In today’s talk, “The Long Reach of Reason,” Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein have been animated by Cognitive Media.
I want to give you the back story behind today’s TED Talk and make the case that it’s one of the most significant we’ve ever posted. And I’m not just talking about its incredible animation. I’m talking about its core idea.
Two years ago the psychologist Steven Pinker and the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, who are married, came to TED to take part in a form of Socratic dialog. Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: The long reach of reason She sought to argue that Reason was a much more powerful force in history than it’s normally given credit for. He initially defended the modern consensus among psychologists and neurologists, that most human behavior is best explained through other means: unconscious instincts of various kinds. But over the course of the dialog, he is persuaded by her, and together they look back through history and see how reasoned arguments ended up having massive impacts, even if those impacts sometimes took centuries to unfold.
The script was clever, the argument powerful. However on the day, they bombed. And I’m mainly to blame.
You see, we gambled that year on seeking to expand our repertoire of presentation formats. Their dialog appeared in a session we called “The Dinner Party.” The idea was that all the speakers at the session would be seated around a table. They would individually give their talks, then come sit back down with the others to debate the talk, and everyone would end up the wiser. Seemed like an interesting idea at the time. But it didn’t work. Somehow the chemistry of the dinner guests never ignited. And perhaps the biggest reason for that was that I, as head of the table trying to moderate the conversation, had my back to the audience. The audience disengaged, the evening fell flat, and Steve and Rebecca’s dialog, which also suffered from some audio issues, was rated too low for us to consider posting it online.
At TED2012, Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein explored how reason shaped human history. We’ve animated the talk to bring new life to this important idea. Photo: James Duncan Davidson
That would normally have been the end of it. Except that a strange thing happened. I could not get their core idea out of my head. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that TED’s entire mission rested on the premise that ideas really matter. And unless reasoned argument is the prime tool shaping those ideas, they can warp into pretty much anything, good or bad.
And so I tried to figure if there was a way to rescue the talk. And it turned out that there was. It came in the shape of Andrew Park, who, in my humble-but-true opinion is the world’s greatest animator of concepts. His RSA Animate series has notched up millions of views for sometimes difficult topics, and we have worked with him before to animate talks from Denis Dutton and some of our TED-Ed lessons (including one from yours truly on Questions No One Knows the Answer To.) If he could make me interesting, he sure as hell could do so for Pinker and Goldstein.
And so it turned out. Andrew and his amazing team at Cognitive fixed the audio issue and turned the entire talk into an animated movie of such imagination, humor and, most of all, explanatory power, it took my breath away.
And so here it is. The Long Reach of Reason. A talk in animated dialog form, arguing that Reason is capable of extending its influence across centuries, making it the single most powerful driver of long-term change. Please watch it. A) you’ll be blown away by how it’s animated. B) it may change forever how you think about Reason. And that’s a good thing.
It is a delicious example in favor of the talk’s conclusions that it was the power of its own arguments that kept it alive and turned it into a animation capable of far greater reach than the original.
For me, the argument in this talk is ultimately a profoundly optimistic one. If it turns out to be valid, then there really can be such a thing in the world as moral progress. People are genuinely capable of arguing each other into new beliefs, new mindsets that ultimately will benefit humanity. If you think that’s unlikely, watch the talk. You might just find yourself reasoned to a different opinion.
An experiment I will never try again: hosting a session with my back to the audience. Photo: James Duncan Davidson
I like DDLC and Monika is my Waifu 4 weeks ago
I like this
aidan 7 weeks ago
can you add topics about pitching
Virginia Kearney 4 months agofrom United States
Hi Ryan--I'll add some! Good idea! My students are mostly between 18-22, but many students writing argument essays are older.
Ryan 4 months ago
I love your articles, they are really helpful to me.
Virginia, Could you help me think of an argumentative topic about retirement age? I do not know how to write about it!
bill 4 months ago
wow thanks virginia, this really helped me out!!!!
Virginia Kearney 4 months agofrom United States
Hi Stephen-I have several articles that tell you all of the steps you need to know for writing your argument paper. Just look at my profile or look at the articles linked to the side.
Stephen 4 months ago
Ammmm can u tell me how or what to do after I chose a topic like getting info.
I LOVE RESEARCH 4 months ago
wow, quite impressive. keep up the good work!! :)))))))))))
marisol 4 months ago
this really helped me
aziza 4 months ago
I would like to thank you so so much for these great topics.
Shaleeta 6 months ago
This is a great resource. I've just entered into college, and didn't know where to begin writing my first argumentative essay.
