Steven Pinker is an American-Canadian non-fiction writer and professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard University, an award-winning pop professor.
His latest work Rationality immediately raises a question that worries many people: why is it allowed to call for common sense in politics and not to control the greenhouse effect, for example, even though people are more educated than ever.
Society is full of fake news, fake medicine, conspiracy theories, and “post-truth” rhetoric. You know how many people still believe in astrology. A surprising number of people are rejecting the life-saving coronavirus vaccination for any other than rational reason. Here, the more educated young are no better than the old.
Pinker aims to answer why so many of us do not use the brilliant tools for rational thought that humanity has invented over hundreds of years. The book initially focuses on explaining these tools. We learn the difference between logic and rationality, causation and correlation, statistical probability calculations, the foundations of rationality and critical thinking.
Only in the penultimate chapter does Pinker begin to look for reasons. He rejects any easy explanations for the computer’s influence. It only accelerated the spread of irrational ideas.
The main reason he sees is that even the reading public does not understand anything about scientific thinking because it is not taught in school. Rational thinking has remained the preserve of a small elite in universities and research institutes.
One reason is that rational thinking is not in everyone’s interest. It can also be personally reasonable for someone to advance their career by accepting the ideology of power circles, which may be anything but rational.
Humanity has also always had a mythological and religious reality alongside rationality and still does. And Pinker doesn’t want to turn them down. He just hopes that the Enlightenment tradition will be emphasized more alongside them and that the basics of rational thinking will now be taught in school. Because destroying irrationality can be great for society as well as the individual.