Notwithstanding its clear political objective, much of Rationality is taken up with puzzles and mind-benders. The Monty Hall prize-behind-one-of-three-doors problem.* for example, which distracted so many, even a famous mathematician, when first presented. And the Linda problem**, which, so it is implied, shows that most people are irrational, whereas, in fact, it merely shows that, in common speech, language is not used as those who devise SAT tests to identify candidates suitable for admission to Harvard University think it should be used.
All of this is perfectly harmless and pretty much useless except as a distraction for those with time to kill. But then, in Chapter 10, "What's Wrong With People," the author announces the real point of his book.
"This is the chapter most of you have been waiting for. I know this from conversations and correspondence. As soon as I mention the topic of rationality, people ask me why humanity appears to be losing its mind.
At the time of this writing, a glorious milestone in the history of rationality is coming into view: vaccines likely to end a deadly plague are being administered less than a year after the plague emerged. Shortly before the announcement of the vaccines, a third of Americans said they would reject them."
Thus, Professor Pinker writes of:
"the popularity of a miscellany of canards that the historian of science Michael Shermer calls "weird beliefs." Many people endorse conspiracy theories like Holocaust denial, Kennedy assassination plots, and the 911 "Truther" theory that the Twin Towers were felled by a controlled demolition to justify the American invasion of Iraq. ...So did you ever question the official "pancake theory" that is supposed to explain the collapse of the Twin Towers into their own footprint at a speed close to the acceleration of gravity?
How can we explain this pandemic of poppycock?"
Did you ever wonder why New York Trade Center Building 7 collapsed into it's own footprint on 9-11 although it was not hit by an airplane?
Did you ever wonder how it was that a couple of guys looking remarkably like E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis (both members of Richard Nixon's infamous "Plumbers," who botched the Watergate burglary), happened to be photographed in Dealey Plaza immediately following the shooting of President John F. Kennedy?
Furthermore, according to some Historian of Science that Pinker names, but of whom you have probably never heard, you are possessed of "weird beliefs" which is to say you are more or less a nut.
Even worse, you likely endorse Holocaust denial, in which case you are almost certainly an anti-Semite, which is to say the kind of person with no rightful place in decent society.
Indeed you are a carrier of an infectious mental disease in a "pandemic of poppycock," and should probably be put into isolation for life. Indeed, you are fit only for the loony bin. Unless, that is, you have been singled out for derision simply for declining to accept official narratives without question. For example, George W Bush's claim that:
"Nobody, certainly not in this administration, thought about people flying airplanes into buildings,"
"I remember getting a call from the Fire Department Commander telling me they were not sure they were going to be able to contain the fire, and I said you know we have had such terrible loss of life maybe the smartest thing to do is to pull it. And they made that decision to pull and then we watched the building collapse."
"... he was wrapped in a sheet and we placed him in a coffin, but before we did, I looked at the wound again. I wanted to know and remember this the rest of my life, and the rest of my life I will always know he was shot from the front.I never talked to the Warren Commission ... the bullet struck here (pointing to his forehead) taking out a piece of the occipital bone (which is at the back of the skull) the size of the palm of your hand."
Asked his reaction to seeing sketches taken from the Kennedy autopsy conducted at the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, MD, along with an official explanation that the wounds were from bullets fired only from behind the Presidential limousine, Dr. Crenshaw said:
"It was beyond disbelief. I could not believe that a real pathologist would put out something this poorly."
Asked if the autopsy report was fraudulent, Dr. Crenshaw responded:
"I say that it was wrongly done ... maybe they were directed to do it that way."
And beside the judgement of the surgeons attending on the stricken president, there is acoustic evidence that negates the Warren Commission's lone gunman hypothesis:
"In 1978, at the request of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc., studied recordings of police radio and traffic during the assassination, and Mark R. Weiss and Ernest Aschkenasy, Queens College, City University of New York, conducted an independent analysis of the alleged third gunshot recorded on the Dallas Police Department radio system. Based primarily on the acoustical analyses performed by BBN and Weiss and Aschkenasy indicating that there were gunshots in Dealey Plaza from both the Texas School Book Depository building (where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired three gunshots) and the grassy knoll area (one gunshot) during Kennedy's assassination, the HSCA found, in part, that 'scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F Kennedy."
But according to Professor Pinker, members of the House Select Committee on Assassinations were merely holders of "weird beliefs," victims of a pandemic mental disease whose opinion should be disregarded.
But such a contention, far from being rational, is obviously absurd. So what underlies such irrationality and what are its implications?
One possible explanation of Pinker's attempt to paint rational scepticism as irrational, is that education at a top American private university is expensive. Including the prior cost of 12 years at a private prep school, a Harvard degree must cost one or several million dollars. For that, parents expect their progeny to gain a firm footing on ladders of social and career success. But those who control the upper rungs of social and career ladders have no inclination to give a leg up to those who question the intentions of the ruling elite. That being so, there is a certain logic to Professor Pinker's view that learning to accept the official narrative, however, improbably or inconsistent with the evidence, is essential to a "good" education.
There is, however, a massive downside to this concept of education. The readiness to question authority is essential to the scientific spirit. The acceptance, and even enforcement, of conformism at the modern Western university thus heralds a new dark age in the world of learning.
* The Monty Hall challenge
The challenge for the contestant is to win a prize by guessing behind which of three doors the prize, a new car or some such thing, lies. After the contestant picks a door, the show host opens one of the two remaining doors to reveal no prize there concealed. Then the host asks the contestant whether they would like to abandon their initial choice and go for the other unopened door.
To decide how the contestant should respond so as to maximize their chance of winning the prize, one must note that initially, the chance of the prize being behind any door is exactly one third. That means that, having chosen one of three doors, there is a two-thirds probability that the prize is behind one of the unchosen doors. But then the show host opens one of the unchosen doors, taking care not to open the door behind which the prize is hidden if it is not hidden by the contestant's initial door of choice.
But the show host's opening of one of the unchosen doors does not alter the two-thirds probability of the prize being behind one of the unchosen doors. Therefore, since the prize is not behind the door opened by the show host, the odds of it being behind the other unchosen door must be two-thirds, which is twice the odds of it being behind the door initially chosen by the contestant. That means the contestant can double their chance of winning the prize by accepting the show host's invitation to change their choice to the other unopened door, an option show contestants were generally reluctant to accept.
** The Linda Problem
Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?
(2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.
*** Vaccine effectiveness
The novel mRNA vaccines have proved effective in reducing mortality of those infected with Covid19. However, in the judgement of many medical practitioners, the risk posed by the vaccine to children far exceeds any benefit. Furthermore, there is now evidence that repeated Covid vaccination shots lead to reduced immune system function.
And this just in from Iceland:
Eleven Children Report Serious Injury From the Vaccines Versus Zero Serious Cases of Covid, Official Data From Iceland Show
And from the Netherlands:A Positive Link Between Vaccination Rate and All-Cause Mortality
Related:UN Declares Conspiracy Theorists "Public Enemy no.1"Pinker, Epstein, Soldier, Spy