Better Angels of Our Nature
|Narrated By:||Arthur Morey|
|Date:||03 October 2011|
We've all asked, What is the world coming to? But we seldom ask, How bad was the world in the past? In this startling new book, the bestselling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era yet. Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the genocides in the Old Testament and crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals. Now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse - all substantially down. How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? Pinker argues that the key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence. Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.
Pinker's academic specializations are visual cognition and psycholinguistics. His experimental subjects include mental imagery, shape recognition, visual attention, children's language development, regular and irregular phenomena in language, the neural bases of words and grammar, and the psychology of cooperation and communication, including euphemism, innuendo, emotional expression, and common knowledge. He has written two technical books that proposed a general theory of language acquisition and applied it to children's learning of verbs. In particular, his work with Alan Prince published in 1989 critiqued the connectionist model of how children acquire the past tense of English verbs, arguing instead that children use default rules such as adding "-ed" to make regular forms, sometimes in error, but are obliged to learn irregular forms one by one.
In his popular books, he has argued that the human faculty for language is an instinct, an innate behavior shaped by natural selection and adapted to our communication needs. He is the author of seven books for a general audience. Five of these, The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), Words and Rules (2000), The Blank Slate (2002), and The Stuff of Thought (2007), describe aspects of the field of psycholinguistics and cognitive science, and include accounts of his own research. In the sixth book, The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), Pinker makes the case that violence in human societies has, in general, steadily declined with time, and identifies six major causes of this decline. His seventh book, The Sense of Style (2014), is intended as a general style guide that is informed by modern science and psychology, offering advice on how to produce more comprehensible and unambiguous writing in nonfiction contexts and explaining why so much of today's academic and popular writing is difficult for readers to understand.
Pinker has been named as one of the world's most influential intellectuals by various magazines. He has won awards from the American Psychological Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and the American Humanist Association. He delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 2013. He has served on the editorial boards of a variety of journals, and on the advisory boards of several institutions. He has frequently participated in public debates on science and society.