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Steven Pinker on Thinking

Mind Over Mass Media

This article is so good that it gets a post all of its own.

NEW forms of media have always caused moral panics: the printing press, newspapers, paperbacks and television were all once denounced as threats to their consumers’ brainpower and moral fiber.

So too with electronic technologies. PowerPoint, we’re told, is reducing discourse to bullet points. Search engines lower our intelligence, encouraging us to skim on the surface of knowledge rather than dive to its depths. Twitter is shrinking our attention spans.

But such panics often fail basic reality checks. . .

And a message we can all take to heart:

And to encourage intellectual depth, don’t rail at PowerPoint or Google. It’s not as if habits of deep reflection, thorough research and rigorous reasoning ever came naturally to people. They must be acquired in special institutions, which we call universities, and maintained with constant upkeep, which we call analysis, criticism and debate. They are not granted by propping a heavy encyclopedia on your lap, nor are they taken away by efficient access to information on the Internet.

The book, The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us looks interesting.


 

Comments

The line which everyone is quoting:

"It’s not as if habits of deep reflection, thorough research and rigorous reasoning ever came naturally to people. They must be acquired in special institutions, which we call universities, and maintained with constant upkeep, which we call analysis, criticism and debate."

seems to me patently false. Even self-defeating. It's as though universities formed in a vacuum, and then by their own power and impetus forced a style of thinking upon us that we realize (because of the universities) to be good, but previously were unaware of. A more historical vantage point is that thorough research and rigorous reasoning are not 'acquired' in universities, but rather universities provide the economic freedom for members to engage in disinterested reflection, and therefore thorough research and rigorous reasoning. To say these traits are not 'natural' but only pushed on us by institutions is a very wild accusation.

The internet is a tremendous tool for dissemination of knowledge, but just as surely requires a great of discipline on our part, and a recognition that without this discipline ... it's a bit like ADD-inducing crack.

An interesting lecture by Steve Pinker is at TED talks.

This is about the history of violence and that everything we know about it is wrong.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1Uzk&mode=user&search=

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