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109. Neil Shubin — Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA
The author of the best-selling Your Inner Fish gives us a lively and accessible account of the great transformations in the history of life on Earth — a new view of the evolution of human and animal life that explains how the incredible diversity of life on our planet came to be. Over billions of years, ancient fish evolved to walk on land, reptiles transformed into birds that fly, and apelike primates evolved into humans that walk on two legs, talk, and write. For more than a century, paleontologists have traveled the globe to find fossils that show how such changes have happened. We have now arrived at a remarkable moment — prehistoric fossils coupled with new DNA technology have given us the tools to answer some of the basic questions of our existence: How do big changes in evolution happen? Is our presence on Earth the product of mere chance? This new science reveals a multibillion-year evolutionary history filled with twists and turns, trial and error, accident and invention. In Some Assembly Required, Neil Shubin takes readers on a journey of discovery spanning centuries, as explorers and scientists seek to understand the origins of life’s immense diversity. Shermer and Shubin also discuss:
Neil Shubin is the author of Some Assembly Required, Your Inner Fish, and The Universe Within. He is the Robert R. Bensley Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. He lives in Chicago.
|Mar 24, 2020|
108. Brian Greene — Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe
Until the End of Time is Brian Greene’s breathtaking new exploration of the cosmos and our quest to find meaning in the face of this vast expanse. Greene takes us on a journey from the big bang to the end of time, exploring how lasting structures formed, how life and mind emerged, and how we grapple with our existence through narrative, myth, religion, creative expression, science, the quest for truth, and a deep longing for the eternal. From particles to planets, consciousness to creativity, matter to meaning—Brian Greene allows us all to grasp and appreciate our fleeting but utterly exquisite moment in the cosmos.
Dr. Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics and director of Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Physics and is renowned for his groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory. He is the author of The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality, and he has hosted two Peabody and Emmy Award winning NOVA miniseries based on his books. With producer Tracy Day, Greene cofounded the World Science Festival. He lives in New York. Greene and Shermer also discuss:
|Mar 17, 2020|
107. Fred Kaplan — The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War
From the author of the classic The Wizards of Armageddon and Pulitzer Prize finalist comes the definitive history of American policy on nuclear war — and Presidents’ actions in nuclear crises — from Truman to Trump. Fred Kaplan takes us into the White House Situation Room, the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s “Tank” in the Pentagon, and the vast chambers of Strategic Command to bring us the untold stories — based on exclusive interviews and previously classified documents — of how America’s presidents and generals have thought about, threatened, broached, and just barely avoided nuclear war from the dawn of the atomic age until today. Kaplan’s historical research and deep reporting will stand as the permanent record of politics. Discussing theories that have dominated nightmare scenarios from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kaplan presents the unthinkable in terms of mass destruction and demonstrates how the nuclear war reality will not go away, regardless of the dire consequences. Shermer and Kaplan also discuss:
Fred Kaplan is the national-security columnist for Slate and the author of five previous books, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (a Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestseller), 1959: The Year Everything Changed, Daydream Believers, and The Wizards of Armageddon. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Brooke Gladstone.
|Mar 10, 2020|
106. Daniel Chirot — You Say You Want a Revolution? Radical Idealism and its Tragic Consequences
Why have so many of the iconic revolutions of modern times ended in bloody tragedies? What lessons can be drawn from these failures today, in a world where political extremism is on the rise and rational reform based on moderation and compromise often seems impossible to achieve? In You Say You Want a Revolution?, Daniel Chirot examines a wide range of right- and left-wing revolutions around the world — from the late eighteenth century to today — to provide important new answers to these critical questions. From the French Revolution of the eighteenth century to the Mexican, Russian, German, Chinese, anticolonial, and Iranian revolutions of the twentieth, Chirot finds that moderate solutions to serious social, economic, and political problems were overwhelmed by radical ideologies that promised simpler, drastic remedies. But not all revolutions had this outcome. The American Revolution didn’t, although its failure to resolve the problem of slavery eventually led to the Civil War, and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe was relatively peaceful, except in Yugoslavia. Chirot and Shermer also discuss:
Daniel Chirot is the Herbert J. Ellison Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Henry Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of many books, most recently, The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World (with Scott L. Montgomery) (Princeton), which was named one of the New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of the Year.
|Mar 03, 2020|
105. Diana Pasulka — American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology
More than half of American adults and more than 75 percent of young Americans believe in intelligent extraterrestrial life. This level of belief rivals that of belief in God. American Cosmicexamines the mechanisms at work behind the thriving belief system in extraterrestrial life, a system that is changing and even supplanting traditional religions. Over the course of a six-year ethnographic study, Dr. Pasulka interviewed successful and influential scientists, professionals, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who believe in extraterrestrial intelligence, thereby disproving the common misconception that only fringe members of society believe in UFOs. She argues that widespread belief in aliens is due to a number of factors including their ubiquity in modern media like The X-Files, which can influence memory, and the believability lent to that media by the search for planets that might support life. American Cosmic explores the intriguing question of how people interpret unexplainable experiences, and argues that the media is replacing religion as a cultural authority that offers believers answers about non-human intelligent life. Pasulka and Shermer also discuss:
Diana Pasulka is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. Her current research focuses on religious and supernatural belief and practice and its connections to digital technologies and environments. She is the author and co-editor of numerous books and essays, the most recent of which are Believing in Bits: Digital Media and the Supernatural, co-edited with Simone Natalie and forthcoming from Oxford University Press, and Posthumanism: the Future of Homo Sapiens, co-edited with Michael Bess (2018). She is also a history and religion consultant for movies and television, including The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring II (2016).
|Feb 25, 2020|
104. Judith Finlayson — You Are What Your Grandparents Ate: What You Need to Know About Nutrition, Experience, Epigenetics and the Origins of Chronic Disease
In this wide ranging conversation Judith Finlayson reviews the research she writes about in her new book that takes conventional wisdom about the origins of chronic disease and turns it upside down. Rooted in the work of the late epidemiologist Dr. David Barker, it highlights the research showing that heredity involves much more than the genes your parents passed on to you. Thanks to the relatively new science of epigenetics, we now know that the experiences of previous generations may show up in your health and well-being. Shermer and Finlayson discuss:
Judith Finlayson is a bestselling author who has written books on a variety of subjects, from personal well-being and women’s history to food and nutrition. She is a former national newspaper columnist for The Globe and Mail, magazine journalist and board member of various organizations focusing on legal, medical and women’s issues. Judith lives in Toronto, Canada.
|Feb 18, 2020|
103. Robert Frank — Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work
Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street — our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Under the Influenceexplains how to unlock the latent power of social context. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of other activities that threaten the planet — mainly because that's what friends and neighbors do. In the wake of the hottest years on record, only robust measures to curb greenhouse gases promise relief from more frequent and intense storms, droughts, flooding, wildfires, and famines. Robert Frank describes how the strongest predictor of our willingness to support climate-friendly policies, install solar panels, or buy an electric car is the number of people we know who have already done so. Frank and Shermer also discuss:
Robert H. Frank received his M.A. in statistics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1971, and his Ph.D. in economics in 1972, also from U.C. Berkeley. He is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1972 and where he currently holds a joint appointment in the department of economics and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. He has published on a variety of subjects, including price and wage discrimination, public utility pricing, the measurement of unemployment spell lengths, and the distributional consequences of direct foreign investment. For the past several years, his research has focused on rivalry and cooperation in economic and social behaviour.
|Feb 11, 2020|
102. Christopher Ryan — Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress
Most of us have instinctive evidence the world is ending — balmy December days, face-to-face conversation replaced with heads-to-screens zomboidism, a world at constant war, a political system in disarray. We hear some myths and lies so frequently that they feel like truths: Civilization is humankind’s greatest accomplishment. Progress is undeniable. Count your blessings. You’re lucky to be alive here and now. Well, maybe we are and maybe we aren’t. Civilized to Deathcounters the idea that progress is inherently good, arguing that the “progress” defining our age is analogous to an advancing disease. Prehistoric life, of course, was not without serious dangers and disadvantages. Many babies died in infancy. A broken bone, infected wound, snakebite, or difficult pregnancy could be life-threatening. But ultimately, Ryan argues, were these pre-civilized dangers more murderous than modern scourges, such as car accidents, cancers, cardiovascular disease, and a technologically prolonged dying process? In Civilized to Death, Ryan makes the claim that we should start looking backwards to find our way into a better future. Ryan and Shermer also discuss:
Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., and his work have been featured on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Times of London, Playboy, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Outside, El Pais, La Vanguardia, Salon, Seed, and Big Think. A featured speaker from TED to The Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House to the Einstein Forum in Pottsdam, Germany, Ryan has consulted at various hospitals in Spain, provided expert testimony in a Canadian constitutional hearing, and appeared in well over a dozen documentary films. Ryan puts out a weekly podcast, called Tangentially Speaking, featuring conversations with interesting people, ranging from famous comics to bank robbers to drug smugglers to porn stars to authors to plasma physicists.
|Feb 04, 2020|
101. Hugo Mercier — Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe
Not Born Yesterday explains how we decide who we can trust and what we should believe — and argues that we’re pretty good at making these decisions. Hugo Mercier demonstrates how virtually all attempts at mass persuasion — whether by religious leaders, politicians, or advertisers — fail miserably. Drawing on recent findings from political science and other fields ranging from history to anthropology, Mercier shows that the narrative of widespread gullibility, in which a credulous public is easily misled by demagogues and charlatans, is simply wrong.
