Listen to a podcast, please open Podcast Republic app. Available on Google Play Store.
Dr. Susan Blackmore — Altered States and Conscious Beings
Dr. Susan Blackmore is no stranger to skeptics. Dr. Shermer has known Dr. Blackmore since the early 1990s. When the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine were founded in 1992 she was already a rock star in the skeptical movement, having moved from believing in the paranormal, ESP, telepathy, and all the rest, to being an arch skeptic of all such claims. After earning a Ph.D. in the paranormal she devoted a decade to testing various phenomena under rigorous laboratory conditions, and continually found null results. That is, the tighter the controls she implemented and the more rigorous the research protocols, the weaker the paranormal effects became until they disappeared entirely. She went on from there to develop a theory about the neural correlates of such altered states of consciousness as Out of Body Experiences and Near Death Experiences, and after that wrote her bestselling book The Meme Machine, in which she developed a theory of how memes can be replicated and selected in a manner first proposed by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, when he coined the term. Dr. Blackmore went on to publish one of the leading textbooks on consciousness and is now working on a theory of tremes, or technological memes and how they can be replicated and selected in machines without human input.
This Science Salon was recorded on November 7, 2018.
|Dec 04, 2018|
Zac Sechler interviews Michael Shermer about Why People Believe in God
In this unusual Science Salon we bring you an interview of Dr. Shermer by Zac Sechler, a high school senior at Grace Prep High School in State College, PA. Zac is interested in studying areas such as religion, science, and history. He plans on studying history in college and hopes to work in the education field. This interview was for his Senior Project, on studying different worldviews that people hold on religion, and why they believe what they believe. Dr. Shermer’s contribution was as an atheist and skeptic, although as he points out to Zac, atheism and skepticism are not worldviews. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in God, full stop. Skepticism is just a scientific way of exploring the world and confronting claims about it.
This Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on October 10, 2018.
|Nov 27, 2018|
Daniel de Visé — On Comebacks in Sports and Life
In this unusual dialogue Dr. Shermer talks to author and journalist Daniel de Visé about one of the greatest athletes in American history, three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and de Vise’s new book about the cyclist, The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling, and a Legendary Tour de France. They also get into what constitutes fairness in sports, Lance Armstrong and the era of doping in sports in which nearly every professional athlete (not just in cycling) was using Performing Enhancing Drugs, and the ethics of how something can be immoral if everyone is doing it. Shermer explains his game theory analysis of cheating and how to tilt the incentive matrix to encourage fair play among all agents in a system. They also touch on de Vise’s prior bestselling book Andy and Don, the story of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts and their classic American television series.
Daniel de Visé is an author and journalist. He has worked at the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and in 2001 shared a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative journalism of the on-the-scene coverage of the pre-dawn raid by federal agents that took the Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives and reunited him with his Cuban father. His investigative reporting twice led to the release of wrongly convicted men from life terms in prison. He is the author of I Forgot to Remember and Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show.
This Science Salon was recorded on September 14, 2018.
|Nov 13, 2018|
Dr. David P. Barash — Human Nature Through a Glass Brightly
Humans have long seen ourselves as the center of the universe, the apple of God’s eye, specially-created creatures who are somehow above and beyond the natural world. This viewpoint — a persistent paradigm of our own unique self-importance — is as dangerous as it is false. In this conversation with Michael Shermer based on his new book Through a Glass Brightly, noted biologist and evolutionary psychologist David Barash explores the process by which science has, throughout time, cut humanity “down to size,” and how humanity has responded. Shermer and Barash also explore how evolutionary psychology became politicized, with the Right embracing it and the Left looking askance at it, based on a deeper commitment to human nature as grounded deeply in our biology and genetics vs. human nature as malleable and shaped primarily by culture. A lifelong liberal and social activist, Dr. Barash nevertheless accepts the science wherever it leads, regardless of ideology. From there Barash and Shermer discuss human aggression and violence, whether or not war is part of our nature, game theory and nuclear deterrence and why Barash thinks MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) is a dangerous and fraudulent game to play with extinction on the line, how we can get to Nuclear Zero, and whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic for our species’ future.
This Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on October 19, 2018.
|Nov 06, 2018|
Dr. Jonathan Haidt — Coming Apart
A lecture by and follow-up discussion with Jonathan Haidt about the excessive divisiveness of American politics and culture the past several years. Dr. Haidt visited the campus of Chapman University on October 18 on his book tour for The Coddling of the American Mind, about which Dr. Shermer talked to him in Science Salon # 36. While on campus Professor Haidt made a guest appearance in Professor Shermer’s class, Skepticism 101, and gave a lecture about his deep concerns of what is happening in America and what we should do about it, followed by an “in conversation” with Dr. Shermer in front of the class on several of these themes, including to what extent science and determine human values, what business America has in telling other countries and cultures what their values should be, his thoughts on the Harvard discrimination lawsuit, the deplatforming of Steve Bannon by The New Yorker, the legalization or criminalization of polygamy and prostitution, welfare programs and Universal Basic Income, and our moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves.
This Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on October 18, 2018.
|Oct 30, 2018|
Dr. Clay Routledge — The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything
In this dialogue on life’s deepest and most meaningful issues Michael Shermer talks with psychologist Clay Routledge about: the evolution of motivation and goals in animals and humans ● what a “purpose driven life” really means ● how atheists and nonbelievers can create meaningful and purposeful lives ● the self, personal identity, and existential psychology ● why people believe in God and fear death ● why religious people live longer and healthier lives ● the different types of atheists ● why one-third of atheists believe in some type of life after death ● free will as a useful fiction ● trans-humanism as a faux religion ● what should an atheist say to someone who is dying or has a loved-one who passed away ● terrorism as motivated by religion or politics or both.
