The Michael Shermer Show

By Michael Shermer

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 Nov 17, 2020

Description

The Michael Shermer Show is a series of long-form conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

Episode Date
299. Richard Reeves — Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It
02:17:30

Shermer and Reeves discuss: • comparison method: U.S. vs. other WERID countries • education • work/labor market • family • marriage • Divorce/custody/spousal support/child support • intersectionality I: Black boys and men vs. White boys and men • intersectionality II: poor boys and men vs. middle class/upper class boys and men • What is a man? (nature and nurture in the making of a male) • what the political left gets wrong about boys and men • what the political right gets wrong about boys and men • solutions: red shirt boys early; men in STEM and HEAL • fatherhood as an independent institution

Richard V. Reeves is a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, where he directs the Boys and Men Project and holds the John C. and Nancy D. Whitehead Chair. He is the author of Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It(2017) and a regular contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic.

Sep 29, 2022
298. Neil deGrasse Tyson — Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization
01:16:35

Shermer and Tyson discuss: why he decided to write about social, cultural, and political issues now • conflict and resolution in science and society • moral progress in society and why it happens • meatarians and vegetarians • race and gender • law and order • the principle of interchangeable perspectives • conflicting rights and how to resolve them • Rationalia (Neil’s hypothetical country whose laws are based on rationality) • life and death • how long Neil would like to live • the meaning in life.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and the author of the #1 bestselling Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, among other books. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, where he has served since 1996. Dr. Tyson is also the host and cofounder of the Emmy-nominated popular podcast StarTalk and its spinoff StarTalk Sports Edition, which combine science, humor, and pop culture. He is a recipient of 21 honorary doctorates, the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences, and the Distinguished Public Service Medal from NASA. Asteroid 13123 Tyson is named in his honor. He lives in New York City.

Sep 20, 2022
297. Andrew Doyle — How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World
01:44:34

Shermer and Doyle discuss: terminology of: PC, identity politics, woken, social justice, antifa, BLM, TERF, intersectionality • Critical Social Justice as a witch craze • Satanic Panic (1980s) • Recovered Memory Movement (1990s) • How widespread is the problem: minor skirmishes on social media or mainstream? • Hill-Harris 2021 poll: 32% voters ID as woke and 31% said they don’t know what the term means • new puritanism as a secular religion • Whiteness and White fragility • Implicit Association Test • Postmodernism • Neo-Marxism • Cancel Culture • hate speech • J.K. Rowling • pluralistic ignorance.

Andrew Doyle is a writer, satirist and political commentator. He regularly appears on television to discuss current affairs, and is a panelist on the BBC’s Moral Maze. He has written for a number of publications, including the Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Standpoint, Spectator, and Sunday Times. He is the creator of satirical character Titania McGrath, under whose name he has written two books: Woke: A Guide to Social Justice and My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism, both published by Little, Brown. Titania McGrath has over half a million followers on Twitter. He was formerly a Visiting Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, and a lecturer at Oxford University where he completed his doctorate. His previous book was Free Speech and Why it Matters. His new book is The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World.

Sep 13, 2022
296. Stephen Bloom on Jane Elliott’s Famous Experiment on Race and Brutality and What It Reveals About Today’s Racial Divide
02:03:10

This conversation explores the never-before-told true story of Jane Elliott and the “Blue-Eyes, Brown-Eyes Experiment” she made world-famous, using eye color to simulate racism.

Shermer and Bloom discuss: Jane Elliott and how she came to conduct her famous experiment • reactions to it (in the classroom, locally, nationally, internationally) • whether the “experiment” was really more of a demonstration • public interest, from Johnny Carson to Oprah Winfrey • the questionable ethics of the experiment • what it reveals about tribalism, racism, obedience to authority, role playing, social proof • whether the experiment reveals hidden racist attitudes or creates them in children • Does it indicate bad apples or bad barrels? • race sensitivity training programs, then and now (and why they don’t really work) • what drives moral progress • the future of journalism.

Stephen Bloom is a professor of journalism at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: A Cautionary Tale of Race and Brutality (University of California Press, 2021); The Audacity of Inez Burns: Dreams, Desire, Treachery & Ruin in the City of Gold (Regan Arts, 2018); Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls (St. Martin’s Press, 2011); The Oxford Project [with photographer Peter Feldstein] (Welcome Books, 2010); Inside the Writer’s Mind (Wiley, 2002); and Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America (Harcourt, 2000). He has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee, Latin America Daily Post, and Field News Service. He especially likes writing about every man/woman: the barista, bartender, baker, butcher, barber — or murderer-turned-prison employee.

Sep 06, 2022
295. Marian Tupy & Gale Pooley — Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet
01:54:16

Is it true that the world’s rapidly growing population is consuming the planet’s natural resources at an alarming rate that would require two Earths to satisfy the demand for natural resources by 2030? Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley found that resources became more abundant as the population grew. They also found that resource abundance increased faster than the population. On average, every additional human being created more value than he or she consumed.

Shermer, Tupy, and Pooley discuss: why we long for the “good ol’ days” • Malthusian trap • Ehrlich’s predictions on overpopulation • the birth dearth • the Simon Abundance Index • compound interest • What does it mean for the economy to grow 2–3% a year? • accumulating wealth • what poorer countries need to do to become richer countries • running out of fossil fuels • Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech • inflation • electric vehicles • How many people can the Earth sustain? • post-scarcity trekonomics • the future of religion and other social institutions in a superabundant world.

Marian Tupy is the editor of HumanProgress.org, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, and coauthor of the Simon Abundance Index. He specializes in globalization and global well-being and the politics and economics of Europe and Southern Africa. He is the coauthor of Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know: And Many Others You Will Find Interesting (Cato Institute, 2020). His articles have been published in the Financial Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Newsweek, the UK Spectator, Foreign Policy, and various other outlets in the United States and overseas. He has appeared on BBC, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, and other channels. Tupy received his BA in international relations and classics from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and his PhD in international relations from the University of St. Andrews in Great Britain.

Gale Pooley is an associate professor of business management at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. He has taught economics and statistics at Alfaisal Univerity in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Brigham Young University-Idaho; Boise State University; and the College of Idaho. Pooley has held professional designations from the Appraisal Institute, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and the CCIM Institute. He has published articles in National Review, HumanProgress.org, The American Spectator, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Utah Bar Journal, the Appraisal Journal, Quillette, Forbes, and RealClearMarkets. His major research activity has been the Simon Abundance Index, which he coauthored with Marian Tupy.

Aug 30, 2022
294. Sabine Hossenfelder — Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions
01:26:31

What is time? Does the past still exist? How did the universe begin and how will it end? Do particles think? Was the universe made for us? Why doesn’t anyone ever get younger? Has physics ruled out free will? Will we ever have a theory of everything? According to Sabine Hossenfelder, it is not a coincidence that quantum entanglement and vacuum energy have become the go-to explanations of alternative healers, or that people believe their deceased grandmother is still alive because of quantum mechanics. Science and religion have the same roots, and they still tackle some of the same questions: Where do we come from? Where do we go to? How much can we know? The area of science that is closest to answering these questions is physics. Over the last century, physicists have learned a lot about which spiritual ideas are still compatible with the laws of nature. Not always, though, have they stayed on the scientific side of the debate.

Shermer and Hossenfelder also discuss: theories of everything • quantum flapdoodle • Is math all there is? Is math universal? • Uniformitarianism and the laws of nature • theories of aging • Emergent properties, or why we are not just a bag of atoms • Is knowledge predictable? • Free will and determinism from a physicist’s perspective • Do copies of us exist? Could they ever? • Consciousness and computability • Does the universe think? • Why is there something rather than nothing? • What is the purpose of life, the universe, and everything?

Sabine Hossenfelder is a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Germany, and has published more than eighty research articles about the foundations of physics, including quantum gravity, physics beyond the standard model, dark matter, and quantum foundations. She has written about physics for a broad audience for 15 years and is the creator of the popular YouTube channel “Science without the Gobbledygook.” Her writing has been published in New Scientist, Scientific American, the New York Times, and the Guardian (London). Her first book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, appeared in 2018.

Aug 23, 2022
293. Konstantin Kisin — An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West
01:20:24

Shermer and Kisin discuss: growing up in Russia • “The Talk” Russian parents give their children • What is the “West” and how do Russians view it • Should Whites feel some guilt for slavery, racism, misogyny, bigotry, etc.? • systemic racism: criminal justice, housing, employment, income, wealth • Critical Race Theory (CRT) • immigration • free, private, and public speech • how language is used to distort truth • the origin of “political correctness” • journalism vs. activism • capitalism • and how the West could be lost.

Konstantin Kisin is a journalist, comedian, voiceover actor and social commentator. Born in the Soviet Union, where he experienced both untold wealth and grinding poverty, he moved to the UK when he was 13 years old. Now an award-winning performer, he co-presents the popular YouTube series Triggernometry alongside Francis Foster. Together, they’ve interviewed some of the most in-demand intellectuals of our age, such as Douglas Murray, Jordan Peterson and many others.

Aug 19, 2022
292. Gary Marcus — Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust
02:03:40

Despite the hype surrounding AI, creating an intelligence that rivals or exceeds human levels is far more complicated than we have been led to believe. The achievements in the field thus far have occurred in closed systems with fixed sets of rules, and these approaches are too narrow to achieve genuine intelligence. The real world, in contrast, is wildly complex and open-ended. How can we bridge this gap? What will the consequences be when we do?

Shermer and Marcus discuss: why AI chatbot LaMDA is not sentient • “mind”, “thinking”, and “consciousness”, and how do molecules and matter give rise to such nonmaterial processes • the hard problem of consciousness • the self and other minds • How would we know if an AI system was sentient? • Can AI systems be conscious? • free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism • language • Can we have an inner life without language? • How rational or irrational an animal are we?

Gary Marcus is a scientist, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. He is Founder and CEO of Robust.AI, and was Founder and CEO of Geometric Intelligence, a machine learning company acquired by Uber in 2016. He is the author of five books, including The Algebraic Mind, Kluge, The Birth of the Mind, and the New York Times best seller Guitar Zero, as well as editor of The Future of the Brain and The Norton Psychology Reader. He has published extensively in fields ranging from human and animal behavior to neuroscience, genetics, linguistics, evolutionary psychology and artificial intelligence, often in leading journals such as Science and Nature, and is perhaps the youngest Professor Emeritus at NYU. His newest book, co-authored with Ernest Davis, Rebooting AI: Building Machines We Can Trust aims to shake up the field of artificial intelligence.

Check out our episode sponsors: Wren and Wondrium.

Aug 16, 2022
291. Rob Ashton — Silent Influence and the Science of Writing, Reading, and Communicating
01:45:40

Shermer and Ashton discuss: what it’s like advising Google and Buckingham Palace on how to communicate • what makes writing appealing and effective • how to write better emails and social media posts • why the messages we write often backfire • why emails so often make us angry • How has written communication changed in the last five years? • What makes Donald Trump such a powerful communicator that he can seemingly hypnotize tens of millions of people and dictate entire news cycles with a single statement? • when you should stop writing and pick up the phone to talk instead • How much information is too much?

Rob Ashton is a writer, editor, and a former research scientist (a molecular biology researcher who helped develop the first tests for HIV). For the last six years, he’s been on a quest to discover the science of how the words we read and write affect what we think and do. His experience includes 24 years advising some of the biggest names in commerce, such as Google, as well as working with national governments, charities and even the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace, all in an effort to help their people communicate more effectively in writing. He calls writing ‘the invisible medium’. And he believes much of the misunderstanding in the world stems from our increasing reliance on our keyboards and phone screens to ‘talk’ to each other. But he says it’s always frustrated him that so much of the communication advice on the web and pushed by consultants is based on a mixture of pseudoscience, hearsay and wishful thinking. Read more at: robashton.com/influence

Aug 09, 2022
290. Anastacia Marx de Salcedo — Eat like a Pig, Run Like a Horse
01:35:07

Shermer and de Salcedo discuss: her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 27 • her long-term psychological strategy for living with a serious illness • what “eating like a pig” actually means • our 70-year-old “diet detour” • the obesity crisis • how dietary studies are conducted • the baseline health of lab rats • static vs. dynamic metabolism • diseases you can treat, manage, or prevent with exercise • cholesterol and statins • why exercise is more important than diet • how you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Anastacia Marx de Salcedo is a food writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Slate, the Boston Globe, and Gourmet magazine and on PBS and NPR blogs. She’s worked as a public health consultant, news magazine publisher, and public policy researcher. She is the author of Combat-Ready Kitchen and lives in Boston, MA.

Aug 02, 2022
289. James Kirchick — Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington
01:40:19

This episode is sponsored by Wren. Signup at wren.co/shermer and Wren will plant 10 trees in your name. Start a monthly subscription to fund climate solutions.

Shermer and Kirchick discuss: archives and secret sources of secret histories • the cause of homophobia, and how and why homosexuality was thought of as a “contagious sexual aberrancy” • why there is no lesbian history of Washington • J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson and gay mythmaking • FDR and Sumner Welles • why at the height of the Cold War, it was safer to be a Communist than a homosexual • Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss • the McCarthy hearings and how the Lavender Menace became inextricably linked with the Red Menace • astronomer Franklin Kameny and the Mattachine Society • JFK and his tolerance of homosexuality • Richard Nixon’s notorious homophobia • Ronald Reagan’s conflicting attitudes toward homosexuality • George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and real progress in acceptance of homosexuality • the trans movement and its homophobic consequences.

James Kirchick has written about human rights, politics, and culture from around the world. A columnist for Tablet magazine, a writer at large for Air Mail, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, he is the author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. Kirchick’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. A graduate of Yale with degrees in history and political science, he resides in Washington, DC.

This episode is also sponsored by Wondrium

Jul 26, 2022
288. Lucy Cooke — Bitch: On the Female of the Species
01:06:45

Since Charles Darwin, evolutionary biologists have been convinced that the males of the animal kingdom are the interesting ones dominating and promiscuous, while females are dull, passive, and devoted. In her new book Bitch, Cooke tells a new story. Whether investigating same — sex female albatross couples that raise chicks, murderous mother meerkats, or the titanic battle of the sexes waged by ducks, Cooke shows us a new evolutionary biology, one where females can be as dynamic as males. This isn’t your grandfather’s (or Darwin’s) evolutionary biology. It’s more inclusive, and truer to life.

Shermer and Cooke discuss: the definition of male and female across the animal kingdom • male bias in the history of science • genes involved in sex determination and how they work • natural selection • sexual selection • adaptationism vs. non-adaptationism in evolutionary theory • Why do men have nipples? • Why do women have orgasms? • why female animals are just as promiscuous, competitive, aggressive, dominant and dynamic as males • what humans can learn from non-human animals • maternal and paternal instincts • patriarchy and matriarchy across the animal kingdom • and why the sexes are far more alike than they are different.

Lucy Cooke is the author of The Truth About Animals, which was short-listed for the Royal Society Prize, and the New York Times bestselling A Little Book of Sloth. She is a National Geographic explorer, TED talker, and award-winning documentary filmmaker with a master’s degree in zoology from Oxford University. She lives in Hastings, England.

Jul 19, 2022
287. Bobby Azarian — Life, the Universe, and Cosmic Complexity
02:07:05

In this conversation based on his new book, The Romance of Reality, cognitive neuroscientist Bobby Azarian explains how for centuries the question Why do we exist? was the sole province of religion and philosophy. According to the prevailing scientific paradigm, the universe tends toward randomness; it functions according to laws without purpose, and the emergence of life is an accident devoid of meaning. But Azarian argues that out of complexity science and the phenomenon known as emergence, a new cosmic narrative is taking shape: Nature’s simplest “parts” come together to form ever-greater “wholes” in a process that has no end in sight, and that life is moving toward increasing complexity and awareness. Carl Sagan was right when he said of humanity that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

Shermer and Azarian discuss: laws of thermodynamics and directionality • how complexity formed after the Big Bang • laws of nature: discovered or created or both? • Stephen Jay Gould and contingency vs. necessitating laws of nature • convergent evolution and directionality in evolution • the left wall of simplicity • leading theories for the origin of life • complexity theory and emergence • consciousness, the self, and other minds • free will, determinism, compatibilism, panpsychism • Is there purpose in the cosmos?

Bobby Azarian is a cognitive neuroscientist (PhD, George Mason University) and a science journalist. He has written 100+ articles — many reaching millions of views — about science, technology, and philosophy for publications including The Atlantic, New York Times, BBC Future, Scientific American, Slate, Huffington Post, Quartz, Daily Beast, Aeon, among others. Azarian has authored numerous academic papers, published in peer-reviewed journals such as Human Brain Mapping, Cognition & Emotion, and Acta Psychologica. His blog “Mind in the Machine,” hosted by Psychology Today, has received over 8 million views. Azarian worked with The Atlantic and Huffington Post to create viral videos, which he helped write the scripts for and narrated.

Jul 12, 2022
286. Kevin McCaffree — How Societies Change and Why
01:45:39

Since the dawn of social science, theorists have debated how and why societies appear to change, develop and evolve. Today, this question is pursued by scholars across many different disciplines and our understanding of these dynamics has grown markedly. Yet, there remain important areas of disagreement and debate: what is the difference between societal change, development and evolution? What specific aspects of cultures change, develop or evolve and why? Do societies change, develop or evolve in particular ways, perhaps according to cycles, or stages or in response to survival necessities? How do different disciplines — from sociology to anthropology to psychology and economics — approach these questions? After 10,000 years of history, what does the future hold for culture and society?

Shermer and McCaffree discuss: McCaffree’s experience being trained as a cop, his research on crime, and his thoughts on the recent spike in crime and violence • Is there any way to solve the problem of gun violence? • how sociologists think about human and social action • diversity, equity, and inclusion • Is the current political polarization really worse than it’s been? • cultural evolution vs. biological evolution • horizontal/equalitarian vs. vertical/hierarchical societies • human selfishness and the problem of altruism • between-group and within-group competition and cooperation • fission-fusion in primate bands • Oscillation-Infrastructural Theory of Cultural Evolution • and what the future holds for humanity and society, and more…

Dr. Kevin McCaffree is a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. He is the author or co-author of five books, co-editor of Theoretical Sociology: The Future of a Disciplinary Foundation and series co-editor (with Jonathan H. Turner) of Evolutionary Analysis in the Social Sciences. In addition to these works, he has authored or co-authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and handbook chapters on a variety of topics ranging from cultural evolution to criminology to the sociology of empathy. His two books include Cultural Evolution: The Empirical and Theoretical Landscape, and The Dance of Innovation: Infrastructure, Social Oscillation, and the Evolution of Societies. Along with Anondah Saide, he is one of the two chief researchers for the Skeptic Research Center, and Michael Shermer had the honor of serving on his dissertation committee for his Ph.D. thesis on the rise of the Nones — those who hold no religious affiliation.

Jul 09, 2022
285. Helen Joyce — Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality
01:55:41

Biological sex is no longer accepted as a basic fact of life. It is forbidden to admit that female people sometimes need protection and privacy from male ones. In an analysis that is at once expert, sympathetic and urgent, Helen Joyce offers an antidote to the chaos and cancelling.

Shermer and Joyce discuss: What is a woman? What is a man? • conflicting rights: trans vs. women • sex vs. gender; who you identify as vs. who you are attracted to • cross-sex identification • gender dysphoria • social contagions • gender affirming care • puberty blockers, testosterone, hormone treatment • detransitioning • top surgery, phalloplasty, vaginoplasty • preferred pronouns: compelled speech ≠ free speech • trans sports • exclusive spaces, and more…

Helen Joyce is a senior staff journalist at The Economist, where she has held several positions, including Britain editor, Finance editor and International editor. Before joining The Economist in 2005 she edited Plus, an online magazine about mathematics published by the University of Cambridge. She has a PhD in mathematics from University College London. On Twitter, she is @HJoyceGender.

Jul 05, 2022
284. Yoram Hazony on Traditional Conservatism vs. Enlightenment Liberalism
01:50:01

In this conversation based on his new book, political theorist Yoram Hazony argues that the best hope for Western democracy is a return to the empiricist, religious, and nationalist traditions of America and Britain, a distinctive alternative to divine-right monarchy, Puritan theocracy, and liberal revolution. After tracing the tradition from the Wars of the Roses to Burke and across the Atlantic to the American Federalists and Lincoln, Hazony describes the rise and fall of Enlightenment liberalism after World War II and the present-day debates between neoconservatives and national conservatives over how to respond to liberalism and the woke left.

In response, Shermer makes the case for Enlightenment liberalism, with its focus on science and reason, as the primary driver of moral progress over the centuries. Hazony criticizes the modern left with its focus on identity politics, while Shermer counters that while the illiberalism of the left can be problematic, a far greater threat to individual liberty and personal autonomy—the bedrock of Enlightenment liberalism—comes from religious and nationalist conservatism on the right.

Yoram Hazony, an award-winning political theorist, is the chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation in Washington and the president of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem. His previous book, The Virtue of Nationalism (Basic Books, 2018), was named Conservative Book of the Year for 2019 by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and has been translated into half a dozen languages. He appears frequently in the U.S. media, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Fox News, CNN, NPR, Time, The New Republic, The Ben Shapiro Show, and the Rubin Report. A graduate of Princeton University (B.A.) and Rutgers (Ph.D.), Hazony lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.

Jun 28, 2022
283. Michael Strevens — The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science
01:32:14

Shermer and Strevens discuss: irrationality and how it drives science • the scientific method • the knowledge machine • irrationality • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it • verification vs. falsification • the iron rule of explanation • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification • climate/evolution skeptics • model dependent realism • morality • humanism • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns • Why should we believe Anthony Fauci? • how to evaluate media sources of science.

If is science so powerful why did it take so long — two thousand years after the invention of philosophy and mathematics — for the human race to start using science to learn the secrets of the universe? Philosopher of science Michael Strevens argues that science came about only once thinkers stumbled upon the astonishing idea that scientific breakthroughs could be accomplished by breaking the rules of logical argument. Using a plethora of vivid historical examples, Strevens demonstrates that scientists willfully ignore religion, theoretical beauty, and even philosophy to embrace a constricted code of argument whose very narrowness channels unprecedented energy into empirical observation and experimentation. Strevens calls this scientific code the iron rule of explanation, and reveals the way in which the rule, precisely because it is unreasonably close-minded, overcomes individual prejudices to lead humanity inexorably toward the secrets of nature.

Michael Strevens, a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, is a professor of philosophy at New York University. He was born in New Zealand and has been writing about philosophy of science for twenty-five years. He lives in New York.

Jun 25, 2022
282. Anil Seth on the Hard Problem of Consciousness, the Self, and the Essence of Volition
02:09:22

Shermer and Seth discuss: “mind” and “consciousness” in context of understanding how molecules and matter give rise to such nonmaterial processes • controlled hallucinations • the hard problem of consciousness • the self and other minds • consciousness and self-awareness as emergent properties • Where does consciousness go during general anaesthesia? After death? • Star Trek TNG episode 138 “Ship in a Bottle”: a VR inside a VR that is indistinguishable from reality • Are we living in a simulation that itself is inside a simulation? • Does Deep Blue know that it beat the great Gary Kasparov in chess? • Does Watson know that it beat the great Ken Jennings in Jeopardy!? • Is Data on Star Trek sentient, conscious, and with feelings? • Can AI systems be conscious? • free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism.

Anil Seth is Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, where he co-directs of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. He is also Co-Director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Program on Brain, Mind, and Consciousness, and of the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme: From Sensation and Perception to Awareness. Dr. Seth is Editor-in-Chief of Neuroscience of Consciousness (Oxford University Press) and he sits on the Editorial Board of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and on the Advisory Committee for 1907 Research and for Chile’s Congreso Futuro. His new book is Being You: A New Science of Consciousness.

Jun 21, 2022
281. Moneyball For Your Life: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on Using Data to Get What You Really Want
01:41:42

Most people rely on their gut instinct to decide how to date, who to marry, where to live, what career path to take, how to find happiness, but what if our gut is wrong? Biased, unpredictable, and misinformed, our gut, it turns out, is not all that reliable. Data from hundreds of thousands of dating profiles have revealed surprising successful strategies to get a date; data from hundreds of millions of tax records have uncovered the best places to raise children; data from millions of career trajectories have found previously unknown reasons why some rise to the top.

Hard facts and figures consistently contradict our instincts and demonstrate self-help that actually works — whether it involves the best time in life to start a business or how happy it actually makes us to skip a friend’s birthday party for a night of Netflix on the couch. From the boring careers that produce the most wealth, to the old-school, data-backed relationship advice so well-worn it’s become a literal joke, Stephens-Davidowitz unearths the startling conclusions that the right data can teach us about who we are and what will make our lives better.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times, a lecturer at The Wharton School, and a former Google data scientist. He received a BA from Stanford and a PhD from Harvard. His research has appeared in the Journal of Public Economics and other prestigious publications. His previous book, Everybody Lies, was a New York Times bestseller and an Economist Book of the Year. He lives in Brooklyn and is a passionate fan of the Mets, Knicks, Jets, and Leonard Cohen.

Jun 18, 2022
280. Sam Rosenfeld on Party Polarization in the Postwar United States
02:00:38

Shermer and Rosenfeld discuss: why we have a duopoly • gerrymandering • voting restrictions • how we know all elections are not rigged • abortion • immigration • US foreign policy • the rise of conservative and liberal think tanks • ideology • political polarization • political leanings of industrialists vs. tech billionaires and rural poor vs. urban poor • Trump and 2016, 2020, and 2024 (are we facing civil unrest as never seen before?), and more…

Sam Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of Political Science at Colgate University, specializing in party politics and American political development. His research interests include the history of political parties, the intersection of social movements and formal politics, and the politics of social and economic policymaking. His book, The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era (University of Chicago Press, 2018), offers an intellectual and institutional history of party polarization in the postwar United States. With Daniel Schlozman at Johns Hopkins University, he is currently writing a book on party development since the Founding, provisionally titled The Hollow Parties. His writing has also appeared in The American Prospect, Boston Review, Democracy, The New Republic, The New York Times, Politico, The Washington Post, and Vox.

Jun 14, 2022
279. Ian Morris on Deep Time and Big History
01:48:13

Shermer and Morris discuss: the history of Big/Deep History • the US, UK, Europe and the West in the context of Russia and China and his book Why the West Rules — for Now • Russia’s war on Ukraine in the context of his book War: What is it Good For? • the future of energy and civilization in the context of his book Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels • “national character” • the similarities and differences in people from the US, UK, and Europe • China and the future of energy and political power • what Britain was like 8000 years ago • the major transitions in British history • Nigel Farage and Brexit, and 5 things that matter then and now: Identity, Mobility, Prosperity, Security, Sovereignty • Adam Smith and the economic revolution • counterfactual history • slavery • the role of ideas in history (civil rights, rule of law, justice, etc.) • colonialism • postcolonialism • reparations • immigration and migration in history and today.

Ian Morris is the Jean and Rebecca Willard Professor of Classics and Professor in History at Stanford University and the author of the critically acclaimed Why the West Rules — for Now, as well as The Measure of Civilization: How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations; Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve; and War! What is it Good For? He has published many scholarly books and has directed excavations in Greece and Italy. His new book is Geography is Destiny: Britain’s Place in the World: A 10,000-Year History.