Why is mass persuasion so difficult? Mercier uses the latest findings from experimental psychology to show how each of us is endowed with sophisticated cognitive mechanisms of open vigilance. Computing a variety of cues, these mechanisms enable us to be on guard against harmful beliefs, while being open enough to change our minds when presented with the right evidence. Even failures — when we accept false confessions, spread wild rumors, or fall for quack medicine — are better explained as bugs in otherwise well-functioning cognitive mechanisms than as symptoms of general gullibility. In this lively and provocative conversation Shermer and Mercier discuss:
|Jan 28, 2020|
100. Episode Special: Ask Me Almost Anything
In this 100th episode of the Science Salon podcast Dr. Shermer gives a brief overview and history of the salon and how it evolved from the Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, which began in 1992, along with the founding of the Skeptics Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit science education organization, and it’s publication Skepticmagazine. Following this brief history Dr. Shermer answers questions sent to him on social media, on such topics as:
|Jan 21, 2020|
99. Bobby Duffy — Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding
What percentage of the population are immigrants? How bad is unemployment? How much sex do people have? These questions are important and interesting, but most of us get the answers wrong. Research shows that people often wildly misunderstand the state of the world, regardless of age, sex, or education. And though the internet brings us unprecedented access to information, there’s little evidence we’re any better informed because of it. We may blame cognitive bias or fake news, but neither tells the complete story. In Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, Bobby Duffy draws on his research into public perception across more than forty countries, offering a sweeping account of the stubborn problem of human delusion: how society breeds it, why it will never go away, and what our misperceptions say about what we really believe. We won’t always know the facts, but they still matter. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything is mandatory reading for anyone interested making humankind a little bit smarter. Duffy and Shermer also discuss:
Bobby Duffy is director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. Formerly, he was managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and global director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute. He lives in London.
|Jan 14, 2020|
98. Robert Pennock — An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science
An exploration of the scientific mindset — such character virtues as curiosity, veracity, attentiveness, and humility to evidence — and its importance for science, democracy, and human flourishing. Exemplary scientists have a characteristic way of viewing the world and their work: their mindset and methods all aim at discovering truths about nature. In An Instinct for Truth, Robert Pennock explores this scientific mindset and argues that what Charles Darwin called “an instinct for truth, knowledge, and discovery” has a tacit moral structure — that it is important not only for scientific excellence and integrity but also for democracy and human flourishing. In an era of “post-truth,” the scientific drive to discover empirical truths has a special value. Taking a virtue-theoretic perspective, Pennock explores curiosity, veracity, skepticism, humility to evidence, and other scientific virtues and vices. Shermer and Pennock discuss:
Robert T. Pennock is University Distinguished Professor of History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science at Michigan State University in the Lyman Briggs College and the Departments of Philosophy and Computer Science and Engineering. He is the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism.
|Jan 07, 2020|
97. Amber Scorah — Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life
In this revealing conversation Amber Scorah opens the box into the psychology of religious belief to show how, exactly, religions and cults convince members that theirs is the one true religion, to the point, she admits, that she would have gladly died for her faith. As a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, Amber Scorah had devoted her life to sounding God’s warning of impending Armageddon. She volunteered to take the message to China, where the preaching she did was illegal and could result in her expulsion or worse. Here, she had some distance from her community for the first time. Immersion in a foreign language and culture — and a whole new way of thinking — turned her world upside down, and eventually led her to lose all that she had been sure was true. As a proselytizer in Shanghai, using fake names and secret codes to evade the authorities’ notice, Scorah discreetly looked for targets in public parks and stores. To support herself, she found work at a Chinese language learning podcast, hiding her real purpose from her coworkers. Now with a creative outlet, getting to know worldly people for the first time, she began to understand that there were other ways of seeing the world and living a fulfilling life. When one of these relationships became an “escape hatch,” Scorah’s loss of faith culminated in her own personal apocalypse, the only kind of ending possible for a Jehovah’s Witness. Shunned by family and friends as an apostate, Scorah was alone in Shanghai and thrown into a world she had only known from the periphery — with no education or support system. A coming of age story of a woman already in her thirties, this unforgettable memoir examines what it’s like to start one’s life over again with an entirely new identity. Scorah and Shermer also discuss:
Amber Scorah is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, The Believer, and USA Today. Prior to coming to New York, Scorah lived in Shanghai, where she was creator and host of the podcast Dear Amber: An Insider’s Guide to Everything China. Leaving the Witness is her first book.
|Dec 31, 2019|
96. Catherine Wilson — How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well
In this wide-ranging conversation the philosopher Catherine Wilson makes the case that if the pursuit of happiness is the question, Epicureanism is the answer. Not the mythic Epicureanism that calls to mind gluttons with gout or an admonition to eat, drink, and be merry. Instead, in her new book How to Be an Epicurean, Wilson shows that Epicureanism isn’t an excuse for having a good time: it’s a means to live a good life. Although modern conveniences and scientific progress have significantly improved our quality of life, many of the problems faced by ancient Greeks — love, money, family, politics — remain with us in new forms. To overcome these obstacles, the Epicureans adopted a philosophy that promoted reason, respect for the natural world, and reverence for our fellow humans. By applying this ancient wisdom to a range of modern problems, from self-care routines and romantic entanglements to issues of public policy and social justice, Wilson shows us how we can all fill our lives with purpose and pleasure. Wilson and Shermer also discuss:
Catherine Wilson received her PhD in philosophy from Princeton University and has taught at universities in the US, Canada, and Europe. She has published more than 100 research papers and eight books, including A Very Short Introduction to Epicureanism and Metaethics from a First-Person Standpoint: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. She has two children and lives in New York City, where she is currently Visiting Presidential Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center at CUNY.
|Dec 24, 2019|
95. John Martin Fischer — Death, Immortality and Meaning in Life
John Martin Fischer’s Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Lifeoffers a brief yet in-depth introduction to the key philosophical issues and problems concerning death and immortality. In this wide-ranging and thoughtful conversation, Shermer and Fisher discuss:
John Martin Fischer is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, and a University Professor at the University of California. He is coauthor of Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife (OUP, 2016), and coeditor of Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings(Eighth Edition, OUP, 2018). He was Project Leader of The Immortality Project (John Templeton Foundation).
|Dec 17, 2019|
94. David Leiser — How We Misunderstand Economics and Why it Matters
This is the first book to explain why people misunderstand economics. From the cognitive shortcuts we use to make sense of complex information, to the metaphors we rely on and their effect on our thinking, this important book lays bare not only the psychological traits that distort our ability to understand such a vital topic, but also what this means for policy makers and civil society more widely.
Shermer and Leiser dive into the mismatch between the complexities of economics and the constraints of human cognition that lie at the root of our misconceptions, as well as explore:
David Leiser is Full Professor of Economic and Social Psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. He is Past President of the International Association for Research in Economic Psychology, and President of the Economic Psychology Division of the International Association of Applied Psychology. He studies lay conceptions, especially in the economic domain.
|Dec 10, 2019|
93. Geoffrey Miller — Virtue Signaling: Essays on Darwinian Politics & Free Speech
Michael Shermer talks with the polymathic polyamorous sapiosexual classically liberal evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller about:
Geoffrey Miller is a tenured evolutionary psychology professor at University of New Mexico. He’s been writing and teaching about the origins and functions of moral virtues for decades. His previous books include The Mating Mind, Spent, Mating Intelligence, and What Women Want. He got his B.A. from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He’s also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, University College London, and the London School of Economics. He has over 110 publications about sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has also given 200 talks in 16 countries, and his research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC.
|Dec 02, 2019|
92. Tim Samuels — Future Man: How to Evolve and Thrive in the Age of Trump, Mansplaining, and #MeToo
If ever there was an urgent need for a frank understanding of what’s going on with men, it is now. Male rage and frustration have driven resurgent populism, mass shootings, and epidemics of addiction and violence. Powerful men who have abused their positions for decades have been and are being #MeToo-outed and dismissed. The patriarchy, that solid bedrock of male power for thousands of years, seems to be crumbling.
