Pinker’s course on Rationality online—for free

February 3, 2020 • 1:30 pm

I didn’t realize that Steve Pinker was teaching a general-education course on Rationality at Harvard, nor did I know that it was livestreamed—for free. All of us can watch this course, and I’ll be tuning in from time to time. Here’s the relevant tweet with the link.

Today’s lecture begins with one of my favorite songs (and presumably Steve’s): “Reason to Believe”—the Rod Stewart version. I guess he precedes each lecture with a song, which is a great idea. From that I’ll be able to discern his taste in music.

Anyway, I’m watching this lecture at lunchtime (today’s topic: “Why should we follow reason”?), and you may want to peek in. A screenshot:

When you go to the lecture page, you’ll see a small video screen in the left corner and the Powerpoint slides, larger, to the right. If you want to see the video full-screen, click on the white box in the upper-right corner of the video. And you can toggle back between Powerpoints and the video.

Always the fashion plate, Pinker lectures in a tie and nice shirt, though I can’t see if he’s wearing cowboy boots.

20 thoughts on “Pinker’s course on Rationality online—for free

  1. “Reason to Believe” was written by Tim Hardin, who died of a heroin OD, which was heart breaking. The opening lyrics are in the Alcoholics Anonymous “Reflections” reader, and I always thought it ironic, given his addiction from which he did not recover.

  2. This is great

    I noticed Neil DeGrasse Tyson has a not-free “Masterclass” on “how to think”. I wonder if the timing means anything. Was going to send it to PCC(E) but why. It’s amusing to wonder if Masterclass sought out Pinker – likely not.

      1. Reminds me of a game show for academics that my philosophy of mind instructor at McGill proposed: One where one competes to improvise lectures on random blackboard contents.

  3. Perhaps “Reason to Believe” was chosen not because it’s a great song (which it is), but because the class is about Rationality? As in, “Still I look to find a reason to believe.”

    If future lessons start with “The Logical Song” by Supertramp (I hope not; I detest that song), or perhaps “Mind” by Talking Heads (“Religion won’t change you… I need something to change your mind…”), then maybe I’m onto something!

    Larry Smith

  4. Watched the first lecture. Should be lots of fun! And Dawkins will give the final guest lecture, apparently on God Delusion subject matter.

  5. Pinker recently made an appearance on “Stewart Copeland’s Adventures in Music”, a 3-part BBC4 documentary where our eponymous hero travelled the world listening to and talking about music and why it means so much to us. Worth a look.

    (And if you don’t know who Stewart Copeland is then shame on you!)

  6. I watched it. Pinker is a great presenter. I was reminded of the famous Feynman Lectures.

    At one point he explains how rational thinking via science and mathematics is a better “story” than alternatives by telling the audience that you could bet on the predictions made by the former and make way more money. I was a bit surprised that he would choose that over the desire for truth but perhaps it hits home with his student audience. Since woo still competes rationality even with a Harvard audience, I hope he spends more time on this issue during the course. I would also be interested in hearing the students’ reaction.

  7. Not to carp too much about what is a great idea – but I wonder whether or not he will tackle so-called “economic rationality”, which is often ideological. (A good *critique* of it is welcome in such a course, but I am often dismayed to see it included uncritically!)

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