Author Topic: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker  (Read 1721 times)

bender

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Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« on: February 25, 2018, 08:26:06 PM »
I'm currently reading Enlightenment Now.  I think others on this forum would enjoy it.  Great read that should turn anyone into an optimist.

The 'Wealth' chapter has a surprising defense of capitalism as one of the main drivers of progress in the last 200 years. 

The concept of entropy is also explained quite well.


Leisured

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2018, 12:09:25 AM »
I have not read Enlightenment Now, but I will need to. I am surprised you have had no replies.

As I understand it, Pinker shows that the condition of life is improving because the world is becoming more enlightened, following the outlook of eighteenth century Enlightenment thinkers who emphasis reason and analysis over ignorance and bigotry.
I agree that the world is improving, but what happens if people do not want to be enlightened? The most spectacular example of this attitude is Islamic State, which is ignorant, irrational and destructive as policy.  Being ignorant, irrational and destructive is a way of life for them. I am sure all of us can think of people who are ignorant and irrational as a way of life.

Over the last sixty or so years, the Big Three topics are: Automation, Population Growth and Sustainable Energy. All these matters depend on understanding the science behind them. An automated economy allows us a life of leisure, so is an opportunity, not a threat.  We cannot have indefinite population growth in a finite world. We cannot rely indefinitely on finite reserves of fossil fuels, particularly as carbon dioxide makes the world warmer. How many people want to understand the maths and science behind these matters?


Zola.

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2018, 09:58:12 AM »
Interesting, I may add that to my ever growing list of books to read!

solon

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2018, 10:10:58 AM »
I read The Better Angles of our Nature. Had mixed feelings about it. The basic premise - that the world has been growing more peaceful - is awesome and gives me hope. But like all authors, he has his biases. In his case, he is a Jewish atheist baby boomer, and he places unnecessary emphasis in those areas.

bender

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2018, 05:46:08 PM »
The enlightenment is at its core embracing science and reason.  It is the rejection of tradition.  That includes many ideas held by faith based religions.  The US revolution and constitution are heavily influenced by the enlightenment.

Pinker supports the idea that moving beyond faith and tradition to reason, science and humanism is driving progress.

Population growth, automation and sustainable energy are all addressed in detail.

He rejects the idea of going back to simpler times and points out that in our nostalgia, we forget about the horrible things we've overcome like polio, famine and even war (comparatively).  The data is really indisputable here.

A couple of more great points I've learned so far:
Organic farming is unsustainable.  That is counter intuitive but the book explains it quite well.  Organic farming takes many more times the amount of land and natural resources compared to using technologies like fertilizer, engineered seeds, hydroponics, etc.  The argument is that all agriculture is human engineered.  All our crops have been selectively bred to increase yield, reduce water needs, pest resistance, etc.  What makes anyone believe that the technology we had 30 or 50 years ago is the right level and we should stop there.  Advances in agriculture is what is feeding the world right now.  Data shows that technological advances have allowed us to reduce the amount of land dedicated to farms.  This leads to forrests reclaiming farmland that's no longer needed.

Pinker states that what we know of 'environmentalism' is actually holding us back.  Ecomodernism shows how advancing technology can be used to solve environmental issues.  For example moving from burning wood to coal to oil to natural gas for energy is a huge factor in reducing pollution.  Cities allow for high efficiency with dense populations, less energy used for heat and transportation.  There is a pretty strong call for nuclear power to take over, with some optimism that fusion may actually be for real in the near future. 

I'm sure my paraphrased arguments have holes, but Pinker doesn't leave many in his near 500 page manifesto.  It can get wordy at times, but I'm digesting and learning a lot from it.  The facts used to back up each concept are compelling.

Leisured

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2018, 06:13:58 AM »
I have bought a Kindle version of Enlightenment now, and am about half way through, a long read. He has a sharp mind, and can sum up ideas succinctly. He has, INMO, blind spots about automation and population, mainly because he seems not to see the longer term Enlightenment implications of automation and controlling population. He contrasts Enlightenment thinkers and Counter Enlightenment thinkers, something which needed doing.

I may have to buy a paper version so I can annotate, something I hardly ever do. Excellent book. If you cannot borrow it from the local library, buy a Kindle version. It is that sort of book

Cordivae

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2018, 12:11:41 PM »
I just finished this book yesterday and sat stunned for about 15 minutes afterwards by the elegance of his conclusion.  This is easily one of the best books I've ever read, and while not directly applicable to my daily life the overall sense of optimism and gratitude is priceless. 

Some of the sections are better than others, and while he accurately describes the problem of partisanship of today doesn't have a good solution to it yet.  But maybe understanding it is the first step.

Doing a book club at work on this now. 

Teachstache

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2018, 07:39:34 PM »
I was able to hear Pinker speak (for free!) at my alma mater. I am currently on the waitlist from the library for the audiobook version from the library.

OurTown

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2018, 07:16:22 AM »
Just started this one.  So far I love it, thanks for the recommendation! 

grandep

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Re: Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2018, 03:57:42 PM »
I'm almost done with this book and I came here to start a thread about it if one didn't exist already. This seems like a classic Mustachian book, and I'm surprised it has not gotten more attention here! Perhaps because it's not a financial book? ;)

One of the best books I've read in a while. I am going to start using his term and refer to myself as a "serious possibilist". I especially enjoyed his chapters on income inequality and the environment.