Dr. Clay Routledge is an author, psychological scientist, consultant, public speaker, and professor. He is a professor at North Dakota State University. He studies basic psychological needs and how these needs influence wellbeing, physical health, and intergroup relations.Much of his research focuses on the need for meaning in life and the need to belong.He has published 95 scholarly papers, co-edited two books on existential psychology, and authored the book Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource. He was the lead writer for the TED-Ed animated lesson Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? His new book Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World was published in July 2018.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on September 12, 2018.
|Oct 17, 2018|
Dr. Debra Lieberman — That’s Disgusting! Objection: Disgust, Morality and the Law
Why do we consider incest wrong, even when it occurs between consenting adults unable to have children? Why are words that gross us out more likely to be deemed “obscene” and denied the protection of the First Amendment? In a world where a gruesome photograph can decisively influence a jury and homosexual behavior is still condemned by some as “unnatural,” it is worth asking: is our legal system really governed by the power of reason? Or do we allow a primitive human emotion, disgust, to guide us in our lawmaking? In this wide-ranging conversation Dr. Lieberman considers disgust and its impact on the legal system to show why the things that we find stomach-turning so often become the things that we render unlawful. Shedding light on the evolutionary and psychological origins of disgust, she reveals how ancient human intuitions about what is safe to eat or touch, or who would make an advantageous mate, have become co-opted by moral systems designed to condemn behavior and identify groups of people ripe for marginalization. Over time these moral stances have made their way into legal codes, and disgust has thereby served as the impetus for laws against behaviors almost universally held to be “disgusting” (corpse desecration, bestiality) — and as the implicit justification for more controversial prohibitions (homosexuality, use of pornography).
Dr. Debra Lieberman is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami, where she is co-director of the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory. Dr. Lieberman is a leading researcher in the area of human cognition and behavior from an evolutionary perspective.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on August 22, 2018.
|Oct 10, 2018|
Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah — Who Am I? Who Are You? The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity
In this wide-ranging conversation Dr. Appiah and Dr. Shermer review the 5 “Cs” of identity—Creed, Country, Color, Class, and Culture—and what they tell us about who we are, or at least who we think we are. Dr. Appiah’s new book The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity explores the nature and history of the identities that define us. It challenges our assumptions about how identities work. We all know there are conflicts between identities, but Appiah shows how identities are created by conflict. Religion, he demonstrates, gains power because it isn’t primarily about belief. Our everyday notions of race are the detritus of discarded nineteenth-century science. Our cherished concept of the sovereign nation—of self-rule—is incoherent and unstable. Class systems can become entrenched by efforts to reform them. Even the very idea of Western culture is a shimmering mirage. These “mistaken identities,” Appiah explains, can fuel some of our worst atrocities—from chattel slavery to genocide. And yet, he argues that social identities aren’t something we can simply do away with. They can usher in moral progress and bring significance to our lives by connecting the small scale of our daily existence with larger movements, causes, and concerns. Elaborating a bold and clarifying new theory of identity, The Lies That Bind is a ringing philosophical statement for the anxious, conflict-ridden twenty-first century. This book will transform the way we think about who—and what—“we” are.
Kwame Anthony Appiah is a professor at NYU in the department of philosophy and the school of law, the Ethicist column for the New York Times, and the author of Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Experiments in Ethics, and most recently The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on August 21, 2018.
|Oct 03, 2018|
Heather Mac Donald — The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture
In this riveting review of the campus craziness investigative journals, writer, and lawyer Heather Mac Donald and Michael Shermer dive deep into the root causes of what has gone wrong on college campuses, in corporations, and in government agencies, over the decades that has led to a crisis in higher education … and beyond. Race and gender form the core of Identity Politics, which Mac Donald and Shermer discuss in dunking the myth that American society in general — and academia in particular — are rampant environments of bigotry and prejudice. Just the opposite is the case, as there has never been a safer and more inviting space to be than a college campus in 2018 America.
The discussion revolves around Mac Donald’s new book, The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture, in which she shows how toxic ideas first spread by higher education have undermined humanistic values, fueled intolerance, and widened divisions in our larger culture. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton? Oppressive. American history? Tyranny. Professors correcting grammar and spelling, or employers hiring by merit? Racist and sexist. Students emerge into the working world believing that human beings are defined by their skin color, gender, and sexual preference, and that oppression based on these characteristics is the American experience. Speech that challenges these campus orthodoxies is silenced with brute force.
Heather Mac Donald is a self-described secular conservative (she’s an atheist) who writes extensively on American politics and culture. She is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to New York’s City Journal. Her previous books include The War on Cops, Are Cops Racist?, The Immigration Solution, and The Burden of Bad Ideas.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on September 10, 2018.
|Sep 26, 2018|
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari — 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
In this dialogue with one of the most interesting minds of our time, the Hebrew University historian and best-selling author (Sapiens, Homo Deus), Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, he and Dr. Shermer discuss the central ideas of his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, an exploration of: history, work, liberty, equality, community, civilization, nationalism, religion, immigration, terrorism, war, humility, God, secularism, ignorance, justice, post-truth, science fiction, education, meaning, and meditation. Dr. Harari and Dr. Shermer cover as many of these topics as reasonable in this wide-ranging conversation, focusing especially on nationalism, tribalism, God and religion, free will and determinism, AI algorithms and human volition, the future of liberal democracy, colonizing Mars, and much more.
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Oxford, and now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in world history. His two books, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, have become global bestsellers, with more than twelve million copies sold and translations in more than forty-five languages.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on August 19, 2018.
|Sep 18, 2018|
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson — Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military
In this deep dive into the history of science and war, and the strange but productive alliances that have been formed over the centuries—particularly those between astrophysicists and politicians, governments, military, and corporations—Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michael Shermer cover centuries of history and the many facets of science policy that have brought us to the modern world of space telescopes, GPS, and the Internet, along with guided missiles, nuclear weapons, and smart bombs delivered by drones. The conversation focuses primarily on Tyson’s new book, Accessory to War, co-authored with his long-time Natural History editor Avis Lang, which is a serious scholarly work on a monumentally influential topic. Shermer also challenges Tyson on the relationship between resource scarcity and war, and when scientists like Werner von Braun and Edward Teller go too far in developing weapons of mass destruction, when “scientists know sin.” Tyson is at his best when pushed to go deep on serious subjects like these. Don’t miss this fascinating discussion.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, author, and the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. He is the host of the Cosmos television documentary series, and of his wildly popular Startalk podcast and National Geographic television show. His books include Death by Black Hole, Origins, The Sky is Not the Limit, The Pluto Files, Space Chronicles, and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 67 weeks.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on September 5, 2018.
|Sep 12, 2018|
Dr. Jonathan Haidt — The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
In this fascinating dialogue Dr. Haidt and Dr. Shermer discuss what has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising—on campus as well as nationally. How did this happen? In his new book Haidt has teamed up with First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff to show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures. Embracing these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life. They explore changes in childhood such as the rise of fearful parenting, the decline of unsupervised, child-directed play, and the new world of social media that has engulfed teenagers in the last decade. They examine changes on campus, including the corporatization of universities and the emergence of new ideas about identity and justice. They situate the conflicts on campus within the context of America’s rapidly rising political polarization and dysfunction.