In Future Man, with his characteristic intelligence and humor, Tim Samuels assesses the state of contemporary manhood, its conflicts, confusions, and challenges. Trapped in bodies barely changed since cavemen days, men are contending with the stresses of corporate culture, lifelong commitment, rampant depression, and crazy expectations to be successful at work and at home. But how can you hunt and gather in an open-plan office? Why do men make up to 95 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs yet 93 percent of the prison population? Why do men commit suicide at more than three times the rate of women?
Shermer and Samuels discuss:
Tim Samuels is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, broadcaster, and journalist. He won three Royal Television Society awards and best documentary at the World Television Festival as well as the “Making a Difference” award at the Mind Media Awards for his work on mental health. He created the BBC Radio 5 call-in show Men’s Hour and has been a host for eight years. He recently became a correspondent for National Geographic Channel’s Explorer, based out of New York, and he contributes to such US publications as GQ, New York Times Magazine, and Huffington Post. He lives in London.
|Nov 19, 2019|
91. James Traub — What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea
In this wide-ranging conversation James Traub and Michael Shermer discuss:
James Traub has spent the last forty years as a journalist for American’s leading publications, including the New Yorker and the New York Times magazine. He now teaches foreign policy and intellectual history at New York University and at NYU Abu Dhabi, and is a columnist and contributor at Foreign Policy. He is the author of six previous books on foreign and domestic affairs. His most recent work is John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. He lives in New York City.
|Nov 12, 2019|
90. Melvin Konner — Believers: Faith in Human Nature
World renowned biological anthropologist Mel Konner examines the nature of human nature, including and especially in his new book the nature of religiosity. In Believers, Konner, who was raised in an orthodox Jewish home but has been an atheist his entire adult life, responds to attacks on faith by some well-meaning scientists and philosophers, most notably the “new atheists” Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens―known for writing about religion as something irrational and ultimately harmful. Konner explores the psychology, development, brain science, evolution, and even genetics of the varied religious impulses we experience as a species. Konner and Shermer discuss:
Melvin Konner, MD, is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University. He is the author of Believers, Women After All, Becoming a Doctor, and The Tangled Wing, among other books.
|Nov 05, 2019|
89. Richard Dawkins — Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide
In 12 fiercely funny, mind-expanding chapters, Richard Dawkins explains how the natural world arose without a designer — the improbability and beauty of the “bottom-up programming” that engineers an embryo or a flock of starlings — and challenges head-on some of the most basic assumptions made by the world’s religions.
In this wide-ranging conversation Shermer and Dawkins discuss:
Richard Dawkins is a fellow of the Royal Society and was the inaugural holder of the Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, The Magic of Reality, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Ancestor’s Tale, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Science in the Soul. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Award, the Michael Faraday Prize of the Royal Society, the Kistler Prize, the Shakespeare Prize, the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year Award, and the International Cosmos Prize of Japan.
|Oct 29, 2019|
88. Daniel Oberhaus — Extraterrestrial Languages
The endlessly fascinating question of whether we are alone in the universe has always been accompanied by another, more complicated one: if there is extraterrestrial life, how would we communicate with it? In his book Extraterrestrial Languages, Daniel Oberhaus leads readers on a quest for extraterrestrial communication. Exploring Earthlings’ various attempts to reach out to non-Earthlings over the centuries, he poses some not entirely answerable questions. If we send a message into space, will extraterrestrial beings receive it? Will they understand? What languages will they (and we) speak? If we can’t even communicate with dolphins and whales, which are mammals, or chimpanzees and gorillas, which are primates, how are we going to communicate with sentient beings that evolved on another planet? If we want to send a message to far-future humans to, say, warn them not to open a container of radioactive waste from a nuclear plant, what would we put on the container to communicate the danger within? Is there not only a universal grammar (as Noam Chomsky has posited), but also a grammar of the universe?
In this incredibly fascinating conversation Shermer and Oberhaus also discuss:
Daniel Oberhaus is a science and technology journalist whose work has appeared in Wired, the Atlantic, Popular Mechanics, Slate, the Baffler, Nautilus, Vice, the Awl, and other publications.
|Oct 22, 2019|
87. Douglas Murray — The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity
In his devastating new book The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray examines the 21st century’s most divisive issues: sexuality, gender, technology and race. He reveals the astonishing new culture wars playing out in our workplaces, universities, schools and homes in the names of social justice, identity politics and intersectionality. We are living through a postmodern era in which the grand narratives of religion and political ideology have collapsed. In their place have emerged a crusading desire to right perceived wrongs and a weaponization of identity, both accelerated by the new forms of social and news media. Narrow sets of interests now dominate the agenda as society becomes more and more tribal — and, as Murray shows, the casualties are mounting. Readers of all political persuasions cannot afford to ignore Murray’s masterfully argued and fiercely provocative book, in which he seeks to inject some sense into the discussion around this generation’s most complicated issues. He ends with an impassioned call for free speech, shared common values and sanity in an age of mass hysteria. Shermer and Murray discuss:
Douglas Murray is an author and journalist based in Britain. His previous book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, was a No. 1 bestseller in non-fiction. Murray has been a contributor to the Spectator since 2000 and has been Associate Editor at the magazine since 2012. He has also written regularly for numerous other outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun, Evening Standard and the New Criterion. He is a regular contributor to National Review and has been a columnist for Standpoint magazine since its founding.
|Oct 15, 2019|
86. Neil deGrasse Tyson — Letters from an Astrophysicist
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has attracted one of the world’s largest online followings with his fascinating, widely accessible insights into science and our universe. Now, Tyson invites us to go behind the scenes of his public fame by revealing his correspondence with people across the globe who have sought him out in search of answers. In this hand-picked collection of 101 letters, Tyson draws upon cosmic perspectives to address a vast array of questions about science, faith, philosophy, life, and of course, Pluto. His succinct, opinionated, passionate, and often funny responses reflect his popularity and standing as a leading educator. Tyson’s 2017 bestseller Astrophysics for People in a Hurry offered more than one million readers an insightful and accessible understanding of the universe. Tyson’s most candid and heartfelt writing yet, Letters from an Astrophysicist introduces us to a newly personal dimension of Tyson’s quest to explore our place in the cosmos. Shermer and Tyson discuss:
|Oct 08, 2019|
85. Deepak Chopra — Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential
In this conversation long-time adversaries and now friends Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra make an attempt at mutual understanding through the careful unpacking of what Deepak means when he talks about the subject-object split, the impermanence of the self, nondualism, the mind-body problem, the nature of consciousness, and the nature of reality. Shermer also pushes Deepak to translate these deep philosophical, metaphysical, and psychological concepts into actionable take-home ideas that can be put to use to reduce human suffering and help people lead lives that are more meaningful and purposeful.
In the book Deepak includes a survey called Nondual Embodiment Thematic Inventory (NETI), final scores of which range from 20 to 100, on “how people rank themselves on qualities long considered spiritual, psychological, or moral.” Shermer scored a 62, which Chopra said is “not bad”. Take the test yourself in the book or Google it online to read more about it.
|Oct 01, 2019|
84. Christof Koch — The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness is Widespread but Can’t Be Computed
In this fascinating discussion of one of the hardest problems in all of science — the hard problem of consciousness, that is, explaining how the feeling or experience of something can arise from neural activity — one of the world’s leading neuroscientists Christof Koch argues that consciousness, more widespread than previously assumed, is the feeling of being alive, not a type of computation or a clever hack. Consciousness is experience. Consciousness is, as his book title states, The Feeling of Life Itself — the feeling of being alive. Shermer and Koch discuss:
Christof Koch is President and Chief Scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, following twenty-seven years as a Professor at the California Institute of Technology. He is the author of Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (MIT Press), The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach, and other books.
|Sep 24, 2019|
83. Peter Boghossian — How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide
In our current political climate, it seems impossible to have a reasonable conversation with anyone who has a different opinion. Whether you’re online, in a classroom, an office, a town hall — or just hoping to get through a family dinner with a stubborn relative — dialogue shuts down when perspectives clash. Heated debates often lead to insults and shaming, blocking any possibility of productive discourse. Everyone seems to be on a hair trigger.
