone Frank
- Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
- The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe
“Nothing can be more gentle than man in his primitive state,” declared Rousseau in the 18th century. A century earlier, Thomas Hobbes wrote, “In the state of nature the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The evidence shows that Rousseau was wrong and Hobbes was right, said Pinker. Forensic archaeology (“CSI Paleolithic”) reveals that 15 percent of prehistoric skeletons show signs of violent trauma. Ethnographic vital statistics of surviving non-state societies and pockets of anarchy show, on average, 524 war deaths per 100,000 people per year.
Germany in the 20th century, wracked by two world wars, had 144 war deaths per 100,000 per year. Russia had 135. Japan had 27. The US in the 20th century had 5.7. In this 21st century the whole world has a war death rate of 0.3 per 100,000 people per year. In primitive societies 15 percent of people died violently; now 0.03 percent do. Violence is 1/500th of what it used to be.
The change came by stages, each with a different dynamic. Pinker identified: 1) The Pacification Process brought about by the rise and expansion of states, which monopolized violence to keep their citizens from killing each other. 2) The Humanizing Process. States consolidated, enforcing “the king’s justice.” With improving infrastructure, commerce grew, and the zero-sum game of plunder was replaced by the positive-sum game of trade. 3) The Humanitarian Revolution. Following ideas of The Enlightenment, the expansion of literacy, and growing cosmopolitanism, reason guided people to reject slavery, reduce capital crimes toward zero, and challenge superstitious demonizing of witches, Jews, etc. Voltaire wrote: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
4) The Long Peace. Since 1945 there has been zero use of nuclear weapons, zero combat between the Cold War superpowers, just one war between great powers (US and China in Korea, ending 1953), zero wars in western Europe (there used to be two new wars a year there, for 600 years), and zero wars between developed countries or expansion of their borders by conquest. 5) The New Peace is the spreading of the Long Peace to the rest of the world, largely through the decline of ideology, and the spread of democracy, trade, and international organizations such as the UN. Colonial wars ended; civil wars did flare up. 6) The Rights Revolution, increasingly powerful worldwide, insists on protection from injustice for blacks, women, children, gays, and animals. Even domestic violence is down.
Such a powerful long-term trend is the result of human ingenuity bearing down on the problem of violence the same way it has on hunger and plague. Something psychologists call the “circle of empathy” has expanded steadily from family to village to clan to tribe to nation to other races to other species. In addition, “humanitarian reforms are often preceded by new technologies for spreading ideas.” It is sometimes fashionable to despise modernity. A more appropriate response is gratitude.
In the Q & A, one questioner noted that violence is clearly down, but fear of violence is still way up. Social psychologist Pinker observed that we base our fears irrationally on anecdotes instead of statistics—-one terrorist attack here, one child abduction there. In a world of 7 billion what is the actual risk for any individual? It is approaching zero. That trend is so solid we can count on it and take it further still.
Jim al-Khalili talks to Steven Pinker, a scientist who’s not afraid of controversy. From verbs to violence, many say his popular science books are mind-changing. He explains why toddlers say “holded” not held and “digged” rather than dug; how children’s personalities are shaped largely by their genes and why, he believes the recent rioters had plenty of self-esteem.
A radical re-assessment of human progress from one of the world’s most exciting public thinkers.
In his latest work, Steven Pinker explores the ways in which modernity and its cultural institutions are actually making us better people.
In ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’, Pinker traces a history of progress that reveals the historical circumstances and “civilising forces”, from commerce to cosmopolitanism, that have brought us to the most peaceful era humankind has yet experienced. Join Steven Pinker at the RSA for a fascinating insight into the conditions, norms and policies that combine to engage the "better angels" of human nature - our capacity for co-operation, empathy and altruism.
Speaker: Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University and author of ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes’ (Allen Lane, 2011).
A special edition of The Pod Delusion celebrating the life and work of acclaimed author Douglas Adams, in association with Save The Rhino and their annual Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture (which is held jointly with the Environmental Investigation Agency, which Adams also supported).
This special episode is presented by Jon Treadway and features contributions from many people who knew or were influenced by Douglas Adams, including:
Stephen Mangan, star of the Dirk Gently TV adaption Mark Carwardine, co-writer of Last Chance To See Stephen Pinker, author and previous Memorial Lecture presenter Dirk Maggs, producer of the Hitchhikers radio series Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent in both the TV and radio series Dave Stirling, founder of Save The Rhino James Thrift, Adams’ half brother Ed Victor, Adams’ literary agent Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician and previous Memorial Lecture presenter
Steven Pinker has written a game-changer on the little matter of how quickly humanity is headed for hell or redemption. The short form of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is that we’re on the verge of Liebniz‘s (and Candide‘s) “best of all possible worlds.” Much more than that, Better Angels is a tour de force in 700 pages of dense, witty prose, distilling and explaining the ever-steeper downward trends in battle-deaths, state executions, murder, rape, wife-beating and child-spanking, among others things. “Interesting if true” was my instinctive newspaper-guy response. After a month’s immersion, and this conversation, I’m staggered and stunned, avid for the new Enlightenment.
Jim al-Khalili talks to Steven Pinker, a scientist who’s not afraid of controversy. From verbs to violence, many say his popular science books are mind-changing. He explains why toddlers say “holded” not held and “digged” rather than dug; how children’s personalities are shaped largely by their genes and why, he believes the recent rioters had plenty of self-esteem. Huffduffed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/tls
Considering the Norway shootings, drug wars in Mexico and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, this era may seem as violent as any. But as Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker argues in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, this may actually be the most peaceable period in human history.
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