Dr. Jonathan Haidt is Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is a social psychologist whose field is moral psychology. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on August 27, 2018.
|Sep 05, 2018|
Dr. Tali Sharot — The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About our Power to Change Others
In her new book, The Influential Mind, neuroscientist Tali Sharot takes readers on a thrilling exploration of the nature of influence, so she and Shermer start the conversation by discussing how we can influence, for example, climate deniers to accept climate science, anti-vaxxers to accept vaccines, and creationists to accept evolution. As Sharot shows in her research, merely presenting people with the facts will not change their minds. There are other forces at work, which she reveals in this conversation and in more depth in her book. It turns out, for example, that many of our instincts—from relying on facts and figures to shape opinions, to insisting others are wrong or attempting to exert control—are ineffective, because they are incompatible with how people’s minds operate. Sharot shows us how to avoid these pitfalls, and how an attempt to change beliefs and actions is successful when it is well-matched with the core elements that govern the human brain. Sharot reveals the critical role of emotion in influence, the weakness of data and the power of curiosity. Relying on the latest research in neuroscience, behavioral economics and psychology, she provides fascinating insight into the complex power of influence, good and bad. Since she grew up in Israel, she and Shermer discuss the role of religion in terrorism and politics along with health and happiness.
Tali Sharot is a Professor of cognitive Neuroscience at University College London where she directs the Affective Brain Lab. She combines research in psychology, behavioural economics and neuroscience to reveal the forces that shape our decisions and beliefs. Dr. Sharot is the author of The Influential Mind and The Optimism Bias. Her papers have been published in top scientific journals including Nature, Science and Nature Neuroscience. This work has been the subject of features in many outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the BBC and others. She has also written essays for Time (cover story), the New York Times, the Guardian among others. She was a speaker at TED’s annual conference 2012 and a British Academy and Wellcome Trust fellow. She received her Ph.D from New York University.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on August 17, 2018.
|Aug 29, 2018|
Colin McGinn — Paradoxes, Puzzles, and Philosophy
In their second Science Salon conversation Michael Shermer and Colin McGinn consider the broader sweep of philosophy after their first encounter in which they focused on consciousness, free will, and God. In this dialogue they review some of the paradoxes and puzzles of philosophy, pseudo-questions, realism v. antirealism, how to deal with unknown unknowns, immortality and the nature of the self and soul, and how McGinn and Daniel Dennett differ in their positions on mysterianism. Another hard-hitting and illuminating conversation.
If you missed it, listen to part 1 of this dialogue with Colin McGinn: Mysterianism, Consciousness, Free Will, and God (Science Salon # 29).
This remote Science Salon was recorded on July 20, 2018.
|Aug 22, 2018|
David Quammen — The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life
In this dialogue with one of the best nature and science writers of our generation, David Quammen and Michael Shermer discuss his new book on the history of one of the most exciting revolutions in evolution and genetics that is unfolding before our eyes. In the mid-1970s, scientists began using DNA sequences to reexamine the history of all life. Perhaps the most startling discovery to come out of this new field—the study of life’s diversity and relatedness at the molecular level—is horizontal gene transfer (HGT), or the movement of genes across species lines. It turns out that HGT has been widespread and important. For instance, we now know that roughly eight percent of the human genome arrived not through traditional inheritance from directly ancestral forms, but sideways by viral infection—a type of HGT.
In The Tangled Tree David Quammen chronicles these discoveries through the lives of the researchers who made them—such as Carl Woese, the most important little-known biologist of the twentieth century; Lynn Margulis, the notorious maverick whose wild ideas about “mosaic” creatures proved to be true; and Tsutomu Wantanabe, who discovered that the scourge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a direct result of horizontal gene transfer, bringing the deep study of genome histories to bear on a global crisis in public health.
As well, Quammen and Shermer discuss how molecular studies of evolution have brought startling recognitions about the tangled tree of life—including where we humans fit upon it. Thanks to new technologies such as CRISPR, we now have the ability to alter even our genetic composition—through sideways insertions, as nature has long been doing. They consider the ethical issues involved in bringing back extinct species, the meaning of the “self” if we are actually mosaics of different species, and the trans-humanist dream of re-engineering the human genome so our species can become post-human.
David Quammen is the author of a dozen fiction and nonfiction books, including Blood Line and The Song of the Dodo. His book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic was a finalist for seven awards and received two of them: the Science and Society Book Award, given by the National Association of Science Writers, and the Society of Biology (UK) Book Award in General Biology. A three-time National Magazine Award winner, he is a contributing writer for National Geographic and has written also for Harper’s, Outside, Esquire, The Atlantic, Powder, and Rolling Stone. He received honorary doctorates from Montana State University and Colorado College. He travels widely on assignment, usually to jungles, mountains, remote islands, and swamps.
|Aug 15, 2018|
Nina Teicholz — The Big Fat Surprise About Diet and Nutrition
In this fascinating conversation with Michael Shermer, the investigative journalist Nina Teicholz reviews the scientific literature on diet and nutrition, the link (or lack thereof) between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, the history of the government’s recommendation of what constitutes a healthy diet and why they got it so wrong, statins and heart disease, exercise and nutrition, an update on what has happened since her book, The Big Fat Surprise, was published in 2014, and most importantly what you should eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow (hint: it’s okay to have meat, butter and cheese without feeling guilty).