Thanks so much - voted up :)
Kennedy 6 months ago
Do you know or have you written of anything to do with the argumentative essay of "should smoking be banned" because I have to do essays with research and I need some reliable sites
Virginia Kearney 6 months agofrom United States
Hi Aashi! I'm glad that younger students are finding my work too. Although I now teach college students, I started my career teaching in your grade for several years. I will have to put together some topics for primary grade students. Until then, you might want to look at my High School Topics, which have many ideas which are good for your age too.
Aashi 6 months ago
I am in primary school in grade 6 and I want some good topics for primary students
Badass 8 months ago
Good job making this page
Thea 8 months ago
I don't know what to do at first. I was clueless and was browsing for answers but none of them made sense except for this. Thank you very much!
love 9 months ago
I think the ideas are wonderful and are very helpful!
Beth 9 months ago
I am a Junior in high school and I have to write an argumentative paper. Your insight on how to do so has been extremely helpful. I wanted to thank you for your intelligence on how to write an argumentative paper.
Ocean 10 months ago
Thanks! This website was very useful for picking out a topic for my essay. Again, thank you for helping me out!
King of Stuff 13 months ago
I find this website very interesting and helpful. Thank you for making it! Your tips on writing essays is really helping me out.
Mr. fluffypants 13 months ago
I love this article. You have helped me with my school essay. Thank you!
letter pile 13 months ago
I LOVE this website!!!! Thank you so much for writing it! It has helped me so much!
Virginia Kearney 14 months agofrom United States
Hi Nataly! You are welcome to shift the focus of the questions to whether governments should take action. My questions and topic ideas are just a starting point. I teach my students that there are a variety of ways to solve problems and one of those is by having governments or larger groups take action. However, I want my students to focus more on how they and their audience can personally take responsibility and action, so often my questions are more locally written. In my class, I focus on having my students address a very particular audience in their persuasive essays because effective arguments come from really thinking carefully about the viewpoint of the other person and developing points that would persuade that person. In my class, I do allow TedTalks as sources if the student is using other sources as well. However, I don't think all professors do accept that type of source. Most people who do TedTalks have written out their arguments in papers or books, so I'd suggest you research to see if there is an online paper you can cite as well.
Nataly 14 months ago
I find your lists great and really appreciate the idea of providing useful links. Still, I would rather shift the focus of some questions so that they ask students to think more globally, from the point of view of the state and the society. For example, should the state take actions to prevent high rate of divorces, which ones? Are people in developed states responsible for providing water and food to the starving people around the globe?, etc. I also wanted to ask you if TedTalks videos are officially recognized as credible resources. Have you ever heard of any cases when professors forbid to use it? Thank you for a good work!
Hulya Gulyurt 15 months ago
This helped me so much with my homework, thank you!
Abdul 15 months ago
Great Efforts ...Well done
kk 15 months ago
i am a kid
vashan 17 months ago
should guns be allowed on school campus
Virginia Kearney 19 months agofrom United States
This is an interesting topic idea bojoi--and definitely one that would be controversial. I'd love to hear how you would develop your thesis.
preetyradd 20 months ago
i think this is cool i got a good grade on my essay thanks
Kanwal asif 20 months ago
Thank u so much God bless u
Virginia Kearney 22 months agofrom United States
Glad this will help you three keys!
Threekeys 23 months agofrom Australia
Im about to try out your suggestions in this great article. Im excited to see what the outcome will be in how I take a more pointed or comprehensive approach in a "written debate" so to speak. Thanks so much!
djazira k 2 years ago
Thank you it is really helpful.
kamila 2 years ago
Thank you so much for the topics
Trisha Roberts 3 years agofrom Rensselaer, New York
Love the great ideas! Absolutely love the list you shared with us. Thank you so much for this Article!
Kalai 3 years agofrom Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Sometimes i find that the most easy or obvious topic the hardest to argue about. The less the words the greater the headache. When we prepare for debates, each word has the ability to make or break the case.
Rae Saylor 4 years agofrom Australia
What an interesting range of ideas and tips! Massive thanks for writing this, pal! Voted up :)
Eiddwen 4 years agofrom Wales
A great hub Victoria ;thanks for sharing and I vote up.
Dianna Mendez 4 years ago
This is very useful to those who must teach essay writing (and to those who must write them). I know I will be using this next time I teach English Comp. Voted up++
ExpectGreatThings 4 years agofrom Illinois
Wow! This is a very impressive list and great instructions. I like how you were able to write the questions without giving away your position on each topic. - Ginger
Eric Dierker 4 years agofrom Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.
Very interesting. Fun ideas and great food for thought.