Jun 11, 2022
278. “Big Historian” David Christian on Time, the Near and Far Future, Transhumanism, Interstellar Migrations, the Fate of Our Species, and the End of Time
01:47:36

The future is uncertain, a bit spooky, possibly dangerous, maybe wonderful. We cope with this never-ending uncertainty by telling stories about the future: future stories. How do we construct those stories? Where is the future, the place where we set those stories? Can we trust our future stories? And what sort of futures do they show us? David Christian is renowned for pioneering the emerging discipline of Big History, which surveys the whole of the past. In this conversation, he reveals what he thinks the future holds for our species.

Shermer and Christian discuss: past patterns projected into the future • What is time and when do the past and future begin? • How long is the present “now”? • A-Series Time and B-Series Time • time as the 4th dimension • chaos theory and predicting the future • entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the direction of time • general relativity and time • how we experience time psychologically and anthropologically • likelihood of outcomes and Bayesian probabilities • how organisms manage the future • how human organisms manage the future • how futurists think about the future • how people in the past thought about the future • the next 100, 1,000, and 10,000 years • the next million years, and the end of time.

David Christian is a Professor Emeritus at Macquarie University, where he was formerly a Distinguished Professor of History and the director of the Big History Institute. He cofounded the Big History Project with Bill Gates, his Coursera MOOCs are popular around the world, and he is cocreator of the Macquarie University Big History School. He has delivered keynotes at conferences around the world, including the Davos World Economic Forum, and his TED Talk has been viewed more than 12 million times. He is the author of numerous books and articles, as well as the New York Times bestseller Origin Story.

Jun 07, 2022
277. Michel Gagné — How to Think About Conspiracy Theories
02:03:13

As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the violent public assassination of President John F. Kennedy, over half of all Americans surveyed continue to believe that he was killed by a conspiracy involving multiple assassins.

Shermer and Gagné discuss: conspiracies and conspiracy theories • what role conspiracy theories play in society • who believes conspiracy theories and why • why conspiracy theorists rewrite the past • paranoid skepticism as a role in conspiracism • Oliver Stone’s “alternative version of history” • scapegoat theory of conspiracism (Rene Girard) and the military industrial complex • Marx’s dialectical materialism and conspiracism: all life is a battle between rival tribes • stolen future theory of conspiracism: there but for the conspiracy… • common themes in conspiracy theories like JFK, 9/11 Truth, Obama Birtherism, QAnon, Rigged Election and many others • JFK: the lone-gunman theory vs. hundreds of conspiracy theories • the nostalgic myth of “Camelot” and balancing the ledger of moral outrage • when Jack Became Jesus: JFK as a crucified Jesus • who was Lee Harvey Oswald and why did he kill Kennedy? • Cuba, Castro, the Bay of Pigs debacle, and Operation Northwoods • the CIA and why it is rational to be skeptical of their activities • how to determine if a conspiracy theory is true, false, or uncertain • epistemology, truth claims, how to evaluate evidence, knowledge as justified true belief • knowing vs. believing: I don’t want to believe in anything that must be believed in to be true • empirical truths vs. mythic truths • Did the resurrection of Jesus really happen or is it a mythological narrative with moral meaning.

Michel Jacques Gagné teaches courses in critical thinking, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, and ethics in the Humanities Department of Champlain College Saint-Lambert, located near Montreal, Canada. His podcast is called Paranoid Planet and his latest book under discussion is Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination.

Jun 04, 2022
276. Andrew Yang — Not Left. Not Right. Forward.
01:07:55

Michael Shermer speaks with Andrew Yang about the Forward Party, the future of politics in a party duopoly, political partisanship, and how to bring about the change we need. This conversation is based on Yang’s new book Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy.

Shermer and Yang discuss: why we have a political duopoly, instead of, say, 7 parties like in Germany • ranked-choice voting and open primaries • gerrymandering and voting restriction laws and policies • the Rational Public • fairness doctrine • local journalism, newspapers, and TV stations • term limits • nonpartisan primaries • data as a property right • Department of Technology • Universal Basic Income (UBI) • reparations • abortion • the polarization of radio, television, and social media • ideology and political polarization • Trump in 2016, 2020 … and 2024? • what it’s like to run for President • what his fellow politicians are really like in person • what he learned on the campaign trail • how his many failures in life prepared him for political campaigning • why market solutions to social media polarization won’t work • why you should join the Forward Party even if you don’t agree with all their points.

Andrew Yang was a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and a 2021 candidate for mayor of New York City. Named by President Obama as a Presidential Ambassador of Global Entrepreneurship, he is the founder of Humanity Forward and Venture for America. Yang’s New York Times bestselling book The War on Normal People helped introduce the idea of universal basic income into the political mainstream. Yang is a graduate of Brown University, where he graduated with degrees in economics and political science, and Columbia Law School, where he was an editor of the Law Review. He lives with his family in New York.

May 31, 2022
275. The Disrupted Mind: Noga Arikha on What Happens to Identity When the Brain Is Assaulted by Disease and Injury
01:13:15

Shermer and Arikha discuss: what it means for a mind to be disrupted • dementia, senility, and Alzheimer’s disease • mental illness and the labeling problem • the social construction of mental illness • neurology and psychiatry • agency and volition • memory and amnesia • autobiographical memory • self and embodied self • brain modularity • brain as a machine • emotions and cognition: bodily changes first then the awareness of the emotion • conversion disorder/hysteria • depression • metacognition: thinking about thinking • exteroception and interoception.

Noga Arikha is a philosopher and historian of ideas. The author of Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, she is associate fellow of the Warburg Institute and honorary fellow of the Center for the Politics of Feelings, London, and research associate at the Institut Jean Nicod, Paris. She is based in Florence, Italy.

May 28, 2022
274. Frans De Waal on Sex and Gender Across the Primate Spectrum
01:27:50

What is gender? How different are men and women? Are differences due to biological sex or to culture? How do they compare with what is known about our fellow primates? Do apes also culturally learn their sex roles or is “gender” uniquely human?

Shermer and de Waal discuss: sex and gender in humans, primates, and mammals • who you identify as vs. who you’re attracted to • binary vs. nonbinary vs. continuum: how fuzzy can human sex categories be for a sexually reproducing species? • gender differences in physical and mental characteristics • why would homosexuality evolve? • chimpanzees and bonobos • what is the “purpose” of orgasms in women, nipples in men? • myths of the demure female • rape in humans and other primates: what is the purpose — sex, power or both? • murder, and human violence: how do men and women differ? • dominance and power • rivalry, friendship, competition and cooperation • maternal and paternal care of the young • same-sex sex • monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, etc. in humans, primates & mammals • grandmother hypothesis • primates & primatologists, humans & anthropologists: bias in science • the future of primates and primatology.

Frans de Waal has been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University’s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

May 24, 2022
273. Cathy Young — The Russian Riddle Wrapped in a Ukrainian Mystery Inside an American Enigma
02:05:42

Shermer and Young discuss: Florida’s “Don’t say ‘gay’” law • What is the appropriate age to discuss sex and gender issues with children? • sex, gender, and trans matters • Critical Race Theory, race and racism, and age appropriate discussions • white privilege and racial profiling • social media and political polarization • Putin, Russia, and Ukraine • Is there a Russian character that differs from that of Europeans or Americans? • What is Putin’s character and what does he want? • Aleksandr Dugin: Putin’s Rasputin and the drive to make Russia great again • What happens if Putin succeeds in Ukraine? What if he fails? • How should the west treat Russia and Putin in the future? • Should Putin be put on trial for war crimes? • U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and elsewhere, and its consequences • Could the conflict escalate from armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine to NATO and the U.S. and result in the use of tactical nuclear weapons and in the end global thermonuclear war? • What should NATO do now or in the near future? • From Soviet USSR to post-1990 Russia to Putin-Russia • Russian invasion of Ukraine moral equivalent to U.S. invasion of Iraq? • The moral equivalency between American foreign policy and Russian aggression.

Cathy Young is a writer at The Bulwark. She is also a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute, a columnist for Newsday, and a contributing editor to Reason. Previously, she was an associate editor at ArcDigital and a columnist for the Boston Globe, the Detroit News, and RealClearPolitics. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Week, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, Quillette, the New Republic, and elsewhere. Young was born in Moscow and came to the United States with her family in 1980 and is the author of two books: Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality (Free Press, 1999) and Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood (Ticknor & Fields, 1989). She has a B.A. in English from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @CathyYoung63

May 21, 2022
272. Stuart Vyse — The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational
01:25:17

Shermer and Vyse discuss: What is a delusion? • veridical perception • perceptual illusions and irrationalities • Kahneman vs. Gigerenzer: rationality, irrationality, and bounded rationality • Rational Choice Theory and Homo economicus • William Clifford v. William James: When is it ok to believe anything upon insufficient evidence? • pragmatic truths, 3 conditions: living hypothesis, forced question, momentous • death and delusion: Is it useful to believe death is not the end of consciousness and self? • paradoxical behavior and the search for underlying reasons for our actions • rational irrationalities • self delusions — that is, delusions about the self • optimism and overoptimism • depressive realism • bluffing self and others • lies vs. bullshit • self-control, will power, and time discounting • status quo bias • superstitions, rituals and incantations • faith and religion • delusion in love and marriage • brainwashing and influence (Stockholm Syndrome, etc.) • conformity, role playing, obedience to authority, and the banality of evil • the core of personality and the constructed self • free will and determinism.

Psychologist Stuart Vyse’s new book, The Uses of Delusion, is about aspects of human nature that are not altogether rational but, nonetheless, help us achieve our social and personal goals. In his book, and in this conversation, Vyse presents an accessible exploration of the psychological concepts behind useful delusions, fleshing out how delusional thinking may play a role in love and relationships, illness and loss, and personality and behavior. Throughout, Vyse strives to answer the question: why would some of our most illogical beliefs be as helpful as they are? Vyse also suggests that evolutionary pressures may have led to the ability to fool ourselves in order to survive.

Stuart Vyse is a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. He taught at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Connecticut College. Vyse’s book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstitionwon the 1999 William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association. He is a contributing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, where he writes the “Behavior & Belief” column, and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

May 17, 2022
271. Peter Ward — The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever
01:26:17

Shermer and Ward discuss: religious immortality • Church of Perpetual Life in Florida • what it means to live forever • why lives have doubled in length the past century • Stein’s Law: things that can’t go on forever won’t • Why do we age and die? • how to live to 100, 1000, 10,000 years • escape velocity to reach immortality • Aubrey de Grey’s program • tech billionaires programs • transhumanists/extropians • diet, exercise, supplements, stem cells, telomeres, and other aging hacks • Ray Kurzweil • cryonics • nanotechnology • brain preservation • mind uploading and digital immortality • Ernest Becker and Terror Management Theory

Peter Ward is a British business and technology reporter whose reporting has taken him across the globe. Reporting from Dubai, he covered the energy sector in the Middle East before earning a degree in business journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His writing has appeared in Wired, The Atlantic, The Economist, GQ, BBC Science Focus, and Newsweek.

May 14, 2022
270. Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrationality (Moshe Hoffman and Erez Yoeli)
01:57:49

Shermer, Hoffman, and Yoeli discuss: the problems game theory was developed to solve • How rational or irrational an animal are we? • the evolutionary logic of game theory • Alan Fiske’s four relationships • kin selection, altruism and reciprocal altruism • deception and self-deception • costly signaling theory • pirate rationality • virtue signaling • Putin, Russia, and Ukraine • Israeli-Palestinian conflict • justice, self-help justice, norms and laws • chemical weapons/nuclear weapons taboos/norms • dueling: what problem did it solve? • beliefs: first-order vs. second-order.

Moshe Hoffman is a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, a research fellow at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and a lecturer at Harvard’s department of economics. His research focuses on using game theory, models of learning and evolution, and experimental methods to decipher the motives that shape our social behavior, preferences, and ideologies. He lives in Lubeck, Germany.

Erez Yoeli is a research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the director of MIT’s Applied Cooperation Team (ACT), and a lecturer at Harvard’s department of economics. His research focuses on altruism: understanding how it works and how to promote it. Yoeli collaborates with governments, nonprofits, and companies to apply the lessons of this research towards addressing real-world challenges. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

May 10, 2022
269. Richard Dawkins — Flights of Fancy: Defying Gravity by Design and Evolution
01:28:54

Do you sometimes dream you can fly like a bird? Gliding effortlessly above the treetops, soaring and swooping, playing and dodging through the third dimension. Computer games, virtual reality headsets, and some drugs can lift our imagination and fly us through fabled, magical spaces. But it’s not the real thing. No wonder some of the past’s greatest minds, including Leonardo da Vinci’s, have yearned for flying machines and struggled to design them.

Shermer and Dawkins discuss: nationalism • Russian revanchism • the recent rise of authoritarianism and autocracies: worrying trend or temporary stumble in the arc of the moral universe? • U.S. acceptance of the theory of evolution finally breaks the 50% barrier • woke attacks on E. O. Wilson: why? • why Dawkins dedicated his book to Elon • What good is half a wing? • What is flight good for? • Why do some animals lose their wings? • Why flying is easier if you are small • physics of flying • unpowered flight: parachuting and gliding • powered flight and how it works • weightlessness • aerial plankton • winged plants • the difference between evolved and designed flying machines.

Richard Dawkins is one of the world’s most eminent writers and thinkers, and a major contributor to the public understanding of the science of evolution. The award-winning author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, The God Delusion and a string of other bestselling science books, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Society of Literature.

May 07, 2022
268. Douglas Murray on The War on the West: Race, Politics, and Culture
59:27

Shermer and Murray discuss: what it takes to become a successful writer • Is this “war” on Western civilization just a necessary course correction from the sins of the past? • Is at least some of the criticisms of Western civilization a form of revenge for past wrongs? • CRT: If racism is not the explanation for the present Black/White differences in income, wealth, home ownership, and representation in professional careers, what is? • Racism and Antiracism • 1619 Project • BLM movement • White privilege • Colonialism and decolonizing cultural things • Monuments • If Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln should be cancelled, what about Marx? • Anti-Semitism • Objectivity and the search for truth: is this a Western tradition only? • Reparations: don’t we have a moral obligation to right a wrong?

Douglas Murray is an associate editor of The Spectator. His previous book, The Madness of Crowds, was a bestseller and a book of the year for The Times and The Sunday Times. His previous book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, was published by Bloomsbury in May 2017. It spent almost twenty weeks on the Sunday Times bestseller list and was a number one bestseller in nonfiction. His new book is The War on the West in which Murray shows how many well-meaning people have been fooled by hypocritical and inconsistent anti-West rhetoric.

May 03, 2022
267. Louis Theroux on Neo-Nazis, Jimmy Savile, UFO Cults, and Scientology
01:29:01

Shermer and Theroux discuss: how documentary films are made • religious fanaticism and why people believe • UFO cults, end-times sects, and cognitive dissonance • Scientology: religion or cult? • neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism • prisons, pornography, and prostitution • Jeffrey Epstein and Jimmy Savile • self-help movements and gurus • deception and self-deception • social proof and human conformity • are humans naturally rational, irrational, or both?

Louis Theroux is a genre-defining documentary filmmaker best known for his explorations of controversial and complex topics. Using a gentle questioning style and an informal approach, Louis has shone light on intriguing beliefs, behaviors, and institutions by getting to know the people at the heart of them — from the officers and inmates at San Quentin prison to the extreme believers of the Westboro Baptist Church; from male porn performers in California to young women with eating disorders in London.

Apr 30, 2022
266. Jesse Singal on Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills
01:29:28

Michal Shermer and Jesse Singal discuss: how social scientists determine causality • Primeworld: cognitive priming and how it works (and doesn’t work) • The Malcolm Gladwell-effect (named after the 10,000-hour effect, by Anders Ericsson) • the self-esteem and self-help personal-empowerment movements • power posing and positive psychology • New Age self-help movements • Grit (stick-to-itiveness) (Darwin’s “dogged as does it.”) • Persistence is task specific and context dependent • Big 5 personality as determiners: Grit = Conscientiousness • Implicit Association Test and racism, misogyny, and bigotry • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it • choice architecture and the nudging of human behavior • race, gender, class, I.Q. and other radioactive topics in group differences • free will and determinism • nature/nurture and how lives turn out • abortion • and U.S. foreign policy.

Jesse Singal is a contributing writer at New York and the former editor of the magazine’s Science of Us online vertical, as well as the cohost of the podcast Blocked and Reported. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Slate, The Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, and other publications. He is a former Robert Bosch Foundation fellow in Berlin and holds a master’s degree from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Apr 26, 2022
265. Christopher Blattman on Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace
01:43:48

Shermer and Blattman discuss: Putin, Russia, and Ukraine • game theory and violent conflict • 5 Reasons for conflict and war • common elements of conflict in Medellin, Chicago, Sudan, Somalia, etc. • U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and elsewhere, and its consequences • human nature and conflict: are we wired to fight or do environments push us into conflicts? • cooperation vs. competition / selfish genes vs. collection action problems • inner demons and better angels • violence and wars in our paleolithic ancestors • why violence has declined over the centuries • Chicago as a test case for theories of conflict and peace • why gangs, groups, and even nations mostly avoid conflict and war because of its consequences • and whether international aid and economic development attenuate violence.

Dr. Christopher Blattman is the Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies (University of Chicago), where he coleads the Development Economics Center and directs the Obama Foundation Scholars program. His work on violence, crime, and poverty has been widely covered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Forbes, Slate, Vox, and NPR.

Apr 23, 2022
264. Adam Levin on Identity Theft and How to Protect Yourself from Scammers, Phishers, and Fraudsters of All Types
01:40:42

Increasingly, identity theft is a fact of life: from fake companies selling “credit card insurance”; criminal, medical, and child identity theft; catphishers, tax fraud, fake debt collectors who threaten you with legal action; and much more. We might once have hoped to protect ourselves from hackers with airtight passwords and aggressive spam filters, and those are good ideas as far as they go. But with the breaches of huge organizations like Target, AshleyMadison.com, JPMorgan Chase, Sony, Anthem, and even the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, more than a billion personal records have already been stolen, and chances are good that you’re already in harm’s way. This doesn’t mean there’s no hope. Your identity may get stolen, but it doesn’t have to be a life-changing event.

In this conversation, Shermer speaks with Adam Levin, a consumer advocate with more than 30 years’ experience in personal finance, privacy, real estate and government service. A former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Levin is Chairman and founder of CyberScout. A longtime consumer advocate and identity fraud expert, Levin provides a method to help you keep hackers, phishers, and spammers from becoming your problem. As Levin shows, these folks get a lot less scary if you see them coming.

Apr 18, 2022
263. Dave Rubin — Left, Right, and Woke, based on his book Don’t Burn This Country: Surviving and Thriving in Our Woke Dystopia
01:05:55

In this conversation, Shermer speaks with Dave Rubin: New York Times bestselling author, and creator and host of The Rubin Report.

According to Rubin, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that something dark is happening in America. Just look around: Massive corporations monitor our every move. The Thought Police stand ready to cancel any who dare think for themselves. Brainwashed activists openly attack the American experiment. The dystopian future we’ve been warned of is here.

Dave Rubin has been on the front lines of the culture wars for years. Now, in his book entitled Don’t Burn This Country: Surviving and Thriving in Our Woke Dystopia, he offers tactics you can use to protect yourself from today’s authoritarian rule — from resisting the grip of Big Tech to staying sane in a post-truth world. What’s more, he offers a vision for the next generation of patriots who will need to face the future head-on, holding fast to their values and creating a meaningful life no matter how frenzied and fabricated the news of the day is.

Rubin says that in order for free-thinking people to thrive in this era of woke lunacy, we need to step up and create freedom for ourselves. While exposing Progressive lies and offering practical advice you can employ right now, his book is a call for Americans to live the freest life possible — and a roadmap for saving the greatest country in the history of the world.

Apr 16, 2022
262. Oliver Stone on Ukraine, Putin, and the Military-Industrial Complex
42:59

In episode 262, Shermer speaks with Oliver Stone about: the relationship with truth in dramatic films vs. documentary films; how the world would be different if JFK were not assassinated; why diplomacy and trade agreements are necessary with Russia, even now after the invasion of Ukraine; the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey, and Nikita Khrushchev’s response; Putin’s justifications for Soviet/Russian actions in Hungary, Afghanistan, Georgia, Chechnya, Syria, and Crimea; what he thinks Putin would say to justify the invasion of Ukraine; why he thinks we can’t trust Western media; U.S. foreign policy and how he thinks it is just as aggressive as Russia’s; and his moral equivalency argument for American vs. Russian aggression.

Oliver Stone studied at Yale University, taught English in South Vietnam, and served in the Vietnam War in the U.S. Army where he earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. He then attended film school at NYU and studied under the acclaimed director Martin Scorsese. Stone won his first Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Midnight Express (1978) and won his second and third as Best Director for Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) respectively. Stone also wrote the screenplay for Scarface, which went on to become one of the most iconic films in history. His directed several documentary films, including Comandante (2003), the Putin Interviews (2017), and the controversial JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass (2021).

Apr 12, 2022
261. Jim Al-Khalili on the Joy of Science
01:42:48

In this conversation with quantum physicist, New York Times bestselling author, and BBC host Jim Al-Khalili reveals how 8 lessons from the heart of science can help us all get the most out of our lives.

Today’s world is unpredictable and full of contradictions, and navigating its complexities while trying to make the best decisions is far from easy. In this brief guide to leading a more rational life, acclaimed physicist Jim Al-Khalili invites readers to engage with the world as scientists have been trained to do. The scientific method has served humankind well in its quest to see things as they really are, and underpinning the scientific method are core principles that can help us all navigate modern life more confidently. Discussing the nature of truth and uncertainty, the role of doubt, the pros and cons of simplification, the value of guarding against bias, the importance of evidence-based thinking, and more, Al-Khalili shows how the powerful ideas at the heart of the scientific method are deeply relevant to the complicated times we live in and the difficult choices we make.

Apr 09, 2022
260. Batya Ungar-Sargon — Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy
02:19:19

Something is wrong with American journalism. Long before “fake news” became the calling card of the Right, Americans had lost faith in their news media. But lately, the feeling that something is off has become impossible to ignore. That’s because the majority of our mainstream news is no longer just liberal; it’s woke. Today’s newsrooms are propagating radical ideas that were fringe as recently as a decade ago, including “antiracism,” intersectionality, open borders, and critical race theory. How did this come to be? It all has to do with who our news media is written by — and who it is written for.

Michael Shermer speaks with Batya Ungar-Sargon about her new book Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy in which she reveals how American journalism underwent a status revolution over the twentieth century — from a blue-collar trade to an elite profession. As a result, journalists shifted their focus away from the working class and toward the concerns of their affluent, highly educated peers.

Ungar-Sargon avers that, in abandoning the working class by creating a culture war around identity, our national media is undermining American democracy.

Apr 05, 2022
259. Ogi Ogas — Journey of the Mind: How Thinking Emerged from Chaos
01:41:52

Why do you exist? How did atoms and molecules transform into sentient creatures that experience longing, regret, compassion, and even marvel at their own existence? What does it truly mean to have a mind―to think? Science has offered few answers to these existential questions until now.

Michael Shermer speaks with computational neuroscientist, Ogi Ogas, about his unified account of the mind that explains how consciousness, language, self-awareness, and civilization arose incrementally out of chaos, and how leading cities and nation-states are developing “superminds,” and perhaps planting the seeds for even higher forms of consciousness.

Apr 02, 2022
258. Jacek Kugler — Putin & Power Transition Theory: China, Russia, and Ukraine
01:25:52

Michael Shermer speaks with Professor of International Relations, Dr. Jacek Kugler, about his Power Transition Theory which states that an even distribution of political, economic, and military capabilities between contending groups of states is likely to increase the probability of war; peace is preserved best when there is an imbalance of national capabilities between disadvantaged and advantaged nations; the aggressor will come from a small group of dissatisfied strong countries; and it is the weaker, rather than the stronger power that is most likely to be the aggressor.

Shermer and Kugler discuss: Power Transition Theory and how it applies to Putin and Russia today; the relationship between a nation’s economic strength and its political power; where China figures into the future of the new world order; what happens if Putin succeeds in Ukraine? What if he fails?; What should the U.S. should have done in response to the annexation of Crimea, intervention in Syria, the destruction of Georgia and Chechnya, the imprisonment and murder of Russian dissidents?; What should NATO do now or in the near future?; and more…

Mar 29, 2022
257. Simon Conway Morris on Design in Evolution & the Possibility of Purpose in the Cosmos
02:00:23

If extraterrestrial intelligences exist, will look anything like us? Are we alone in the cosmos? If we reran the tape of life, would humans appear again? Is there purpose in the cosmos?

Shermer speaks with Cambridge evolutionary palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris whose latest book challenges six assumptions that too often pass as unquestioned truths amongst the evolutionary orthodox. These include the idea that evolution is boundless in the kinds of biological systems it can produce. Not true, he says. The process is highly circumscribed and delimited. Nor is it random. This popular notion holds that evolution proceeds blindly, with no endgame. But Conway Morris suggests otherwise, pointing to evidence that the processes of evolution are “seeded with inevitabilities.”

Shermer and Morris also discuss: convergent evolution and directionality in evolution; chance, contingency, and law in evolution; theistic evolution and teleology in nature; why Morris is a Christian but rejects Intelligent Design creationism; free will and determinism; and whether there good arguments for God’s existence.

Mar 26, 2022
256. Imagining the Future with Reality Game Designer and Futurist Jane McGonigal
01:09:51

Shermer speaks with world-renowned future forecaster and game designer, Jane McGonigal, about her book Imaginable in which she draws on the latest scientific research in psychology and neuroscience to show us how to train our minds to think the unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable by inviting us to play with provocative thought experiments and future simulations.

Shermer and McGonigal discuss: what a futurist is and what they do; counterfactuals: predicting the past; how could the present moment be different?; how can you imagine the unimaginable, or think the unthinkable?; how to envision what our lives will look like ten years from now; how to to solve problems creatively; how to make decisions that will help shape the future we desire; how to simulate any future you want; simulations as thought experiments as counterfactual causality tests; gaming as simulation of problem solving; the 10,000-hour rule for success; your present self vs. your future self and why most of us discount the future too much.

Mar 22, 2022
255. David Chalmers — Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy
01:51:51

Shermer speaks with University Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science and codirector of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University, Dr. David Chalmers, to discuss: the hard problem of consciousness; virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence; VR inside a VR, indistinguishable from Reality; Are we living in a simulation?; Can you live a good life in VR?; Can AI systems be conscious? and more…

How do we know that there’s an external world? What is the nature of reality? What’s the relation between mind and body? Virtual reality is genuine reality; that’s the central thesis of David Chalmers’ book: Reality+ — a highly original work of “technophilosophy” in which Chalmers gives a compelling analysis of our technological future. He argues that virtual worlds are not second-class worlds, and that we can live a meaningful life in virtual reality. He uses virtual reality technology to offer a new perspective on long-established philosophical questions. We may even be in a virtual world already.