Nina Teicholz is an investigative science journalist and author. Her international bestseller, The Big Fat Surprise has upended the conventional wisdom on dietary fat—especially saturated fat. The executive editor of The Lancet wrote, “this is a disquieting book about…ruthless silencing of dissent that has shaped our lives for decades…researchers, clinicians, and health policy advisors should read this provocative book.” The Big Fat Surprise was named a 2014 Best Book by The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Mother Jones, and Library Journal. Teicholz is also the Executive Director of The Nutrition Coalition, a non-profit group that promotes evidence-based nutrition policy. She is a graduate of Stanford and Oxford Universities and previously served as associate director of the Center for Globalization and Sustainable Development at Columbia University. Teicholz now lives in New York city with her husband and two sons.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on July 19, 2018.
|Aug 07, 2018|
Amy Alkon — Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence
In this unique conversation Michael Shermer talks with the science writer and weekly advice columnist Amy Alkon about her new book, Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence. She calls her book a “science-help” book, instead of “self-help” because she grounds her recommendations in solid science. Her hilarious anecdotes are there just to illustrate a scientific point. She also debunks widely-accepted but scientifically unsupported notions about self-esteem, shame, willpower, and more and demonstrates that:
Shermer and Alkon also get into the #metoo movement, evolutionary psychology, politics, depression, suicide, Jordan Peterson, and other fascinating topics.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on July 5, 2018.
|Jul 31, 2018|
Dr. Ralph Lewis — Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Universe
In this wide-ranging conversation Michael Shermer talks with the author of the new book Finding Purpose in a Godless World: Why We Care Even if the Universe Doesn’t, Dr. Ralph Lewis. Dr. Lewis is a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto who works with cancer patients and others facing death. They often face existential crises, so Dr. Lewis—himself an atheist—has developed techniques to help people cope that do not depend on any one religion. His new book is about how human purpose and caring, like consciousness and absolutely everything else in existence, could plausibly have emerged and evolved unguided, bottom-up, in a spontaneous universe. He and Shermer discuss how a random world is too often misconstrued as nihilistic, demotivating, or devoid of morality and meaning. Drawing on years of wide-ranging, intensive clinical experience as a psychiatrist, and his own family experience with cancer, Dr. Lewis helps listeners understand how people cope with random adversity without relying on supernatural belief. In fact, as he explains, although coming to terms with randomness is often frightening, it can be liberating and empowering too.
This remote Science Salon was recorded on July 2, 2018.
|Jul 25, 2018|
Colin McGinn — Mysterianism, Consciousness, Free Will, and God
This podcast was initiated after McGinn commented publicly, and critically, on Shermer’s latest Scientific American column on the mysteries of consciousness, free will, and God.
The philosopher Justin Weinberg at the University of South Carolina, who runs the DailyNous website (@DailyNousEditor on Twitter) posted a dozen tweets admonishing Shermer and Scientific American for publishing such a mischaracterization of several philosophical subjects, even referencing the film Annie Hall, where Woody Allen’s character is irritated in a movie line by some bloviator yammering on about Marshall McLuhan, reaches behind a big movie poster and pulls McLuhan out of line, who then upbraiding the blowhard “I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!” To which Woody says, “Boy, if life were only like this.”
Well, life can be like this, but in this case Shermer invited McGinn on the show to discuss the topics in detail in order for everyone to glean a deeper understanding. A fruitful conversation ensued on these and other important topics.
|Jul 16, 2018|
Dr. Michael Shermer — Ask Me Anything # 1
In this first Ask Me Anything (AMA) Dr. Shermer attempts to answer as many questions as possible in a reasonable time among the hundreds submitted by readers. There were so many good ones, in fact, that he will produce a second AMA on these, as well as new ones submitted when we put out a call shortly. In AMA # 1 the questions are roughly grouped in the following categories:
Read a list of the questions answered in this AMA: https://www.skeptic.com/science-salon/ama001/
|Jul 09, 2018|
Edward J. Larson — On Faith and Science
Throughout history, scientific discovery has clashed with religious dogma, creating conflict, controversy, and sometimes violent dispute. In this enlightening and accessible volume, distinguished historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Larson and Michael Ruse, philosopher of science and Gifford Lecturer, offer their distinctive viewpoints on the sometimes contentious relationship between science and religion. The authors explore how scientists, philosophers, and theologians through time and today approach vitally important topics, including cosmology, geology, evolution, genetics, neurobiology, gender, and the environment. Broaching their subjects from both historical and philosophical perspectives, Larson and Ruse avoid rancor and polemic as they address many of the core issues currently under debate by the adherents of science and the advocates of faith, shedding light on the richly diverse field of ideas at the crossroads where science meets spiritual belief.
In addition to these topics, Dr. Shermer and Dr. Larson discuss: the Scopes Monkey trial and how legal complications shaped its outcome, along with that of other creationism-evolution trials; what Darwin believed about God and religion; why biblical literalism took off in America in the 1960s and 1970s leading to creationist movements to rewrite science textbooks; what really happened in the Galileo trial; how so many prominent scientists throughout history believed in God but did not actually use their science to prove God’s providence; why atheism became so prominent in the early 21st century but not before, even though atheist arguments against God’s existence have been around for centuries; Gould and Dawkins and different approaches to science and religion; the rise of the nones and the decline of religion in the West (but it’s increase in other areas); the limits of human knowledge.
|Jul 02, 2018|
Charles S. Cockell — The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution
We are all familiar with the popular idea of strange alien life wildly different from life on earth inhabiting other planets. Maybe it’s made of silicon! Maybe it has wheels! Or maybe it doesn’t. In The Equations of Life, astrobiologist Charles S. Cockell makes the forceful argument that the laws of physics narrowly constrain how life can evolve, making evolution’s outcomes predictable. If we were to find on a distant planet something very much like a lady bug eating something like an aphid, we shouldn’t be surprised. The forms of life are guided by a limited set of rules, and as a result, there is a narrow set of solutions to the challenges of existence.