In How to Have Impossible Conversations, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay guide you through the straightforward, practical, conversational techniques necessary for every successful conversation — whether the issue is climate change, religious faith, gender identity, race, poverty, immigration, or gun control. Boghossian and Lindsay teach the subtle art of instilling doubts and opening minds. They cover everything from learning the fundamentals for good conversations to achieving expert-level techniques to deal with hardliners and extremists.
Shermer and Boghossian discuss:
Peter Boghossian is a full time faculty member in the philosophy department at Portland State University and an affiliated faculty member at Oregon Health Science University in the Division of General Internal Medicine. He is a national speaker for the Center of Inquiry and an international speaker for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
|Sep 17, 2019|
82. Phil Zuckerman — What it Means to be Moral: Why Religion is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life
In What It Means to Be Moral: Why Religion Is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life, Phil Zuckerman argues that morality does not come from God. Rather, it comes from us: our brains, our evolutionary past, our ongoing cultural development, our social experiences, and our ability to reason, reflect, and be sensitive to the suffering of others. By deconstructing religious arguments for God-based morality and guiding readers through the premises and promises of secular morality, Zuckerman argues that the major challenges facing the world today―from global warming and growing inequality to religious support for unethical political policies to gun violence and terrorism―are best approached from a nonreligious ethical framework. In short, we need to look to our fellow humans and within ourselves for moral progress and ethical action. Shermer and Zuckerman discus:
Dr. Phil Zuckerman is the author of several books, including The Nonreligious, Living the Secular Life, Society without God, and his latest book, What it Means to be Moral. He is a professor of sociology at Pitzer College and the founding chair of the nation’s first secular studies program. He lives in Claremont, California, with his wife and three children.
|Sep 10, 2019|
81. Bruce Hood — Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need
You may not believe it, but there is a link between our current political instability and your childhood attachment to teddy bears. There’s also a reason why children in Asia are more likely to share than their western counterparts and why the poor spend more of their income on luxury goods than the rich. Or why your mother is more likely to leave her money to you than your father. What connects these things?
The answer is our need for ownership. Award-winning University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood draws on research from his own lab and others around the world to explain why this uniquely human preoccupation governs our behavior from the cradle to the grave, even when it is often irrational, and destructive. What motivates us to buy more than we need? Is it innate, or cultural? How does our urge to acquire control our behaviour, even the way we vote? And what can we do about it? Possessed is the first book to explore how ownership has us enthralled in relentless pursuit of a false happiness, with damaging consequences for society and the planet — and how we can stop buying into it.
Dr. Hood and Dr. Shermer also discuss:
|Sep 03, 2019|
80. Bryan Walsh — End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World
End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World is a compelling work of skilled reportage that peels back the layers of complexity around the unthinkable—and inevitable—end of humankind. From asteroids and artificial intelligence to volcanic supereruption to nuclear war, 15-year veteran science reporter and TIME editor Bryan Walsh provides a stunning panoramic view of the most catastrophic threats to the human race. Walsh and Shermer discuss these existential threats to humanity and what to do about them:
A graduate of Princeton University, Bryan Walsh worked as a foreign correspondent, reporter, and editor for TIME for over 15 years. He founded the award-winning Ecocentric blog on TIME.com and has reported from more than 20 countries on science and environmental stories like SARS, global warming, and extinction. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and son.
|Aug 27, 2019|
79. Anthony Kronman — The Assault on American Excellence
The former dean of Yale Law School argues that the feverish egalitarianism gripping college campuses today is out of place at institutions whose job is to prepare citizens to live in a vibrant democracy. In his tenure at Yale, Anthony Kronman has watched students march across campus to protest the names of buildings and seen colleagues resign over emails about Halloween costumes. He is no stranger to recent confrontations at American universities. But where many see only the suppression of free speech, the babying of students, and the drive to bury the imperfect parts of our history, Kronman recognizes in these on-campus clashes a threat to our democracy. Shermer and Kronman discuss:
Anthony T. Kronman served as the dean of Yale Law School from 1994–2004, and has taught at the university for forty years. He is the author or coauthor of five books, including The Assault on American Excellence; Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life; and Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan.
|Aug 20, 2019|
78. Dr. Donald Hoffman — The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth From Our Eyes
In his new book, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth From Our Eyes, the U.C. Irvine cognitive scientist Dr. Donald Hoffman challenges the leading scientific theories that claim that our senses report back objective reality. How can it be possible that the world we see is not objective reality? And how can our senses be useful if they are not communicating the truth? Hoffman argues that while we should take our perceptions seriously, we should not take them literally. His evolutionary model contends that natural selection has favored perception that hides the truth and guides us toward useful action, shaping our senses to keep us alive and reproducing. We observe a speeding car and do not walk in front of it; we see mold growing on bread and do not eat it. These impressions, though, are not objective reality. Just like a file icon on a desktop screen is a useful symbol rather than a genuine representation of what a computer file looks like, the objects we see every day are merely icons, allowing us to navigate the world safely and with ease. The real-world implications for this discovery are huge, even dismantling the very notion that spacetime is objective reality. The Case Against Reality dares us to question everything we thought we knew about the world we see.
In this conversation, Hoffman and Shermer get deep into the weeds of:
|Aug 13, 2019|
77. Dr. Lee McIntyre — The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience
In this engaging conversation on the nature of science, Dr. McIntyre and Dr. Shermer get deep into the weeds of where to draw the line between science and pseudoscience. It may seem obvious when you see it (like Justice Potter’s definition of pornography — “I know it when I see it”), from a philosophical perspective it isn’t at all easy to articulate a formula for science that perfectly weeds out all incorrect or fraudulent scientific claims while still retaining true scientific claims. It really comes down to what Dr. McIntyre describes as a “scientific attitude” in an emphasis on evidence and scientists’ willingness to change theories on the basis of new evidence. For example, claims that climate change isn’t settled science, that evolution is “only a theory,” and that scientists are conspiring to keep the truth about vaccines from the public are staples of some politicians’ rhetorical repertoire. In this podcast, and in more detail in his book, McIntyre provides listeners and readers with answers to these challenges to science, and in the process shows how science really works.
McIntyre and Shermer also discuss:
|Jul 30, 2019|
76. William Poundstone — The Doomsday Calculation: How an Equation that Predicts the Future is Transforming Everything We Know About Life and the Universe
In this wide ranging conversation with science writer William Poundstone, answers to these questions, and more, will be provided … or at least considered in the framework of Bayesian analysis. In the 18th century, the British minister and mathematician Thomas Bayes devised a theorem that allowed him to assign probabilities to events that had never happened before. It languished in obscurity for centuries until computers came along and made it easy to crunch the numbers. Now, as the foundation of big data, Bayes’ formula has become a linchpin of the digital economy.
But here’s where things get really interesting: Bayes’ theorem can also be used to lay odds on the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence; on whether we live in a Matrix-like counterfeit of reality; on the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum theory being correct; and on the biggest question of all: how long will humanity survive?
The Doomsday Calculation tells how Silicon Valley’s profitable formula became a controversial pivot of contemporary thought. Drawing on interviews with thought leaders around the globe, it’s the story of a group of intellectual mavericks who are challenging what we thought we knew about our place in the universe.
|Jul 23, 2019|
75. Charles Fishman — One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew us to the Moon
On this July 16th, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Michael Shermer speaks with veteran space reporter Charles Fishman who has been writing about NASA and the space program for more than 30 years.
In One Giant Leap he delivers an all-new take on the race to the Moon that puts Apollo into a new perspective in American history. Yes, the Apollo astronauts are the well-known and well-deserved public heroes of the race to the Moon. But the astronauts didn’t make the trip possible. It took 410,000 people to make the moon landings achievable. Every hour of spaceflight for Apollo required a million hours of work by scientists, engineers and factory workers on the ground — the equivalent of 10 lifetimes of work back on Earth. Fishman tells the story of the men and women who did the work to get the astronauts, and the country, to the Moon and back. Fishman and Shermer discuss:
|Jul 16, 2019|
74. Shaili Jain, M.D. — The Unspeakable Mind: Stories of Trauma and Healing from the Frontlines of PTSD Science
From a physician and post-traumatic stress disorder specialist comes a nuanced cartography of PTSD, a widely misunderstood yet crushing condition that afflicts millions of Americans.