Mar 19, 2022
254. Ravi Gupta on the Lost Debate: Whatever Happened to Reasoned Discussion and Respectable Disagreement?
01:38:35

Shermer speaks with Ravi Gupta, the Founder and CEO of Lost Debate, a new non-profit media company that launched in October 2021 to fight polarization and misinformation online. The company has seed funding of over $7 million dollars, with the largest investment coming from Netflix founder Reed Hastings. Before launching Lost Debate, Ravi founded Arena, where he led a team that helped elect over a hundred candidates and launched the largest campaign staffer training academy in the history of the Democratic Party — an effort that’s trained over 2500 political operatives over the past three years. He was a critical leader in Democrats’ efforts to retake the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and numerous state houses, including the New York State Senate and Virginia House of Delegates.

Shermer and Gupta discuss: growing up with a Democrat mother and a Republican father; the rise of polarized politics in association with political talk radio, TV, and social media; why Republicans supported (and still support) Trump; what’s in store for our democracy in 2022 and 2024; what it was like working on the Obama campaign from the inside; why freed felons should regain their right to vote after serving their time; education inequality; Joe Rogan, Whoopi Goldberg, and censorship; the moralization motivation behind cancel culture; Critical Race Theory and race relations in America.

Mar 15, 2022
253. Jennifer Sciubba on Putin, Russia, Ukraine, National & Global Security, and How Population Demographics Shape Our Future
01:19:46

Shermer speaks with political demographer, former demographics consultant to the United States Department of Defense, and author of The Future Faces of War, Jennifer Sciubba, about her new 8 Billion and Counting.

As the world nears 8 billion people, the countries that have led the global order since World War II are becoming the most aged societies in human history. At the same time, the world’s poorest and least powerful countries are suffocating under an imbalance of population and resources. In this conversation, based on her book 8 Billion and Counting, Jennifer Sciubba argues that the story of the twenty-first century is less a story about exponential population growth, as the previous century was, than it is a story about differential growth — marked by a stark divide between the world’s richest and poorest countries.

Drawing on decades of research and policy experience, Sciubba explains how demographic trends, like age structure and ethnic composition, are crucial signposts for future violence and peace, repression and democracy, poverty and prosperity. She explains the pitfalls of taking population numbers at face value and extrapolating from there, and argues that we must look at the forces in a society that amplify demographic trends and the forces that dilute them, particularly political institutions, or the rules of the game.

Mar 12, 2022
252. John Mueller on Putin’s War: Russia, Ukraine, and NATO
01:26:09
In this conversation with the renowned Ohio State University political scientist John Mueller, author of The Stupidity of War, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War, and The Remnants of War, we discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and what we might expect from Putin’s Russia in the coming weeks, months, and years, along with Dr. Mueller’s outline for how to end the current conflict and compromise with Putin. That seems unlikely at this point, but the prospects of the tragedy of millions of war refugees pouring out of Ukraine into neighboring nations, along with the number killed already and likely to be killed as the fighting escalates, why not give negotiation and compromise a chance? Read John Mueller’s op-ed that accompanies this episode.
Mar 08, 2022
251. Kelly Weill on Flat Earthers, Conspiracy Culture, and Why People Will Believe Anything
01:42:47
Since 2015, there has been a spectacular boom in a nearly 200-year-old delusion — the idea that we all live on a flat plane, under a solid dome, ringed by an impossible wall of ice. It is the ultimate in conspiracy theories, a wholesale rejection of everything we know to be true about the world in which we live. Where did this idea come from

Michael Shermer speaks with journalist Kelly Weill whose work covers extremism, disinformation, and online conspiracy theories in current affairs. The conversation is based on her book Off the Edgewhich tells a powerful story about belief, polarized realities, and what needs to happen so that we might all return to the same spinning globe.

Shermer and Weill discuss: the binary/black-and-white thinking of conspiracy theorists; how Flat-Earthism is ultimately a conspiracy theory about how NASA and the government are covering up the biggest secret in history; how Flat-Earthism is a proxy for other conspiracy theories (i.e., 9/11 truth, QAnon, and anti-Semitic beliefs about nefarious Jewish organizations conspiring to achieve world domination); and the role of social media in propagating conspiracy theories.

Mar 01, 2022
250. Will Sanctions Work? War in Ukraine.
22:38

An analysis of Russia's war on Ukraine. Will sanctions work?

This episode is a reading from Michael Shermer’s post on Substack entitled: “Putin’s Problem: The outlawry of war has forced tyrants to concoct excuses for invading other countries. How should we respond? Evidence shows that outcasting in the form of economic sanctions beats armed conflict”

Subscribe to his weekly Substack column:
https://michaelshermer.substack.com/subscribe

Feb 25, 2022
249. Barbara F. Walter on How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them, including in the United States
01:44:52

Political violence rips apart several towns in southwest Texas. A far-right militia plots to kidnap the governor of Michigan and try her for treason. An armed mob of Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists storms the U.S. Capitol. Are these isolated incidents? Or is this the start of something bigger?

Barbara F. Walter is a professor of political science and an expert on international security, with an emphasis on civil wars. Her current research is on the behavior of rebel groups in civil wars, including inter-rebel group fighting, alliances and the strategic use of propaganda and extremism. She has spent her career studying civil conflict in places like Iraq and Sri Lanka, but now she has become increasingly worried about her own country.

Perhaps surprisingly, both autocracies and healthy democracies are largely immune from civil war; it’s the countries in the middle ground that are most vulnerable. And this is where more and more countries, including the United States, are finding themselves today. A civil war today won’t look like America in the 1860s, Russia in the 1920s, or Spain in the 1930s. It will begin with sporadic acts of violence and terror, accelerated by social media. It will sneak up on us and leave us wondering how we could have been so blind.

Feb 22, 2022
248. Elizabeth Weiss on Woke Archaeology and Erasing the Past
02:07:55

Shermer and anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss discuss: fossil ownership; how anthropologists draw conclusions about past peoples through their study of skeletons and mummies; why continued curation of human remains is important; why anthropologists should prioritize scientific research over other perspectives; the future of archaeology on its present trajectory toward the politicization of science; why the fossil remains of most Native American sites have tenuous or no connection whatsoever to modern tribal peoples living nearby; the consensus on how long ago migrations began; her lawsuit against San Jose State University for defaming her as a “racist” and blocking her from further scientific study of the fossil collection she has curated for 17 years, and much more…

Feb 15, 2022
247. Jacob Mchangama on Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media
01:49:19
Hailed as the “first freedom,” free speech is the bedrock of democracy, and it is subject to erosion in times of upheaval. Today, in democracies and authoritarian states around the world, it is on the retreat.

In this episode, based on the book Free Speech, Michael Shermer and Jacob Mchangama discuss the riveting legal, political, and cultural history of the principle, how much we have gained from it, and how much we stand to lose without it. Mchangama reveals how the free exchange of ideas underlies all intellectual achievement and has enabled the advancement of both freedom and equality worldwide. Yet the desire to restrict speech, too, is a constant.

Feb 08, 2022
246. Nick Pope on UAPs, UFOs, Conspiracies, and Cover-ups
01:45:39

Shermer speaks with author, journalist, and TV personality Nick Pope about: what it was like working for the Ministry of Defense as their UFO expert; The Believer’s Paradox; separating two questions: Are they out there? Have they come here?; SETI science vs. UFO/UAP science; Roswell; Bayesian reasoning about UFOs and UAPs; the quality of evidence in evaluating UFO claims; the US military UAP videos and what they really represent; The Disclosure Project; why we should keep an open mind; the odds of ETIs being out there vs. the odds of ETIs having visited here; an answer to Fermi’s Paradox: Where is everyone?; conspiracies and conspiracy theories, and more…

Nick Pope ran the British government’s UFO program for the Ministry of Defense, leading the media to call him the real Fox Mulder. He’s recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on UFOs, the unexplained, and conspiracy theories. Nick is the media’s go-to person for UFOs. He’s made appearances on numerous TV news shows and documentaries, including Good Morning America, Nightline, Tucker Carlson Tonight and Ancient Aliens. He’s also written for the New York Times, for the BBC News website and for NBC’s technology and science site, and has acted as consultant and spokesperson on numerous alien-themed movies, TV shows, and video games. Nick Pope gives talks and takes part in academic conferences, fan conventions, and debates all around the world. He’s spoken at the National Press Club, the Royal Albert Hall, the Science Museum and the Global Competitiveness Forum, and has debated at the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union Society. Nick Pope lives in the US.

Feb 01, 2022
245. Frank Sulloway on How Lives Turn Out: Genes, Environment, Pluck, and Luck
02:41:47
Shermer and Sulloway discuss: relative roles of genes, environment, hard work, and luck in how lives turn out; 60s and 70s Harvard culture; his relationship and work with E. O. Wilson, who was recently defamed by Scientific American as a racist; measuring and studying personality; birth order and family dynamics in how personalities are formed; autocratic personality traits and why people follow and support Trump and other autocrats; why if you know a person’s stance on one issue (e.g., abortion) you can predict their stance on many other issues; and more…

American psychologist Dr. Frank J. Sulloway, author of Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend (1979), provides a radical reanalysis of the origins and validity of psychoanalysis and received the Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society. For decades, Dr. Sulloway has employed evolutionary theory to understand how family dynamics affect personality development, including that of creative geniuses. He has a particular interest in the influence that birth order exerts on personality and behavior. In this connection, he is the author of Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives (1996).

Jan 29, 2022
244. Johnjoe McFadden — Life is Simple: How Occam’s Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the UniverseMcFadden — Life is Simple: How Occam’s Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the Universe
01:57:48
Centuries ago, the principle of Ockham’s razor changed our world by showing simpler answers to be preferable and more often true. In Life Is Simple, scientist Johnjoe McFadden traces centuries of discoveries, taking us from a geocentric cosmos to quantum mechanics and DNA, arguing that simplicity has revealed profound answers to the greatest mysteries. In McFadden’s view, life could only have emerged by embracing maximal simplicity, making the fundamental law of the universe a cosmic form of natural selection that favors survival of the simplest.

Shermer and McFadden discuss: from what was science set free?; what William of Occam’s razor cut; Bayes’s probability razor; Ptolemaic vs. Tychonic vs. Copernican world systems in terms of simplicity; simplicity in math, physics, biology, medicine, and the social sciences; Einstein’s razor: how does relativity theory simplify the universe?; Postmodernism and the search for Truth; McFadden’s explanations for solving the hard problems of consciousness, free will, and determinism, and more …

Jan 25, 2022
243. Sally Satel on Addiction, the Opioid Crisis, Deaths of Despair, and How Psychiatry Has Gone Woke
02:05:56

Shermer and Satel discuss: how political correctness has corrupted medicine; how wokeness and social justice activism has corrupted psychiatry; what is social justice and who is really practicing it?; medical models of mental illness and addiction and why mental illness is so hard to treat; addictions to porn and social media; why some people are able to break free from their addictions while others are not; organ transplant markets, and more…

Dr. Sally Satel is a visiting professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine, and a practicing psychiatrist. She holds an MD from Brown University and completed her residency in psychiatry at Yale University. Satel is the author of PC, MD: How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience (with Scott Lillienfeld), and One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance (with Christina Hoff Sommers). Dr. Satel lives in Washington, DC.

Jan 22, 2022
242. Jonathan Gottschall — The Story Paradox: How Our Love of Storytelling Builds Societies and Tears Them Down
01:37:09

Humans are storytelling animals. Stories are what make our societies possible. Countless books celebrate their virtues. But Jonathan Gottschall, an expert on the science of stories, argues that there is a dark side to storytelling we can no longer ignore. Storytelling, the very tradition that built human civilization, may be the thing that destroys it.

In The Story Paradox, Gottschall explores how a broad consortium of psychologists, communications specialists, neuroscientists, and literary quants are using the scientific method to study how stories affect our brains.

In this conversation based on his new book, Gottschall reveals why our biggest asset has become our greatest threat, and what, if anything, can be done. It is a call to stop asking, “How we can change the world through stories?” and start asking, “How can we save the world from stories?”

Jan 18, 2022
241. Jeff Maurer — I Might Be Wrong
01:36:57

Michael Shermer speaks with writer, comedian, and five-time Emmy winning Senior Writer for John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, Jeff Maurer, about the nature of creativity, comedy, politics, culture, and how the television business really works!

Jeff Maurer won two Peabody Awards, five Writers Guild Awards, and four Television Critics Association awards. He was one of the original writers of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, where he was promoted to Senior Writer. He left the show to write a political comedy called I Might Be Wrong: a podcast and several-times-weekly Substack column that covers politics and economics with a comedic voice. Instead of trying to interpret the world from a single viewpoint, Jeff picks apart the thinking behind the viewpoints and digs deep into policy.

Jan 15, 2022
240. Leonard Mlodinow — Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking
01:52:30

xtraordinary advances in psychology and neuroscience have proven that emotions are as critical to our well-being as thinking. In this conversation, Shermer and Mlodinow explore the new science of feelings.

Journeying from the labs of pioneering scientists to real-world scenarios that have flirted with disaster, Mlodinow shows us how our emotions can help, why they sometimes hurt, and what we can learn in both instances.

Shermer and Mlodinow discuss: the difference between emotions and feelings/moods/drives/passions; how the scientific understanding of emotions has changed; thought vs. feeling; system 1 vs. system 2 cognition; mind-body connection: how does our physical state influence what we think & feel?; the neuroscience of emotions: how the brain constructs emotions; Lisa Feldman Barrett challenge to Paul Ekman’s theory of universal emotions; Schachter-Singer theory of emotion; the effects of social context on emotions; and more…

Jan 11, 2022
239. Richard Firth-Godbehere — A Human History of Emotion: How the Way We Feel Built the World We Know
01:57:33

We humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, who, as a species, have relied on calculation and intellect to survive. But many of the most important moments in our history had little to do with cold, hard facts and a lot to do with feelings. Events ranging from the origins of philosophy to the birth of the world’s major religions, the fall of Rome, the Scientific Revolution, and some of the bloodiest wars that humanity has ever experienced can’t be properly understood without understanding emotions.

Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, art, and religious history, Richard Firth-Godbehere takes us on a fascinating and wide ranging tour of the central and often under-appreciated role emotions have played in human societies around the world and throughout history—from Ancient Greece to Gambia, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, the United States, and beyond.

Jan 04, 2022
238. Brian Klass — Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How it Changes Us
01:40:51

Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops who kill the result of poorly designed systems or are they simply bad people? What sort of people aspire to power anyway? Are there individuals among us who should never be given the title of president, or CEO, or PTA leader lest they build their own dictatorship?

Michael Shermer speaks with Brian Klaas, a renowned political scientist, Washington Post columnist and creator of the award-winning Power Corrupts podcast, about his long sought answers to the above questions.

In his new book Klaas draws on over 500 interviews with some of the world’s top leaders — from the noblest to the most crooked — including presidents and philanthropists as well as rebels, cultists, and dictators, to get to the root of power and corruption. Klaas dives into how facial appearance determines who we pick as leaders, why narcissists make more money, why some people don’t want power at all and others are drawn to it out of a psychopathic impulse, and why being the “beta” (second in command) may be the optimal place for health and well-being.

Dec 28, 2021
237. David Wengrow on The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity
01:33:18

For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike — either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction to powerful critiques of European society posed by Indigenous observers and intellectuals. Revisiting this encounter has startling implications for how we make sense of human history today, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilization itself.

In this conversation, based on the book The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, Shermer speaks with professor of comparative archaeology, David Wengrow, about his pathbreaking research in archaeology and anthropology that fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society.

Dec 21, 2021
236. Fernanda Pirie on The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World
01:28:26

Rulers throughout history have used laws to impose order. But laws were not simply instruments of power and social control. They also offered ordinary people a way to express their diverse visions for a better world. The variety of the world’s laws has long been almost as great as the variety of its societies.

In this conversation, Shermer speaks with Oxford professor of the anthropology of law, Fernanda Pirie, who traces the rise and fall of the sophisticated legal systems underpinning ancient empires and religious traditions, showing how common people — tribal assemblies, merchants, farmers — called on laws to define their communities, regulate trade, and build civilizations. What truly unites human beings, Pirie argues, is our very faith that laws can produce justice, combat oppression, and create order from chaos.

Dec 18, 2021
235. Thomas Sowell: The Life and Work of the Legendary Social Theorist (Jason Riley)
01:36:36

Shermer speaks with Jason Riley about Maverick — the first-ever biography of Thomas Sowell, one of the great social theorists of our age. In a career spanning more than a half century, Sowell has written over thirty books, covering topics from economic history and social inequality to political theory, race, and culture. His bold and unsentimental assaults on liberal orthodoxy have endeared him to many readers but have also enraged fellow intellectuals, the civil-rights establishment, and much of the mainstream media. The result has been a lack of acknowledgment of his scholarship among critics who prioritize political correctness.

Shermer and Riley discuss: Riley’s documentary on Sowell; Sowell’s philosophy that “there are no solutions, only trade-offs”; mismatch theory and affirmative action; race and IQ; why Riley thinks liberals make it harder for blacks to succeed; political correctness; BLM, antiracism, reparations; charity and welfare; income inequality and UBI, and much more…

Dec 14, 2021
234. Matt Ridley on the Search for the Origin of COVID-19
01:16:36

A new virus descended on the human species in 2019 wreaking unprecedented havoc. Finding out where it came from and how it first jumped into people is an urgent priority, but early expectations that this would prove an easy question to answer have been dashed. Nearly two years into the pandemic, the crucial mystery of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is not only unresolved but has deepened.

In this conversation based on the uniquely insightful book, Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19, Matt Ridley reviews how he and his co-author Alina Chan have tried to get to the bottom of how a virus whose closest relations live in bats in subtropical southern China somehow managed to begin spreading among people more than 1,500 kilometers away in the city of Wuhan. They grapple with the baffling fact that the virus left none of the expected traces that such outbreaks usually create: no infected market animals or wildlife, no chains of early cases in travelers to the city, no smoldering epidemic in a rural area, no rapid adaptation of the virus to its new host — human beings.

To try to solve this pressing mystery, Ridley delves deep into the events of 2019 leading up to 2021, the details of what went on in animal markets and virology laboratories, the records and data hidden from sight within archived Chinese theses and websites, and the clues that can be coaxed from the very text of the virus’s own genetic code.

Dec 11, 2021
233. Goodbye Pat Linse, Skeptic Co-founder and My Best Friend…
18:47

Michael Shermer shares his thoughts on life and death, in an emotional remembrance of his friend and business partner of 30 years, Pat Linse (1947–2021), the co-founder of the Skeptics Society and Art Director of Skeptic magazine.

Dec 07, 2021
232. Amishi Jha on Learning How to Pay Attention to Your Attention
01:33:13

Research shows we are missing 50 percent of our lives because we aren’t paying attention. Many of us often feel mentally foggy, scattered, and overwhelmed. Why is it that no matter how hard you try, you seem to find yourself somewhere else — if you’re even aware you’ve drifted off to that place.

In this conversation with the acclaimed neuroscientist Amishi Jha, she recounts what her neuroscience research revealed, and shows why whether you’re simply browsing, talking to friends, or trying to stay focused in an important meeting, you can’t seem to manage to hang on to your attention.

Shermer and Jha discuss: the neuroscience of attention; what attention evolved to do; how stress, attention bias, negativity bias, thought flooding, and active listening affect attention; multitasking; the “flashlight” metaphor; mindfulness and well-being, and more…

Dec 04, 2021
231. Jason Hill on What White Americans Owe Black People
01:41:06

In this conversation with Jason Hill based on his book What do White Americans Owe Black People? Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression, Shermer probes the philosopher on the arguments for and against reparations.

In this provocative and highly original work, philosophy professor Jason Hill explores multiple dimensions of race in America today, but most importantly, a black-white divide which has grown exponentially over the past decade.

Central to his thesis, Hill calls on black American leaders (and their white liberal sponsors) to escape from the cycle of blame and finger-pointing, which seeks to identify black failures with white hatred and indifference. This overblown narrative is promulgated by a phalanx of black nihilists who advocate the destruction of America and her institutions in the name of ending “whiteness.” Much of the black intelligentsia consists of these false prophets, and it is their poisonous ideology which is taught, uncontradicted, to students of all races. It is they who are responsible for the cultural depression blacks are suffering in today’s society.

Ultimately, the answer to “what do White Americans owe?” is not about the morality or practicality of reparations, affirmative action, or other redistributionist schemes. Hill rejects the collectivist premise behind the argument, instead couching notions of culpability, justice, and fairness as responsibilities of individuals, not arbitrary racial or ethnic groupings.

Nov 30, 2021
230. Bart Ehrman — Did the Christmas Story Really Happen? The Birth of Jesus in History & Legend
01:07:46

Michael Shermer speaks with renowned biblical scholar and historian, Bart Ehrman, about: how we know Jesus existed and was crucified; how these questions are different epistemologically from those about Jesus’ resurrection and the claim that he died for our sins; how Christians deal with the trinity problem: How can God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit be one and the same and yet separate and different? (“God sacrificed himself…to himself…to save us from himself.” How is this possible?); How Christians answer these questions: Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us for our sins?; Why was the virgin birth so important to early Christians? Why was the resurrection so important to early Christians? Anti-Semitism in the early Christian church (“the Jews killed Jesus” or “the Jews killed God”) and why it makes no theological sense (Jesus was Jewish, and if he had to die to save us from our sins, whoever killed Jesus should be thanked); why Jews and Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the messiah; how Jesus became God and how Christianity grew from a few dozen followers at the time of Jesus’s death to over two billion followers today; theodicy and the problem of evil: Why does an all powerful, all knowing, all good God allow people to suffer?

Nov 27, 2021
229. Fritjof Capra on Patterns of Connection: Is there a Tao of physics? Is life a web? Is humanity at a turning point?
01:36:18

Michael Shermer speaks with scientist, educator, activist, and accomplished author, Fritjof Capra, about the evolution of his thinking over five decades. In this conversation, based on Capra’s book, Patterns of Connection, Shermer and Capra discuss: what it means to be spiritual in an age of science, nuclear energy and why Capra thinks we don’t need it and Shermer thinks we do, 50 years of progress or regress, limitations of models and theories of reality, limitations of analogies between western physics and eastern mysticism, mind and consciousness, and why Capra is hopeful for the future of humanity.

Nov 23, 2021
228. Steven Koonin on what climate science tells us, what it doesn’t, and why it matters, based on his book Unsettled
01:37:18

According to Steven Koonin, when it comes to climate change, the media, politicians, and other prominent voices have declared that “the science is settled.” Koonin avers that the long game of telephone from research to reports, to the popular media, is corrupted by misunderstanding and misinformation. Koonin says that core questions about the way the climate is responding to our influence, and what the impacts will be remain largely unanswered. Koonin acknowledges that the climate is changing, and he claims the whyand how aren’t as clear as you’ve probably been led to believe, and what the impacts will be remain largely unanswered.

In this engaging conversation Michael Shermer challenges Dr. Koonin with many of the most common critiques of his book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, and Steven Koonin responds by drawing upon his decades of experience — including as a top science advisor to the Obama administration.

Nov 20, 2021
227. Richard Nisbett on Thinking & Reason
02:14:54

In this wide-ranging conversation Shermer and Nisbett discuss Nisbett’s research showing how people reason, how people should reason, why errors in reasoning occur, how much you can improve reasoning, what kinds of problems are best solved by the conscious mind and what kinds by the unconscious mind, and how we should think about intelligence, along with the controversies over group differences and genetic influences on I.Q. scores and why Charles Murray (The Bell Curve) is wrong in inferring genetic causes for group differences in I.Q.. Nisbett also shows that self-knowledge can be dramatically off-kilter and points to ways to improve it, and demonstrates how different cultures have radically different ways of reasoning and feeling, and how this led to his most famous research showing the difference between Northerners and Southerners in rates of violence, the culture of honor, and a hair-trigger for slights and insults. The two also discuss the #metoo, BLM, antiracism, and woke movements today in context of his psychological research.

Nov 16, 2021
226. Suzanne Nossel on defending free speech for all, based on her book Dare to Speak
01:35:53

Online trolls and fascist chat groups. Controversies over campus lectures. Cancel culture versus censorship. The daily hazards and debates surrounding free speech dominate headlines and fuel social media storms. In an era where one tweet can launch — or end — your career, and where free speech is often invoked as a principle but rarely understood, learning to maneuver the fast-changing, treacherous landscape of public discourse has never been more urgent. In Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, Suzanne Nossel, a leading voice in support of free expression, delivers a vital, necessary guide to maintaining democratic debate that is open, free-wheeling but at the same time respectful of the rich diversity of backgrounds and opinions in a changing country.

Shermer and Nossel discuss: private vs. government restrictions on speech; hate speech, libel, slander, compelled speech; incitement to violence and insurrection; cancel culture; social media censorship; the euphemism treadmill, and more…

Nov 13, 2021
225. Nancy Segal — Deliberately Divided: Inside the Controversial Study of Twins and Triplets Adopted Apart
01:46:15

In the early 1960s, the head of a prominent New York City Child Development Center and a psychiatrist from Columbia University launched a study designed to track the development of twins and triplets given up for adoption and raised by different families. The controversial and disturbing catch? None of the adoptive parents had been told that they were raising a twin — the study’s investigators insisted that the separation be kept secret.

The details of what happened, until now, have been lost to the archives of history.

In this conversation based on her new book, Nancy Segal reveals the inside stories of the agency that separated the twins, and the collaborating psychiatrists who, along with their cadre of colleagues, observed the twins until they turned twelve.

Interviews with colleagues, friends and family members of the agency’s psychiatric consultant and the study’s principal investigator, as well as a former agency administrator, research assistants, journalists, ethicists, attorneys, and — most importantly — the twins and their families who were unwitting participants in this controversial study, are riveting.

Nov 09, 2021
224. Bobby Duffy on The Generation Myth: Why When You’re Born Matters Less Than You Think
01:50:02

Boomers are narcissists. Millennials are spoiled. Gen Zers are lazy. We assume people born around the same time have basically the same values. But, do they? Michael Shermer speaks with social researcher Bobby Duffy who has spent years studying generational distinctions. In The Generation Myth, he argues that our generational identities are not fixed but fluid, reforming throughout our lives. Based on an analysis of what over three million people really think about homeownership, sex, well-being, and more, Duffy offers a new model for understanding how generations form, how they shape societies, and why generational differences aren’t as sharp as we think.

Nov 06, 2021
223. Paul Bloom on the pleasures of suffering and the meaning of life
02:24:03

We go to movies that make us cry, or scream, or gag. We poke at sores, eat spicy foods, immerse ourselves in hot baths, run marathons. Some of us even seek out pain and humiliation in sexual role-play. Why do we so often seek out physical pain and emotional turmoil? Where do these seemingly perverse appetites come from? In his latest book, The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, Bloom aims to understand how people find meaning in their lives, and, moreover, to explore what he calls, “the sweet spot” — the proper balance between pleasure and suffering. As one of the world’s leading psychologists, drawing on groundbreaking findings from psychology and brain science, Bloom shows how the right kind of suffering sets the stage for enhanced pleasure.

