Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Steven Pinker's New Book - Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

This coming September 28, Steven Pinker's brand new book (his 15th to date) will hit bookshelves. This time, the famous cognitive psychologist, linguist, and science evangelist dissects rationality inside and out. Just like his recent titles, the new book has a mile-long title - Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters. It's a fitting follow-up to the book that precedes it - Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. The book promises to "enlighten, inspire, and empower" the reader.

In an update on his Facebook page, Pinker announced that in the countdown to the publication of his new book, he will be posting quotes, videos, and other teases. Here's the first quote he posted:

"To understand what rationality is, why it seems scarce, and why it matters, we must begin with the ground truths of rationality itself: the ways an intelligent agent ought to reason, given its goals and the world in which it lives."

Quotes from the book:

"And a special place in Journalist Hell is reserved for the scribes who in 2021, during the rollout of Covid vaccines known to have a 95 percent efficacy rate, wrote stories on the vaccinated people who came down with the disease— by definition not news (since it was always certain there would be some) and guaranteed to scare thousands from this lifesaving treatment."

"Three quarters of Americans believe in at least one phenomenon that defies the laws of science, including psychic healing (55 percent), extrasensory perception (41 percent), haunted houses (37 percent), and ghosts (32 percent)— which also means that some people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts."

"But for all the vulnerabilities of human reason, our picture of the future need not be a bot tweeting fake news forever. The arc of knowledge is a long one, and it bends toward rationality."  

"Rationality requires that we distinguish what is true from what we want to be true - that we not bury our heads in the sand, build castles in the air, or decide that the grapes just out of reach are sour."

Early reviews:

"He manages to be scrupulously rigorous yet steadily accessible and entertaining whether probing the rationality of Andrew Yang’s presidential platform, Dilbert cartoons, or Yiddish proverbs. The result is both a celebration of humans’ ability to make things better with careful thinking and a penetrating rebuke to muddleheadedness." - Publisher's Weekly

"Pinker serves up plenty of mental exercises that are intended to help us overcome the tricks our minds play on us—e.g., Prisoner’s Dilemma game-theoretic scenarios that help expose the reasons so many people are content to be “free riders” in using public goods; or stupid conspiracy theories advanced by people who believe they’re being suppressed, which, as Pinker notes, is “not the strategy you see from dissidents in undeniably repressive regimes like North Korea or Saudi Arabia.” The author can be heady and geeky, but seldom to the point that his discussions shade off into inaccessibility. A reader-friendly primer in better thinking through the cultivation of that rarest of rarities: a sound argument." - Kirkus Review

"Rationality is a terrific book, much-needed for our time. In addition to drawing together the tools for overcoming obstacles to rational thinking, Pinker breaks new ground with the evidence he provides linking rationality and moral progress."
- Peter Singer

And hey, you might want to check this out. Pinker wrote a piece for Shepherd where he lists and briefly discusses the best books on rationality.

His list?

1. Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making by Reid Hastie and Robyn M. Dawes
2. The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch
3. Rationality for Mortals: How People Cope with Uncertainty by Gerd Gigerenzer
4. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume
5. The Bias That Divides Us: The Science and Politics of Myside Thinking by Keith E. Stanovich