The Unspeakable Mind is the definitive guide for a trauma-burdened age. With profound empathy and meticulous research, Shaili Jain, M.D. — a practicing psychiatrist and PTSD specialist at one of America’s top VA hospitals, trauma scientist at the National Center for PTSD, and a Stanford Professor — shines a long-overdue light on the PTSD epidemic affecting today’s fractured world.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder goes far beyond the horrors of war and is an inescapable part of all our lives. At any given moment, more than six million Americans are suffering with PTSD. Dr. Jain’s groundbreaking work demonstrates the ways this disorder cuts to the heart of life, interfering with one’s capacity to love, create, and work — incapacity brought on by a complex interplay between biology, genetics, and environment. Beyond the struggles of individuals, PTSD has a tangible imprint on our cultures and societies around the world.
In this conversation Dr. Shermer and Dr. Jain discuss:
|Jul 09, 2019|
73. Andrew Seidel — Busting the Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American
In this important new book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American, constitutional attorney and scholar at the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), Andrew L. Seidel, begins by explaining what apparently religious language is doing in the Declaration of Independence. Does this prove that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles? Are the Ten Commandments the basis for American law? What, exactly, was the role of religion in America’s founding? Christian nationalists assert that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and advocate an agenda based on this popular historical claim. But is this belief true? The Founding Myth answers the question once and for all. Seidel builds his case point by point, comparing the Ten Commandments to the Constitution and contrasting biblical doctrine with America’s founding philosophy, showing that the Bible contradicts the Declaration of Independence’s central tenets. Thoroughly researched, this persuasively argued and fascinating book proves that America was not built on the Bible and that Christian nationalism is, in fact, un-American.
Seidel and Shermer also discuss:
|Jul 01, 2019|
72. Robert Zubrin — The Case for Space: Spaceflight Revolution
In this dialogue, visionary astronautical engineer Robert Zubrin lays out the plans for how humans can become a space faring, multi-planetary civilization, starting with the competing entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who are creating a revolution in spaceflight that promises to transform the near future. Fueled by the combined expertise of the old aerospace industry and the talents of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, spaceflight is becoming cheaper. The new generation of space explorers has already achieved a major breakthrough by creating reusable rockets. Zubrin foresees more rapid innovation, including global travel from any point on Earth to another in an hour or less; orbital hotels; moon bases with incredible space observatories; human settlements on Mars, the asteroids, and the moons of the outer planets; and then, breaking all limits, pushing onward to the stars.
Zubrin shows how projects that sound like science fiction can actually become reality. But beyond the how, he makes an even more compelling case for why we need to do this—to increase our knowledge of the universe, to make unforeseen discoveries on new frontiers, to harness the natural resources of other planets, to safeguard Earth from stray asteroids, to ensure the future of humanity by expanding beyond its home base, and to protect us from being catastrophically set against each other by the false belief that there isn’t enough for all.
Zubrin and Shermer also discuss:
This Science Salon was recorded on June 17, 2019.
|Jun 24, 2019|
71. Dr. Michael Shermer — What is Truth?
In this live podcast event hosted by the Santa Barbara Science Salon in conjunction with the Skeptics Society and the Unitarian Society, co-hosted by Dr. Whitney Detar, Dr. Shermer reflects on the question “What is Truth?” in the context of his lifelong search to understand why people believe weird things.
What is a weird thing and how do we know what is true? This is what is known as the demarcation problem, and Dr. Shermer provides numerous examples of the difficulty of drawing a clear demarcating line between science and pseudoscience. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not.
Science, Dr. Shermer begins, is “A set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomenon, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation.” That is, it is “A method to explain the world that is testable and open to change.”
Through the scientific method we aim for objectivity: the basing of conclusions on external validation. And we avoid mysticism: the basing of conclusions on personal insights that lack external validation.
Dr. Shermer then presents examples of subjective/internal truths (dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate; Stairway to Heaven is the greatest rock song) and objective/external truths (evolution happened, the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago), and gave examples of how subjective truths (meditation makes me feel better) may become objective truths (meditation works). The lecture was followed by an extensive AMA/Q&A with the audience.
This Science Salon was recorded on May 19, 2019.
|Jun 17, 2019|
70. Dr. Brian Keating — Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science’s Highest Honor
In this wide-ranging conversation Science Salon host Dr. Michael Shermer speaks with cosmologist and inventor of the BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) experiment Dr. Brian Keating about the following topics:
This Science Salon was recorded on May 21, 2019. We apologize for the very poor audio-video quality of this recording.
|Jun 11, 2019|
69. Dr. Barbara Tversky — Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought
An eminent psychologist offers a major new theory of human cognition: movement, not language, is the foundation of thought.
When we try to think about how we think, we can’t help but think of words. Indeed, some have called language the stuff of thought. But pictures are remembered far better than words, and describing faces, scenes, and events defies words. Anytime you take a shortcut or play chess or basketball or rearrange your furniture in your mind, you’ve done something remarkable: abstract thinking without words.
In Mind in Motion, psychologist Barbara Tversky shows that spatial cognition isn’t just a peripheral aspect of thought, but its very foundation, enabling us to draw meaning from our bodies and their actions in the world. Our actions in real space get turned into mental actions on thought, often spouting spontaneously from our bodies as gestures. Spatial thinking underlies creating and using maps, assembling furniture, devising football strategies, designing airports, understanding the flow of people, traffic, water, and ideas. Spatial thinking even underlies the structure and meaning of language: why we say we push ideas forward or tear them apart, why we’re feeling up or have grown far apart.
In this dialogue Dr. Tversky and Dr. Shermer discuss:
This Science Salon audio-only recording was created on June 1, 2019.
|Jun 04, 2019|
68. Dr. Michael Ruse — A Darwinian Meaning to Life
Dr. Michael Ruse is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, at Florida State University. He has written or edited more than 50 books. His new book is “A Meaning to Life,” which we discuss on the show, as well as:
This Science Salon was recorded on January 16, 2019.
|May 28, 2019|
67. Dr. Christian Smith — Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can’t Deliver
In recent years atheism has become ever more visible, acceptable, and influential. Atheist apologists have become increasingly vociferous and confident in their claims: that a morality requiring benevolence towards all and universal human rights need not be grounded in religion; that modern science disproves the existence of God; and that there is nothing innately religious about human beings. In Atheist Overreach, Christian Smith takes a look at the evidence and arguments, and explains why we ought to be skeptical of these atheists' claims about morality, science, and human nature. He does not argue that atheism is necessarily wrong, but rather that its advocates are advancing crucial claims that are neither rationally defensible nor realistic. Their committed worldview feeds unhelpful arguments and contributes to the increasing polarization of today's political landscape. Everyone involved in the theism-atheism debates, in shared moral reflection, and in the public consumption of the findings of science should be committed to careful reasoning and rigorous criticism.
In this podcast conversation about his book Smith and Shermer get into the weeds of…
This Science Salon was recorded on April 19, 2019.
|May 21, 2019|
66. Dr. Christian List — Why Free Will is Real: A response to Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, and Other Determinists
Philosophers have argued about the nature and the very existence of free will for centuries. Today, many scientists and scientifically minded commentators are skeptical that it exists, especially when it is understood to require the ability to choose between alternative possibilities. If the laws of physics govern everything that happens, they argue, then how can our choices be free? Believers in free will must be misled by habit, sentiment, or religious doctrine. Why Free Will is Real defies scientific orthodoxy and presents a bold new defense of free will in the same naturalistic terms that are usually deployed against it.
Unlike those who defend free will by giving up the idea that it requires alternative possibilities to choose from, Christian List retains this idea as central, resisting the tendency to defend free will by watering it down. He concedes that free will and its prerequisites—intentional agency, alternative possibilities, and causal control over our actions—cannot be found among the fundamental physical features of the natural world. But, he argues, that’s not where we should be looking. Free will is a “higher-level” phenomenon found at the level of psychology. It is like other phenomena that emerge from physical processes but are autonomous from them and not best understood in fundamental physical terms—like an ecosystem or the economy. When we discover it in its proper context, acknowledging that free will is real is not just scientifically respectable; it is indispensable for explaining our world.
This Science Salon was recorded on May 1, 2019.
|May 15, 2019|
65. Jared Diamond — Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis
For this special edition of the Science Salon Podcast Dr. Shermer took a camera crew to Jared Diamond’s home in Los Angeles for an especially intimate portrait of the man and his theories. You won’t want to miss this conversation, one of the best we’ve yet recorded, with one of the most interesting minds of our time, perhaps of all time.
