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Discussion of chapters from Steven Pinker's book "Enlightenment Now"

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lucy Goodman.

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress is a 2018 book written by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. It uses statistics to argue that health, prosperity, safety, peace, and happiness are on the rise, both in the West and worldwide. It attributes these positive outcomes to Enlightenment values such as reason, science, and humanism.

A discussion session led by the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Insitute Director Professor Bhaskar Vira, will take a Political Ecology approach to dissect key chapters in the book.

An extract is below:

“A Babylonian in 1750 BCE would have had to labor fifty hours to spend one hour reading his cuneiform tablets by a sesame-oil lamp. In 1800, an Englishman had to toil for six hours to burn a tallow candle for an hour. (Imagine planning your family budget around that—you might settle for darkness.) In 1880, you’d need to work fifteen minutes to burn a kerosene lamp for an hour; in 1950, eight seconds for the same hour from an incandescent bulb; and in 1994, a half-second for the same hour from a compact fluorescent bulb—a 43,000-fold leap in affordability in two centuries. And the progress wasn’t finished: Nordhaus published his article before LED bulbs flooded the market. Soon, cheap, solar-powered LED lamps will transform the lives of the more than one billion people without access to electricity, allowing them to read the news or do their homework without huddling around an oil drum filled with burning garbage.”

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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