Adam Rubinstein's interview with Steven Pinker shown above yields many interesting thoughts from Steven. I was particularly struck by what Steven said about Transhumanism, means-end rationality and cultural appropriation. Here are those thoughts, with my headings added in bold:
Transhumanism: As for “transhumanism,” I’m skeptical about that we’re going to see enhancements of human nature by genetic engineering, nanotechnology, or neural implants (though these technologies may be used to mitigate disabilities, a different matter). We now know that there is no “gene for musical talent” that ambitious parents will implant into their unborn children—psychological traits are distributed across thousands of genes, each with a teensy effect, and many with deleterious side effects (such as a gene that makes you a bit smarter while increasing your chance of getting cancer). Also, people are risk-averse (sometimes pathologically so) when it comes to their children and when it comes to genetic engineering—they don’t accept genetically modified tomatoes, let alone babies. More generally, biomedical progress in the real world is more Sisyphus than Singularity. Readers of medical newsletters are regularly disillusioned by miracle cures that turn out to be no better than the placebo, or that wash out in the meta-analysis.
As for implants, neurosurgeons have a saying: “You’re never the same once the air hits your brain.” Invading a healthy brain with foreign objects, with the risk of inflammation and infection, is a really bad idea. And neuroscientists don’t have a clue as to how the brain encodes thoughts at the nano-level of synapses and neural firing, let alone a technology that would manipulate it with precision greater than a sledgehammer.
Means-End Rationality: Reason has nothing to do with asceticism, joylessness, incuriosity, coldness, or callousness. That is because intelligence is logically distinct from motivation: an ability to figure out how best to get from A to B says nothing about what the B should be. Goals such as happiness, knowledge, love, beauty, and insight are in no way antithetical to reason.
Cultural Appropriation ... one of the greatest epiphanies of the Enlightenment: that people are equipped with a capacity for sympathetic imagination, which allows them to appreciate the suffering of sentient beings unlike them. In this regard nothing could be more asinine than outrage against “cultural appropriation”—as if it’s a bad thing, rather than a good thing, for a white writer to try to convey the experiences of a black person, or vice versa.
I am looking forward to reading Steven's new book, Enlightenment Now