In his earlier bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now, in the final book in this monumental trilogy, he reveals how successful nations recover from crisis through selective change — a coping mechanism more commonly associated with personal trauma.
In a dazzling comparative study, Diamond shows us how seven countries have survived defining upheavals in the recent past — from US Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan to the Soviet invasion of Finland to Pinochet’s regime in Chile — through a process of painful self-appraisal and adaptation, and he identifies patterns in the way that these distinct nations recovered from calamity. Looking ahead to the future, he investigates whether the United States, and the world, are squandering their natural advantages, on a path towards political conflict and decline. Or can we still learn from the lessons of the past?
Adding a psychological dimension to the awe-inspiring grasp of history, geography, economics, and anthropology that marks all Diamond’s work, Upheaval reveals how both nations and individuals can become more resilient. The result is a book that is epic, urgent, and groundbreaking.
This Science Salon was recorded on March 13, 2019.
|May 07, 2019|
64. Michael Tomasello — Becoming Human
In this fascinating conversation with the evolutionary anthropologist Michael Tomasello, the Max Planck Institute scientist presents his new theory of how humans became such a distinctive species. Other theories focus on evolution. Here, Tomasello proposes a complementary theory of human uniqueness, focused on development. His data-driven model explains how those things that make us most human are constructed during the first years of a child’s life.
Tomasello assembles nearly three decades of experimental work with chimpanzees, bonobos, and human children to propose a new framework for psychological growth between birth and seven years of age. He identifies eight pathways that starkly differentiate humans from their closest primate relatives: social cognition, communication, cultural learning, cooperative thinking, collaboration, prosociality, social norms, and moral identity. In each of these, great apes possess rudimentary abilities. But then, Tomasello argues, the maturation of humans’ evolved capacities for shared intentionality transform these abilities—through the new forms of sociocultural interaction they enable—into uniquely human cognition and sociality. The first step occurs around nine months, with the emergence of joint intentionality, exercised mostly with caregiving adults. The second step occurs around three years, with the emergence of collective intentionality involving both authoritative adults, who convey cultural knowledge, and coequal peers, who elicit collaboration and communication. Finally, by age six or seven, children become responsible for self-regulating their beliefs and actions so that they comport with cultural norms.
Becoming Human places human sociocultural activity within the framework of modern evolutionary theory, and shows how biology creates the conditions under which culture does its work.
This Science Salon was recorded on February 19, 2019.
|Apr 30, 2019|
63. Dr. Hector A. Garcia — Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide
Through the lens of evolutionary science, Dr. Garcia offers a novel perspective on why we hold our political ideas, and why they are so often in conflict. Drawing on examples from across the animal kingdom, Garcia reveals how even the most complex political processes can be influenced by our basic drives to survive and reproduce—including the policies we back, whether we are liberal or conservative, and whether we are inspired or repelled by the words of a president. Garcia explains how our political orientations derive from an ancestral history of violent male competition, surprisingly influencing how we respond to issues as wide-ranging as affirmative action, women’s rights, social welfare, abortion, foreign policy, and even global warming. Critically, Garcia shows us how our instinctive political tribalism can keep us from achieving stable, functioning societies, and offers solutions for rising above our ancestral past. Dr. Garcia and Dr. Shermer also discuss:
Hector A. Garcia, Psy.D., is the author of Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence and Oppression. He is an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder in combat veterans. He has published extensively on evolutionary psychology, stress and politics in organizations, and the interplay between war and masculine identity.
This Science Salon was recorded on February 25, 2019.
|Apr 24, 2019|
AMA-5. Dr. Michael Shermer — “Are the Miracles of Jesus Unbelievable?” Debate Postmortem
In this AMA special Dr. Shermer conducts a postmortem on his debate with the evangelical Christian theologian Luuk van de Weghe, with Windmill Ministries, before an audience of about 400 people, the vast majority of which were evangelicals. Dr. Shermer argues in the affirmative to the debate proposition that the miracles of Jesus are unbelievable. In this postmortem Dr. Shermer elaborates on his notes for the debate, suggesting ways to think about miracles from a scientific or naturalistic perspective.
The debate took place on March 30, 2019 in Sequim, Washington, and was moderated by Justin Brierley.
|Apr 21, 2019|
62. Dr. Mark Moffett — The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall
In this riveting conversation, Dr. Shermer speaks with Dr. Mark Moffett, biologist (Ph.D. Harvard, under E. O. Wilson), wildlife photographer for National Geographic, cave explorer, and world traveler about his new book, The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall, on the nature of societies from a biologist’s perspective. Scientists routinely explain that humans rule the planet because of our intelligence, tools, or language, but as Moffett argues, our biggest asset, surprisingly overlooked to date, is our ability to be comfortable around strangers. We can walk into a cafe or stadium full of unfamiliar people without thinking twice, but a chimpanzee, wolf or lion, encountering strangers could be attacked and perhaps killed. This ability—not IQ—has allowed humans to swarm over the world in vast nations. If we want to compare ourselves to the rest of the animal kingdom in order to define what makes our societies unique, Moffett argues that it’s time we look at ants. Making their way across the African savannah, the Australian coastline, and the American plains, our ancestors moved in small bands of lifelong fellow travelers. Month after month they made their camps and searched for food and water. Rarely did they encounter other human souls. So rarely that outsiders seemed to occupy a realm between reality and myth. Aborigines guessed the first Europeans they met were ghosts. Over time our view of the members of other societies has changed radically; today, foreigners don’t seem outlandish or otherworldly, as they once routinely did. As a consequence of global exploration starting in the 15th century, and more recently tourism and social media, contact between people from far-flung parts of the globe is now commonplace. Outright incomprehension of outsiders is no longer the excuse it often was in prehistory.
This Science Salon was recorded on April 8, 2019.
|Apr 16, 2019|
61. Dr. Richard Wrangham — The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution
We Homo sapiens can be the nicest of species and also the nastiest. What occurred during human evolution to account for this paradox? What are the two kinds of aggression that primates are prone to, and why did each evolve separately? How does the intensity of violence among humans compare with the aggressive behavior of other primates? How did humans domesticate themselves? And how were the acquisition of language and the practice of capital punishment determining factors in the rise of culture and civilization?
Authoritative, provocative, and engaging, The Goodness Paradox offers a startlingly original theory of how, in the last 250 million years, humankind became an increasingly peaceful species in daily interactions even as its capacity for coolly planned and devastating violence remains undiminished. In tracing the evolutionary histories of reactive and proactive aggression, biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham forcefully and persuasively argues for the necessity of social tolerance and the control of savage divisiveness still haunting us today.
Dr. Richard Wrangham is Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University. He is the author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human and Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. He has studied wild chimpanzees in Uganda since 1987 and received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences of the British Academy.
Dr. Wrangham and Dr. Shermer discuss:
This Science Salon was recorded on March 5, 2019.
|Apr 10, 2019|
60. Nicholas A. Christakis — Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society
In this exceptionally important conversation Dr. Shermer discusses at length the background to and research of Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and evolutionary sociologist famous for his study of social networks in humans and other animals. Drawing on advances in social science, evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, and network science, Blueprint shows how and why evolution has placed us on a humane path—and how we are united by our common humanity. For too long, scientists have focused on the dark side of our biological heritage: our capacity for aggression, cruelty, prejudice, and self-interest. But natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features, including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. Beneath all our inventions—our tools, farms, machines, cities, nations—we carry with us innate proclivities to make a good society. In Blueprint, Nicholas A. Christakis introduces the compelling idea that our genes affect not only our bodies and behaviors, but also the ways in which we make societies, ones that are surprisingly similar worldwide. With many vivid examples—including diverse historical and contemporary cultures, communities formed in the wake of shipwrecks, commune dwellers seeking utopia, online groups thrown together by design or involving artificially intelligent bots, and even the tender and complex social arrangements of elephants and dolphins that so resemble our own—Christakis shows that, despite a human history replete with violence, we cannot escape our social blueprint for goodness. Shermer and Christakis also discuss:
Nicholas A. Christakis is a physician and sociologist who explores the ancient origins and modern implications of human nature. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, in the Departments of Sociology, Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Statistics and Data Science, and Biomedical Engineering. He is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science and the co-author of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.
This Science Salon was recorded on March 27, 2019.
|Apr 03, 2019|
59. Cass R. Sunstein — On Freedom
In this pathbreaking book, New York Times bestselling author Cass Sunstein asks us to rethink freedom. He shows that freedom of choice isn’t nearly enough. To be free, we must also be able to navigate life. People often need something like a GPS device to help them get where they want to go — whether the issue involves health, money, jobs, children, or relationships.
