BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Steve Pinker, the über-eminent and
multiple award-winning cognitive scientist with rocker hair and a
populist touch, will inaugurate the University at Buffalo
Department of Philosophy's new Paul Kurtz Lecture Series on Dec.
Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor in the Harvard University
Department of Psychology, will present "A History of Violence" at 4
p.m. in the Screening Room, Center for the Arts, UB North
The lecture is free and open to the public. But get there
Pinker usually plays to packed houses in large part due to what
science scholar and journalist Robert Wright calls "his ability to
convey complex ideas with clarity, flair and wit." This is also why
his highly regarded academic books routinely are found on The New
York Times bestseller lists.
Contradicting what he calls "the treacle that we often teach our
children" about a historical past defined largely by peace and
harmony, Pinker will chart the decline of violence from Biblical
times to the present day, which he defines as "the most peaceful
time in our species' existence."
"Though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Hitler,
Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Iraq, Ruanda and Darfur," Pinker says, "it is
A Canadian-American experimental psychologist, psycholinguist
and author of popular science, in 2004 Pinker was named one of TIME
magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. This supports
what has often been said about him: that he embodies his
intellectual era the way B.F. Skinner did in the mid-20th century
and William James did, writing in Darwin's wake, at the end of the
Pinker is known for his wide-ranging advocacy of evolutionary
psychology and the computational theory of mind. Like Golding and
Hobbes, he contradicts centuries of presumptions that the human
mind is a blank slate, an idea handed down by Aristotle, Avicenna,
Ibn Tufail and Aquinas, and later popularized by Locke, Freud,
Skinner, Ashley Montagu, Stephen Jay Gould and many, many
Although he does not hold that biology alone is destiny, Pinker
considers the brain to be something akin to a genetically based
word processor engineered by natural selection. That means a
variety of behaviors and impulses are already hard-wired into it
for good and ill. Our job as human beings, he holds, is to move
above and beyond what nature has installed.
Pinker writes for The New York Times, TIME magazine and The New
Republic, and is the author of seven award-winning bestsellers.
Among them are "The Language Instinct" (1994), "How the Mind Works"
(1997), "Words and Rules" (2000), "The Blank Slate" (2002) and,
most recently, "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into
Human Nature" (2007).
His books have won myriad literary and science awards and he
sits on the editorial boards of many important journals in the
fields of cognitive science and linguistics.
Pinker is the recipient of a number of honorary degrees, as well
as the 2010 George Miller Prize from the Cognitive Neuroscience
Society, the 2004 Henry Dale Prize from the Royal Institution, the
2003 Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences and the
2006 Humanist of the Year award from the American Association of
Humanists for his contributions to public understanding of human
He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences in 1998.
Before joining the Harvard faculty in 2003, Pinker taught in the
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology for 21 years, during which time he directed
two research centers and held an endowed professorship.
The Paul Kurtz lecture series has been endowed by Paul Kurtz,
PhD, professor emeritus of philosophy at UB and a national figure
in the philosophical field. Like Pinker, he is both eminent and
controversial, a populist who has made a significant mark in his
Often referred to as "the father of secular humanism," Kurtz is
best known for his prominence in the American skeptical community.
He is founder and past chair of the Center for Inquiry
Transnational and its federated organizations, including the
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular
Humanism. The New York Times called him "a skeptic of everything
He is the founder of Prometheus Books, former editor of The
Humanist and former editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry magazine. He
also contributed to the writing of the Humanist Manifesto II and is
well-known for his critique of the paranormal. Kurtz also is the
author or editor of 45 books and more than 800 articles and
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.