Steven Pinker’s Reply to the DONALD (My reply also)


by BARIŞ BAYRAM on August 8, 2017.

Steven Pinker is about to publish a new book Enlightenment Now and he has agreed to answer a few questions from Impakter magazine about his upcoming book and other matters of interest, such as the level of violence in the world today. What follows is an edited version of our email conversation.

Question: As an academic, what do you think about the general responsibilities of “intellectuals” in relation to Trump’s election victory?

To emphasize that reason, truth, objectivity, and fact-checking are mandatory in politics and journalism, while at the same time not expressing loyalty to a single ideological camp. Partisanship and political tribalism are the main enemies of reason.

Question: How can we benefit from globalization? In such a sense, what do the concepts of “Global trade, “Global Citizen” and the UN Global Goals mean to you?

First, global trade, on average, makes everyone richer – that centuries-old lesson from elementary economics continues to be true.

Second, global trade also reduces the likelihood of war—it makes it cheaper to buy things than to steal them, and it makes other people more valuable alive than dead.

Third, some problems are inherently global, including terrorism, piracy, climate, migration, pollution, nuclear proliferation, and cyber-crime; they can be solved only by international cooperation.

Finally, people prosper culturally, economically, and personally when there is a free flow of ideas and people—that’s why cities and other hubs in networks of transportation and communication always been the sources of artistic and intellectual creativity. None of this rules out a role for regulation, just as in within countries, freedom does not rule out a role for law.

Question: What do you think about “interdisciplinary studies”?

It depends on how it’s done, but in general it should be mandatory—academic disciplines are bureaucratic conveniences for university administrators who can’t fit everyone inside a single building, but the landscape of human knowledge is continuous. This is most obvious in the sciences, where old disciplines like “astronomy” and “ornithology” are almost obsolete, replaced by hybrids such as astrophysics, astrobiology, atmospheric chemistry, biochemistry, biogeography, biophysics, chemical biology, geophysics, geochemistry, molecular biology, and so on.

This does not mean that a new discipline called “interdisciplinary studies” should be encouraged, and it doesn’t mean that putting a physicist and poet on a panel will necessarily lead to insight. It just means that scholars should integrate levels of analysis, and draw ideas and methods from any relevant source. This should become second nature to scholars: As my former colleague Jerry Fodor once said, “the best interdisciplinary collaboration is within a single head.”

BARIŞ BAYRAM: I look forward to reading your next book “Enlightenment Now”. What are your main points?

They are captured in the subtitle: “The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” The heart of the book is a demonstration of progress: 75 graphs showing that the lives of people have become longer, healthier, safer, happier, more peaceful, more prosperous, and more stimulating over the decades and centuries.

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