Marian Miner Cook

A distinctive
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Progress and Enlightenment in the 21st Century

Thu, October 7, 2021
Dinner Program
Steven Pinker

Progress is a demonstrable fact: We are healthier, richer, freer, safer, and happier than our ancestors. It’s not because of some mystical force that lifts our species upward. It’s because of the Enlightenment ideal of using knowledge to enhance well-being, and the institutions it created, including science, liberal democracy, commerce, and organizations for international cooperation. Will this progress continue, given the threats of pandemics, climate change, and authoritarian populism? No one knows for sure, but Steven Pinker, award- winning experimental psychologist and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, will offer ways to think about the challenges ahead.

As one of CMC’s 75th Anniversary Distinguished Speakers, Professor Pinker will highlight issues in “Civilization and Commerce,” one of the three academic collaboration themes of our special 75th Anniversary celebration.

Photo credit: Rose Lincoln, Harvard University

Steven Pinker, award- winning experimental psychologist and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard, asks the big questions about human progress and sets out to answer them. A provocative speaker, much in demand, Pinker is a cognitive scientist who has been named by TIME as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. His keynotes have helped millions demystify the science behind human language, thought, and action. A professor, a TED speaker, and a bestselling author, twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, he is highly respected in the scientific community, his work and opinions are extensively covered in the mainstream media, and he has won a wide general audience.

In his upcoming book, “Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters,” Pinker argues that we fail to take advantage of the most powerful tools of reasoning discovered by some of our best thinkers: Logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation. Specifically he explores why—when humanity is reaching new heights of scientific reasoning—there appears to be more fake news, conspiracy theorizing, and medical quackery than ever before. Rejecting the cynicism that humans are inherently irrational, Pinker offers an insightful, hopeful analysis of what rationality really is, why it can feel like it’s scarce, and how we can use it to drive better choices in our personal lives and in the public sphere.

In his earlier book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” Pinker argued that, despite fear-mongering and political upheaval, the world is getting better: Peace, prosperity, knowledge and happiness are on the rise. "Enlightenment Now" was the follow-up to "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Had Declined", which was a #1 Amazon bestseller. 

Pinker’s other bestselling books include “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" and “How The Mind Works.” Pinker’s acclaimed “language” series includes “The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language,” “Words and Rules,” “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature,” as well as “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.”

A native of Montreal, Pinker is Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Previously, he taught at Stanford and at MIT. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has won several teaching prizes, and his research on visual cognition and the psychology of language has received numerous awards, including the Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences.



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Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

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