• Jacqueline Leighton

Challenging Ourselves to Think

I've chosen Steven Pinker's Human Nature and the Blank Slate as the human development video of the month (May) for two reasons: Pinker is a great thinker and because his work leads him to say some controversial things that require us to actually be confronted with what we may not agree with. In this video he says some controversial things based on decades of research. It requires us to consider the evidence and practice holding more than one thought in our minds. Thank goodness for that! I met Steven Pinker in 2012 when he visited the University of Alberta as part of the Festival of Ideas. I loved the University's Festival of Ideas. Well-known speakers with something interesting to say came to deliver talks that rocked our worlds. Not because we agreed with everything they said or because they appeased everyone in the room, but because we expected to hear diverse intellectual perspectives on critical issues. This was a time when debates were more actively encouraged based on logic and evidence. A person's morality was not the overarching criterion. This privilege we call freedom of expression, which is a foundation for open debate, needs to be observed and upheld and defended. I worry that it is slowly being eroded under different guises to avoid offence. I do not believe rigorous scholarship in the social sciences can survive under conditions of fear. This is why I'm thankful that aside from the typical academic freedom we have as scholars, the University of Alberta observes a Statement on Freedom of Expression. This statement applies broadly to students, staff, professors and guests of the university.