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Ask Me Anything: Science Speaker Steven Pinker On Reddit
Science | March 13, 2013

Ask Me Anything: Science Speaker Steven Pinker On Reddit

The human mind is a vast, complex system that science speaker Steven Pinker says becomes increasingly fascinating the more we learn about it. Pinker, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists and Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard, recently took part in one of Reddit's popular Ask Me Anything forums. During the live event, Reddit users asked him a myriad of questions on the research in his books, keynotes, and articles. Redditors were thrilled to have the chance to converse with the prominent psychologist, and expressed their gratitude to Pinker for answering as many questions as possible. Here are some of our favorite questions and answers:

On Salman Khan's revolutionary Khan Academy and unique education models: "I'm for them. The more ways that knowledge and analytical skills penetrate the population, the better."

On language as the most fascinating part of the human mind: "Here we all are, banging at keyboards and reading squiggles on screens, and somehow we're exchanging ideas about consciousness, hunter-gatherer societies, rape, the meaning of life, and hair-care products (I'll get to that). Of course we're using written language, not to mention computer technology and the Internet, but we could be having the same conversation at a bar, dinner table or seminar room, so it's language itself that is the astounding phenomenon."

On the future of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), and whether our own inability to understand human consciousness is a barrier to the development of A.I.: "Not in the least. As I mentioned, we do have a decent understanding of consciousness in the sense of why an intelligent system might make available a pool of information to a variety of its modules while keeping other information encapsulated within those modules. The only sense of consciousness we don't understand is whether the artificially intelligent computer or robot we build would subjectively feel anything -- but that has nothing to do with how we built it. That's why the problem is 'strange.'"
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