... strong and optimistic claims about the value of rationality at a moment in history that seems to have turned its back on logic and rationality. And in these pages he makes perfectly clear that he’s not dealing in empty rhetoric ... If Pinker’s Rationality has one weakness, it’s the book’s readiness to dismiss the obvious force-multiplier behind the enormous rise in irrationality: social media ... so elegantly written and so generously packed with data and references ... Rationality will improve your own critical thinking—pass it on.
For someone who used to write sparkling books on language and the mind, Pinker has also become a player in the culture wars. The subject of this book might seem innocent—a worthy attempt to rein in the madness of the post-truth era. Some, though, will perceive it as a provocation ... Pinker’s ostensible target is conspiracy theorising ... Pinker’s real targets are not Trumpistas or antivaxers, though, they are his peers ... This book offers further training in rationality as a life skill, and a tool of fairness ... Punchy, funny and invigorating—albeit flirting dangerously with the construction of rationality as a political identity—this could be the textbook.
For someone who so frequently and serenely proclaims that he’s right, Steven Pinker can get curiously defensive ... Pinker spends page after page walking us through concepts like 'base-rate neglect' (giving too little weight to the original probability of an event in the face of new information) and the 'availability heuristic' (guessing the likelihood of an event according to what comes easily to mind) ... When Pinker is dealing with abstract puzzles involving small-stakes situations, the book is familiar but fine ... The trouble arrives when he tries to gussy up his psychologist’s hat with his more elaborate public intellectual’s attire ... Some of Pinker’s observations on racial issues are similarly blinkered ... The tone of Rationality isn’t as relentlessly chipper as that of the previous book, but Pinker’s optimism seems to have weathered the Trump years and the pandemic largely intact. He still disparages those who have the audacity to question his ideas about progress ... In 2007 Pinker lent his professional expertise to Epstein’s legal defense team...a sterling example of a thinking process so confidently pristine that it can give unthinking cover to the grotesque.
In recent years it has become more fashionable to dismiss Pinker as a naive whig than to laud him as an inspiring prophet ... Read without prejudice... Rationality does a very good job of delivering on it subtitle’s promise to explain what rationality is, why it seems scarce and why it matters ... The majority of the book is in effect an unusually readable textbook on critical thinking. For devotees of the smart thinking genre, much of this is familiar ... Even when the basic material is well-worn, Pinker has a talent for highlighting a striking example, drawing out an interesting corollary or leading us effortlessly through the maths ... At times, Pinker is too uncharitable about what he perceives as irrational belief ... These slips matter because they suggest that for all his clear thinking, Pinker still doesn’t quite understand how ambiguity and uncertainty, as well as illogicality and cognitive biases, limit the reach of rationality.
Almost every sentence in Rationality is crisp and intelligible, which is quite a feat, given that explaining logic to humans is like teaching them Sanskrit. Pinker suggests various ways to run our collective affairs more rationally. And yet the book ends almost despondently. It’s not simply that most of us cannot think rationally. Worse than that...much of the time, most people don’t want to ... Much of Rationality reads like a course (the book grew out of one that Pinker teaches at Harvard) on how to be rational.
... an engaging analysis of the highest of our faculties and perhaps (ironically) the least understood ... Mr. Pinker tells a compelling story. But competing with it is a counter-narrative: It’s not so much that humility generates the greatest feats of reason as that those who have accomplished such feats are the most humble. On this account, human reason doesn’t march in a linear progression, as Mr. Pinker suggests, bringing more and more of reality under its ambit and leaving less and less remaining outside. Rather reason discovers, as it advances, the limits of its comprehension, making the unknowable appear ever larger: an experience that induces humility. Mr. Pinker doesn’t discuss physics. But many physicists now wonder whether reason has the capacity to penetrate inside the smallest, quantum bits of the universe ... Nor does Mr. Pinker discuss the possible limits of reason when it comes to comprehending the world within our heads ... One great Catch-22 of our species is that, while humility is necessary for reason to flourish, as Mr. Pinker rightly says, reason is ultimately necessary for humility to take root.
Plenty of this is unavoidably hard going. Formulas of conditional probability, in particular, may make some wistful for the torture of medieval syllogisms. Yet Pinker rightly treats the subject as valuable for clear thinking ... These lessons are taught well. Pinker’s jaunty demotic and occasional bar-stool sermons will not be to everyone’s taste, but the illustrative gags and cartoons are pedagogically apt. His deployment of perhaps the finest of Jewish sex jokes as a tool to explain the concept of 'confounding variables' may deserve some sort of prize ... Pinker’s book does more than just lay out how we ought to reason. It also seeks to explain why our efforts often seem to fall short ... You might think it was impossible to exaggerate the popularity of ill-founded beliefs, but Pinker does manage it.
... offers a pragmatic dose of measured optimism, presenting rationality as a fragile but achievable ideal in personal and civic life ... Given our current moment of apparent national derangement, when large areas of culture and politics seem to have slipped all tethers to reality, Pinker’s ambition to illuminate such a crucial topic offers the welcome prospect of a return to sanity. And in many ways he succeeds — as with all of his books, this one is erudite, lucid, funny and dense with fascinating material. His characteristic brew of Yiddish jokes, brainy comics and incisive argumentation is a pleasure to read, even when the subjects are technical and mathematical. It’s no small achievement to make formal logic, game theory, statistics and Bayesian reasoning delightful topics full of charm and relevance ... It’s also plausible to believe that a wider application of the rational tools he analyzes would improve the world in important ways. His primer on statistics and scientific uncertainty is particularly timely and should be required reading before consuming any news about the pandemic ... The role of moral and ethical education in promoting rational behavior is also underexplored.
The contrast he draws between our rational capacities and our current situation will resonate ... Rather than argue for his own liberal, technocratic goals, however, Pinker lets their presumed superiority color his use of 'rational' and 'irrational' throughout. This creates a recurring dissonance ... the bulk of the book is less an open culture war campaign than a May Day parade of rationality’s arsenal ... Adjusting your sample of Rationality as you go...you can find an informative and briskly written book about types of reasoning and their applications. The trouble begins when you read all the words. Pinker can neither embrace polemic outright (because this is about rationality, not values) nor let it go (his values are, of course, the rational ones). So instead of confronting his targets head on, the middle chapters engage in a kind of indirect culture warfare, dragging foes in as apparently incidental examples of irrationality or motivated reasoning. Where the shoe fits, fair enough ... But Pinker lets his own solidarities and enmities shape his concern for facts and argumentation. This results in large, unsupported claims ... This is a treatise about rationality that both decries and exploits cynicism and credulity, sometimes on the same page ... Doctor, heal thyself!
Among other things, Rationality is also a response to these critics, a reaffirmation of critical thinking against the encroachments of critical theory ... It’s hard to argue against Pinker’s own logic, yet there will always be a ghost in the machine, those urges and instincts that serve to distort reality ... In the end, though, rationality is all we have to prevent the world from descending into chaos or tyranny. You can’t argue against it – other than by rational means, which would be self-defeating. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be rational to underestimate the lure of the irrational.
Revealing ... Pinker skewers all manner of misguided thinking, myths, and 'cockamamie conspiracy theories' across the ideological spectrum ... 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.
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.