In addition to these topics, Dr. Shermer and Dr. Cockell discuss: the origins of life on earth; the possibility of finding life on Mars and, if we did, would it have something like DNA, albeit with different base pairs?; Fermi’s paradox: if the laws of physics and evolution are so common throughout the universe, and there are so many earth-like planets in our galaxy alone (estimated to be in the billions), where is everyone?; humanity becoming an interplanetary species (possibly the first), and if so what type of governing system we should employ for, say, the first colonies on Mars.
|Jun 25, 2018|
Dr. Stephen T. Asma — Why We Need Religion
In this dialogue Dr. Michael Shermer talks with philosopher Stephen T. Asma, a Professor of Philosophy and Founding Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science, and Culture at Columbia College, Chicago. His new book is Why We Need Religion, in which he argues that, like art, religion has direct access to our emotional lives in ways that science does not. Yes, science can give us emotional feelings of wonder and the sublime—we can feel the sacred depths of nature—but there are many forms of human suffering and vulnerability that are beyond the reach of help from science. Different emotional stresses require different kinds of rescue. Unlike secular authors who praise religion’s ethical and civilizing function, Asma argues that its core value lies in its emotionally therapeutic power. Asma and Shermer also discuss the relationship of science and religion, why people believe in God, atheism vs. agnosticism, the “new atheists”, humanism and the need for social and spiritual community, and other hot topics.
|Jun 22, 2018|
Richard Rhodes — Energy: A Human History
This is one of the best dialogues Dr. Shermer has ever had in his quarter century of talking to the leading scientists and scholars of our time. Listen in as he and Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author Richard Rhodes discuss nuclear weapons, North Korea, Iran, and Russia, the psychology of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), human violence and its causes, the “Bullet Holocaust” (the millions of Jews and others shot to death in Eastern Europe before the death camps ramped up their killing by gas), how people become serial killers (the socialization of violence), and his new book Energy: A Human History, which reveals the fascinating history behind energy transitions over time—wood to coal to oil to electricity and beyond. People have lived and died, businesses have prospered and failed, and nations have risen to world power and declined, all over energy challenges. Ultimately, the history of these challenges tells the story of humanity itself.
In Energy, Rhodes highlights the successes and failures that led to each breakthrough in energy production; from animal and waterpower to the steam engine, from internal-combustion to the electric motor. He addresses how we learned from such challenges, mastered their transitions, and capitalized on their opportunities. Rhodes also looks at the current energy landscape, with a focus on how wind energy is competing for dominance with cast supplies of coal and natural gas. He also addresses the specter of global warming, and a population hurtling towards ten billion by 2100.
|May 29, 2018|
Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. David Grinspoon — Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto
Listen in on this remarkable conversation with mission leader Dr. Alan Stern and co-author of the spell-binding new book Chasing New Horizons, Dr. David Grinspoon, as they recount the story of the men and women behind this amazing mission: of their decades-long commitment and persistence; of the political fights within and outside of NASA; of the sheer human ingenuity it took to design, build, and fly the mission; and of the plans for New Horizons’ next encounter, 1 billion miles past Pluto in 2019.
Told from the insider’s perspective of mission leader Dr. Alan Stern and others on New Horizons, and including two stunning 16-page full-color inserts of images, Chasing New Horizons is a riveting account of scientific discovery, and of how much we humans can achieve when people focused on a dream work together toward their incredible goal. Nothing like this has occurred in a generation―a raw exploration of new worlds unparalleled since NASA’s Voyager missions to Uranus and Neptune―and nothing quite like it is planned to happen ever again. The photos that New Horizons sent back to Earth graced the front pages of newspapers on all 7 continents, and NASA’s website for the mission received more than 2 billion hits in the days surrounding the flyby. At a time when so many think that our most historic achievements are in the past, the most distant planetary exploration ever attempted not only succeeded in 2015 but made history and captured the world’s imagination.
|May 22, 2018|
Dr. Kenneth R. Miller — The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will
Ken Miller is well known for his work in debunking Intelligent Design Creationism, most notably for his testimony in the Dover Pennsylvania trial that demolished the legal strategies of the movement to have creationism taught in public school science classes. His book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul recounts his experiences and argues why evolution is true.
Now, in his new book, Dr. Miller presents a radical, optimistic exploration of how humans evolved to develop reason, consciousness, and free will, contra scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris who tell us that our most intimate actions, thoughts, and values are mere byproducts of thousands of generations of mindless adaptation. We are just one species among multitudes, and therefore no more significant than any other living creature.
Brown University biology professor Miller contends that this view betrays a gross misunderstanding of evolution. Natural selection surely explains how our bodies and brains were shaped, but Miller argues that it’s not a social or cultural theory of everything. In The Human Instinct, he rejects the idea that our biological heritage means that human thought, action, and imagination are pre-determined, describing instead the trajectory that ultimately gave us reason, consciousness and free will. A proper understanding of evolution, he says, reveals humankind in its glorious uniqueness—one foot planted firmly among all of the creatures we’ve evolved alongside, and the other in the special place of self-awareness and understanding that we alone occupy in the universe.
|May 19, 2018|
Dr. Gregory Berns — What It’s Like to Be a Dog…and Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience
In this wide-ranging dialogue (recorded on September 1, 2017) on the nature of consciousness Dr. Michael Shermer talks with Dr. Gregory Berns, Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics and Director of the Center for Neuropolicy and Facility for Education and Research in Neuroscience.
Dr. Berns is famous for his use of fMRI to study canine cognitive function in awake, unrestrained dogs. The goals of his research are to non-invasively map the perceptual and decision systems of the dog’s brain and to predict likelihood of success in service dogs. He also uses diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to reconstruct the white matter pathways of a wide variety of other mammals, including dolphins, sea lions, coyotes, and the extinct Tasmanian tiger.
Shermer and Berns address the so-called “Hard Problem of Consciousness” of “what is it like to be a bat (or dog)?” What is it like to be another sentient being has been impossible to understand until and unless we can get inside the other conscious creature’s head. Now we can thanks to this new technology. Of course, we cannot have a first-person subjective experience of being a dog—and in this sense the “Hard Problem of Consciousness” is something of a conceptual error inasmuch as it can never be answered in this first-person subjective sense, but we can come close to understanding what dogs (and other conscious creatures) are thinking and feeling.
|Apr 16, 2018|
Dr. Leonard Mlodinow — Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change
Out of the exploratory instincts that allowed our ancestors to prosper hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans developed a cognitive style that Mlodinow terms elastic thinking, a collection of traits and abilities that include neophilia (an affinity for novelty), schizotypy (a tendency toward unusual perception), imagination and idea generation, pattern recognition, mental fluency, divergent thinking, and integrative thinking.
