This video is part of a series on genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y’s 7 Days of Genius Festival.
In the late 1990s, scientists thought they were close to locating specific genes that controlled for human intelligence in all its manifestations: musical genius, analytical acumen, physical prowess, etc. But the truth turns out to be more complicated, says Harvard psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker. There are many genes — perhaps thousands — that affect human intelligence, and while manipulating them may have predictable benefits, the adverse consequences remain unpredictable. Thus experimenting with our so-called intelligence genes will likely be met with high levels of skepticism in caution. It’s proof, says Pinker, that technological advancement doesn’t always march to the drum beat of inexorable forward progress.
Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. Currently Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Pinker has also taught at Stanford and MIT. His research on vision, language, and social relations has won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, and the American Psychological Association. He has also received eight honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and often writes for The New York Times, Time, and other publications. He has been named Humanist of the Year, Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals,” Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers,” and Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”