Nov 02, 2021
222. Suzanne O’Sullivan on psychosomatic disorders and other mystery illnesses
01:35:25

Michael Shermer speaks with award-winning Irish neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan about her work exploring the complexity of psychogenic illness affecting people all around the world. Her book The Sleeping Beauties, documents her investigation of psychosomatic disorders as she traveled the world visiting communities suffering from these so-called mystery illnesses. O’Sullivan records the remarkable stories of syndromes related to her by people from all walks of life. Riveting and often distressing, these case studies — both fascinating and of serious concern — are recounted with compassion and humanity as these syndromes continue to proliferate around the globe.

Oct 30, 2021
221. Antonio Damasio — Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious
01:42:06

In recent decades, many philosophers and cognitive scientists have declared the problem of consciousness unsolvable, but Antonio Damasio is convinced that recent findings across multiple scientific disciplines have given us a way to understand consciousness and its significance for human life. In his latest work, Feeling & Knowing, Damasio helps us understand why being conscious is not the same as sensing, why nervous systems are essential for the development of feelings, and why feeling opens the way to consciousness writ large. He combines the latest discoveries in various sciences with philosophy and discusses his original research, which has transformed our understanding of the brain and human behavior.

Oct 26, 2021
220. Charles Foster on Being a Human: Adventures in Forty Thousand Years of Consciousness
01:57:24

Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, natural history, agriculture, medical law and ethics, Charles Foster, in Being a Human, makes an audacious attempt to feel a connection with 45,000 years of human history. He experiences the Upper Paleolithic era by living in makeshift shelters without amenities in the rural woods of England. He tests his five impoverished senses to forage for berries and roadkill and he undertakes shamanic journeys to explore the connection of wakeful dreaming to religion. For the Neolithic period, he moves to a reconstructed Neolithic settlement. Finally, to explore the Enlightenment, he inspects Oxford colleges, dissecting rooms, cafes, and art galleries. He finds his world and himself bizarre and disembodied, and he rues the atrophy of our senses, the cause for much of what ails us. This glorious, fiercely imaginative journey from our origins to a possible future ultimately shows how we might best live on earth — and thrive.

Oct 23, 2021
219. In-Person Conversation (in Shermer’s Home) with Steven Pinker on Rationality: What it is, Why it Seems Scarce, Why it Matters in Shermer’s Home
01:49:22

In this conversation with Steven Pinker on his new book Rationality, the Harvard psychologist and Michael Shermer discuss how today humanity is reaching new heights of scientific understanding — and also appears to be losing its mind. How can a species that developed vaccines for COVID-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing? Pinker rejects the cynical cliché that humans are simply irrational — cavemen out of time saddled with biases, fallacies, and illusions. After all, we discovered the laws of nature, lengthened and enriched our lives, and set out the benchmarks for rationality itself. We actually think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives, but fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning we’ve discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others. These tools are not a standard part of our education — but they should be.

Oct 19, 2021
218. Craig Whitlock — The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War
01:31:15

Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: to defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives. Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains startling revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war, from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Papers is a shocking account that will supercharge a long overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.

Oct 16, 2021
217. Mary Grabar on the 1619 Project, Howard Zinn, Historical Revisionism, and Pseudohistory
01:38:35

Michael Shermer speaks with Mary Grabar about her books Debunking the 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America and Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America.

According to the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” America was not founded in 1776, with a declaration of freedom and independence, but in 1619 with the introduction of African slavery into the New World. According to Mary Grabar, celebrated historians have debunked this, more than two hundred years of American literature disproves it, parents know it to be false, and yet it is being promoted across America as an integral part of grade school curricula and unquestionable orthodoxy on college campuses. This is a sequel, of a kind, to Grabar’s previous book Debunking Howard Zinn, whose A People’s History of the United States sold more than 2.5 million copies, is pushed by Hollywood celebrities, defended by university professors, and assigned in high school and college classrooms to teach students that American history is nothing more than a litany of oppression, slavery, and exploitation. According to Grabar, contra Zinn:

  • Columbus was not a genocidal maniac, and was, in fact, a defender of Indians.
  • American Indians were not feminist-communist sexual revolutionaries ahead of their time.
  • The United States was founded to protect liberty, not white males’ ill-gotten wealth.
  • Americans of the “Greatest Generation” were not the equivalent of Nazi war criminals.
  • The Viet Cong were not well-meaning community leaders advocating for local self-rule.
  • The Black Panthers were not civil rights leaders.
Oct 12, 2021
216. Kathryn Paige Harden — The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality
01:46:45

In recent years, scientists have shown that DNA makes us different, in our personalities and in our health — and in ways that matter for educational and economic success in our current society.

Michael speaks with University of Texas (Austin) professor of clinical psychology and Director of the Developmental Behavior Genetics Lab, Kathryn Paige Harden, about her book, The Genetic Lottery. Harden introduces us to the latest genetic science, dismantling dangerous ideas about racial superiority and challenging us to grapple with what equality really means in a world where people are born different. Weaving together personal stories with scientific evidence, Harden shows why our refusal to recognize the power of DNA perpetuates the myth of meritocracy, and argues that we must acknowledge the role of genetic luck if we are ever to create a fair society.

Reclaiming genetic science from the legacy of eugenics, this groundbreaking book offers a bold new vision of society where everyone thrives, regardless of how one fares in the genetic lottery.

Oct 09, 2021
215. Mary Eberstadt on God, Religion, Secularization, Sexual Revolution, and Identity Politics
01:49:17

In this conversation on two of the hottest social and cultural issues of our day — the decline of religion and the rise of identity politics, Mary Eberstadt presents her alternative theory for the “secularization thesis” (that religious decline was followed by the decline of the family), arguing instead that the undermining of the family has undermined Christianity itself. Drawing on sociology, history, demography, theology, literature, and many other sources, Eberstadt shows that family decline and religious decline have gone hand in hand in the Western world in a way that has not been understood before — that they are “the double helix of society, each dependent on the strength of the other for successful reproduction.” Eberstadt argues that there are enormous social, economic, civic, and other costs attendant on declines of both family and faith, and Dr. Shermer presents counter examples to show that America’s extreme religiosity has been a burden on its social health and that the decline of religion is a good thing.

In the second part of the conversation Eberstadt and Shermer discuss her previous book on identity politics and how identitarians track and expose the ideologically impure, as people face the consequences of their rancor: a litany of “isms” run amok across all levels of cultural life; the free marketplace of ideas muted by agendas shouted through megaphones; and a spirit of general goodwill warped into a state of perpetual outrage. This rise of identity politics, she argues, is a direct result of the fallout of the sexual revolution, especially the collapse and shrinkage of the family. Eberstadt argues that from time immemorial humans have forged their identities within the structure of kinship. The extended family, in a real sense, is the first tribe and first teacher. But with its unprecedented decline across a variety of measures, generations of people have been set adrift and can no longer answer the question Who am I? with reference to primordial ties. Desperate for solidarity and connection, they claim membership in politicized groups whose displays of frantic irrationalism amount to primal screams for familial and communal loss.

Oct 05, 2021
214. Tom Nichols — Our Own Worst Enemy: The Assault From Within on Modern Democracy
01:36:30

Democracy is in trouble. Why? In Our Own Worst Enemy, Tom Nichols challenges the current depictions of the rise of illiberal and anti-democratic movements in the United States and elsewhere as the result of the deprivations of globalization or the malign decisions of elites. Rather, he places the blame for the rise of illiberalism on the people themselves, tracing it to the growth of unchecked narcissism, rising standards of living, global peace, and a resistance to change. Ordinary citizens, laden with grievances, have joined forces with political entrepreneurs who thrive on the creation of rage rather than on the encouragement of civic virtue and democratic cooperation. While it will be difficult, Nichols argues that we need to defend democracy by resurrecting the virtues of altruism, compromise, stoicism, and cooperation — and by recognizing how good we’ve actually had it in the modern world.

Oct 02, 2021
213. Mike Rothschild — The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything
01:36:58

Michael Shermer speaks with Mike Rothschild, a journalist specializing in conspiracy theories, about QAnon and its followers.

On October 5th, 2017, President Trump made a cryptic remark in the State Dining Room at a gathering of military officials. He said it felt like “the calm before the storm” — then refused to elaborate as puzzled journalists asked him to explain. But on the infamous message boards of 4chan, a mysterious poster going by “Q Clearance Patriot,” who claimed to be in “military intelligence,” began the elaboration on their own. In the days that followed, Q’s wild yarn explaining Trump’s remarks began to rival the sinister intricacies of a Tom Clancy novel, while satisfying the deepest desires of MAGA-America. But did any of what Q predicted come to pass? No. Did that stop people from clinging to every word they were reading, expanding its mythology, and promoting it wider and wider? No. Why not?

Sep 28, 2021
212. Gale Sinatra & Barbara Hofer — Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It
01:30:13

Michael Shermer speaks with Gale Sinatra and Barbara Hofer about the key psychological explanations for science denial and doubt that can help provide a means for improving scientific literacy and understanding — critically important at a time when denial has become deadly. Sinatra and Hofer offer tools for addressing science denial and explain both the importance of science education and its limitations, show how science communicators may inadvertently contribute to the problem, and explain how the internet and social media foster misinformation and disinformation. The authors focus on key psychological constructs such as reasoning biases, social identity, epistemic cognition, and emotions and attitudes that limit or facilitate public understanding of science, and describe solutions for individuals, educators, science communicators, and policy makers. If you have ever wondered why science denial exists, want to know how to understand your own biases and those of others, and would like to address the problem, this book will provide the insights you are seeking.

Sep 25, 2021
211. Ashley Rindsberg — The Gray Lady Winked: How the New York Times’s Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History
01:43:06

Michael Shermer speaks with Ashley Rindsberg about his book The Gray Lady Winked in which he pulls back the curtain on the the world’s most powerful news outlet and flagship of the American news media, the New York Times, to reveal a quintessentially human organization where ideology, ego, power and politics compete with the more humble need to present the facts. Rindsberg offers an eye-opening, often shocking, look at the New York Times’s greatest journalistic failures, so devastating they changed the course of history.

Sep 21, 2021
210. Leidy Klotz on doing more with less, based on his book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less
01:59:58

We pile on “to-dos” but don’t consider “stop-doings.” We create incentives for good behavior, but don’t get rid of obstacles to it. We collect new-and-improved ideas, but don’t prune the outdated ones. Every day, across challenges big and small, we neglect a basic way to make things better: we don’t subtract. Leidy Klotz’s pioneering research shows why. Whether we’re building Lego® models or cities, grilled-cheese sandwiches or strategic plans, our minds tend to add before taking away. Even when we do think of it, subtraction can be harder to pull off because an array of biological, cultural, and economic forces push us towards more. But we have a choice — our blind spot need not go on taking its toll on our cities, our institutions, and our minds. By diagnosing our neglect of subtraction, we can treat it.

Sep 18, 2021
209. Heather Heying & Bret Weinstein on Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life, Based on Their New Book a Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century
01:31:37

We are living through the most prosperous age in all of human history, yet people are more listless, divided and miserable than ever. Wealth and comfort are unparalleled, and yet our political landscape grows ever more toxic, and rates of suicide, loneliness, and chronic illness continue to skyrocket. How do we explain the gap between these two truths? What’s more, what can we do to close it?

For evolutionary biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, the cause of our woes is clear: the modern world is out of sync with our ancient brains and bodies. The cognitive dissonance spawned by trying to live in a society we’re not built for is killing us.

Heying and Weinstein cut through the politically fraught discourse surrounding issues like sex, gender, diet, parenting, sleep, education, and more to outline a science-based worldview that will empower you to live a better, wiser life. They distill more than 20 years of research and first-hand accounts from the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth into straightforward principles and guidance for confronting our culture of hyper-novelty.

Sep 14, 2021
208. The Truth About 9/11 and Terrorism
27:44

In this special episode of the podcast Michael Shermer honors the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with a commentary on the truth about that event and how it changed our lives, 7 myths about terrorism that need debunking if we are to understand how we should respond to this threat, and why we need not sacrifice liberty for security.

Sep 10, 2021
207. John Petrocelli — The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit
01:35:54

Bullshit is the foundation of contaminated thinking and bad decisions that leads to health consequences, financial losses, legal consequences, broken relationships, and wasted time and resources. No matter how smart we believe ourselves to be, we’re all susceptible to bullshit — and we all engage in it. While we may brush it off as harmless marketing sales speak or as humorous, embellished claims, it’s actually much more dangerous and insidious. It’s how Bernie Madoff successfully swindled billions of dollars from even the most experienced financial experts with his Ponzi scheme. In episode # 207, Michael Shermer speaks with experimental social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University, John Petrocelli about his research that examines the causes and consequences of bullshit and bullshitting in the way of better understanding and improving bullshit detection and disposal. Petrocelli provides invaluable strategies not only to recognize and protect yourself from everyday bullshit, but to accept your own lack of knowledge about subjects and avoid engaging in bullshit just for societal conformity.

Sep 07, 2021
206. Nichola Raihani — The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World
02:07:21

Cooperation is the means by which life arose in the first place. It’s how we progressed through scale and complexity, from free-floating strands of genetic material, to nation states. But given what we know about the mechanisms of evolution, cooperation is also something of a puzzle. How does cooperation begin? A biologist by training, Nichola Raihani looks at where and how collaborative behavior emerges throughout the animal kingdom, and what problems it solves. She reveals that the species that exhibit cooperative behavior — teaching, helping, grooming, and self-sacrifice — most similar to our own tend not to be other apes; they are birds, insects, and fish, occupying far more distant branches of the evolutionary tree. By understanding the problems they face, and how they cooperate to solve them, we can glimpse how human cooperation first evolved. And we can also understand what it is about the way we cooperate that has made humans so distinctive and so successful.

Sep 04, 2021
205. Richard Dawkins on evangelizing for evolution, science, skepticism, philosophy, reason, and rationality, based on his book Books Do Furnish a Life: Reading and Writing Science
01:27:03

In episode 205, Michael Shermer speaks with Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish Gene, voted The Royal Society’s Most Inspiring Science Book of All Time, and also the bestsellers The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, The Ancestor’s Tale, The God Delusion, and two volumes of autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder and Brief Candle in the Dark. He is a Fellow of New College, Oxford and both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. In 2013, Dawkins was voted the world’s top thinker in Prospect magazine’s poll of 10,000 readers from over 100 countries.

This episode is heavily edited because Dawkins was having trouble with his voice, and Shermer tried to speak a little more to give Dawkins a chance to let his voice rest.

Sep 01, 2021
204. Carole Hooven on T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us
01:47:15

In episode 204, Michael Shermer speaks with codirector of undergraduate studies in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Carole Hooven, PhD about testosterone. While most people agree that sex differences in human behavior exist, they disagree about the reasons. But the science is clear: testosterone is a potent force in human society, driving the bodies and behavior of the sexes apart. But, as Hooven shows in T, it does so in concert with genes and culture to produce a vast variety of male and female behavior. And, crucially, the fact that many sex differences are grounded in biology provides no support for restrictive gender norms or patriarchal values. In understanding testosterone, we better understand ourselves and one another — and how we might build a fairer, safer society.

Aug 28, 2021
203. Lee McIntyre — How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason
01:35:35

“Climate change is a hoax — and so is coronavirus.” “Vaccines are bad for you.” These days, many of our fellow citizens reject scientific expertise and prefer ideology to facts. They are not merely uninformed — they are misinformed. They cite cherry-picked evidence, rely on fake experts, and believe conspiracy theories. How can we convince such people otherwise? How can we get them to change their minds and accept the facts when they don’t believe in facts? In this conversation based on his new book, Lee McIntyre shows that anyone can fight back against science deniers, and argues that it’s important to do so.

Aug 24, 2021
202. Julia Galef — The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t
01:46:33

When it comes to what we believe, humans see what they want to see. We have what Julia Galef calls a “soldier” mindset: a drive to defend the ideas we most want to believe — and shoot down those we don’t. But if we want to get things right more often, argues Galef, we should train ourselves to have a “scout” mindset. Unlike the soldier, a scout’s goal isn’t to defend one side over the other. It’s to go out, survey the territory, and come back with as accurate a map as possible. Regardless of what they hope to be the case, above all, the scout wants to know what’s actually true. In The Scout Mindset, Galef explores why our brains deceive us and what we can do to change the way we think.

Aug 21, 2021
201. Michael Shermer on Evolution, I.D. Theory, Consciousness, Morality, Gullibility, and Nothing (AMA # 7)
01:13:19

In this AMA Dr. Michael Shermer answers your questions about evolution and creationism, intelligent design theory, the hard problem of consciousness, the origins of morality, how science deals with anomalies, to what extent humans are naturally rational or irrational / skeptical or gullible, and why there is something rather than nothing.

Aug 18, 2021
200. Philip Zimbardo on the Nature & Nurture of Good & Evil
01:49:52

August 15 marks the 50th anniversary of day one of the Stanford Prison Experiment — one of the most controversial studies in the history of social psychology. In this conversation, Michael Shermer speaks with renowned social psychologist and creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo, exploring the mechanisms that make good people do bad things, how moral people can be seduced into acting immorally, and what this says about the line separating good from evil. His book, The Lucifer Effect, explains why we are all susceptible to the lure of “the dark side.” and how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women. Shermer and Zimbardo discuss: Zimbardo’s life mission to understand the nature of evil, the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) and its critics, the nature of human nature, The Dark Triad that leads to violence, obedience to authority, free will/determinism, and how we can teach ourselves to act heroically.

Aug 15, 2021
199. David Potter — Disruption: Why Things Change
01:23:33

This conversation takes a deep dive into disruptions. How do things change? The question is critical to the historical study of any era but it is also a profoundly important issue today as western democracies find the fundamental tenets of their implicit social contract facing extreme challenges from forces espousing ideas that once flourished only on the outskirts of society. Not all radical groups are the same, and all the groups that the book explores take advantage of challenges that have already shaken the social order. They take advantage of mistakes that have challenged belief in the competence of existing institutions to be effective. It is the particular combination of an alternative ideological system and a period of community distress that are necessary conditions for radical changes in direction. As Disruption demonstrates, not all radical change follows paths that its original proponents might have predicted.

Aug 10, 2021
198. Bernardo Kastrup on the Nature of Reality: Materialism, Idealism, or Skepticism
02:13:55

In this expansive conversation, Michael Shermer speaks with Bernardo Kastrup, the executive director of Essentia Foundation. His work has been leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy (ontology, philosophy of mind) and another Ph.D. in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). Shermer and Kastrup discuss: materialism, idealism, dualism, monism, panpsychism, free will, determinism, consciousness, the problem of other minds, artificial intelligence, out of body and near-death experiences, model dependent realism, and the ultimate nature of reality.

Aug 07, 2021
197. Yaron Brook on Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, and Objectivism
02:06:14

Michael Shermer speaks with entrepreneur, writer, and activist Yaron Brook about Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Objectivism; individualism vs. collectivism; the nature of human nature; altruism, cooperation, reparations, and charity; the starting point of morality and the foundation of ethics; collective action problems and how they are best solved; our moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves; the Is-Ought problem of determining right and wrong; reason and empiricism; immigration, abortion, foreign wars, the welfare state, and terrorism.

Aug 03, 2021
196. Annie Murphy Paul — The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain
01:34:34

In this conversation about her new book, the acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul explodes the myth that the brain is an all-powerful, all-purpose thinking machine that works best in silence and isolation. We are often told that the human brain is an awe-inspiring wonder, but its capacities are remarkably limited and specific. Humanity has achieved its most impressive feats only by thinking outside the brain: by “extending” the brain’s power with resources borrowed from the body, other people, and the material world. The Extended Mind tells the stories of scientists and artists, authors and inventors, leaders and entrepreneurs — Jackson Pollock, Charles Darwin, Jonas Salk, Friedrich Nietzsche, Watson and Crick, among others — who have mastered the art of thinking outside the brain. It also explains how every one of us can do the same, tapping the intelligence that exists beyond our heads — in our bodies, our surroundings, and our relationships.

Jul 31, 2021
195. Jamy Ian Swiss — The Conjuror’s Conundrum
02:12:32

The most fundamental lesson that all magicians learn is that seeing is not believing. In episode 195, Michael speaks with internationally acclaimed sleight-of-hand artist and 35-year activist for scientific skepticism, Jamy Ian Swiss, about his lively, personal book, The Conjuror’s Conundrum, that takes readers on a magical mystery tour of the longstanding connection between magic and skepticism. Shermer and Swiss discuss: Swiss’s first encounter with fraud, the paranormal and supernatural, magic and mentalism, hot/cold/universal readings, pychics, talking to the dead, James van Praagh, belief, the afterlife, “the amazing” Kreskin, the Alpha Project, and more…

Jul 27, 2021
194. John Mackey (Founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market) on Conscious Capitalism & Conscious Leadership
01:47:59

John Mackey says the treatment for the cancer of crony capitalism is conscious capitalism, grounded “in an ethical system based on value creation for all stakeholders,” which includes not just owners, but employees, customers, the community, the environment, and even competitors, activists, critics, unions, and the media. Mackey cites Google and Southwest Airlines as role models, and pharmaceutical companies and financial corporations as anti-role models. In a surprise pivot, Mackey lays the blame for the myth of the profit motive as the only measure of value at the feet of capitalists themselves. Mackey’s goal is to write a new narrative for capitalism that asks us to care about customers and human beings instead of data points on a spreadsheet.

Jul 21, 2021
193. Chris Edwards on Educational Reform and Thought Experiments
02:03:13

Michael Shermer speaks with Chris Edwards about educational reform, his study and teaching of world history, the problems in K–12 education, the zip-code model vs. the seat time model of education and how they result in massively different educational outcomes, how “no child left behind” left children behind, federal vs. state educational systems, cheating scandals and what to do about them, the future of education in a world of free (or nearly free) online learning, comparing the U.S. educational system to other countries. Shermer and Edwards also discuss thought experiments, based on Edwards’ latest book, Thought Experiments: History and Applications for Education.

Jul 17, 2021
192. Lesley Newson & Peter Richerson — A New Look at Human Evolution
02:01:40

In a few decades, a torrent of new evidence and ideas about human evolution has allowed scientists to piece together a more detailed understanding of what went on thousands and even millions of years ago. Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson, a husband-and-wife team based at the University of California, Davis, have spent years together and individually researching and collaborating with scholars from a wide range of disciplines to produce a deep history of humankind. In A Story of Us, they present this rich narrative and explain how the evolution of our genes relates to the evolution of our cultures.

Jul 10, 2021
191. Michael Gordin on the Fringe of Where Science Meets Pseudoscience
01:31:58

Everyone has heard of the term “pseudoscience”, typically used to describe something that looks like science, but is somehow false, misleading, or unproven. Many would be able to agree on a list of things that fall under its umbrella — astrology, phrenology, UFOlogy, creationism, and eugenics might come to mind. But defining what makes these fields “pseudo” is a far more complex issue. Given the virulence of contemporary disputes over the denial of climate change and anti-vaccination movements — both of which display allegations of “pseudoscience” on all sides — there is a clear need to better understand issues of scientific demarcation. Shermer and Gordin explore the philosophical and historical attempts to address this problem of demarcation.

Jul 03, 2021
190. Jonathan Rauch — The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth
01:40:43

Disinformation. Trolling. Conspiracies. Social media pile-ons. Campus intolerance. On the surface, these recent additions to our daily vocabulary appear to have little in common. But together, they are driving an epistemic crisis: a multi-front challenge to America’s ability to distinguish fact from fiction and elevate truth above falsehood.

In episode 190, Michael Shermer speaks with Jonathan Rauch as he reaches back to the parallel eighteenth-century developments of liberal democracy and science to explain what he calls the “Constitution of Knowledge” — our social system for turning disagreement into truth. His book is a sweeping and readable description of how every American can help defend objective truth and free inquiry from threats as far away as Russia and as close as the cellphone.

Jun 26, 2021
189. Daniel Kahneman — Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment
01:40:42

Imagine that two doctors in the same city give different diagnoses to identical patients. Now imagine that the same doctor making a different decision depending on whether it is morning or afternoon, or Monday rather than Wednesday. This is an example of noise: variability in judgments that should be identical.

Shermer speaks with Nobel Prize winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman about the detrimental effects of noise and what we can do to reduce both noise and bias, and make better decisions in: medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, child protection, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection.

Jun 19, 2021
188. Legendary Undersea Explorer Robert Ballard — Into the Deep: A Memoir From the Man Who Found Titanic
01:59:37

In this conversation about his memoir and National Geographicspecial on his life, Robert Ballard takes us along his many journeys to find the Titanic, the Lusitania, the Bismarck, Nazi submarine U-166, the USS Yorktown, JFK’s PT 109, and two missing nuclear submarines under the cover of searching for the Titanic. Ballard is also a scientist, and he recalls his many important discoveries that include 750°F hydrothermal vents, undersea volcanoes, black smokers, and the confirmation of the theory of plate tectonics. Now the captain of E/V Nautilus, a state-of-the-art scientific exploration vessel rigged for research in oceanography, geology, biology, and archaeology, leads young scientists as they map the ocean floor, collect artifacts from ancient shipwrecks, and relay live-time adventures from remote-controlled submersibles to reveal amazing sea life. For the first time, Ballard gets personal, telling the inside stories of his adventures and challenges as a midwestern kid with dyslexia who became an internationally renowned ocean explorer. Here is the definitive story of the danger and discovery, conflict and triumph that make up his remarkable life. Among his many honors he holds the Explorers Club Medal, the National Geographic Hubbard Medal, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal.

Jun 16, 2021
187. Robert Cialdini — Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
01:56:11

In this dialogue, based on the new edition of his highly acclaimed bestseller (over 5 million copies sold in over 40 languages), Robert Cialdini — New York Times bestselling author of Pre-Suasion and the seminal expert in the fields of influence and persuasion — explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these insights ethically in business and everyday settings. Shermer and Cialdini discuss: Cialdini’s Universal Principles of Influence and 7 Principles of Persuasion, pluralistic ignorance, free will/determinism, cults, conformity, #BLM, #metoo, antiracism, social justice, and human rights. How rational are humans? Do we default to truth and naturally believe what people tell us? Are we natural-born skeptics or natural-born sheep?

Jun 08, 2021
186. William Nordhaus on the Economics of Global Warming, Pandemics, and Corporate Malfeasance
01:06:48

In this conversation, based on the book The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World, Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in environmental economics Dr. Nordhaus explains how and why “green thinking” could cure many of the world’s most serious problems — from global warming to pandemics. Solving the world’s biggest problems requires, more than anything else, coming up with new ways to manage the powerful interactions that surround us. For carbon emissions and other environmental damage, this means ensuring that those responsible pay their full costs rather than continuing to pass them along to others, including future generations. Nordhaus describes a new way of green thinking that would help us overcome our biggest challenges without sacrificing economic prosperity, in large part by accounting for the spillover costs of economic collisions. In a discussion that ranges from the history of the environmental movement to the Green New Deal, Nordhaus explains how rethinking economic efficiency, sustainability, politics, profits, taxes, individual ethics, corporate social responsibility, finance, and more would improve the effectiveness and equity of our society.

