J. Peder Zane in The News & Observer:
Though the march of human progress is beyond dispute, the forces driving it are harder to pinpoint. Harvard Professor Pinker thinks he’s found the answer, tracing all the good news to the rise of reason — to an evidence-based, scientific world view — during the Enlightenment.
Life has indeed improved dramatically since the 17th century, but Pinker’s thesis fails to account for the steady improvement that occurred before then — a point he noted in his previous book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” which demonstrated the inexorable decline in violence since the Stone Age.
A far more comprehensive explanation is offered by Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University who grounds these happy achievements not in the arbitrary whims of humanity but the eternal laws of physics.
Bejan’s work — which was the subject of a book we wrote together, “Design in Nature,” and which will be honored in Philadelphia this week when he receives the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Medal — is so compelling, and beautiful, because of its holistic approach. His monumental discovery, the constructal law, does not see humanity as distinct from nature but as a part of it; it holds that human progress is governed and predicted by the same phenomenon that has inexorably improved the natural world.