In this remote Science Salon (recorded on March 22, 2018), Dr. Shermer begins by asking Dr. Mlodinow what it was like to work with and get to know Stephen Hawking, on which the two worked together on two books. Hawking had to be elastic in his thinking given that his disease prevented him from doing science in the traditional manner.
Leonard Mlodinow received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and was on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology. His previous books include the best sellers Subliminal, War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra), The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking), and The Drunkard’s Walk, as well as The Upright Thinkers, Feynman’s Rainbow, and Euclid’s Window. He also wrote for the television series MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
|Apr 09, 2018|
Dr. Michael Shermer — Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia
In his most ambitious work yet—a scientific exploration into humanity’s obsession with the afterlife and quest for immortality—bestselling author and skeptic, Michael Shermer, sets out to discover what drives humans’ belief in life after death, focusing on recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality along with utopian attempts to create heaven on earth.
For millennia, religions have concocted numerous manifestations of heaven and the afterlife, and though no one has ever returned from such a place to report what it is really like—or that it even exists—today science and technology are being used to try to make it happen in our lifetime. From radical life extension to cryonic suspension to mind uploading, Shermer considers how realistic these attempts are from a proper skeptical perspective.
Heavens on Earth concludes with an uplifting paean to purpose and progress and how we can live well in the here-and-now, whether or not there is a hereafter.
|Mar 25, 2018|
Bill Nye the Science Guy Saves the World on Netflix
Michael Shermer interviews Bill Nye the Science Guy about his new Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World,” which aired Friday, April 21, 2017.
The conversation took place on December 18, 2016 at the offices of the Planetary Society, for which Nye is the CEO.
Learn more about the series on Netflix.
|Mar 07, 2018|
Dr. Bart Ehrman — How a Forbidden Religion (Christianity) Swept the World
In this remote Science Salon (recorded on February 19, 2018), Dr. Shermer converses with the great bible scholar and historian Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, the Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Ehrman is a leading authority on the New Testament and the history of early Christianity and the author of 8 Teaching Company courses and a number of New York Times bestselling books, including Misquoting Jesus and How Jesus Became God. In his new book, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, Dr. Ehrman explores how a tiny sect of just 20 people at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion in 30 CE became 25 to 35 million Christians by 400 CE. Imagine if the couple of dozen Branch Davidians living near Waco, Texas in early 1990s, instead of being incinerated by Federal agents in a botched stand-off, went on to convert two billion people around the world to their religion. That is what early Christians did. How did they do that?
Shermer and Ehrman also discuss the modern atheism movement, how Jesus became a Republican in the second half of the 20th century, the intractable (for Christians) problem of evil, the problem of identity for Jesus (how could he be both man and God?), what pre-Christian pagans believed about the gods, what early Christians had to offer pagans that other religions didn’t, how religions invented the afterlife and what people believed before the rise of Christianity about what happens after you die, and other fascinating topics.
|Feb 19, 2018|
Dr. Kip Thorne — Gravitational Waves, Black Holes, Time Travel, and Hollywood
Join us for what promises to be one of the deepest and most profound conversations we’ve had in our Science Salon series as Dr. Thorne reflects on his life and career in theoretical physics, his pursuit of the detection of the long-elusive gravitational waves through the LIGO detector, his relationship and bet with Stephen Hawking, how he came to consult on Carl Sagan’s Contact and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, his curious work on black holes, wormholes, and time travel, and what it’s like to go to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize.
|Feb 18, 2018|
Dr. Robert Trivers — Evolutionary Theory & Human Nature
Dr. Robert Trivers and Dr. Michael Shermer have a lively conversation on everything from evolutionary theory and human nature to how to win a knife fight and Trivers’ membership in the Black Panthers. Don’t miss this engaging exchange with one of the most interesting scientists of the past half century.
|Nov 16, 2017|
Donald Prothero & Timothy Callahan — UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says
UFOs. Aliens. Strange crop circles. Giant figures scratched in the desert surface along the coast of Peru. The amazing alignment of the pyramids. Strange lines of clouds in the sky. The paranormal is alive and well in the American cultural landscape. In UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens, Don Prothero and Tim Callahan explore why such demonstrably false beliefs thrive despite decades of education and scientific debunking.
Employing the ground rules of science and the standards of scientific evidence, Prothero and Callahan discuss a wide range of topics including the reliability of eyewitness testimony, psychological research into why people want to believe in aliens and UFOs, and the role conspiratorial thinking plays in UFO culture. They examine a variety of UFO sightings and describe the standards of evidence used to determine whether UFOs are actual alien spacecraft.
Finally, they consider our views of aliens and the strong cultural signals that provide the shapes and behaviors of these beings. While their approach is firmly based in science, Prothero and Callahan also share their personal experiences of Area 51, Roswell, and other legendary sites, creating a narrative that is sure to engross both skeptics and believers.
|Oct 15, 2017|
Dr. Nancy Segal — Twin Mythconceptions: False Beliefs, Fables, and Facts about Twins
Dr. Nancy Segal, the world’s leading expert on twins, has a new book that sheds light on over 70 commonly held ideas and beliefs about the origins and development of identical and fraternal twins. Using the latest scientific findings from psychology, psychiatry, biology, and education, Dr. Segal separates fact from fiction. Each idea about twins is described, followed by both a short answer about the truth, and then a longer, more detailed explanation. Coverage includes embryology of twins, twin types, intellectual growth, personality traits, sexual orientation of twins, marital relationships, epigenetic analyses, the frequency of different twin types and the varieties of polar body twin pairs. This book, and Salon with Dr. Segal, will inform and entertain behavioral and life science researchers, health professionals, twins, parents of twins, and anyone interested in the fascinating topic of twins and what they can teach us about human nature.
