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Psychologist says humour helps him think clearly – and positively

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Published: 5 March 2018

Last updated: 5 March 2024

IN A WORLD SEEMINGLY drowning with negativity, Steven Pinker is that rare specimen, the eternal optimist. “I don’t like to call myself an optimist, but a possibilist,” the evolutionary psychologist explains.

His latest book, which he has been busily promoting in the UK, encapsulates this world view. Enlightenment Now: A Manifesto for Science, Reason, Humanism and Progress is his answer to the inevitability of entropy — chaos and disorder — overtaking the universe.

Pinker believes the notion of entropy gives human beings options. “Entropy is the realisation that because there are so many ways for things to be in a state of disorder, rather than order, by the laws of probability, all systems will tend towards disorder,” he explains from his study in Boston, where he is Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.

“That means that, without intervention of energy, or human intelligence, things fall apart: and it means that poverty, ignorance, and chaos are natural. By the laws of probability, everything will go wrong. But we need to concentrate our efforts on how things can go right.”

The book also attempts to restate the ideals of that progressive intellectual movement from 18th-century western Europe — the Enlightenment — and give those ideals relevance for the present day.

The 64-year-old was born into a Jewish family in Montreal, Quebec, in which, he says “argument, debate, knowledge and disputation were highly valued.” His previous books, including The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate have all, to some degree, courted controversy.

FULL STORY Steven Pinker: Enlightenment optimist (Jewish Chronicle)

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