Jun 02, 2021
185. Stephen Meyer — Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (and why Shermer remains skeptical)
01:58:10

Beginning in the late 19th century, many intellectuals began to insist that scientific knowledge conflicts with traditional theistic belief — that science and belief in God are “at war.” Philosopher of science Stephen Meyer challenges this view by examining three scientific discoveries with decidedly theistic implications. Building on the case for the intelligent design of life that he developed in Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, Meyer claims that discoveries in cosmology and physics coupled with those in biology help to establish the identity of the designing intelligence behind life and the universe. Previously Meyer refrained from attempting to answer questions about “who” might have designed life. Now he provides an evidence-based answer to perhaps the ultimate mystery of the universe.

Shermer responds to each claim and a stimulating and enlightening conversation ensues.

Note: It is Dr. Shermer’s intention in his podcast to periodically talk to people with whom skeptics and scientists may disagree. In some episodes Dr. Shermer tries to “steel man” a position held by someone with differing views — that is, he says in his own words what he thinks the other person is arguing — but in this case the other person is in the conversation and can represent his own position clearly, which is what happens. As well, such conversations enable principles of skepticism to be employed in ways constructive to those who hold views not necessarily embraced by skeptics and scientists. Such principles should be embraced by all seekers of truth, and that is why we want to talk to people with whom we may disagree.

May 29, 2021
184. Alexander Green on Money & Why It Matters
01:41:09

In this special episode of the show Shermer and Green discuss one of the most important and yet poorly understood concepts in modern society: money and why it matters. They discuss: the origins of money, and how to make it work for you, how the stock market works, the power of compound interest, the secrets of millionaires, the difference between a IRA, 401(k), and a Roth IRA, hedge-fund managers and investment advisors, the relationship between risk and reward, the relationship between saving and spending, the problem with free market capitalism, money, happiness, and meaning, and the role of luck and contingency in how lives turn out.

May 25, 2021
183. Bari Weiss & Bion Bartning — The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism
01:29:09

Shermer, Weiss, and Bartning discuss: why we need the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) when we have the ACLU, the SPLC, etc.; Richard Dawkins canceled by the AHA; hate speech as violence; Liberal and Conservative attitudes toward free speech and how they shifted; private vs. public speech; government censorship vs. cancel culture; anti-Semitism on the Left and the Right; QAnon; Israel and the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions); What happened at The New York Times?; why free speech is foundational to other rights; and why we need to judge people based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin (or any other immutable characteristic).

May 22, 2021
182. A Conversation With UFOlogist Alan Steinfeld on How Believers and Skeptics Think About UFOs
01:48:42

In this episode, Michael Shermer speaks with explorer of consciousness and the emcee of Contact in the Desert (the largest UFO event in the country), Alan Steinfeld, who for over 30 years has hosted and produced the weekly television series New Realities in New York City. In his book, Making Contact, Steinfeld has edited together multiple perspectives on what he claims can no longer be denied: UFOs and their occupants are visiting our world. The volume contains original writings by the leading experts of the phenomena such as: the former head of the Harvard Medical school of psychiatry and an alien abduction investigator, Darryl Anka, internationally known for his communication with the extraterrestrial Bashar; Nick Pope, former UK Ministry of Defense UFO investigator; Grant Cameron, expert on American presidents and UFOs; Caroline Cory, director of Superhuman and ET: Contact; Mary Rodwell, author of The New Human about star-seed children, and many others.

Note: It is Dr. Shermer’s intention in his podcast to periodically talk to people with whom skeptics and scientists may disagree. In some episodes Dr. Shermer tries to “steel man” a position held by someone with differing views — that is, he says in his own words what he thinks the other person is arguing — but in this case the other person is in the conversation and can represent his own position clearly, which is what happens. As well, such conversations enable principles of skepticism to be employed in ways constructive to those who hold views not necessarily embraced by skeptics and scientists. Such principles should be embraced by all seekers of truth, and that is why we want to talk to people with whom we may disagree.

May 18, 2021
181. David Buss — When Men Behave Badly: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment, and Assault
01:47:47

Sexual conflict permeates ancient religions, from injunctions about thy neighbor’s wife to the permissible rape of infidels. It is etched in written laws that dictate who can and cannot have sex with whom. Its manifestations shape our sexual morality, evoking approving accolades or contemptuous condemnation. It produces sexual double standards that flourish even in the most sexually egalitarian cultures on earth. And although every person alive struggles with sexual conflict, most of us see only the tip of the iceberg: dating deception, a politician’s unsavory sexual grab, the slow crumbling of a once-happy marriage, a romantic breakup that turns nasty. When Men Behave Badly shows that this “battle of the sexes” is deeper and far more pervasive than anyone has recognized, revealing the hidden roots of sexual conflict — roots that originated over deep evolutionary time — which define the sexual psychology we currently carry around in our 3.5-pound brains. Providing novel insights into our minds and behaviors, When Men Behave Badlypresents a unifying new theory of sexual conflict, and offers practical advice for men and women seeking to avoid it.

May 15, 2021
180. Andy Norman — Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think
01:35:42

Astonishingly irrational ideas are spreading. COVID-19 denial, anti-vaxxers compromising public health, conspiracy thinking hijacking minds and inciting mob violence, toxic partisanship cleaving our nations, the return of Flat Earth theory… What the heck is going on? Why is all this happening, and why now? More important, what can we do about it? Does our “right to our opinion” trump our responsibilities? Does the resulting ethos effectively compromise mental immune systems, allowing “mind parasites” to overrun them? Are conspiracy theories, evidence-defying ideologies, and garden-variety bad ideas all species of mind parasites, each of which employs clever strategies to circumvent mental immune systems? In this conversation, based on the book Mental Immunity, Andy Norman shows that minds and cultures have immune systems, and that they really can break down. Fortunately, he assures us that they can also be built up: strengthened against ideological corruption. Can his ideas revolutionize our capacity for critical thinking?

May 11, 2021
179. Niall Ferguson — Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe
01:38:35

Disasters are inherently hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises, and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. In this episode, Michael Shermer speaks with one of the world’s most renowned historians, Niall Ferguson, who explains why our ever more bureaucratic and complex systems are making us worse, not better, at handling disasters.

May 08, 2021
178. James Hunter & Paul Nedelisky on religious vs. secular morality — Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality
02:02:40

In their book Science and the Good, professional philosophers James Hunter and Paul Nedelisky trace the origins and development of the centuries-long, passionate, but ultimately failed quest to discover a scientific foundation for morality. The conversation takes a decidedly interesting turn when Drs. Hunter and Nedelisky reveal that they are both theists and that their Christian worldview informs their thinking on moral issues. The three then dig into the weeds of the difference between religious and secular moral systems, the nature of God and morality, why a purely naturalistic approach to morality does not negate religion or even the existence of God (natural law could be God’s way of creating moral values), natural rights and rights theory, consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics, progress in philosophy, why philosophers never seem to reach consensus on important subjects like morality, how to think about issues like abortion, why they believe in God and follow the Christian religion and yet reject Divine Command Theory, and much more.

May 04, 2021
177. Angus Fletcher — 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature
01:53:06

Michael speaks with neuroscientist and literature professor Dr. Angus Fletcher about 25 of the most powerful developments in the history of literature, from ancient Mesopotamia to Elena Ferrante. Fletcher says these literary technologies can alleviate grief, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, numbness, depression, pessimism, and ennui — all while sparking creativity, courage, love, empathy, hope, joy, and positive change. Fletcher is a professor of story science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative, the world’s leading academic think-tank for the study of stories. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

May 01, 2021
176. Minouche Shafik — What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract for a Better Society
01:40:18

Michael Shermer speaks with Nemat Talaat Shafik, Baroness Shafik DBE, known as Minouche Shafik, one of the leading policy experts of our time, about a new and better social contract that recognizes our interdependencies, supports and invests more in each other, and expects more of individuals in return: a rethinking of how we can better support each other to thrive. Shafik avers that no only can every country provide its citizens with the basics to have a decent life and be able to contribute to society, but that we owe each other more than this. A more generous and inclusive society would also share more risks collectively and ask everyone to contribute for as long as they can so that everyone can fulfill their potential.

Shafik is an Egyptian-born British-American economist who served as the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England from August 2014 to February 2017 and has served as the Director of the London School of Economics since September 2017. She served as the Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Development from March 2008 to March 2011, when she went on to serve as the Deputy Managing Director of the IMF — International Monetary Fund.

Apr 27, 2021
175. Brian Keating — How it All Began: Cosmic Inflation, the Multiverse, and the Nature of Scientific Proof
01:48:03

In this episode, based on the cover story from Skeptic magazine 26.1 (2021), Michael speaks with University of California professor of physics Brian Keating about: time, infinity, the shape of the universe, the multiverse, quantum gravity, string theory, the laws of nature, and more… Listen to this fascinating episode for free and order a copy of the Skeptic magazine 26.1 to read Keating’s cover story, complete with splendid graphics, charts, and illustrations (in print or digital formats).

Apr 24, 2021
174. Jordan Peterson — Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life
02:49:01

Join Michael Shermer and Jordan Peterson (bestselling author of 12 Rules for Life) for this extraordinary conversation based on Peterson’s new book Beyond Order. After working for decades as a clinical psychologist and a professor at Harvard and the University of Toronto, Peterson has become one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals. His YouTube videos and podcasts have gathered a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions, and his global book tour reached more than 250,000 people in major cities across the globe. What is it that gives Peterson’s message such mass appeal?

Apr 20, 2021
173. Naomi Oreskes — Why Trust Science?
01:45:51

In this interview, based on her landmark book, Why Trust Science?, historian of science Naomi Oreskes offers a bold and compelling defense of science, revealing why the social character of scientific knowledge is its greatest strength — and the greatest reason we can trust it. Drawing vital lessons from cases where scientists got it wrong, Oreskes shows how consensus is a crucial indicator of when a scientific matter has been settled, and when the knowledge produced is likely to be trustworthy.

Apr 17, 2021
172. Andrew Doyle — Free Speech: And Why it Matters
02:15:14

Political Correctness has formed the basis for a new intolerant mindset, actively policing speech that is deemed offensive or controversial. Rather than confront bad ideas through discussion, it has now become common to intimidate one’s detractors into silence. Taking on board legitimate concerns about how speech can be harmful, Andrew Doyle argues that the alternative — an authoritarian world in which our freedoms are surrendered to those in power — has far worse consequences.

Apr 13, 2021
171. John Mueller — The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency
01:49:17

In this conversation based on his new book, The Stupidity of War, political scientist John Mueller argues that American foreign policy since 1945 has been one long miscue; most international threats — including during the Cold War — have been substantially exaggerated. The result has been agony and bloviation, unnecessary and costly military interventions that have mostly failed. With international war in decline, complacency and appeasement become viable diplomatic devices and a large military is scarcely required.

Apr 10, 2021
170. Michio Kaku — The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything
01:36:47

Synthesizing relativity and quantum theory would be the crowning achievement of science, a profound merging of all the forces of nature into one beautiful, magnificent equation to unlock the deepest mysteries in science. In this episode, Michael Shermer speaks with professor of theoretical physics Michio Kaku about: the Big Bang, black holes, worm holes, the multiverse, time travel, dark energy and dark matter, gravity, string theory, ETIs, meaning, and God.

Apr 06, 2021
169. Jeff Hawkins — A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence
01:47:17

Michael Shermer speaks with Jeff Hawkins, cofounder of Numenta: a neuroscience research company, about his new book A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence in which Hawkins explains how simple cells in the brain create intelligence by using maplike structures to build hundreds of thousands of models of everything we know. Listen to this in-depth dialogue about the discoveries that allow Hawkins to answer important questions about how we perceive the world, why we have a sense of self, and the origin of high-level thought.

Apr 03, 2021
168. Daniel Dennett & Gregg Caruso — Just Deserts: Debating Free Will (moderated by Michael Shermer)
02:06:16

The concept of free will is profoundly important to our self-understanding, our interpersonal relationships, and our moral and legal practices. If it turns out that no one is ever free and morally responsible, what would that mean for society, morality, meaning, and the law? Just Deserts introduces the concepts central to the debate about free will and moral responsibility by way of an entertaining, rigorous, and sometimes heated philosophical dialogue between two leading thinkers.

 

Mar 30, 2021
167. Gary Taubes — The Case for Keto: Rethinking Weight Control and the Science and Practice of Low-Carb/High-Fat Eating
01:50:23

For years, health organizations have preached the same rules for losing weight: restrict your calories, eat less, exercise more. So why doesn’t it work for everyone? The Case for Keto puts the ketogenic diet movement in the necessary historical and scientific perspective. It makes clear the vital misconceptions in how we’ve come to think about obesity and diet. Shermer and Taubes discuss: scientific consensus, nutrition, replication, why Newtonian mechanics doesn’t work with human bodies, the physics model of calories, complicating variables, intermittent fasting, which fruits and vegetables you should consume and avoid, cholesterol, heart disease, statins, and why it is okay to have bacon-and-eggs for breakfast.

Mar 23, 2021
166. Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives (Michael Heller & James Salzman)
01:34:57

“Mine” is one of the first words babies learn. By the time we grow up, the idea of ownership seems natural. But who controls the space behind your airplane seat: you reclining or the squished laptop user behind? Why is plagiarism wrong, but it’s okay to knock-off a recipe or a dress design? Mine! explains these puzzles and many more.

Mar 20, 2021
165. John McWhorter — The Elect: Neoracists Posing as Antiracists and Their Threat to a Progressive America
01:20:43

Dr. Shermer speaks with John McWhorter about his new online book on how the antiracism movement poses a threat to progressive America. Shermer and McWhorter discuss: antiracism as a religion; the 3 waves of antiracism; the antiracism trinity: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi; white fragility; Black Lives Matter; systemic racism (incarceration rates, housing, jobs, income, etc.); reparations; George Floyd, Tony Timpa and police violence; the N-word and language as violence; and Third Wave Antiracism catechism.

Mar 16, 2021
164. Neil deGrasse Tyson — Cosmic Queries: StarTalk’s Guide to Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going
01:47:12

In this thought-provoking conversation on life, the universe, and everything, Neil deGrasse Tyson tackles the world’s most important philosophical questions about the universe with wit, wisdom, and cutting-edge science. For science geeks, space and physics nerds, and all who want to understand their place in the universe, this enlightening new book offers a unique take on the mysteries and curiosities of the cosmos, building on rich material from his beloved StarTalk podcast, along with dozens of his most popular tweets on science. Shermer and Tyson discuss: the universe, multiverse, big bang, big rip, dark matter, dark energy, gravity, gravitational waves, origins of morality, hard problem of consciousness, consensus science, the unknown, Fermi’s paradox, extraterrestrials, and artificial intelligence.

Mar 13, 2021
163. Helen Pluckrose — Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody
02:11:32

Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that certain people shouldn’t practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Or been told that being obese is healthy, that there is no such thing as biological sex, or that only white people can be racist? Are you confused by these ideas, and do you wonder how they have managed so quickly to challenge the very logic of Western society?

In this wide-ranging conversation Helen Pluckrose recounts the evolution of the dogma that informs these ideas, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. Today this dogma is recognizable as much by its effects, such as cancel culture and social-media dogpiles, as by its tenets, which are all too often embraced as axiomatic in mainstream media: knowledge is a social construct; science and reason are tools of oppression; all human interactions are sites of oppressive power play; and language is dangerous.

Mar 09, 2021
162. Benjamin Friedman — Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
01:52:28

In episode 162 of The Michael Shermer Show, Michael speaks with one of the nation’s preeminent experts on economic policy, Benjamin Friedman, about his new book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism —   a major reassessment of the foundations of modern economic thinking that explores the profound influence of an until-now unrecognized force — religion.

Critics of contemporary economics complain that belief in free markets — among economists as well as many ordinary citizens — is a form of religion. And, it turns out, that in a deeper, more historically grounded sense there is something to that idea. Contrary to the conventional historical view of economics as an entirely secular product of the Enlightenment, Benjamin Friedman demonstrates that religion exerted a powerful influence from the outset.

Mar 06, 2021
161. Roy Richard Grinker — Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness
01:02:20

For centuries, scientists and society cast moral judgments on anyone deemed mentally ill, confining many to asylums. In episode 161 of The Michael Shermer Show, Dr. Shermer speaks with anthropologist Dr. Roy Richard Grinker about his book Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness which chronicles the progress and setbacks in the struggle against mental-illness stigma — from the 18th century, through America’s major wars, and into today’s high-tech economy. Drawing on cutting-edge science, historical archives, and cross-cultural research in Africa and Asia, Grinker takes readers on an international journey to discover the origins of, and variances in, our cultural response to neurodiversity. Shermer and Grinker discuss: the DSM, ADHD, PTSD, the autism spectrum, schizophrenia, labels and stigma, neuroses vs. psychoses, mental vs. medical models, brain/mind dualism, blacks and drapetomania, homelessness and mental illness, and the future of madness and normalcy.

Mar 02, 2021
160. Abigail Shrier — Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters
01:36:13

Until just a few years ago, gender dysphoria—severe discomfort in one’s biological sex—was vanishingly rare. It was typically found in less than .01 percent of the population, emerged in early childhood, and afflicted males almost exclusively. But today whole groups of female friends in colleges, high schools, and even middle schools across the country are coming out as “transgender.” These are girls who had never experienced any discomfort in their biological sex until they heard a coming-out story from a speaker at a school assembly or discovered the internet community of trans “influencers.” Unsuspecting parents are awakening to find their daughters in thrall to hip trans YouTube stars and “gender-affirming” educators and therapists who push life-changing interventions on young girls—including medically unnecessary double mastectomies and puberty blockers that can cause permanent infertility.

In this conversation Abigail Shrier recounts how she dug deep into the trans epidemic, talking to the girls, their agonized parents, and the counselors and doctors who enable gender transitions, as well as to “detransitioners”—young women who bitterly regret what they have done to themselves. Coming out as transgender immediately boosts these girls’ social status, Shrier finds, but once they take the first steps of transition, it is not easy to walk back. She offers urgently needed advice about how parents can protect their daughters because if this trend continues a generation of girls is at risk. 

Abigail Shrier is a writer for the Wall Street Journal. She is a graduate of Columbia College, where she received the Euretta J. Kellett Fellowship; the University of Oxford; and Yale Law School. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Feb 27, 2021
159. Joshua Glasgow — The Solace: Finding Value in Death Through Gratitude for Life
01:41:27

How can we find solace when we face the death of loved ones? How can we find solace in our own death? When philosopher Joshua Glasgow’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, he struggled to answer these questions for her and for himself. Though death and immortality introduce some of the most basic and existentially compelling questions in philosophy, Glasgow found that the dominant theories came up short. Recalling the last months of his mother’s life, Glasgow reveals the breakthrough he finally arrived at for himself, from which readers can learn and find solace. When we are grateful for life, we value all of it, and this includes death, its natural culmination. Just as we are grateful for the value in our lives, we can affirm this value in death.

Feb 23, 2021
158. Jason D. Hill — We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to The American People
01:38:04

In this episode Michael Shermer speaks with Jason D. Hill, a black immigrant from Jamaica, about his eloquent appreciation of the American Dream, and why his adopted nation remains the most noble experiment in enabling the pursuit of happiness. Dr. Hill came to this country at the age of 20 and, rather than being faced with intractable racial bigotry, Hill found a land of bountiful opportunity. It has been more than 50 years since the Civil Rights Act enshrined equality under the law for all Americans. Since that time, America has enjoyed an era of unprecedented prosperity, domestic and international peace, and technological advancement. But the dominant narrative, repeated in the media and from the angry mouths of politicians and activists, is the exact opposite of the reality. They paint a portrait of an America rife with racial and ethnic division, where minorities are mired in a poverty worse than slavery, and white people stand at the top of an unfairly stacked pyramid of privilege. Jason D. Hill corrects the narrative in this powerfully conversation based on his eloquent book.

Feb 20, 2021
157. Avi Loeb — Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth
02:02:09

According to the Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, we have proof of alien existence, and more sightings are coming soon. In late 2017, scientists at a Hawaiian observatory glimpsed an object soaring through our inner solar system, moving so quickly that it could only have come from another star. Loeb argued that it was not an asteroid; it was moving too fast along a strange orbit and left no trail of gas or debris in its wake. There was only one conceivable explanation: the object was a piece of advanced technology created by an ancient alien civilization. This was a shocking claim, and many were vehemently opposed to Avi’s view. In his new book, and in this conversation, Loeb outlines his controversial theory and its profound implications for science, religion, and the future of our species and our planet. Also highlighted, and perhaps at the heart of his message, is Loeb’s plea for open and eager scientific inquiry into this field of study, and his calls for deeper faith in science and the breaking down of barriers between the scientific community and the non-scientific community.

Feb 16, 2021
156. Ayaan Hirsi Ali — Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights
01:36:41

Why are so few people talking about the eruption of sexual violence and harassment in Europe’s cities? No one in a position of power wants to admit that the problem is linked to the arrival of several million migrants — most of them young men — from Muslim-majority countries. In episode 155, Dr. Shermer speaks with Somali-born Dutch-American activist, feminist, scholar, and former politician, Ayaan Hirsi Ali about her new book Prey. She explains why so many young Muslim men who arrive in Europe engage in sexual harassment and violence, tracing the roots of sexual violence in the Muslim world from institutionalized polygamy to the lack of legal and religious protections for women.

Trigger warning: upon listening to this conversation, you should be triggered.

Feb 09, 2021
155. Martin Sherwin — Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1945–1962
01:43:06

In episode 155, Dr. Shermer speaks with Martin Sherwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, about his new book Gambling with Armageddon, the definitive history of the Cuban Missile Crisis and its potential for nuclear holocaust, in a wider historical narrative of the Cold War — how such a crisis arose, and why at the very last possible moment it didn’t happen. Luck, coupled to reason and diplomacy, saved the world from thermonuclear war. As existential threats go, a nuclear exchange is second to none. Understanding how we dodged Armageddon in 1962 is vital for the future of humanity. This conversation explores those themes and more.

Feb 02, 2021
154. David Sloan Wilson — Atlas Hugged: The Autobiography of John Galt III
01:59:02

In episode 154, Michael speaks with renowned evolutionary theorist David Sloan Wilson about his new novel Atlas Hugged: The Autobiography of John Galt III, a devastating critique of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and its impact on the world. Shermer and Wilson discuss: the role of fiction and film in spreading ideas, good and bad; empirical/pragmatic/mythic truths; individualism vs. collectivism; why liberals/progressives/feminists don‘t like Rand; the nature of human nature; how small groups best operate and how to scale that up to whole societies; capitalism: good and bad; income inequality; Objectivism and Christianity; and more…

Jan 26, 2021
153. Kevin Dutton — Black-and-White Thinking: The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World
01:46:31

In episode 153, Michael speaks with University of Oxford research psychologist Dr. Kevin Dutton about his new book Black-and-White Thinking: The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World. Shermer and Dutton discuss a wide gamut including black-and-white thinking in physics, biology, psychology, politics, economics, society; categories, stereotypes, bigotries; the dark side of black-and-white thinking: tribalism, xenophobia, and racism; abortion, gender, cults, sects, religions, mental disorders, and consciousness. Don't miss this fascinating dialogue with the author of Flipnosis and The Wisdom of Psychopaths (which won the prize for Best American Science and Nature Writing).

Jan 19, 2021
152. Politics & Truth — Michael Shermer Responds to Critics of His Commentary “Trump & Truth”
21:54

Dr. Michael Shermer received a lot of interesting and constructive responses to episode 151, his commentary on the events of January 6, 2021 — the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters. In episode 152, Shermer responds to critics, reminding us that the truth or falsity of a claim of any kind that can be adjudicated by science and reason applies not just to astrologers, psychics, UFO proponents, and Big Foot hunters (all of which we cover in Skeptic magazine), but to conspiracy theories, including and especially those in the realm of politics, economics, and ideology, which as we’ve seen matters very much to the stability of our democracy and trust in the institutions that keep society stable. Whether a particular conspiracy theory is true or false very much matters.

Jan 17, 2021
151. Trump & Truth — A Commentary by Michael Shermer
46:36

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” — Voltaire

In this monologue commentary on the events of January 6, 2021, Dr. Shermer applies causal inference theory to Trump’s speech that morning, the violent assault on the Capitol that followed, the banning of Trump off social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the fears on the Right of social media censoriousness on the Left, the breaking up of big tech social media companies, and related topics, including what it means to “believe” a conspiracy theory.

Jan 12, 2021
150. Daniel Lieberman — Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do is Healthy and Rewarding
01:30:11

“Nothing about the biology of exercise makes sense except in the light of evolution, and nothing about exercise as a behavior makes sense except in the light of anthropology.”

In this myth-busting book, Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and a pioneering researcher on the evolution of human physical activity, tells the story of how we never evolved to exercise — to do voluntary physical activity for the sake of health. Using his own research and experiences throughout the world, Lieberman recounts how and why humans evolved to walk, run, dig, and do other necessary and rewarding physical activities while avoiding needless exertion. As our increasingly sedentary lifestyles have contributed to skyrocketing rates of obesity and diseases such as diabetes, Lieberman argues that to become more active we need to do more than medicalize and commodify exercise.

Shermer and Lieberman also discuss:

  • evolutionary and anthropological perspectives on physical activity,
  • why we never evolved to exercise,
  • physical activity vs. exercise,
  • sleep: how much do we really need?
  • walking vs. running; speed vs. strength,
  • endurance and aging: why exercise matters,
  • why we age and die,
  • exercise and diet,
  • Should we do weights, cardio, or high-intensity training?
  • Is sitting really the new smoking?
  • Is BMI really a useful measure?
  • exercise and disease: obesity, diabetes/metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease (and cholesterol), osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, depression, and cancer,
  • immune systems and exercise, and
  • How much exercise should you get each week?

Daniel E. Lieberman is Edwin M. Lerner Professor of Biological Sciences and professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. He is the author of the national best seller The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jan 05, 2021
149. The After Time: The Future of Civilization After COVID-19
43:35

In this special episode of the Science Salon podcast, the last of 2020, Dr. Michael Shermer offers some reflections on 2020, starting with race and the Black Lives Movement, putting it into perspective from other books he read this year, along with podcast guests who appeared in 2020, such as Shelby Steele. Dr. Shermer recently read Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste and Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Anti-Racist, and offers some thoughts on them, along with other issues competing for our attention of ills troubling society, including class conflicts, income inequality, lack of education, anti-Semitism, far-left illiberalism, and religious indoctrination. Everyone thinks that their particular focus is the only one that matters, but broad reading can put each into perspective. Dr. Shermer then reads his essay of the podcast title, originally published in The American Scholar and expanded on here and in an upcoming issue of Skeptic magazine.

Dec 29, 2020
148. Have Archetype — Will Travel: The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon
41:18

In this special episode of the Science Salon podcast Dr. Michael Shermer reflects on the recent resurrection of Jordan Peterson, the resurgent criticism of him and why so many people attack him, why similar such unwarranted attacks have been made against public intellectuals like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris today, and of Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan in the past. Dr. Shermer then reads his essay of this title that was originally published in Skepticmagazine 23.3 (2018), and on skeptic.com, and is reprinted in his essay collection Giving the Devil His Due.