Dr. Segal earned her Ph.D. in the Social Sciences and Behavioral Sciences from the University of Chicago. From 1982-1991 she was a post-doctoral fellow and research associate at the University of Minnesota, affiliated with the well-known Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. She is currently Professor of Psychology at CSU Fullerton and Director of the Twin Studies Center, which she founded in 1991. Dr. Segal has authored over 200 scientific articles and book chapters, as well as several books on twins. Her previous book, Born Together-Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study (2012, Harvard University Press) won the 2013 William James Book Award from the American Psychological Association. Her other books include Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth (2011), Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins (2007) and Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior (2000). She is the 2016 recipient of the Wang Family Excellence Award from the California State University administrators and trustees for “exemplary contributions and achievement.” She was recognized as CSUF’s Outstanding Professor of the Year in 2005 and as the Distinguished Faculty Member in Humanities and Social Sciences in 2007 and 2014. She has been a frequent guest on national and international television and radio programs, including the Martha Stewart Show, Good Morning America, the Oprah Winfrey Show and The Forum (BBC). Dr. Segal has variously served as a consultant and expert witness for the media, the law and the arts.
|Sep 17, 2017|
Dr. Walter Scheidel — The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the 21st Century
Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes. Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, the Stanford University historian Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return. The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.
Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality. The “Four Horsemen” of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich. Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century. Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.
An essential contribution to the debate about inequality, The Great Leveler provides important new insights about why inequality is so persistent—and why it is unlikely to decline anytime soon.
|Jun 11, 2017|
Derren Brown — Magic, Happiness, and Skepticism
In this remote Science Salon, Michael Shermer talks with Derren Brown, a British magician and writer.
His TV show Derren Brown: Mind Control received immediate success after airing in 2000. His specials include Russian Roulette, Seance, The Heist, Hero at 30,000 Feet, How to Predict the Lottery, and Apocalypse. His live shows Something Wicked This Way Comes and Svengali have won him two Olivier Awards. He garnered the 2012 BAFTA for Best Entertainment for Derren Brown: The Experiments. He has also penned the books Tricks of the Mind and Confessions of a Conjuror, which have sold over 700,000 copies worldwide.
His latest book is Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine. Derren is currently in the US for his off-Broadway show Secret (April 21st – June 25th, 2017), which has already sold out and has been extended with additional dates.
Derren Brown makes his American theatrical debut in this world premiere production at Atlantic Theater Company. New York audiences can experience Derren’s unique blend of mind-reading, suggestion and psychological illusion in a brand new theatrical experience.
|May 15, 2017|
Dr. Andrew Shtulman — Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories About the World Are So Often Wrong
Why do we catch colds? What causes seasons to change? And if you fire a bullet from a gun and drop one from your hand, which bullet hits the ground first? In a pinch we almost always get these questions wrong. Worse, we regularly misconstrue fundamental qualities of the world around us. In Scienceblind, cognitive and developmental psychologist Dr. Andrew Shtulman, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Occidental College, where he directs the Thinking Lab, shows that the root of our misconceptions lies in the theories about the world we develop as children. They’re not only wrong, they close our minds to ideas inconsistent with them, making us unable to learn science later in life.
So how do we get the world right? We must dismantle our intuitive theories and rebuild our knowledge from its foundations. The reward won’t just be a truer picture of the world, but clearer solutions to many controversies—around vaccines, climate change, or evolution—that plague our politics today.
|Apr 23, 2017|
Dr. Carol Tavris — Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)
Why is it so hard to say “I made a mistake”—and really believe it? Social psychologist Dr. Carol Tavris, one of the most influential thinkers and writers of our time, explores in dialogue with Michael Shermer cognitive dissonance and what happens when we make mistakes, cling to outdated attitudes, or mistreat other people—we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so, unconsciously, we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right—a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong. Backed by years of research, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-justification—how it works, the damage it can cause, and how we can overcome it. The updated edition of the book features new examples and concludes with an extended discussion of how we can live with dissonance, learn from it, and perhaps, eventually, forgive ourselves.
|Feb 19, 2017|
Gary Taubes — The Case Against Sugar
Among Americans, diabetes is more prevalent today than ever; obesity is at epidemic proportions; nearly 10% of children are thought to have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. And sugar is at the root of these, and other, critical society-wide, health-related problems. With his signature command of both science and straight talk, Gary Taubes delves into Americans’ history with sugar: its uses as a preservative, as an additive in cigarettes, the contemporary overuse of high-fructose corn syrup. He explains what research has shown about our addiction to sweets. He clarifies the arguments against sugar, corrects misconceptions about the relationship between sugar and weight loss; and provides the perspective necessary to make informed decisions about sugar as individuals and as a society.
This is a groundbreaking and eye opening expose that makes the convincing case that sugar is the tobacco of the new millennium, backed by powerful lobbies, entrenched in our lives, and utterly addicting, making us all very sick. As Katie Couric says, “This is required reading for not only ever parent, but every American.” Gary Taubes is the New York Times bestselling author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. His writing has appeared in the New York Times magazine, The Atlantic, and Esquire.
|Jan 22, 2017|
Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan — Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal The Cosmos
Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan is a cosmologist and theoretical astrophysicist from Yale University, specializing in dark matter, dark energy, and black holes. She also holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship of the Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She is passionate about sharing science with the general public and in her new book she provides a tour of the “greatest hits” of cosmological discoveries—the ideas that reshaped our universe over the past century. The cosmos, once understood as a stagnant place, filled with the ordinary, is now a universe that is expanding at an accelerating pace, propelled by dark energy and structured by dark matter. Priyamvada Natarajan is at the forefront of this research—an astrophysicist who literally creates maps of invisible matter in the universe. In the book, she not only explains for a wide audience the science behind these essential ideas but also provides an understanding of how radical scientific theories gain acceptance. The formation and growth of black holes, dark matter halos, the accelerating expansion of the universe, the echo of the big bang, the discovery of exoplanets, and the possibility of other universes—these are some of the puzzling cosmological topics of the early twenty-first century. Natarajan discusses why the acceptance of new ideas about the universe and our place in it has never been linear and always contested even within the scientific community. And she affirms that, shifting and incomplete as science always must be, it offers the best path we have toward making sense of our wondrous, mysterious universe.
