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Dangerous Ideas
Written by Editor   
Monday, 13 August 2007 03:08
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Editor note: Some years ago, while working on the design and implementation of a conversational AI, a good friend and colleague introduced me to Steven Pinker's work.[1] One thing that has impressed me while reading his various publications is his ability to challenge the somewhat programmatic emotional response we (being the universal we) may have to any given topic. I am therefore quite pleased to be granted permission to re-publish Dr. Pinker's most recent thought provoking treatise: a foreward to John Brockman's book, "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?"[2]

In Defense of Dangerous Ideas
  • Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?
  • Were the events in the Bible fictitious -- not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires?
  • Has the state of the environment improved in the last 50 years?
  • Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage?
  • Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape?
  • Do men have an innate tendency to rape?
  • Did the crime rate go down in the 1990s because two decades earlier poor women aborted children who would have been prone to violence?
  • Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven?
  • Would the incidence of rape go down if prostitution were legalized?
  • Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men?
  • Is morality just a product of the evolution of our brains, with no inherent reality?
  • Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized?
  • Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?
  • Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability?
  • Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children?
  • Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism?
  • Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances?
  • Would Africa have a better chance of rising out of poverty if it hosted more polluting industries or accepted Europe's nuclear waste?
  • Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people?
  • Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder?
  • Would lives be saved if we instituted a free market in organs for transplantation?
  • Should people have the right to clone themselves, or enhance the genetic traits of their children?

Perhaps you can feel your blood pressure rise as you read these questions. Perhaps you are appalled that people can so much as think such things. Perhaps you think less of me for bringing them up. These are dangerous ideas -- ideas that are denounced not because they are self-evidently false, nor because they advocate harmful action, but because they are thought to corrode the prevailing moral order.



 

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