Dec 22, 2020
147. David Barash — On the Brink of Destruction
01:49:46

In a conversation based on the book Threats: Intimidation and its Discontents, Shermer and Barash discuss:

  • 2020 as the most momentous year of the past half century,
  • judging historical figures based on modern morals (e.g., race and slavery),
  • whether humans are naturally gullible or skeptical,
  • the evolutionary logic of deterrence,
  • how animals deal with threats,
  • how humans deal with threats,
  • game theory of deterring threats,
  • nuclear deterrence (Mutual Assured Destruction) as a threat strategy,
  • the motives behind nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
  • the U.S. arms race against the U.S.S.R.,
  • the arms race within the U.S. between the Army, Navy, and Airforce,
  • close calls with nuclear weapons and why this is not a sustainable strategy,
  • how to deal with threats like Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea,
  • Trump and what he did right with regard to North Korea.

David P. Barash is an evolutionary biologist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington. He has written more than 280 peer-reviewed articles and 40 books. Barash has penned op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Chicago Tribune, as well as numerous pieces in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nautilus, and Skeptic.

Dec 15, 2020
146. Donald Prothero — Weird Earth: Debunking Strange Ideas About Our Planet
01:18:08

Shermer and Prothero discuss:

  • flat earth theories and how we know the earth is round,
  • hollow earth theories and how we know it’s not hollow,
  • the return of Ptolemy and an earth-centered solar system model (and how we know it’s wrong),
  • how science deals with anomalies, fringe claims, and challenges to the orthodoxy,
  • whether humans were in the San Diego area 130,000 years ago,
  • how consensus is achieved in science (and the messy road to get there),
  • from Newton to Einstein and what ultimately determines if a theory is true or not,
  • flood myths and what causes such stories to arise in some cultures but not others,
  • catastrophism vs. uniformitarianism in geology,
  • the age of the earth and how geologists determined it,
  • the myth of Atlantis and what Plato really intended with his account,
  • biblical accounts of the world and how we should read the book as literature, not science,
  • how science won the evolution-creation wars,
  • science denial and how to deal with it, and
  • the real-world consequences of denying science.

Dr. Donald R. Prothero has taught geology for over 33 years as Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and currently at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA. He earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1982. He is currently the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 33 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks and three trade books as well as edited symposium volumes and other technical works. He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine, and in the past has served as an associate or technical editor for Geology, Paleobiologyand Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. In 1991, he received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for the outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. He has also been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC).

Dec 08, 2020
145. Greg Lukianoff — How Free is Free Speech?
01:10:30

In this wide ranging conversation focused on Greg Lukianoff’s co-authored (with Jonathan Haidt) book The Coddling of the American Mind, and his new documentary film Mighty Ira: A Civil Liberties Story, about the free speech champion Ira Glassner, who headed the ACLU for decades, he and Shermer discuss:

  • the state of free speech today,
  • how coddled today’s students are,
  • the data on rates of depression and anxiety in students today,
  • possible causes of the coddling of the American mind: social media, screen time, culture of safetyism, culture of victimhood, helicopter parenting, the decline of unsupervised, child-directed play,
  • cancel culture and its effect on self-censorship and silencing speech,
  • current rates of deplatforming and canceling in academia,
  • the polarization of politics,
  • when self-censorship is healthy,
  • default to truth theory vs. default to skepticism theory,
  • How gullible are we, really?
  • how to combat the negative influencers on social media,
  • a brief history of free speech in the 20th and 21th centuries,
  • why people in power want to silence dissenters (even free speech advocates in power), and
  • the value of viewpoint diversity.

Greg Lukianoff is the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Lukianoff is a graduate of American University and Stanford Law School. He specializes in free speech and First Amendment issues in higher education. He is the author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate and Freedom From Speech. Read about his new film: Mighty Ira: A Civil Liberties Story.

Dec 01, 2020
144. Agustín Fuentes — Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being
01:40:25

Why are so many humans religious? Why do we daydream, imagine, and hope? Philosophers, theologians, social scientists, and historians have offered explanations for centuries, but their accounts often ignore or even avoid human evolution. Evolutionary scientists answer with proposals for why ritual, religion, and faith make sense as adaptations to past challenges or as by-products of our hyper-complex cognitive capacities. But what if the focus on religion is too narrow? Renowned anthropologist Agustín Fuentes argues that the capacity to be religious is actually a small part of a larger and deeper human capacity to believe. Why believe in religion, economies, love? Fuentes employs evolutionary, neurobiological, and anthropological evidence to argue that belief — the ability to commit passionately and wholeheartedly to an idea — is central to the human way of being in the world.

The premise of the book is that believing is our ability to draw on our range of cognitive and social resources, our histories and experiences, and combine them with our imagination. It is the power to think beyond what is here and now in order to see and feel and know something — an idea, a vision, a necessity, a possibility, a truth — that is not immediately present to the senses, and then to invest, wholly and authentically, in that “something” so that it becomes one’s reality. The point is that beliefs and belief systems permeate human neurobiologies, bodies, and ecologies, and structure and shape our daily lives, our societies, and the world around us. We are human, therefore we believe, and this book tells us how we came to be that way.

Shermer and Fuentes also discuss:

  • what it means to “believe” something (belief in evolution or the Big Bang is different from belief in progressive taxes or affirmative action),
  • evolution and how beliefs are formed…and why,
  • evolution of awe, wonder, aesthetic sense, beauty, art, music, dance, etc. (adaptation or exaptation/spandrel?),
  • evolution of spirituality, religion, belief in immortality,
  • Were Neanderthals human in the “belief” sense?
  • human niche and the evolution of symbolism/language,
  • evolution of theory of mind,
  • how to infer symbolic meaning from archaeological artifacts,
  • components of belief: augmented cognition and neurobiology, intentionality, imagination, innovation, compassion and intensive reliance on others, meaning-making,
  • dog domestication and human self-domestication,
  • Göbekli Tepe and the underestimation of ancient peoples’ cognitive capacities,
  • the development of property, accumulation of goods, inequality, and social hierarchy,
  • gender role specialization,
  • monogamy and polyamory, gender and sex, and continuum vs. binary thinking,
  • violence and warfare,
  • political and economic systems of belief, and
  • love as belief.

Agustín Fuentes is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. He is an active public scientist, a well-known blogger, lecturer, tweeter, and an explorer for National Geographic. Fuentes received the Inaugural Communication & Outreach Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the President’s Award from the American Anthropological Association, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Nov 24, 2020
143. Nicholas Christakis — Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live
01:22:34

Apollo’s Arrow offers a riveting account of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as it swept through American society in 2020, and of how the recovery will unfold in the coming years. Drawing on momentous (yet dimly remembered) historical epidemics, contemporary analyses, and cutting-edge research from a range of scientific disciplines, bestselling author, physician, sociologist, and public health expert Nicholas A. Christakis explores what it means to live in a time of plague — an experience that is paradoxically uncommon to the vast majority of humans who are alive, yet deeply fundamental to our species. Featuring new, provocative arguments and vivid examples ranging across medicine, history, sociology, epidemiology, data science, and genetics, Apollo’s Arrow envisions what happens when the great force of a deadly germ meets the enduring reality of our evolved social nature.

Shermer and Christakis discuss:

  • the replication crisis in social science and medicine,
  • determining causality in science and medicine,
  • how we know smoking causes cancer and HIV causes AIDS, but vaccines do not cause autism and cell phones do not cause cancer,
  • randomized controlled trials and why they can’t be done to answer many medical questions,
  • natural experiments and the comparative method of testing hypotheses (e.g., comparing different countries differing responses to Covid-19),
  • the hindsight bias and the curse of knowledge in judging responses to pandemics after the fact,
  • looking back to January 2020, what should we have done?,
  • comparing Covid-19 to the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and other pandemics,
  • bacteria vs. viruses, coronaviruses and their effects, and why viruses are so much harder to treat than bacteria,
  • Bill Gates’ TED talk warning in 2015 and why we didn’t heed it,
  • treatments: hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, Vitamin D.

How civilization will change:

  • medical: coronavirus is here to stay — herd immunity naturally and through vaccines,
  • personal and public health: handshakes, hugs, and other human contact; masks, social distancing, hygiene,
  • long run healthier society (e.g., body temperatures have decreased from 98.6 to 97.9),
  • economics and business,
  • travel, conferences, meetings,
  • marriage, dating, sex, and home life,
  • entertainment, vacations, bars, and restaurants,
  • education and schools,
  • politics and society (and a better understanding of freedom and why it is restricted),
  • from pandemic to endemic.

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, the co-author of Connected, and the author of Blueprint.

Nov 17, 2020
142. Philip Goff — Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness
01:52:58

Understanding how brains produce consciousness is one of the great scientific challenges of our age. Some philosophers argue that consciousness is something “extra,” beyond the physical workings of the brain. Others think that if we persist in our standard scientific methods, our questions about consciousness will eventually be answered. And some even suggest that the mystery is so deep, it will never be solved. Decades have been spent trying to explain consciousness from within our current scientific paradigm, but little progress has been made.

Now, Philip Goff offers an exciting alternative that could pave the way forward. Rooted in an analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of modern science and based on the early twentieth-century work of Arthur Eddington and Bertrand Russell, Goff makes the case for panpsychism, a theory which posits that consciousness is not confined to biological entities but is a fundamental feature of all physical matter — from subatomic particles to the human brain. In Galileo’s Error, he has provided the first step on a new path to the final theory of human consciousness. Shermer and Goff discuss:

  • the problem Galileo’s approach to science solved,
  • Galileo’s error in solving the consciousness problem, that is the qualitative,
  • Dualism, Monism, Panpsychism,
  • Material Monism, Mind Monism, and Idealism,
  • hard problem of consciousness defined,
  • how consciousness is at the bottom of reality,
  • why science cannot discover the ultimate nature of reality,
  • Model Dependent Realism, philosophy, and science,
  • Arthur Stanley Eddington and Bertrand Russell build panpsychism back into science,
  • philosophical zombies and the “other minds problem,”
  • free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism,
  • objective moral values and science,
  • fine tuning and the multiverse, and
  • implications of panpsychism for attitudes toward nature and the meaning of life.

Philip Goff is a philosopher who teaches at Durham University. He is the author of Consciousness and Fundamental Reality and has published more than 40 academic papers. His writing has also appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement, and he has guest-edited an issue of Philosophy Now. He lives in Durham, England.

Nov 09, 2020
141. Richard Kreitner — Break it Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union
01:31:27

The provocative thesis of Break It Up is simple: The United States has never lived up to its name—and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expression in the Civil War, but as Break It Up shows, the seduction of secession wasn’t limited to the South or the 19thcentury. It was there at our founding and has never gone away.

Investigative journalist Richard Kreitner takes readers on a revolutionary journey through American history, revealing the power and persistence of disunion movements in every era and region. Each New England town after Plymouth was a secession from another; the 13 colonies viewed their Union as a means to the end of securing independence, not an end in itself; George Washington feared separatism west of the Alleghenies; Aaron Burr schemed to set up a new empire; John Quincy Adams brought a Massachusetts town’s petition for dissolving the United States to the floor of Congress; and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery pact with the devil.

From the “cold civil war” that pits partisans against one another to the modern secession movements in California and Texas, the divisions that threaten to tear America apart today have centuries-old roots in the earliest days of our Republic. Richly researched and persuasively argued, Break It Up will help readers make fresh sense of our fractured age. Shermer and Kreitner discuss:

  • what happens if Trump loses the 2020 election and refuses to leave,
  • the possibility of the secession of California, Oregon and Washington,
  • States rights vs. Federal power in issues like climate change, abortion, health care, etc.,
  • how Native American tribes and nations governed themselves and what the colonists learned from them,
  • how the 1st colonial revolution was fought not to create a federation but to destroy one when Boston rebelled against the Crown-backed Dominion of New England,
  • separatists movements throughout our history,
  • Aaron Burr’s attempts to create a new nation he would head,
  • spread of slavery to the west and Jefferson’s fear that it sounded like a “fire bell in the night,”
  • why John Quincy Adams introduced a petition demanding the dissolution of the U.S.:

    If the day should ever come, (may Heaven avert it,) when the affection of the people of these states shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give away to cold indifference, or collisions of interest shall fester into hatred, far better will it be for the people of the disunited states, to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint.

  • how Southern states initially sought to expand the union of slave holding states, not secession,
  • why reconstruction failed,
  • the Civil War of the 1960s,
  • Brexit, Texit, and Calexit,
  • Russia support for American secessionist movements,
  • James Madison’s observation (in Federalist Paper No. 51) about the problem all human groups/tribes/nations must solve:

    But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Kreitner’s summation of America’s irrepressible conflict “The ‘irrepressible conflict’ was not just between North and South, freedom and slavery; it reflected something even deeper. The truly ‘irrepressible’ conflict was between union and disunion, whose forces bringing American together and those tearing them apart.”

Richard Kreitner is a contributing writer to The Nation. He is the author of Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World. A graduate of McGill University, he has also written for The New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Baffler, Raritan, The Forward, and the Boston Globe. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Nov 02, 2020
140. Rebecca Wragg Sykes — Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art
01:39:15

The common narrative of Neanderthals is that they were a group of dullard losers whose extinction 40,000 years ago was due to smarter competition and a little of interbreeding with our own forebears. Likening someone to a Neanderthal was and, most likely, still is a top-rate anthropological insult. But, in the past few decades, Neanderthal finds have greatly contradicted our perception of the species. In Kindred, Rebecca Wragg Sykes combs through the avalanche of scientific discoveries of the species and uses her experience at the cutting-edge of Paleolithic research to share our new understanding of Neanderthals, shoving aside cliches of rag-clad brutes in an icy wasteland. She reveals them to be curious, clever connoisseurs of their world, technologically inventive and ecologically adaptable. They ranged across vast tracts of tundra and steppe, but also stalked in dappled forests and waded in the Mediterranean Sea. Above all, they were successful survivors for more than 300,000 years, during times of massive climatic upheaval. Shermer and Sykes also discuss:

  • the nature of species and if Neanderthals and Homo sapiens are one or two species,
  • the deep time span of Neanderthals,
  • the wide geography of Neanderthals,
  • how archaeologists work today to discern Neanderthal lives and minds,
  • Neanderthal DNA and what we have learned from it,
  • Neanderthal bodies,
  • Neanderthal brains and minds,
  • Neanderthal tools and what they tell us about their lives,
  • Neanderthal hunting/caloric needs,
  • Neanderthal art,
  • Neanderthal sex and love and social lives,
  • Neanderthal death, burial, afterlife beliefs, and possible religious beliefs, and
  • extinction: what happened to the Neanderthals?

Rebecca Wragg Sykes has been fascinated by the vanished worlds of the Pleistocene ice ages since childhood, and followed this interest through a career researching the most enigmatic characters of all, the Neanderthals. After a Ph.D. on the last Neanderthals living in Britain, she worked in France at the world-famous PACEA laboratory, Université de Bordeaux, on topics ranging from Neanderthal landscapes and territories in the Massif Central region of south-east France, to examining how they were the first ancient humans to produce a synthetic material and tools made of multiple parts. Alongside her academic activities, she has also earned a reputation for exceptional public engagement. The public can follow her research through a personal blog and Twitter account, and she frequently writes for the popular media, including the Scientific American and Guardian science blogs. Becky is passionate about sharing the privileged access scientists have to fascinating discoveries about the Neanderthals. She is also co-founder of the influential Trowelblazers project, which highlights women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists through innovative outreach and collaboration.

Oct 27, 2020
BONUS: James Randi—A Report from the Paranormal Trenches (1992)
01:32:42

This classic lecture on skepticism was given by James Randi on March 22, 1992 at the inaugural session of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015). The transcript for this lecture appeared in Skeptic magazine 1.1 (1992).

James Randi presents an amazing first-hand analysis of astonishing claims encountered in his European visit. New-found freedoms stimulate rampant pseudoscientific practices in eastern bloc nations. With wit and wonderfully illustrative examples, Randi teaches us several lessons on the scientific investigation of unusual claims.

Famed magician and investigator of paranormal claims, Randi is best selling author of The Faith Healers and Flim Flam! Randi was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Grant for his investigation of faith healers.

Oct 25, 2020
139. Shelby Steele — Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country & the film What Killed Michael Brown?
01:38:08

The United States today is hopelessly polarized; the political Right and Left have hardened into rigid and deeply antagonistic camps, preventing any sort of progress. Amid the bickering and inertia, the promise of the 1960s—when we came together as a nation to fight for equality and universal justice—remains unfulfilled.

As Shelby Steele reveals in Shame, the roots of this impasse can be traced back to that decade of protest, when in the act of uncovering and dismantling our national hypocrisies—racism, sexism, militarism—liberals internalized the idea that there was something inauthentic, if not evil, in the America character. Since then, liberalism has been wholly concerned with redeeming modern America from the sins of the past, and has derived its political legitimacy from the premise of a morally bankrupt America. The result has been a half-century of well-intentioned but ineffective social programs, such as Affirmative Action. Steele reveals that not only have these programs failed, but they have in almost every case actively harmed America’s minorities and poor. Ultimately, Steele argues, post-60s liberalism has utterly failed to achieve its stated aim: true equality. Liberals, intending to atone for our past sins, have ironically perpetuated the exploitation of this country’s least fortunate citizens. Approaching political polarization from a wholly new perspective, Steele offers a rigorous critique of the failures of liberalism and a cogent argument for the relevance and power of conservatism.

Shermer and Steele discuss:

  • 30th anniversary of his book The Content of Our Character, and what has changed in race relations in America in those 30 years?
  • Steele’s response to President Johnson’s famous quote:

    “Freedom is not enough. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him; bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
  • why “The promised land guarantees nothing. It is only an opportunity, not a deliverance.”,
  • literal truths vs. poetic truths and power:

    “What actually happened was that liberalism turned to poetic truth when America’s past sins were no longer literally true enough to support liberal policies and the liberal claim on power. The poetic truth of black victimization seeks to compensate for America’s moral evolution. It tries to keep alive the justification for liberal power even as that justification has been greatly nullified by America’s moral development.”

     

  • political correctness is the enforcement arm of poetic truth,
  • black families & fatherless homes,
  • white guilt,
  • race fatigue,
  • reparations,
  • anti-racism,
  • achievement gap,
  • Princeton racism letter,
  • race and IQ,
  • SAT tests,
  • BLM and the nuclear family,
  • training and sensitivity programs.

Shermer and Steele also discuss his new film, produced with his son Eli Steele, titled What Killed Michael Brown?

Steele:

“We human beings never use race except as a means to power. Race is never an end. It is always a means, and it has no role in human affairs except as a corruption.”

“America’s original sin is not slavery. It is simply the use of race as a means to power. Whether for good or ill, race is a corruption. Always. And it always turns one group into the convenience of another group.”

“Liberalism’s great sin was to steal responsibility for black problems away from black people, leaving them vulnerable to destructive social forces, such as the drug epidemic of the 70s and 80s. It was the suffering of blacks that justified liberalism’s demand for power, but this only relegates blacks to permanent victimhood and alienates them from the power to uplift themselves.”

Shelby Steele is the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Winner of the Bradley Prize and a National Humanities Medal and the author of the National Book Critics Circle award-winning The Content of Our Character, Steele lives in the Central Coast of California.

Oct 20, 2020
138. Douglas Murray — The Madness of 2020
01:12:07

In this special episode of the Science Salon Podcast, Michael Shermer catches up with Douglas Murray one year after the publication of his bestselling book The Madness of Crowds, which was featured in Science Salon # 87 in October 2019. Murray’s book is now out in paperback with an Afterword update on all that has happened the past year, one of the most momentous in living memory. Shermer and Murray discuss:

  • why he wasn’t “cancelled” after The Madness of Crowds was published and became a bestseller,
  • what people should do if they’re cancelled, shamed, mobbed, or accused of being racist, misogynist, transphobic, or bigoted and they know they’re not,
  • how to fight back against wokeness, political correctness, and identity politics,
  • updates on the featured topics in The Madness of Crowds: gay, women, race, trans,
  • J.K. Rowling and “people who menstruate” (if only there was a single word for that phrase),
  • statues and why some people want them taken down (Lord Nelson may be next…find out why),
  • why leftists think everyone (except them) are racists and why they’re really making these accusations,
  • why we should be suspect of the motives of social justice warriors (who are anti-social, against justice, and not warriors),
  • Michael Brown, George Floyd, and police violence,
  • white fragility, white guilt, BLM, and anti-racism,
  • corporate sensitivity training programs and why they’re really being conducted,
  • what could happen after the 2020 election, depending on who wins, and
  • comparing 2020 to 1968, and what the future holds for Western culture.

In The Madness of Crowds Douglas Murray investigates the dangers of “woke” culture and the rise of identity politics. In lively, razor-sharp prose he examines the most controversial issues of our moment: sexuality, gender, technology and race, with interludes on the Marxist foundations of “wokeness”, the impact of tech and how, in an increasingly online culture, we must relearn the ability to forgive. One of the few writers who dares to counter the prevailing view and question the dramatic changes in our society — from gender reassignment for children to the impact of transgender rights on women — Murray’s penetrating book clears a path of sanity through the fog of our modern predicament.

Douglas Murray is a regular columnist for both the Spectator and Standpoint and writes frequently for a variety of other publications, including the Sunday Times and Wall Street Journal. A prolific debater, Douglas has spoken on a variety of prominent platforms, including at the British and European Parliaments and the White House.

Oct 16, 2020
137. Marta Zaraska — Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism, and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100
01:34:18

From the day her daughter was born, science journalist Marta Zaraska fretted about what she and her family were eating. She fasted, considered adopting the keto diet, and ran a half-marathon. She bought goji berries and chia seeds and ate organic food. But then her research brought her to read countless scientific papers and to interview dozens of experts in various fields of study, including molecular biochemistry, epidemiology and neuroscience. What Marta discovered shattered her long-held beliefs about aging and longevity. A strong support network of family and friends, she learned, lowers mortality risk by about 45 percent, while exercise only lowers it by about 23 percent. Volunteering your free time lowers it by 22 percent or so, while certain health fads like turmeric haven’t been shown to help at all. These revelations led Marta Zaraska to a simple conclusion: In addition to healthy nutrition and physical activity, deepening friendships, practicing empathy and contemplating your purpose in life can improve your lifespan. Shermer and Zaraska also discuss:

  • diet, nutrition, and supplements: what works, what doesn’t, and what about meat?
  • exercise: how much, what type, and when?
  • the causal mechanisms behind how relationships and marriage effect health,
  • how friendships and community affect longevity,
  • how religion makes people healthier and longer lived,
  • why we need others and why handshakes and hugs will return after COVID-19,
  • the harmful effects of loneliness and isolation,
  • the deleterious effects of stress, and
  • how leading a purposeful and meaningful life leads to longevity.

Marta Zaraska is a Canadian-Polish science journalist. She has written about nutrition and psychology for the Washington Post, Scientific American, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, New Scientist, and several other publications. She is the author of Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat (Basic Books, 2016), which has been translated into Japanese, Korean, simplified Chinese, Spanish and Polish, and chosen by the journal Nature as one of “the best science picks” in March 2016. Meathookedhas also been praised in The Wall Street Journal, Discover Magazine, Time, The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, Natural History Magazine, etc. She has also contributed a chapter to the recently published The Reducetarian Solution (TarcherPerigee, 2017) alongside Mark Bittman, Michael Shermer, and Peter Singer.

Oct 13, 2020
136. Gad Saad — The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense
01:37:04

There’s a war against truth and if we don’t win it, intellectual freedom will be a casualty. The West’s commitment to freedom, reason, and true liberalism has never been more seriously threatened than it is today by the stifling forces of political correctness. Dr. Gad Saad exposes the bad ideas—what he calls “idea pathogens”—that are killing common sense and rational debate. Incubated in our universities and spread through the tyranny of political correctness, these ideas are endangering our most basic freedoms—including freedom of thought and speech.

The danger is grave, but as Dr. Saad shows, politically correct dogma is riddled with logical fallacies. We have powerful weapons to fight back with—if we have the courage to use them. A provocative guide to defending reason and intellectual freedom and a battle cry for the preservation of our fundamental rights, The Parasitic Mind will be the most controversial and talked-about book of the year. Shermer and Saad discuss:

  • which idea pathogens are the most dangerous,
  • the analogy between biological and ideological parasites,
  • the origin of political correctness and how it was corrupted,
  • identity politics and how it perpetrates bigotry, racism, and misogyny,
  • the psychology of victimhood status (why would anyone want to be a victim?),
  • virtue signaling and why it isn’t virtuous,
  • why social justice is injustice,
  • social justice warriors as sneaky fuckers,
  • the corruption of postmodernism, which began as a form of rational skepticism,
  • Islamophobia,
  • diversity, inclusion and equity,
  • safe spaces, microaggressions, trigger warnings,
  • What is liberalism, anyway?
  • the paradox of tolerance,
  • the dual search for freedom and truth,
  • free speech as the foundation of all other rights,
  • Ostrich Parasitic Syndrome,
  • Collective Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy,
  • nomological networks of cumulative evidence in the quest for truth, and
  • how big a problem are we really facing?

Gad Saad, Ph.D. (Montreal, Canada), host of the popular YouTube show The Saad Truth and blogger for Psychology Today, is a professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University. He holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption and is the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, plus numerous scientific papers.

Oct 06, 2020
135. Paul Halpern — Synchronicity: The Epic Quest to Understand the Quantum Nature of Cause and Effect
01:17:13

Does the universe have a speed limit? If not, some effects could happen at the same instant as the actions that caused them — and some effects, ludicrously, might even happen before their causes. By one hundred years ago, it seemed clear that the speed of light was the fastest possible speed. Causality was safe. And then quantum mechanics happened, introducing spooky connections that seemed to circumvent the law of cause and effect. Inspired by the new physics, psychologist Carl Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli explored a concept called synchronicity, a weird phenomenon they thought could link events without causes. Synchronicity tells that sprawling tale of insight and creativity, and asks where these ideas — some plain crazy, and others crazy powerful — are taking the human story next. Shermer and Halpern discuss:

  • Model-Dependent Realism, the idea from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow that our understanding of nature depends on the model we apply to it, and that we cannot define science as an asymptotic curve toward Truth,
  • from Newton to Einstein to Quantum Physics,
  • Platonic ideals/idealism,
  • Is the universe mathematical?
  • Where/what are “laws of nature”?
  • What is gravity?
  • What is causality and how is it determined?
  • quantum entanglement and what it says about our understanding of causality,
  • Bell’s inequality,
  • backward causality,
  • Hume’s “constant conjunction” definition of causality and it’s limitations,
  • Hume’s “counterfactual” theory of causality,
  • Bogus mechanisms of causality: impetus, ether, energy fields, ESP,
  • The friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung,
  • Jungian archetypes and how scientists think about them,
  • God, religion, and spirituality.

Paul Halpern is a professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and the author of sixteen popular science books, including The Quantum Labyrinth and Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and is a fellow of the American Physical Society. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sep 29, 2020
134. Joe Henrich — The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
01:23:06

WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.

