Brain Pickings

Harvard’s Steven Pinker on Violence and Human Nature


Harvard psycholinguist and prolific author Steven Pinker is easily our favorite thinker about language and the human mind. But Pinker has also done some fascinating work on the history of violence, unearthing some surprising and counterintuitive findings that go contrary to what contemporary media might suggest about the rate of violence in the world today.

In this excellent talk from 2010′s Harvard Thinks Big event, Pinker looks at two reasons for these misconceptions: Our cognitive limitations and our moral psychology.

Our intuitions about violence and the facts about violence go in opposite directions.” ~ Stephen Pinker

News media has the unprecedented ability to send cameramen to places in the world where violence takes place and beam them back to our laptop screens or television. Moreover, they have the programming philosophy ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’” ~ Stephen Pinker

In a cultural environment where we’re bombarded with doom-and-gloom messaging about human nature and the state of the world, Pinker’s research is a necessary and timely grounding element that puts reality in perspective. For a more in-depth look at his fascinating work on the subject, we highly recommend The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

HT Open Culture

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