Steven Pinker: Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers
Steven Pinker is a professor of cognitive science (the study of the human mind) who writes about language, mind and human nature. Full bio
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the "Worst. Year. Ever."
for earlier decades,
cleaner and more equal.
to understand the human condition
for the good old days
into seeing a decline
headlines of the present
of the world look like
using a constant yardstick?
data on the present
at a rate of 5.3 per hundred thousand,
of their citizens in poverty
of particulate matter
was 8.5 per hundred thousand,
of particulate matter
in extreme poverty
in extreme poverty
for terrorism in Western Europe,
that the world, for all its struggles,
old-fashioned notion of progress?
a certain amount of derision,
that intellectuals hate progress.
progressive really hate progress.
the fruits of progress, mind you.
with anesthesia than without it.
that rankles the chattering class.
can improve their lot, I have been told,
in the outmoded superstition
of the myth of the onward march
for vulgar American can-doism,
of boardroom ideology,
and the Chamber of Commerce.
and, of course, a Pangloss,
character who declared,
in the best of all possible worlds."
as it happens, was a pessimist.
there can be much better worlds
of whether progress has taken place
or seeing the glass as half full.
on what goes into human well-being:
peace, freedom, safety, knowledge,
that, I submit, is progress.
precious thing of all, life.
life expectancy at birth was around 30.
countries of the world,
did not live to see their fifth birthday,
down a hundredfold.
less than six percent of children
of the Apocalypse.
to any part of the world.
and war-ravaged regions.
of the world's population
at war with each other,
interlude between wars.
at war with each other.
against China 65 years ago.
have become fewer and less deadly.
about 22 per hundred thousand per year
of authoritarian populism
living in democracies.
and the code of vendetta
under the control of centralized kingdoms,
when the sheriffs moved to town,
in just about every way.
we've become 96 percent less likely
to be mowed down on the sidewalk,
to die in a plane crash,
to be killed on the job,
to be killed by an act of God,
wildfire, storm, volcano,
has become less angry with us
in the resilience of our infrastructure.
the quintessential act of God,
to be killed by a bolt of lightning.
could read or write.
achieved universal literacy
of the world's population
worked more than 60 hours per week.
of running water and electricity
of washing machines, vacuum cleaners,
stoves and microwaves,
that we forfeit to housework
wealth, safety, knowledge and leisure
of faith or optimism,
been covered in the news?
emotion words in news stories
in which humanity has gotten healthier,
has become increasingly morose
have gotten steadily glummer.
from our cognitive psychology.
called the "availability heuristic."
something from memory,
comes from the nature of journalism,
from "The Onion,"
Panic About For Rest of Day."
not stuff that doesn't happen.
that has been at peace for 40 years,"
been attacked by terrorists.
from extreme poverty yesterday"
leaving poverty behind,
on our morbid interest
"If it bleeds, it leads."
with the nature of news,
has been coming to an end
some questions about progress
to many of you.
of suffering and danger
of how they can be reduced,
to indiscriminate pessimism.
intelligence will --
to enjoy life while we can,
for tomorrow we die.
pessimism is radicalism.
and beyond hope for reform,
is to seek to smash the machine,
rises out of the ashes
than what we have now.
such a thing as progress,
or dialectic lifting us ever higher.
bending toward justice.
governed by an idea,
with the 18th century Enlightenment,
that everything becomes better
and progress is not a miracle
which have to be solved in their turn.
facing the world today are gargantuan,
as problems to be solved,
for climate change
go against human nature?
of the existence of human nature,
is more tragic than utopian
we are not golden
we are getting back to the garden.
"The Blank Slate" was published.
the statistics of human progress,
every other aspect of our well-being,
our tribulations and woes,
by Enlightenment norms and institutions,
to replicate my own data-driven epiphany
that intellectuals hate progress,
that there has been progress.
just leaves them cold.
I have received from readers is gratitude,
their view of the world
of the Enlightenment
with greater artistic flare
against life-enabling order
that is ruthlessly competitive.
been blessed with resources
for a kind of redemption.
to combine ideas recursively,
of our ingenuity and experience.
with the capacity for sympathy,
to magnify their own power.
and electronic word.
and the narrative arts.
have been multiplied
against the forces that grind us down,
of our own nature.
of the cosmos, including life and mind.
assaulted, enslaved, exploited
with peace and prosperity are growing
have been voiced,
are yet to be conceived.
to the betterments we can attain
to enhance human flourishing.
is not just another myth.
which is the only truth we can have.
continue to be true and which ones false,
and any could become.
with the power of reason
than ignorance and superstition.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERSteven Pinker - Psychologist
Steven Pinker is a professor of cognitive science (the study of the human mind) who writes about language, mind and human nature.
Why you should listen
Steven Pinker grew up in the English-speaking community of Montreal but has spent his adult life bouncing back and forth between Harvard and MIT. He is interested in all aspects of human nature: how we see, hear, think, speak, remember, feel and interact.
To be specific: he developed the first comprehensive theory of language acquisition in children, used verb meaning as a window into cognition, probed the limits of neural networks and showed how the interaction between memory and computation shapes language. He has used evolution to illuminate innuendo, emotional expression and social coordination. He has documented historical declines in violence and explained them in terms of the ways that the violent and peaceable components of human nature interact in different eras. He has written books on the language instinct, how the mind works, the stuff of thought and the doctrine of the blank slate, together with a guide to stylish writing that is rooted in psychology.
In his latest book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, he writes about progress -- why people are healthier, richer, safer, happier and better educated than ever. His other books include The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, The Stuff of Thought, and The Better Angels of Our Nature.
Steven Pinker | Speaker | TED.com