Unlike much of the world today, and most people who have ever lived, WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. They focus on themselves — their attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations — over their relationships and social roles. How did WEIRD populations become so psychologically distinct? What role did these psychological differences play in the industrial revolution and the global expansion of Europe during the last few centuries? To answer these questions Joseph Henrich draws on anthropology, psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology. He illuminates the origins and evolution of family structures, marriage, and religion, and the profound impact these cultural transformations had on human psychology. Mapping these shifts through ancient history and late antiquity, Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church. It was these changes that gave rise to the WEIRD psychology that would coevolve with impersonal markets, occupational specialization, and free competition — laying the foundation for the modern world. Shermer and Henrich discuss:

  • psychology textbooks that “now purport to be about ‘Psychology’ or ‘Social Psychology’ need to be retitled something like ‘The Cultural Psychology of Late 20th Century Americans’,”
  • Darwin’s Dictum: “How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observations must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service.” What views Henrich is writing for and against,
  • evolutionary psychology and the search for human universals in the context of his thesis that WEIRD cultures are so different,
  • Max Weber’s book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and how his thesis holds up under modern studies,
  • a 2×2 grid analysis of his thesis (what about the exceptions?):
    • Cell 1: Catholic/Protestant Influence + WEIRD characteristics
    • Cell 2: Catholic/Protestant Influence + non-WEIRD characteristics
    • Cell 3: Non-Catholic/Protestant Influence + WEIRD characteristics
    • Cell 4: Non-Catholic/Protestant Influence + non-WEIRD characteristics
  • the problem of overdetermining the past (so many theories explaining history: Jared Diamond’s geographic models, Ian Morris’ War: What is it Good For?, Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (ideas having sex), Robin Dunbar’s Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, economic historian Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms, Benjamin Friedman’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success,
  • normative vs. descriptive accounts of human behavior
  • polygamy vs. monogamy,
  • 1st cousin marriages?
  • conformity, shame and guilt, illusions, loss aversion, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, superstitions,
  • religion doesn’t have to be true to be useful,
  • national differences in cultural psychology (for example: Italy a loose culture, Germany a tight culture),
  • origin of writing and literacy rates,
  • origin of religion and its purpose(s),
  • the “Big Gods” theory of religion’s origin,
  • the purpose of religious rituals and food taboos,
  • families and kin, kin selection, group selection,
  • meaning and happiness in non-WEIRD cultures,
  • “Then you get Westerners who are like ‘I’m an individual ape on a pale blue dot in the middle of a giant black space” and “What does it all mean?’”,
  • physical differences: “WEIRD people have flat feet, impoverished microbiomes, high rates of myopia and unnaturally low levels of exposure to parasites like helminths, which may increase their risk of heart disease and allergies.”, and
  • When we colonize Mars and become a spacefaring species, what should we take with us from what we’ve learned about human history and psychology?

Joseph Henrich is an anthropologist and the author of The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, among other books. He is the chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, where his research focuses on evolutionary approaches to psychology, decision-making, and culture.

Sep 22, 2020
133. Michael E. McCullough — The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented a New Moral Code
01:55:56

In this sweeping psychological history of human goodness — from the foundations of evolution to the modern political and social challenges humanity is now facing — psychologist Michael McCullough answers a fundamental question: How did humans, a species of self-centered apes, come to care about others?Ever since Darwin, scientists have tried to answer this question using evolutionary theory. McCullough shows why they have failed and offers a new explanation instead. From the moment nomadic humans first settled down until the aftermath of the Second World War, our species has confronted repeated crises that we could only survive by changing our behavior. As McCullough argues, these choices weren’t enabled by an evolved moral sense, but with moral invention — driven not by evolution’s dictates but by reason. Today’s challenges — climate change, mass migration, nationalism — are some of humanity’s greatest yet. In revealing how past crises shaped the foundations of human concern, McCullough offers clues for how we can adapt our moral thinking to survive these challenges as well. Shermer and McCullough also discuss:

  • Darwin’s Dictum: All observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service.
  • the problem to solve: why are people kind to strangers (i.e., origins of empathy, altruism, and kindness)?
  • why we don’t need “divine command” theory to explain real morality, which can be derived through evolutionary theory plus philosophical ethical systems,
  • evolutionary “by-product” theory: when we help strangers in the modern world we are following ancient rules of thumb that worked well enough in a world in which meeting someone for the first time was a reasonably good indicator that you’d meet them again,
  • Frans deWaal and the “thin veneer” theory of human morality and civilization he thinks Dawkins holds, and why our morals are a thick veneer on our evolved nature,
  • Peter Singer’s expanding circle,
  • Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process and his etiquette books advisories,
  • why stranger-adaptation and blessed-mistake theories are too simplistic,
  • a brief overview of the past 10,000 years of moral progress,
  • our evolved human instincts: (1) our social instincts for helping others in hopes of receiving help in return, (2) our instinct for helping others in pursuit of glory, (3) our ability to track incentives, and (4) our capacity for reason,
  • the 7 Ages of human history: Age of Orphans, Age of Compassion, Age of Prevention, First Poverty Enlightenment, Humanitarian Big Bang, Second Poverty Enlightenment, Age of Impact, and
  • the end of poverty, UBI, and other social tools for creating a more just society of strangers.

Michael McCullough is a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego. The winner of numerous distinctions for his research and writing, he is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He lives in La Jolla, California.

Sep 15, 2020
132. Leonard Mlodinow — Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics
01:27:56

One of the most influential physicists of our time, Stephen Hawking touched the lives of millions. Recalling his nearly two decades as Hawking’s collaborator and friend, Leonard Mlodinow brings this complex man into focus in a unique and deeply personal portrayal. We meet Hawking the genius, who employed his mind to uncover the mysteries of the universe — ultimately formulating a pathbreaking theory of black holes that reignited the discipline of cosmology and paved the way for physicists to investigate the origins of the universe in completely new ways. We meet Hawking the colleague, a man whose illness leaves him able to communicate at only six words per minute but who expends the effort to punctuate his conversations with humor. And we meet Hawking the friend, who could convey volumes with a frown, a smile, or simply a raised eyebrow. Modinow puts us in the room as Hawking indulges his passion for wine and curry; shares his feelings on love, death, and disability; and grapples with deep questions of philosophy and physics. This deeply affecting account of a friendship teaches us not just about the nature and practice of physics but also about life and the human capacity to overcome daunting obstacles. Shermer and Mlodinow discuss:

  • what it was like working with Stephen Hawking,
  • what Stephen Hawking was like as a person and personality,
  • Hawking’s place in the pantheon of great physicists in the history of science,
  • Hawking’s major contributions to physics,
  • What is grand about the grand design of the universe?
  • model dependent realism and the philosophy of science,
  • Can we ever know reality?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • What caused the Big Bang to bang?
  • What there was before time began?
  • Why does the universe look fine-tuned and designed?
  • Is the universe itself a giant black hole?
  • Did the universe begin in a singularity?
  • Hawking’s beliefs about God and why the concept isn’t necessary to explain the universe.

Leonard Mlodinow received his PhD 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 The Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time (coauthored with Stephen Hawking), Subliminal (winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award), and War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra), as well as Elastic, Euclid’s Window, Feynman’s Rainbow, and The Upright Thinkers.

Sep 08, 2020
131. Stuart Ritchie — Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth
01:40:47

Science is how we understand the world. Yet failures in peer review and mistakes in statistics have rendered a shocking number of scientific studies useless — or, worse, badly misleading. Such errors have distorted our knowledge in fields as wide-ranging as medicine, physics, nutrition, education, genetics, economics, and the search for extraterrestrial life. As Science Fictions makes clear, the current system of research funding and publication not only fails to safeguard us from blunders but actively encourages bad science — with sometimes deadly consequences. Yet Science Fictions is far from a counsel of despair. Rather, it’s a defense of the scientific method against the pressures and perverse incentives that lead scientists to bend the rules. By illustrating the many ways that scientists go wrong, Ritchie gives us the knowledge we need to spot dubious research and points the way to reforms that could make science trustworthy once again. Shermer and Ritchie also discuss:

  • why we need to get science right because science deniers will pounce on such fraud, bias, negligence, and hype in science,
  • Daryl Bem’s ESP research and what was wrong with it,
  • “psychological priming” and the problem of replication,
  • sleep research and the problems in Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep,
  • Amy Cuddy and the problem with “Power Posture” research,
  • Andrew Wakefield and the biggest fraud in the history of science linking vaccines & autism,
  • diet and nutrition research and the complication of linking saturated fats, unsaturated fats, cholesterol, and heart disease,
  • Phil Zimbardo‘s Stanford Prison Experiment,
  • Samuel Morton’s skulls showing racial differences in head size, Steve Gould’s critique, the critique of Gould, and the critique of the critics of Gould,
  • self-plagiarism,
  • p values / p hacking
  • the Schizophrenia/amaloid cascade hypothesis and why it has been hard to prove,
  • the file-drawer problem,
  • how to detect fraud, and
  • Terror Management Theory and why it is almost certainly wrong.

Stuart Ritchie is a lecturer in the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King’s College London. His main research focus is human intelligence: how it relates to the brain, how much it’s affected by genetics, and how much it can be improved by factors such as education. He is a noted supporter of the Open Science movement, and has worked on tools to reform scientific practice and help scientists become more transparent when reporting their results.

Sep 01, 2020
130. Debra Soh — The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths About Sex and Identity in Our Society
01:46:32

Is our gender something we’re born with, or are we conditioned by society? In The End of Gender, neuroscientist and sexologist Dr. Debra Soh uses a research-based approach to address this hot-button topic, unmasking popular misconceptions about the nature vs. nurture debate and exploring what it means to be a woman or a man in today’s society. Shermer and Soh discuss:

  • If you are transitioning to a different gender, but the word “gender” is largely meaningless biologically, then what are you transitioning to and what is the point of hormone therapy and surgery?
  • the 1990s push to find biological basis of homosexuality so it’s not a “lifestyle choice” and how this trend has been recently reversed,
  • the problem of putting ideology before science,
  • cognitive creationism on the left (evolution from the neck down),
  • why biology is not destiny,
  • cancel culture,
  • sex and gender,
  • percentages of the population of LGBTQ,
  • what you identify as vs. who you’re attracted to,
  • individual behavior vs. collective labels,
  • sexual orientation and gender identity,
  • gender neutral parenting,
  • gender dysphoria,
  • men and women dating,
  • trans bathrooms, prisons, and sports.

Dr. Debra Soh is a neuroscientist who specializes in gender, sex, and sexual orientation. She received her doctorate from York University in Toronto and worked as an academic researcher for eleven years. Her writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Harper’s Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, Playboy, Quillette, and many other publications. Her research has been published in academic journals including the Archives of Sexual Behavior and Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. As a journalist, Soh writes about the science and politics of human sexuality and gender, free speech, and censorship in academia. She lives in Toronto and divides her time between New York and Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @DrDebraSoh and visit her website at DrDebraSoh.com.

Aug 25, 2020
129. Mona Sue Weissmark — The Science of Diversity
01:58:29

The Science of Diversity uses a multidisciplinary approach to excavate the theories, principles, and paradigms that illuminate our understanding of the issues surrounding human diversity, social equality, and justice. The book brings these to the surface holistically, examining diversity at the individual, interpersonal, and international levels. Shedding light on why diversity programs fail, the book provides tools to understand how biases develop and influence our relationships and interactions with others. Shermer and Weissmark also discuss:

  • What is diversity and how do we understand it?
  • How is diversity related to people’s perceptions of fairness and justice?
  • Does respect for diversity promote peace and positive change?
  • psychology and neuroscience of classification/stereotyping,
  • Freudianism to behaviorism to cognitive science to post-cognitive science,
  • the self, consciousness, ai, and free will in the context of a science of diversity,
  • revenge and justice,
  • Israel and Palestine,
  • nationalism: ethnic and civic,
  • just-world theory of inequality,
  • intergenerational justice and reparations,
  • BLM and reparations, and
  • the future after 2020.

Mona Sue Weissmark is an American clinical psychologist and social psychologist, researcher, and author whose work on diversity and justice has received global recognition. She is best known for her groundbreaking social experiment of bringing children of Holocaust survivors face-to-face with children of Nazis, and later, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of African American slaves with descendants of slave owners. She is also a professor of psychology and author of numerous journal articles and the books: Doing Psychotherapy Effectively (University of Chicago Press); Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II (Oxford University Press); The Science of Diversity (Oxford University Press).

Aug 18, 2020
128. Michael Shellenberger — Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All
01:32:33

Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world’s last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today’s Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions. But in 2019, as some claimed “billions of people are going to die,” contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction. His conclusion: “Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world. It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas. Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions. Shermer and Shellenberger also discuss:

  • what’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism,
  • the powerful financial interests in environmentalism,
  • the desire for status and power among environmentalists, along with the all-too human propensity to moralize and tell other people what to do,
  • Shellenberger’s hypothesis that environmentalism is a faux religion primarily followed by secular people searching for transcendence,
  • Environmental Humanism as a replacement worldview,
  • the problems and shortcomings of climate computer models,
  • how much warmer it’s going to get and what the consequences of that warming will be, and what we do about it? (hint: nuclear),
  • myths about nuclear power and why people fear it,
  • renewables, solar, wind, geothermal, and why they are not nearly as efficient as nuclear,
  • the Amazon: Are the Earth’s lungs burning?
  • plastic straws, recycling, electric cars, and other things,
  • Are we in a Sixth Extinction?
  • How have sweatshops saved the planet?
  • How have technology and capitalism saved the whales?
  • meat eating, Temple Grandin, and happy farms vs. factory farms,
  • the myth of natural: what is natural is good, non-natural is bad,
  • why environmentalism is the dominant secular religion of the educated, upper-middle-class elite in the most developed nations, with good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, and
  • Environmentalism as Calvinism — Richard Rhodes: “In the sense that the world is an evil place and it would be better if it were destroyed and turned back over to the natural kingdom.”

Michael Shellenberger is a Time magazine “Hero of the Environment”; the winner of the 2008 Green Book Award from the Stevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Science Writings; and an invited expert reviewer of the next Assessment Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He has written on energy and the environment for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Nature Energy, and other publications for two decades. He is the founder and president of Environmental Progress, an independent, nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley, California.

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Aug 11, 2020
127. William Perry and Tom Collina — The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump
51:03

From authors William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and Tom Z. Collina, the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC, The Buttonrecounts the terrifying history of nuclear launch authority, from the faulty 46-cent microchip that nearly caused World War III to President Trump’s tweet about his “much bigger & more powerful” button. Perry and Collina share their firsthand experience on the front lines of the nation’s nuclear history and provide illuminating interviews with former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Congressman Adam Smith, Nobel Peace Prize winner Beatrice Fihn, senior Obama administration officials, and many others. Shermer, Perry and Collina also discuss:

  • even if Trump loses the 2020 election and we have President Biden, real risks of nuclear catastrophe exist because of the system, not the person,
  • why the Iran deal was a good one to keep that country from developing nukes,
  • how to deal with North Korea and Perry’s experience with the Kim dynasty,
  • why the Russians are rational actors who do not want nuclear war,
  • terrorists and the possibility of them getting a nuke,
  • why we must eliminate Launch on Warning and First Strikepolicies,
  • what is in “the football” seen held by men constantly trailing the President?
  • Stanislav Petrov: the man who saved the world, and what this story tells us about the precariousness of our current system,
  • game theory, the logic of deterrence, and how to get around it,
  • why nuclear weapons were not inevitable, and
  • changing the taboo from not using nuclear weapons to not owning them.

William J. Perry served as Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and then as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, and has advised presidents all through the Obama administration. He oversaw the development of major nuclear weapons systems, such as the MX missile, the Trident submarine and the Stealth Bomber. His new “offset strategy” ushered in the age of stealth, smart weapons, GPS, and technologies that changed the face of modern warfare. His vision now, as founder of the William J. Perry Project, is a world free from nuclear weapons.

Tom Z. Collina is the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC. He has 30 years of nuclear weapons policy experience and has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was closely involved with successful efforts to end U.S. nuclear testing in 1992, extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, ratify the New START Treaty in 2010, and enact the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Collina has published hundreds of articles, op-eds, and reports and appears frequently in major media.

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Aug 04, 2020
126. Sarah Scoles — They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers
01:26:48

More than half a century since Roswell, UFOs have been making headlines once again. On December 17, 2017, the New York Times ran a front-page story about an approximately five-year Pentagon program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The article hinted, and its sources clearly said in subsequent television interviews, that some of the ships in question couldn’t be linked to any country. The implication, of course, was that they might be linked to other solar systems. The UFO community—those who had been thinking about, seeing, and analyzing supposed flying saucers (or triangles or chevrons) for years—was surprisingly skeptical of the revelation. Their incredulity and doubt rippled across the internet. Many of the people most invested in UFO reality weren’t really buying it. And as Scoles did her own digging, she ventured to dark, conspiracy-filled corners of the internet, to a former paranormal research center in Utah, and to the hallways of the Pentagon.

In They Are Already Here we meet the bigwigs, the scrappy upstarts, the field investigators, the rational people, and the unhinged kooks of this sprawling community. How do they interact with each other? How do they interact with “anomalous phenomena”? And how do they (as any group must) reflect the politics and culture of the larger world around them? Funny and colorful, and told in a way that doesn’t require one to believe, Scoles brings humanity to an often derided and misunderstood community. Scoles and Shermer discuss:

  • who the “they” are in her title,
  • comparing the UFO community to that of SETI scientists, whom she wrote about in her previous book, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence?
  • what it was like engaging UFOlogists at conferences,
  • her answer to the Fermi paradox: where is everyone?
  • what it means to “believe” in UFOs vs. ETIs,
  • Project Saucer, Project Sign, Project Grudge, Project Bluebook,
  • Robert Bigelow, Tom DeLonge, and the To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science,
  • the most probable explanation for the USS Nimitz UFO videos,
  • Kenneth Arnold, Roswell, Area 51, and modern myth making,
  • Scoles’ Mormon background and how she lost her religion, and
  • what we will replace religion with in the future.

Sarah Scoles is a science writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, Smithsonian, The Washington Post, Scientific American, Popular Science, Discover, New Scientist, Aeon, and Wired. A former editor at Astronomy magazine, Scoles worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the location of the first-ever SETI project. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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Jul 28, 2020
125. Bjorn Lomborg — False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet
01:22:44

Hurricanes batter our coasts. Wildfires rage across the American West. Glaciers collapse in the Artic. Politicians, activists, and the media espouse a common message: climate change is destroying the planet, and we must take drastic action immediately to stop it. Children panic about their future, and adults wonder if it is even ethical to bring new life into the world.

Enough, argues bestselling author Bjorn Lomborg. Climate change is real, but it’s not the apocalyptic threat that we’ve been told it is. Projections of Earth’s imminent demise are based on bad science and even worse economics. In panic, world leaders have committed to wildly expensive but largely ineffective policies that hamper growth and crowd out more pressing investments in human capital, from immunization to education.

False Alarm will convince you that everything you think about climate change is wrong — and points the way toward making the world a vastly better, if slightly warmer, place for us all.

In this wide-ranging conversation Shermer and Lomborg discuss:

  • Is the planet warming?
  • What is the cause of the warming?
  • How much warmer is it going to get?
  • What will the consequences of the warming be?
  • What should we do about it?
  • How the public discussion/debate over climate has changed in the past 20 years since Lomborg wrote The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World
  • Precautionary Principle: should we do something “just in case”?
  • What about other existential threats: AI apocalypse, nuclear weapons, pandemics? and
  • Why climate is such a hard problem.

The claims:

  • timeline: we have a decade to solve the problem … or else
  • droughts, floods, hurricanes, and extreme weather
  • deforestation/reforestation
  • polar bears/the 6th Extinction, and
  • AOC/Greta Thunberg/Al Gore.

Non-Solutions:

  • individual action,
  • why the Green Revolution isn’t here yet,
  • why the Paris Agreement is failing,
  • how climate policy hurts the poor, and
  • reducing greenhouse gases.

Rational Solutions:

  • carbon tax: a market-based solution,
  • innovation,
  • adaptation,
  • geoengineering, and
  • prosperity.

Bjorn Lomborg is the best-selling author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It. He is a visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School and at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His work appears regularly in New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the Atlantic, and Forbes. His monthly column appears in around 40 papers in 19 languages, with more than 30 million readers. In 2011 and 2012, Lomborg was named Top 100 Global Thinker by Foreign Policy. In 2008 he was named “one of the 50 people who could save the planet” by the Guardian. He lives in Prague.

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Jul 21, 2020
124. David J. Halperin — Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO
01:43:58

UFOs are a myth, says David J. Halperin — but myths are real. The power and fascination of the UFO has nothing to do with space travel or life on other planets. It’s about us, our longings and terrors, and especially the greatest terror of all: the end of our existence. This is a book about UFOs that goes beyond believing in them or debunking them and to a fresh understanding of what they tell us about ourselves as individuals, as a culture, and as a species.

In the 1960s, Halperin was a teenage UFOlogist, convinced that flying saucers were real and that it was his life’s mission to solve their mystery. He would become a professor of religious studies, with traditions of heavenly journeys his specialty. With Intimate Alien, he looks back to explore what UFOs once meant to him as a boy growing up in a home haunted by death and what they still mean for millions, believers and deniers alike.

From the prehistoric Balkans to the deserts of New Mexico, from the biblical visions of Ezekiel to modern abduction encounters, Intimate Alien traces the hidden story of the UFO. It’s a human story from beginning to end, no less mysterious and fantastic for its earthliness. A collective cultural dream, UFOs transport us to the outer limits of that most alien yet intimate frontier, our own inner space. Shermer and Halperin discuss:

  • What is religion and what role does it play in peoples’ lives?
  • What is myth and what role does it play in peoples’ lives?
  • what Carl Jung believed about UFOs and why,
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still film as a Christ Allegory,
  • why he’s an atheist but fascinated by the power of religion,
  • why he’s a UFO skeptic but compelled by the power of alien beliefs,
  • the origin of alien eyes,
  • the origin of alien abductions,
  • the true meaning of the Roswell incident,
  • John Lennon’s UFO experience,
  • Will religion fall into disuse with the rise of the nones?, and
  • the future of religion in a post-COVID-19 world.

David J. Halperin taught Jewish studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, until his retirement in 2000. He has published five nonfiction books on Jewish mysticism and messianism, as well as the coming-of-age novel Journal of a UFO Investigator: A Novel (2011). He blogs about UFOs, religion, and related subjects at www.davidhalperin.net.

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Jul 14, 2020
123. Gerald Posner — Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America
01:37:05

Pharmaceutical breakthroughs such as antibiotics and vaccines rank among some of the greatest advancements in human history. Yet exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs, safety recalls affecting tens of millions of Americans, and soaring rates of addiction and overdose on prescription opioids have caused many to lose faith in drug companies. Now, Americans are demanding a national reckoning with a monolithic industry. Pharma introduces brilliant scientists, incorruptible government regulators, and brave whistleblowers facing off against company executives often blinded by greed. A business that profits from treating ills can create far deadlier problems than it cures. Addictive products are part of the industry’s DNA, from the days when corner drugstores sold morphine, heroin, and cocaine, to the past two decades of dangerously overprescribed opioids. Pharma also uncovers the real story of the Sacklers, the family that became one of America’s wealthiest from the success of OxyContin, their blockbuster narcotic painkiller at the center of the opioid crisis. Pharma reveals how and why American drug companies have put earnings ahead of patients. Shermer and Posner also discuss:

  • how Big Pharma companies conspire to hack the FDA regulations,
  • parsing responsibility for the Opioid crisis between manufacturers, distributors, doctors, and patients,
  • the physiology of addiction and dependency,
  • how Arthur Sackler went from liberal do-gooder to greedy capitalist,
  • the polio vaccine and patenting the sun,
  • how valium and anti-depressants were marketed to men and women differently,
  • how the AIDS cocktail was developed,
  • how Viagra® was discovered,
  • why patents and intellectual property rights do not lead to more innovation,
  • the prospects for a COVID-19 vaccine,
  • the current state of the opioid crisis and how to stem it.

Gerald Posner is an award-winning journalist who has written twelve books, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK and multiple national bestsellers. His 2015 book, God’s Bankers, a two-hundred-year history of the finances of the Vatican, was an acclaimed New York Timesbestseller. Posner has written for many national magazines and papers, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, and Time, and he has been a regular contributor to NBC, the History Channel, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and FOX News. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, author Trisha Posner.

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Jul 07, 2020
122. Walter Scheidel — Escape from Rome: The Failure of the Empire and the Road to Prosperity
01:13:34

What has the Roman Empire ever done for us? Fall and go away. That is the striking conclusion of historian Walter Scheidel as he recounts the gripping story of how the end of the Roman Empire was the beginning of the modern world. The fall of the Roman Empire has long been considered one of the greatest disasters in history but Scheidel argues that Rome’s dramatic collapse was actually the best thing that ever happened, clearing the path for Europe’s economic rise and the creation of the modern age. Shermer and Scheidel range across the entire premodern world and up to the present, discussing:

  • Why did the Roman Empire appear?
  • Why did nothing like it ever return to Europe?
  • Why did Europeans come to dominate the world?
  • the rich diversity of Europe that encouraged political, economic, scientific, and technological breakthroughs
  • why other parts of the world lagged behind
  • how empires are built and why they fail
  • America as an empire.
  • income inequality and the only forces that change it significantly
  • the future of human civilization.

Dr. Walter Scheidel is an Austrian historian who teaches ancient history at Stanford University. His main research interests are ancient social and economic history, pre-modern historical demography, and comparative and transdisciplinary approaches to world history. He is the author of The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century, On Human Bondage: After Slavery and Social Death, The Science of Roman History: Biology, Climate and the Future of the Past, The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy, The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies, and Rome, China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, and more.

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Jun 30, 2020
121. Maria Konnikova — The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win
01:19:02

It’s true that Maria Konnikova had never actually played poker before and didn’t even know the rules when she approached Erik Seidel, Poker Hall of Fame inductee and winner of tens of millions of dollars in earnings, and convinced him to be her mentor. But she knew her man: a famously thoughtful and broad-minded player, he was intrigued by her pitch that she wasn’t interested in making money so much as learning about life. She had faced a stretch of personal bad luck, and her reflections on the role of chance had led her to a giant of game theory, who pointed her to poker as the ultimate master class in learning to distinguish between what can be controlled and what can’t. And she certainly brought something to the table, including a PhD in psychology and an acclaimed and growing body of work on human behavior and how to hack it. So Seidel was in, and soon she was down the rabbit hole with him, into the wild, fiercely competitive, overwhelmingly masculine world of high-stakes Texas Hold’em, their initial end point the following year’s World Series of Poker.

But then something extraordinary happened. Under Seidel’s guidance, Konnikova did have many epiphanies about life that derived from her new pursuit, including how to better read, not just her opponents but far more importantly herself; how to identify what tilted her into an emotional state that got in the way of good decisions; and how to get to a place where she could accept luck for what it was, and what it wasn’t. But she also began to win. And win. In a little over a year, she began making earnest money from tournaments, ultimately totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. She won a major title, got a sponsor, and got used to being on television, and to headlines like “How one writer’s book deal turned her into a professional poker player.” In this wide-ranging conversation Konnikova and Shermer discuss:

  • the balance of luck, skill, intelligence and emotions in how lives turn out
  • the real meaning of the marshmallow test
  • time discounting and how to improve yours
  • rapid cognition and intuition
  • how to improve your use of emotions in gambling and in life
  • what it was like being a woman in an almost exclusively male game, and
  • the nature of human nature in the context of the BLM movement and protests.

