Wasted Genius

Genius Harvard professor of psychology, Steven Pinker, has recently written The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, which weighs in at over 800 pages.

When I learned that he had done this, I thought to myself “what a waste of genius!” For one, let’s say that his argument is correct (which I doubt). Then, I would say “so what!” and “what’s to keep it from rising again as the gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the world widens?”

He claims violence has declined because of Enlightenment and rationalist thinking. IF it has declined, and I think arguments can be made that it hasn’t, I would ask him to prove to me that it’s not because it’s easier and more rewarding to get revenge by law suits than by murder.

But, as John Gray discusses in Prospect Magazine, Pinker really fails to make his case.
Frankly, it pisses me off that he has spent so much time on such a subject, when he could have been using his genius to help us better understand how to deal with the limitations of our brains.

I am not an anti-evolutionist, and neither is John Gray. In fact, it disturbs me that there is a large segment of this country that does not believe in evolution. But I am very tired of pure Darwinists trying to make their case with feeble, even stupid points. (I think Stephen Jay Gould made a good case that something besides natural selection is going on, specifically punctuated equilibrium.)
For example, Daniel Dennett, another genius, once made the following argument:

Imagine Martian biologists coming to Earth and looking around …
Other puzzles that the Martians would have to deal with would be more obviously biological. Here’s one that you might encounter yourself. You’re out in a field and you see an ant climbing up a blade of grass. It climbs up to the top of the grass and falls, repeatedly, like Sisyphus pushing his rock. You think, “Why is it doing this? What benefit accrues to the ant for this expenditure of energy?”But you’d be asking the wrong question. No benefit accrues to the ant at all. What then? Is it just a fluke? It is a fluke, in fact — a brain fluke. A little parasite, Dicrocoelium dendriticum, has crawled into the ant’s brain. That fluke has to get into the belly of a cow or a sheep in order to reproduce. Its chances are enhanced if it can get into the brain of an ant and force the ant to climb up high on the stalk of grass where it’s more likely to be eaten.

Read that carefully. Notice how it assumes that the parasite is smart enough to know that it has to be inside of a cow or a sheep, that it is currently inside an ant, and that it needs to manipulate certain of the ant’s cells to get it to keep climbing a blade of grass (which the parasite knows, from its vast intelligence, is something that cows and sheep eat)?

Have you ever heard anything so stupid in all of your life?

Anyway, people are going to do what people are going to do and they are going to somehow justify, to their own satisfaction, that they are doing right and making the right conclusions. That won’t change unless the wiring of our brains change.

I only point these “wastes of genius” to get you to ask yourself the question “is my inner genius being wasted?”


By the way, when I say that Pinker and Dennett are geniuses, I am not being sarcastic. They are among the better minds working in psychology and philosophy, which makes it all the more a shame when they do waste their genius.

Categorised in: brain, life, philosophy


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