How can a species that developed vaccines for Covid-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing? Rationality also explores how the rational pursuit of self-interest, sectarian solidarity, and uplifting mythology can add up to crippling irrationality in a society.
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.