|Nov 13, 2016|
Dr. Benjamin Bergen — What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves
Dr. Benjamin Bergen is a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, and in his new book he explains why profanity is so appealing to us. Let’s face it, we all swear. Whether we’re happy or mad, uttering a four-letter word seems to be a natural occurrence for most of us. But why do we swear, even when we know we’re breaking cultural taboos? Why are some words off limits in certain countries or deemed offensive in past centuries but are considered perfectly tame in others? What does all this g*ddamn swearing tell us about our language and our brains? Bergen has the answers as he illuminates the controversial and complex nature of profanity and its relationship on our culture.
|Oct 16, 2016|
Dr. Stephon Alexander — The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe
In The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe, physicist and jazz saxophonist Dr. Stephon Alexander revisits the ancient realm where music, physics, and the cosmos were one. This cosmological journey accompanies Alexander’s own tale of struggling to reconcile his passion for music and physics, from taking music lessons as a boy in the Bronx to studying theoretical physics at Imperial College. Playing the saxophone and improvising with equations, Alexander uncovered the connection between the fundamental waves that make up sound and the fundamental waves that make up everything else. As he reveals, the ancient poetic idea of the “music of the spheres,” taken seriously, clarifies confounding issues in physics. Dr. Alexander is the Royce Family Professor at Brown University’s Physics Department. In 2013, he won the prestigious American Physical Society Bouchet Award for “his contributions to theoretical cosmology.” He is also a jazz musician, and recently finished recording his first electronic jazz album with Erin Rioux.
|May 22, 2016|
Dr. Janna Levin — Gravitational Waves, Black Holes and the Nature of the Cosmos
On Thursday, February 11, 2016, the National Science Foundation made a thrilling announcement: gravitational waves—first predicted by Einstein as part of his general theory of relativity in 1916—had been detected for the first time. This incredible development made front page news and was reported by outlets across the country. How was such a remarkable discovery, a long hundred years after Einstein’s prediction, made possible?
In this Science Salon based on her new book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, astrophysicist and award-winning writer Dr. Janna Levin tells the epic story of the scientific campaign to record these waves—the holy grail of modern cosmology. A handful of physicists, led by Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever at Caltech and Rainer Weiss at MIT, have been working nearly their entire careers to conceive of, design, and build an instrument sensitive enough to detect gravitational waves. Levin delves into the lives and fates of the scientists, painting compelling portraits of these very human visionaries. She journeys from Los Angeles to Boston, to the LIGO interferometers in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana, to the labs, offices, and observatories where the work in this great quest has painstakingly unfolded over the past five decades. Her account of the personalities, surprises, setbacks, and successes is a compelling and intimate portrait of the people and processes of modern science.
|Apr 10, 2016|
Dr. Sean B. Carroll — The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters
How does life work? How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savanna, or fish in the ocean? How do our bodies produce the right numbers of cells in our organs and bloodstream? In The Serengeti Rules, award-winning biologist and author Sean Carroll tells the stories of the pioneering scientists who sought the answers to such simple yet profoundly important questions, and shows how their discoveries matter for our health and the health of the planet we depend upon.
One of the most important revelations about the natural world is that everything is regulated—there are rules that regulate the amount of every molecule in our bodies and rules that govern the numbers of every animal and plant in the wild. And the most surprising revelation about the rules that regulate life at such different scales is that they are remarkably similar—there is a common underlying logic of life. Carroll recounts how our deep knowledge of the rules and logic of the human body has spurred the advent of revolutionary life-saving medicines, and makes the compelling case that it is now time to use the Serengeti Rules to heal our ailing planet.
|Mar 20, 2016|
Dr. Arthur Benjamin — The Magic of Math: Solving for x and Figuring Out Why
The Magic of Math is the math book you wish you had in school. Using a delightful assortment of examples—from ice cream scoops and poker hands to measuring mountains and making magic squares—this book empowers you to see the beauty, simplicity, and truly magical properties behind those formulas and equations that once left your head spinning. You’ll learn the key ideas of classic areas of mathematics like arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus, but you’ll also have fun fooling around with Fibonacci numbers, investigating infinity, and marveling over mathematical magic tricks that will make you look like a math genius!
A mathematician who is known throughout the world as the “mathemagician,” Arthur Benjamin mixes mathematics and magic to make the subject fun, attractive, and easy to understand. In The Magic of Math, Benjamin does more than just teach skills: with a tip of his magic hat, he takes you on as his apprentice to teach you how to appreciate math the way he does. He motivates you to learn something new about how to solve for x, because there is real pleasure to be found in the solution to a challenging problem or in using numbers to do something useful. But what he really wants you to do is be able to figure out why, for that’s where you’ll find the real beauty, power, and magic of math.
If you are already someone who likes math, this Science Salon will dazzle and amuse you. If you never particularly liked or understood math, Benjamin will enlighten you and—with a wave of his magic wand—turn you into a math lover.
|Jan 24, 2016|
Michelle Feynman — The Quotable Feynman & His Van
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman (1918–88) was a towering scientific genius who could make himself understood by anyone and who became as famous for the wit and wisdom of his popular lectures and writings as for his fundamental contributions to science. The Quotable Feynman is a treasure-trove of this revered and beloved scientist’s most profound, provocative, humorous, and memorable quotations on a wide range of subjects edited by his daughter, Michelle Feynman, who will discuss her father’s life and legacy. In addition, physicist Seamus Blackey will bring Feynman’s van, newly restored and recently featured on The Big Bang Theory, so you can get your photograph taken with the famous vehicle featuring Feynman diagrams. Order The Quotable Feynman from Amazon.
Our special guest at this salon will be: Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, physicist and author of Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life and The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos.
|Dec 20, 2015|
Dr. Lisa Randall — Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe
The renowned Harvard cosmologist and theoretical physicist explores a scenario in which a disk of dark matter—the elusive stuff in the universe that interacts through gravity like ordinary matter, but that doesn’t emit or absorb light—dislodged a comet from the Oort cloud that was ultimately responsible for the dinosaurs’ extinction. Dr. Lisa Randall teaches us an enormous amount about dark matter, our Universe, our galaxy, asteroids, and comets—and the process by which scientists explore new concepts.
|Nov 22, 2015|