In both rich and poor countries, citizens often have no idea how to get to their desired destination. That is why they are unfree. People also face serious problems of self-control, as many of them make decisions today that can make their lives worse tomorrow. And in some cases, we would be just as happy with other choices, whether a different partner, career, or place to live — which raises the difficult question of which outcome best promotes our well-being.
Accessible and lively, and drawing on perspectives from the humanities, religion, and the arts, as well as social science and the law, On Freedom explores a crucial dimension of the human condition that philosophers and economists have long missed — and shows what it would take to make freedom real.
In addition to discussing his book Sunstein and Shermer talk about what it was like to work in the Obama administration, the issue of free will and determinism in the context of his theory of libertarian paternalism and choice architecture, opt-in vs. opt-out programs related to everything from menu options to organ donations, the electoral college, term limits for Supreme Court Justices, free speech on college campuses (and trigger warnings, safe spaces, and micro aggressions), Universal Basic Income, taxes, and terrorism.
About Professor Sunstein’s principle, Dr. Shermer wrote in his book The Mind of the Market:
This Science Salon was recorded on March 4, 2019.
|Mar 26, 2019|
58. Ben Shapiro — The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great
In this wide ranging conversation, the noted conservative political commentator and public intellectual Ben Shapiro makes the case that what makes the West great is its foundation in Judeo-Christian values. We can thank these values, Shapiro argues, “for the birth of science, the dream of progress, human rights, prosperity, peace, and artistic beauty.” Shapiro says “Jerusalem and Athens built America, ended slavery, defeated the Nazis and the Communists, lifted billions from poverty and gave billions spiritual purpose. Jerusalem and Athens were the foundations of the Magna Carta and the Treaty of Westphalia; they were the foundations of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
As you might expect, Dr. Shermer disagrees on the source of these values, attributing them instead to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment and the secular thinkers who used reason and evidence to make the case for human rights and progress. For example:
These are all purely secular moral values derived from Enlightenment science and reason.
Shermer also asks Shapiro how he derives “all men are created equal” from “we were created in God’s image”. Shapiro has a very reasonable answer, to which Shermer read from Thomas Jefferson’s own explanation for the origin of that phrase. In a letter to Henry Lee in 1825, Jefferson wrote:
Shapiro responded to Shermer’s counter-examples to his thesis, namely successful civilizations that arose before Judaism and Christianity, such as Sumeria, Babylonia, Akkadia, Assyria, Egypt, and Greece, and Christian civilizations that did not flourish, such as the Catholic countries of South America, or historically all the Christian nations in the Middle Ages that never produced anything like a democracy or capitalism.
As two members of the Intellectual Dark Web, Shapiro and Shermer show how people can disagree even on fundamental principles and still have a civil conversation, and along the way find agreement and common cause. Other topics that came up:
This Science Salon was recorded on February 27, 2019.
|Mar 19, 2019|
57. Dr. Frans de Waal — Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves
Based on his latest book — Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves — the legendary biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal continues his empirical and theoretical work on animal societies, politics, intelligence, sentience, consciousness and, now, feelings and emotions. In this conversation Dr. de Waal and Dr. Shermer discuss:
This Science Salon was recorded on February 12, 2019.
|Mar 12, 2019|
56. Dr. Tyler Cowen — How an Economist Views the World
In this wide ranging dialogue Dr. Shermer speaks with the famed economist Dr. Tyler Cowen, whose new book, Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, is “a vision for a society of free, prosperous, and responsible individuals.” Dr. Cowen makes the case that…
Dr. Tyler Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University where he holds the Holbert C. Harris chair in the economics department. He hosts the economics blog marginal Revolution, together with co-author Alex Tabarrok. He writes the “Economic Scene” column for the New York Times, and now contributes a regular opinion column at Bloomberg View. He has written for the New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek and the Wilson Quarterly.
Dr. Shermer and Dr. Cowen also discuss…
This Science Salon was recorded on January 15, 2019.
|Mar 06, 2019|
AMA-4. Dr. Michael Shermer — The Problem of Evil
In this Ask Me Anything, Dr. Shermer performs a postmortem on his debate/dialogue on with Dr. Brian Huffling at the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday February 23, 2019. The specific topic was: “Is the Reality of Evil Good Evidence Against the Christian God?” Watch the video of the debate.
This is an exercise in the difference in thinking between a Christian philosopher/theologian/apologist and a secular scientist/humanist/atheist. Dr. Huffling focused on purely philosophical arguments about the nature of God, evil, omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection, whereas Dr. Shermer concentrated on specific examples of evil in the world and challenged Dr. Huffling to explain why God fails to do anything about them. In the end (literally at the end of the debate), when Dr. Shermer pushed him to explain why God allows childhood leukemia and the attendant suffering by children and their loving parents, Dr. Huffling’s answer was “I don’t know.”
|Mar 03, 2019|
55. Dr. David Sloan Wilson — This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution
In this dialogue Dr. Shermer speaks with Dr. David Sloan Wilson, the renowned evolutionary biologist and Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. His previous books include Evolution for Everyone, The Neighborhood Project, Does Altruism Exist? and Darwin’s Cathedral. He is the president of the Evolution Institute and editor in chief of its online magazine, This View of Life. His new book, out this week, is This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution. He and Shermer discuss…
This Science Salon was recorded on February 1, 2019. We apologize for the quality of this episode; it was recorded before Michael moved to the new recording studio. We still have a couple episodes to release from the old studio. Quality of subsequent episodes will be better.
|Feb 27, 2019|
54. Dr. Michele Gelfand — Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World
In this wide-ranging conversation Dr. Shermer talks with the author of the new book, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World, Dr. Michele Gelfand, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her pioneering research into cultural norms has been cited thousands of times in the press, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Harvard Business Review, and Science, and on NPR. As a cultural psychologist, Dr. Gelfand takes us on an epic journey through human cultures, offering a startling new view of the world and ourselves. With a mix of brilliantly conceived studies and surprising on-the-ground discoveries, she shows that much of the diversity in the way we think and act derives from a key difference—how tightly or loosely we adhere to social norms.
Why are clocks in Germany so accurate while those in Brazil are frequently wrong? Why do New Zealand’s women have the highest number of sexual partners? Why are “Red” and “Blue” States really so divided? Why is the driver of a Jaguar more likely to run a red light than the driver of a plumber’s van? Why does one spouse prize running a “tight ship” while the other refuses to “sweat the small stuff?”
In search of a common answer, Gelfand has spent two decades conducting research in more than fifty countries. Across all age groups, family variations, social classes, businesses, states and nationalities, she’s identified a primal pattern that can trigger cooperation or conflict. Her fascinating conclusion: behavior is highly influenced by the perception of threat.
Dr. Shermer and Dr. Gelfand discuss these and other interesting topics:
This Science Salon was recorded on February 13, 2019.
|Feb 20, 2019|
53. Adam Higginbotham — China Syndrome II: The True Story of What Happened at Chernobyl
In this discussion with the author of the newly published book Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, Adam Higginbotham tells what really happened at Chernobyl, by far the worst nuclear disaster in history, and why it took so long to discover what really happened. Human error and technological design flaws in the reactor are only proximate explanations for the core meltdown and explosion. The ultimate explanation is to be found in Soviet secrecy and lies. The book reads like an adventure novel, but it’s a richly researched non-fiction work by a brilliant storyteller. Don’t wait for the motion picture based on the book, which is years down the line. Get and read this gripping account to understand why people are still so afraid of nuclear power.
Adam Higginbotham was born in England in 1968. His narrative non-fiction and feature writing has appeared in magazines including GQ, The New Yorker and the The New York Times magazine. He is the author of A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite, named one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2014 and optioned as a film by Warner Brothers. He recently completed Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, which will be published in the US by Simon & Schuster on February 12th 2019. The former US correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph magazine and editor-in-chief of The Face, he lives with his family in New York City.
This Science Salon was recorded on February 5, 2019.
|Feb 12, 2019|
52. Bruce Schneier — Hacked! Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World
Bruce Schneier is a fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society. He is a special advisor to IBM Security and a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access Now, and the Tor Project. You can find him on Schneier.comand on twitter at @schneierblog
He is the author of Data and Goliath, Applied Cryptography, Liars and Outliers, Secrets and Lies, and Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World. His new book is Click Here to Kill Everybody, which we discuss at length, as well as:
This Science Salon was recorded on January 21, 2019.
|Feb 05, 2019|
51. Gregg Hurwitz — Into the Light: Myths, Narratives, Archetypes, and Trump
In this wide-ranging dialogue Michael Shermer and Gregg Hurwitz discuss being a public intellectual, how to convey ideas through fiction vs. nonfiction, the role of myths and archetypes in narrative stories, Jordan Peterson and religion, Shakespeare and tragedy, the role of life experience and suffering in the development of a successful novelist, screenwriter, or filmmaker, the role of narrative in politics, especially the 2016 election in which Trump’s narrative was surprisingly compelling to tens of millions of people, even over other highly qualified conservative candidates in the primary election campaign, and what democrats needs to do to recapture the White House in 2020.
Gregg Hurwitz is the New York Times #1 international bestselling author of 20 thrillers, including his latest novel Out of the Dark. His novels have won numerous literary awards, graced top ten lists, and have been published in 30 languages. He has also written screenplays for or sold spec scripts to many of the major studios, and written, developed, and produced television scripts for various networks. He is also a New York Times bestselling comic book writer, having penned stories for Marvel (Wolverine, Punisher) and DC (Batman, Penguin). He has published numerous academic articles on Shakespeare, taught fiction writing in the USC English Department, and guest lectured for UCLA and Harvard. He earned a BA from Harvard where Jordan Peterson was his thesis advisor, and a Master’s from Trinity College Oxford where he studied Shakespearean tragedy.
This Science Salon was recorded on January 23, 2019.
|Jan 30, 2019|
AMA-3. Dr. Michael Shermer — Ask Me Anything!
The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon
In this short AMA Michael Shermer answers a single question: “What is your opinion of Jordan Peterson?”
Dr. Shermer is asked this question in nearly every public appearance he makes, along with regular emails and social media queries he receives. At a November 2018 public event with Richard Dawkins, in the Q&A, he and Shermer received no less than four questions about Jordan Peterson, even though Jordan was not the topic of the dialogue between Dawkins and Shermer. Watch that edited clip reel from that dialogue.
Clearly there is much interest in Jordan Peterson and the phenomenon surrounding him, so Dr. Shermer thought he would issue his opinion in the form of an essay he penned for Skeptic magazine 23.3: “Have Archetype — Will Travel: The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon”. Purchase back issue 23.3 online.
See also Steven Beckner’s brilliant analysis of Jordan Peterson in the same issue: “Thought Crimes Jordan Peterson and the Meaning of the Meaning of Life”. (Some have said this is the best and fairest article ever written about Peterson.)
In Science Salon AMA # 3, Dr. Shermer offers a brief summary of his current opinion of Peterson and then reads his essay: “Have Archetype — Will Travel: The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon”.
|Jan 22, 2019|
50. Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld — A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security
In this episode of the Science Salon Podcast, Michael Shermer speaks with Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she focuses on issues of rule of law, security, and governance in post-conflict countries, fragile states, and states in transition. As the founding CEO of the Truman National Security Project, she spent nearly a decade leading a movement of national security, political, and military leaders working to promote people and policies that strengthen security, stability, rights, and human dignity in America and around the world.
In 2011, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton appointed Kleinfeld to the Foreign Affairs Policy Board, which advises the secretary of state quarterly, a role she served through 2014. Dr. Kleinfeld has consulted on rule of law reform for the World Bank, the European Union, the OECD, the Open Society Institute, and other institutions, and has briefed multiple government agencies in the United States and abroad.
She is the author of Advancing the Rule of Law Abroad: Next Generation Reform (Carnegie, 2012), which was chosen by Foreign Affairs magazine as one of the best foreign policy books of 2012. Named one of the top 40 Under 40 Political Leaders in America by Time magazine in 2010, Kleinfeld has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and other national television, radio, and print media.
Her new book is A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security. In this conversation we discuss her new book, specifically:
This remote Science Salon was recorded on January 4, 2019.
|Jan 15, 2019|
AMA-2. Dr. Michael Shermer: Ask Me Anything!
In his second Ask Me Anything, recorded on the final day of 2018, Dr. Shermer reviews the latest issue of Skeptic magazine, introduces upcoming podcast guests Rachel Kleinfeld (A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security), Bruce Schneier (Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World), Mark W. Moffett (The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall), and Jared Diamond (Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis).
Dr. Shermer also discusses his book publishing plans for 2019, including an essay collection of his last 70 Scientific American columns, which he is sad to report is coming to an end with the January 2019 issue of that august magazine, along with that of other popular contributors, such as the popular tech columnist David Pogue. Dr. Shermer reflects on his 18 years and reads aloud the final column, titled “Stein’s Law and Science’s Mission”.
|Jan 08, 2019|
49. Dr. Gad Saad — Doing Gad’s Work
In this episode of the Science Salon Podcast, Michael Shermer talks to the renowned evolutionary behavioral scientist and Concordia University professor Dr. Gad Saad. Starting with his escape to Canada from war-torn Lebanon, Dr. Saad recounts how he got interested in the study of human nature in general and consumer behavior in particular through the evolutionary lens, why people make the choices they do in the marketplace, why evolutionary psychology is an equal-opportunity offender to both the political left and right, what’s wrong with the Blank Slate model of human nature, what it means to hypothesize that something evolved “for” an adaptive reason, how evolutionary psychologists test their claims, the consilience of human knowledge, epistemological humility, postmodernism and how it has corrupted the academy, and the vital importance of free speech and free inquiry in science and society.
Dr. Gad Saad held the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption from 2008 to 2018. He is the author of The Consuming Instinct (2011, Prometheus Books) and The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption (2007, Lawrence Erlbaum), editor of Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences (2011, Springer), and is finishing his next book on idea pathogens and how they have spread like a contagion in the academy, now spilling out into government and corporations. He is the host of the popular podcast The Saad Truth, which focuses on science, religion, political correctness, multiculturalism, postmodernism, third-wave feminism, Islam, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and many other topics.
This Science Salon was recorded on December 26, 2018.
|Jan 01, 2019|
48. Sir Martin Rees — On the Future: Prospects for Humanity
In this wide-ranging dialogue Michael Shermer talks to Martin Rees about: his early education and how he got interested in astronomy and cosmology • how the Big Bang theory won out over the Steady State theory • origin of life, SETI, and the search for a second genesis • Fermi Paradox (if life is abundant in the universe…where is everyone?) • space exploration (human or robotic or both?) • future of humanity as sentient A.I. (to the stars…inside computers!) • limits of scientific knowledge (are we nearing the “end of science”? No says Dr. Rees!) • threats and challenges facing humanity (nuclear weapons, climate change, overpopulation, sustainable energy sources, artificial intelligence, income inequality, political instability, and others) • role of religion in modern society (why Dr. Rees is an atheist but not a “new atheist”) • do we need to replace religion with a secular equivalent?
Sir Martin Rees is a leading astrophysicist as well as a senior figure in UK science and a public intellectual in England and America. He has conducted influential theoretical work on subjects as diverse as black hole formation and extragalactic radio sources, and in the 1960s his research provided key evidence to contradict the Steady State theory of the evolution of the Universe. Dr. Rees was also one of the first to predict the uneven distribution of matter in the Universe, and proposed observational tests to determine the clustering of stars and galaxies. Much of his most valuable research has focused on the end of the so-called cosmic dark ages —a period shortly after the Big Bang when the Universe was as yet without light sources.
As Astronomer Royal and a Past President of the Royal Society, Martin is a prominent scientific spokesperson and the author of seven books of popular science. After receiving a knighthood in 1992 for his services to science, he was elevated to the title of Baron Rees of Ludlow in 2005. His latest book is On the Future: Prospects for Humanity. His other books include: Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others (1997) • Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (1999) • Our Cosmic Habitat (2001) • Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning —How terror, error, and environmental disaster threaten humankind’s future in this century —on earth and beyond (2004) • What We Still Don’t Know (2009) • From Here to Infinity: Scientific Horizons (2011).
This Science Salon was recorded on December 12, 2018.
|Dec 25, 2018|
47. 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|
46. 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|
45. 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|
44. 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|
43. 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|
42. 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|
41. 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|
40. 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|
39. 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|
38. 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|
37. 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|
36. 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|
35. 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|
34. 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|
33. 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|
32. 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|
31. 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|
30. 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|
29. 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|
AMA-1. Dr. Michael Shermer — Ask Me Anything!
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|
28. 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|
27. 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|
26. 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|
25. 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|
24. 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|
23. 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|
22. 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|
21. 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|
20. 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|
19. 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|
18. 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|
17. 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|
16. 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|
15. 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|