Maria Konnikova is the author of Mastermind and The Confidence Game. She is a regular contributing writer for The New Yorker, and has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times, Slate, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, The Boston Globe, Scientific American, Wired, and Smithsonian, among many other publications. Her writing has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Excellence in Science Journalism Award from the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. While researching The Biggest Bluff, Maria became an international poker champion and the winner of over $300,000 in tournament earnings. Maria also hosts the podcast The Grift from Panoply Media and is currently a visiting fellow at NYU’s School of Journalism. Her podcasting work earned her a National Magazine Award nomination in 2019. Maria graduated from Harvard University and received her PhD in Psychology from Columbia University.

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Jun 23, 2020
120. Andrew Rader — Beyond the Known: How Exploration Created the Modern World and Will Take Us to the Stars
01:41:09

For the first time in history, the human species has the technology to destroy itself. But having developed that power, humans are also able to leave Earth and voyage into the vastness of space. After millions of years of evolution, we’ve arrived at the point where we can settle other worlds and begin the process of becoming multi-planetary. How did we get here? What does the future hold for us? Divided into four accessible sections, Beyond the Known examines major periods of discovery and rediscovery, from Classical Times, when Phoenicians, Persians and Greeks ventured forth; to The Age of European Exploration, which saw colonies sprout on nearly continent; to The Era of Scientific Inquiry, when researchers developed brand new tools for mapping and traveling farther; to Our Spacefaring Future, which unveils plans currently underway for settling other planets and, eventually, traveling to the stars.

A Mission Manager at SpaceX with a light, engaging voice, Andrew Rader is at the forefront of space exploration. As a gifted historian, Rader, who has won global acclaim for his stunning breadth of knowledge, is singularly positioned to reveal the story of human exploration that is also the story of scientific achievement. Told with an infectious zeal for traveling beyond the known, Beyond the Knownilluminates how very human it is to emerge from the cave and walk toward an infinitely expanding horizon. Rader and Shermer also discuss:

  • the human nature to explore: adaptation or spandrel?
  • what the Greeks and Romans knew about the world that was lost for centuries
  • how dark were the Dark Ages for exploration?
  • the economic and religious drivers of early exploration
  • the political and practical drivers of 20th century exploration
  • Mars direct or to the moon first?
  • how to terraform Mars
  • how to get people to the moons of the outer planets
  • how to get people to the stars
  • are we living in a simulation?
  • should we be worried about A.I.?

Andrew Rader is a Mission Manager at SpaceX. He holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from MIT specializing in long-duration spaceflight. In 2013, he won the Discovery Channel’s competitive television series Canada’s Greatest Know-It-All. He also co-hosts the weekly podcast Spellbound, which covers topics from science to economics to history and psychology. Beyond the Known is Rader’s first book for adults. You can find him at Andrew-Rader.com.

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Jun 16, 2020
119. Howard Bloom — Einstein, Michael Jackson, and Me: A Search for the Soul in the Power Pits of Rock and Roll
01:57:37

Howard Bloom — called “the greatest press agent that rock and roll has ever known” by Derek Sutton, the former manager of Styx, Ten Years After, and Jethro Tull — is a science nerd who knew nothing about popular music. But he founded the biggest PR firm in the music industry and helped build or sustain the careers of our biggest rock-and-roll legends, including Michael Jackson, Prince, Bob Marley, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Billy Idol, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Queen, Kiss, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run DMC, ZZ Top, Joan Jett, Chaka Khan, and one hundred more. What was he after? He was on a hunt for the gods inside of you and me. Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me is Bloom’s story — the strange tale of a scientific expedition into the dark underbelly of science and fame where new myths and movements are made. Shermer and Bloom also discuss:

  • What and where is God?
  • the search for God inside us all
  • how an atheist can search for the soul
  • conducting science in everyday life
  • music as an evolutionary adaptation or cheese cake spandrel
  • What makes some musicians successful and others not (hint: it’s more than 10,000 hours of practice)
  • what it was like woking with Prince, Billy Joel, Joan Jett, and others
  • Do female rock stars have as much sex with strange men as male rock stars have sex with strange women?
  • why Michael Jackson was a transcendent talent, the Mozart of our time.

Based in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Howard Bloom has been called “next in a lineage of seminal thinkers that includes Newton, Darwin, Einstein, [and] Freud” by Britain’s Channel 4 TV, and “the next Stephen Hawking” by Gear magazine. One of Bloom’s seven books, Global Brain, was the subject of an Office of the Secretary of Defense symposium with participants from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT.

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Jun 09, 2020
118. Stuart Russell — Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control
01:21:38

In the popular imagination, superhuman artificial intelligence is an approaching tidal wave that threatens not just jobs and human relationships, but civilization itself. Conflict between humans and machines is seen as inevitable and its outcome all too predictable. In this groundbreaking book, distinguished AI researcher Stuart Russell argues that this scenario can be avoided, but only if we rethink AI from the ground up. Russell begins by exploring the idea of intelligence in humans and in machines. He describes the near-term benefits we can expect, from intelligent personal assistants to vastly accelerated scientific research, and outlines the AI breakthroughs that still have to happen before we reach superhuman AI. He also spells out the ways humans are already finding to misuse AI, from lethal autonomous weapons to viral sabotage. If the predicted breakthroughs occur and superhuman AI emerges, we will have created entities far more powerful than ourselves. How can we ensure they never, ever, have power over us? Russell suggests that we can rebuild AI on a new foundation, according to which machines are designed to be inherently uncertain about the human preferences they are required to satisfy. Such machines would be humble, altruistic, and committed to pursue our objectives, not theirs. This new foundation would allow us to create machines that are provably deferential and provably beneficial. Shermer and Russell also discuss:

  • natural intelligence vs. artificial intelligence
  • “g” in human intelligence vs. G in AGI (Artificial General Intelligence)
  • the values alignment problem
  • Hume’s “Is-Ought” naturalistic fallacy as it applies to AI values vs. human values
  • regulating AI
  • Russell’s response to the arguments of AI apocalypse skeptics Kevin Kelly and Steven Pinker
  • the Chinese social control AI system and what it could lead to
  • autonomous vehicles, weapons, and other systems and how they can be hacked
  • AI and the hacking of elections, and
  • what keeps Stuart up at night.

Stuart Russell is a professor of Computer Science and holder of the Smith-Zadeh Chair in Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served as the Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on AI and Robotics and as an advisor to the United Nations on arms control. He is a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the author (with Peter Norvig) of the definitive and universally acclaimed textbook on AI, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach.

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Jun 02, 2020
117. Matt Ridley — How Innovation Works: and Why It Flourishes in Freedom
01:34:53

Innovation is the main event of the modern age, the reason we experience both dramatic improvements in our living standards and unsettling changes in our society. Forget short-term symptoms like Donald Trump and Brexit, it is innovation itself that explains them and that will itself shape the 21st century for good and ill. Yet innovation remains a mysterious process, poorly understood by policy makers and businessmen, hard to summon into existence to order, yet inevitable and inexorable when it does happen.

In his new book, How Innovation Works, Matt Ridley argues that we need to change the way we think about innovation, to see it as an incremental, bottom-up, fortuitous process that happens to society as a direct result of the human habit of exchange, rather than an orderly, top-down process developing according to a plan. Innovation is crucially different from invention, because it is the turning of inventions into things of practical and affordable use to people. It speeds up in some sectors and slows down in others. It is always a collective, collaborative phenomenon, not a matter of lonely genius. It is gradual, serendipitous, recombinant, inexorable, contagious, experimental and unpredictable. It happens mainly in just a few parts of the world at any one time. It still cannot be modelled properly by economists, but it can easily be discouraged by politicians. Far from there being too much innovation, we may be on the brink of an innovation famine.

Ridley derives these and other lessons, not with abstract argument, but from telling the lively stories of scores of innovations, how they started and why they succeeded or in some cases failed. He goes back millions of years and leaps forward into the near future. Some of the innovation stories he tells are about steam engines, jet engines, search engines, airships, coffee, potatoes, vaping, vaccines, cuisine, antibiotics, mosquito nets, turbines, propellers, fertiliser, zero, computers, dogs, farming, fire, genetic engineering, gene editing, container shipping, railways, cars, safety rules, wheeled suitcases, mobile phones, corrugated iron, powered flight, chlorinated water, toilets, vacuum cleaners, shale gas, the telegraph, radio, social media, block chain, the sharing economy, artificial intelligence, fake bomb detectors, phantom games consoles, fraudulent blood tests, faddish diets, hyperloop tubes, herbicides, copyright, and even a biological innovation: life itself. Shermer and Ridley discuss all this and:

  • why the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the First Law of Life
  • why the patent/intellectual property rights concept is antithetical to innovation
  • why innovation is so much more important than invention
  • why the Chinese system of innovation works even though it’s government is anti-freedom
  • why musical innovation did not decline with the advent of Napster
  • the difference between scientific discoveries and artistic/musical creations
  • vaccine innovation in the era of COVID-19
  • why innovations are postdictable but not predictable, and
  • how the future may change after this pandemic.

Matt Ridley is the award-winning, bestselling author of several books, including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters; and The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. His books have sold more than one million copies in thirty languages worldwide. He writes regularly for The Times (London) and The Wall Street Journal, and is a member of the House of Lords. He lives in England.

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May 26, 2020
116. Howard Steven Friedman — Ultimate Price: The Value We Place on Life
01:10:05

How much is a human life worth? Individuals, families, companies, and governments routinely place a price on human life. The calculations that underlie these price tags are often buried in technical language, yet they influence our economy, laws, behaviors, policies, health, and safety. These price tags are often unfair, infused as they are with gender, racial, national, and cultural biases that often result in valuing the lives of the young more than the old, the rich more than the poor, whites more than blacks, Americans more than foreigners, and relatives more than strangers. This is critical since undervalued lives are left less-protected and more exposed to risk.

Howard Steven Friedman explains in simple terms how economists and data scientists at corporations, regulatory agencies, and insurance companies develop and use these price tags and points a spotlight at their logical flaws and limitations. He then forcefully argues against the rampant unfairness in the system. Readers will be enlightened, shocked, and, ultimately, empowered to confront the price tags we assign to human lives and understand why such calculations matter. Friedman and Shermer also discuss:

  • the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic tradeoffs in the context of putting a price on human life
  • how long should the economy be kept shut down in social isolation
  • private vs. public calculations of the value of a human life
  • the tradeoffs between conflicting moral values related to the value of human life (abortion, capital punishment, etc.)
  • 9/11 and the calculations used to determine the value of each life lost
  • calculating the devil we know (coal-related deaths) vs. the devil we don’t know (possible future nuclear-power related deaths)
  • how the price of $10 million was determined for the current value of a human life
  • organ sales as a form of human life valuation
  • Should you have life insurance?
  • When should you start collecting social security?
  • why all lives should be treated equally in terms of statistical valuation, but why they are not.

Howard Steven Friedman, a leading statistician and health economist, is an expert in data science and applications of cost-benefit analysis. He teaches at Columbia University.

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May 19, 2020
115. Matthew Cobb — The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience
01:40:20

For thousands of years, thinkers and scientists have tried to understand what the brain does. Yet, despite the astonishing discoveries of science, we still have only the vaguest idea of how the brain works. In The Idea of the Brain, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb traces how our conception of the brain has evolved over the centuries. Although it might seem to be a story of ever-increasing knowledge of biology, Cobb shows how our ideas about the brain have been shaped by each era’s most significant technologies. Today we might think the brain is like a supercomputer. In the past, it has been compared to a telegraph, a telephone exchange, or some kind of hydraulic system. What will we think the brain is like tomorrow, when new technology arises? The result is an essential read for anyone interested in the complex processes that drive science and the forces that have shaped our marvelous brains. Cobb and Shermer also discuss:

  • panpsychism
  • the hard problem of consciousness
  • free will and determinism
  • mind uploading
  • near death experiences (NDEs) and other paranormal experiences
  • quantum consciousness
  • the history of neuroscience and how we got to where we are today
  • brain mapping and localization
  • why the new phrenology (brain localization and modules) is still wrong
  • why neurons are not digital like computer chips, and why the brain is not like a computer, and
  • why we’re still nowhere near understanding how the brain works.

Matthew Cobb is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester, where he studies olfaction, insect behavior, and the history of science. He earned his PhD in psychology and genetics from the University of Sheffield. He is the author of five books: Life’s Greatest Secret, Generation, The Resistance, Eleven Days in August, and Smell: A Very Short Introduction. He lives in England.

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May 12, 2020
114. Katherine Stewart — The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism
59:39

For too long the Religious Right has masqueraded as a social movement preoccupied with a number of cultural issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But in her deeply reported investigation, Katherine Stewart reveals a disturbing truth: America’s Religious Right has evolved into a Christian nationalist movement. It seeks to gain political power and to impose its vision on all of society. It isn’t fighting a culture war, it is waging a political war on the norms and institutions of American democracy. Stewart shows that the real power of the movement lies in a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations, embedded in a rapidly expanding community of international alliances with likeminded, anti-democratic religious nationalists around the world, including Russia. She follows the money behind the movement and traces much of it to a group of super-wealthy, ultraconservative donors and family foundations. The Christian nationalist movement is far more organized and better funded than most people realize. It seeks to control all aspects of government and society. Its successes have been stunning, and its influence now extends to every aspect of American life, from the White House to state capitols, from our schools to our hospitals. Shermer and Stewart also discuss:

  • how the Moral Majority of the Reagan era 1980s morphed into the Christian Nationalists of today
  • wWhy 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, one of the least religious presidents in U.S. history
  • follow the money: where these many christian nationalist organizations get their funding
  • Betsy DeVos, big money, and school vouchers: what’s really going on with so-called “school choice”
  • how conservatives use pastors to “get out the vote”
  • When did Jesus become a conservative?
  • Christian nationalists and the poor
  • Christian nationalists and homosexuality
  • how Christian nationalists made abortion a modern political cause
  • how conservatives like Barry Goldwater used to support a woman’s right to an abortion
  • why conservatives are actually in favor of big government…when it suits their ideological and religious agendas (military, police, prisons, courts, immigration, corporate welfare, etc.)
  • Who’s next? Mike Pence, Ted Cruz? The future of democracy in an age of Christian nationalism.

Katherine Stewart’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, American Prospect, The Atlantic and other publications. She is the author of The Good News Club, an investigation of the religious right and public education.

May 05, 2020
113. Dave Rubin — Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason
01:25:08

The left is no longer liberal. Once on the side of free speech and tolerance, progressives now ban speakers from college campuses, “cancel” people who aren’t up to date on the latest genders, and force religious people to violate their conscience. They have abandoned the battle of ideas and have begun fighting a battle of feelings. This uncomfortable truth has turned moderates and true liberals into the politically homeless class. Dave Rubin launched his political talk show The Rubin Report in 2015 as a meeting ground for free thinkers who realize that partisan politics is a dead end. He hosts people he both agrees and disagrees with — including those who have been dismissed, deplatformed, and despised — taking on the most controversial issues of our day. As a result, he’s become a voice of reason in a time of madness. Now, Rubin gives you the tools you need to think for yourself in an age when tribal outrage is the only available alternative. Shermer and Rubin discuss:

  • why he left the Left
  • how progressive leftism is illiberal
  • how identity politics makes people more racist, misogynist, homophobic, bigoted, and less tolerant
  • liberalism and classical liberalism
  • how to stand up to the mob when it comes after you for not perfectly toeing the PC line
  • individual rights and limited government
  • immigration, abortion, gun rights, foreign policy, income inequality, and other hot-button issues, and
  • why Jordan Peterson is not the anti-Christ despite what progressives say.

Dave Rubin is the creator and host of The Rubin Report, the most-watched talk show about free speech and big ideas on YouTube. A former progressive turned classical liberal, he speaks to millions all over the world, including touring with Dr. Jordan Peterson, and performs stand-up comedy in cities around the United States. Originally from Long Island, New York, he currently lives in Los Angeles with his husband, David, and their dog, Emma. This is his first book.

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Apr 28, 2020
112. Ann Druyan — Cosmos: Possible Worlds
01:32:52

In this sequel to Carl Sagan’s beloved classic and the companion to the hit television series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the primary author of all the scripts for both this season and the previous season of Cosmos, Ann Druyan explores how science and civilization grew up together. From the emergence of life at deep-sea vents to solar-powered starships sailing through the galaxy, from the Big Bang to the intricacies of intelligence in many life forms, Druyan documents where humanity has been and where it is going, using her unique gift of bringing complex scientific concepts to life. With evocative photographs and vivid illustrations, she recounts momentous discoveries, from the Voyager missions in which she and her husband, Carl Sagan, participated to Cassini-Huygens’s recent insights into Saturn’s moons. This breathtaking sequel to Sagan’s masterpiece explains how we humans can glean a new understanding of consciousness here on Earth and out in the cosmos — again reminding us that our planet is a pale blue dot in an immense universe of possibility. Druyan and Shermer also discuss:

  • how to write a script for a television series
  • her 20 years with Carl Sagan and what their collaboration meant
  • how she dealt with her grief after Carl’s death (and how any of us can deal with such pain)
  • who the Voyager records were really for
  • Breakthrough Starshot
  • science and religion
  • God and morality
  • free will and determinism
  • the hard problem of consciousness
  • the Fermi Paradox (where is everybody?)
  • women in science
  • how we can eventually settle on other worlds, and
  • how to reach the stars … and beyond.

Ann Druyan is a celebrated writer and producer who co-authored many bestsellers with her late husband, Carl Sagan. She also famously served as creative director of the Voyager Golden Record, sent into space 40 years ago. Druyan continues her work as an interpreter of the most important scientific discoveries, partnering with NASA and the Planetary Society. She has served as Secretary of the Federation of American Scientists and is a laureate of the International Humanist Academy. Most recently, she received both an Emmy and Peabody Award for her work in conceptualizing and writing National Geographic’s first season of Cosmos.

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Apr 21, 2020
111. Scott Barry Kaufman — Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization
01:36:45

When psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman first discovered Maslow’s unfinished theory of transcendence, sprinkled throughout a cache of unpublished journals, lectures, and essays, he felt a deep resonance with his own work and life. In this groundbreaking book, Kaufman picks up where Maslow left off, unraveling the mysteries of his unfinished theory, and integrating these ideas with the latest research on attachment, connection, creativity, love, purpose and other building blocks of a life well lived.

Kaufman’s new hierarchy of needs provides a roadmap for finding purpose and fulfillment—not by striving for money, success, or “happiness,” but by becoming the best version of ourselves, or what Maslow called self-actualization. While self-actualization is often thought of as a purely individual pursuit, Maslow believed that the full realization of potential requires a merging between self and the world. We don’t have to choose either self-development or self-sacrifice, but at the highest level of human potential we show a deep integration of both. Transcend reveals this level of human potential that connects us not only to our highest creative potential, but also to one another. Shermer and Kaufman also discuss:

  • human nature
  • good and evil
  • the good side of psychopathy
  • the illusion of self as a useful fiction
  • security, attachment, and self-esteem
  • ego and narcissism
  • how to quantify and measure internal states
  • how to practice mindfulness without meditation
  • humanistic psychology as a science-based alternative to religious practices
  • characteristics of self-actualization
  • how to be a self-actualized person.

Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD is a humanistic psychologist who has taught at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, NYU and elsewhere. He received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale University, and an M.Phil in experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge under a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. He writes the column Beautiful Minds for Scientific American and hosts The Psychology Podcast, which has received more than 10 million downloads. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic and Harvard Business Review, and his books include Ungifted, Wired to Create (with Carolyn Gregoire), and, as editor, Twice Exceptional and, as co-editor, The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence. In 2015, he was named one of “50 Groundbreaking Scientists who are changing the way we see the world” by Business Insider.

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Apr 14, 2020
110. Bart Ehrman — Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife
01:27:08

According to a recent Pew Research poll, 72% of Americans believe in a literal heaven and 58% in a literal hell (more evidence of the over-optimism bias and self-serving bias). Worldwide, over two billion Christians believe that because of their faith they will have a glorious afterlife. And nearly everyone wonders about what, if anything, comes after death. In Heaven and Hell, renowned biblical scholar and historian of religion Dr. Bart Ehrman investigates the powerful instincts that gave rise to the common ideas of heaven and hell and that help them endure. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Augustine, Ehrman recounts the long history of the life after death. In different times, places, and cultures, people held a wide variety of views, and Ehrman is adept at showing how these influenced one another and changed in response to their historical, social, and cultural situations. His driving question is why and how Christians came up with the idea that souls will experience either eternal bliss or everlasting torment. Ehrman shows that the historical Jesus, Paul, and the author of Revelation would have been utterly perplexed by such ideas. These ideas are later Christian developments. Shermer and Ehrman also discuss:

  • Ehrman’s personal journey from Christian to nonbeliever
  • the earliest writings on the afterlife
  • why the Old Testament says nothing about Heaven and Hell
  • what the New Testament says about Heaven and Hell
  • early pagan influences on Judaism and Christianity
  • who invented the afterlife and why
  • what Jesus really said about the afterlife, souls, and immortality
  • what commoners believed about the afterlife in Greek, Roman and biblical times
  • myths, stories, and parables: their original meaning and use
  • the real meaning of the resurrection
  • Is the Kingdom of Heaven within us all?
  • What does a nonbeliever say to a believer about the (non-existence) of the afterlife?

Bart D. Ehrman is a leading authority on the New Testament and the history of early Christianity, and the author or editor of more than thirty books, including the New York Times bestsellers Misquoting Jesus, How Jesus Became God, and The Triumph of Christianity. A Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he has created eight popular audio and video courses for The Great Courses. He has been featured in Time, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, and has appeared on NBC, CNN, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, BBC, and NPR.

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Mar 31, 2020
109. Neil Shubin — Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA
01:30:09

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:

  • Darwin’s consilience of inductions (convergence of evidence) from multiple lines of inquiry
  • how a scientific theory can gain acceptance without an underlying causal mechanism (evolutionary theory before DNA)
  • what scientists should do with anomalies unexplained by the prevailing theory
  • Does ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny? (What can we learn about evolution from embryology?)
  • What is epigenetics, anyway?
  • the best explanation for the origins of life
  • how information can increase in a genome
  • from microevolution to macroevolution: why creationists are wrong
  • Are there hopeful monsters in evolution?
  • Punctuated equilibrium and what it was like to be Steve Gould’s TA
  • women in science, then and now
  • What it’s like to do a paleontological dig north of the arctic circle? and
  • Martian paleontology.

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.

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Mar 24, 2020
108. Brian Greene — Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe
01:12:53

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:

  • God and religion
  • why there is something rather than nothing
  • What was there before the Big Bang, and what caused it to bang?
  • Are mathematics and the laws of nature human constructs or in nature?
  • how the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the First Law of Life
  • How does consciousness arise from physical particles?
  • panpsychism
  • the Fermi Paradox (where is everybody?)
  • the evolutionary origins of storytelling and myth making
  • free will and determinism
  • finding meaning in a meaningless universe
  • Greene’s encounter with J.Z. Knight and her 35,000 year old spirit warrior Ramtha
  • Terror Management Theory and the fear of death
  • Are moral values human constructs and thus relative, or is there a secular/scientific basis for right and wrong?

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Mar 17, 2020
107. Fred Kaplan — The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War
01:19:56

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:

  • Dr. Strangelove
  • The Doomsday Machine
  • Mutual Assured Destruction
  • game theory and the logic of deterrence
  • proliferation, non-proliferation, and the evolution of nuclear weapons and strategy
  • North Korea and why Kim Jong Un is not a madman
  • President Trump and how he has reminded us that The Bomb is here to stay
  • Israel and Iran
  • Reagan and Gorbachev
  • how conventional wars can escalate to nuclear war…but haven’t…yet, and
  • why we will never get to Nuclear Zero.

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.

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Mar 10, 2020
106. Daniel Chirot — You Say You Want a Revolution? Radical Idealism and its Tragic Consequences
01:37:31

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:

  • why violent radicalism, corruption, and the betrayal of ideals won in so many crucial cases, but why it didn’t in some others
  • Did most Germans really believe in Nazi ideology or did they just go along out of social pressure and political convenience?
  • No Hitler, No Holocaust?
  • How do you get people to commit genocide?
  • Anti-semitism in history and today
  • how the logic of utopian radicalism leads to violence
  • the difference in belief and action between Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky
  • the difference between the American and French Revolutions
  • We think of the American revolution as liberal, but its chief English defender, Edmund Burke, is the founder of modern conservatism.
  • lessons to learn from centuries of violent vs. nonviolent revolutions.

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.

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Mar 03, 2020
105. Diana Pasulka — American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology
01:41:58

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:

  • the definition of religion
  • fictional religions and historical religions
  • Jediism as a religion
  • new religious movements and cults
  • Mormonism and Christianity
  • Scientology as a UFO religion
  • how to be spiritual without religion
  • Nietzsche, Jung, and archetypes
  • scientific truths and mythical truths
  • astronomical observatories and medieval cathedrals
  • UFOs as Sky Gods for Skeptics; aliens as deities for atheists, and
  • the rise of the Nones and the future of growth of new religions.

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).

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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
01:25:16

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:

  • epigenetics and the link to epidemiology
  • why it is so difficult determining causality in medical sciences
  • why correlation is not necessarily causation, but how it can be used to advise on diet and lifestyle changes
  • How many of the risks for chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia, can be traced back to your first 1,000 days of existence, from the moment you were conceived?
  • the association between these diseases and the experiences parents and even grandparents had
  • fruits and vegetables or meat and fat?
  • how poverty affects epigenetics, and
  • epigenetic exaggerations and incautious extrapolations — no miracles promised!

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.

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Feb 18, 2020
103. Robert Frank — Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work
01:49:07

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:

  • luck and how lives turn out
  • circumstances of behavior
  • peer pressure and pressures on peers
  • free will, volition, and self-control
  • positive behavioral exernalities, e.g., solar panels
  • happiness vs. purpose/meaning/comfort
  • utilitarianism vs. natural rights theory
  • abortion, capital punishment, polygamy, prostitution, and the selling of organs
  • behavioral contagions: smoking, problem drinking, obesity, tax cheating, bullying, and wasteful energy use.
  • same-sex marriage and other areas of moral progress
  • arms races: good and bad
  • climate change
  • belief in god and religion in decline, and
  • UBI (universal basic income)

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.

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Feb 11, 2020
102. Christopher Ryan — Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress
01:44:46

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:

  • human nature: peaceful or violent?
  • humans: spectrum or binary?
  • what hunter-gatherers were really like and why it is so hard to know
  • hunter-gatherers and…children, women, the elderly, sex, religion, politics and economics
  • how egalitarian were hunter-gatherers?
  • why hunter-gatherers don’t think of work as “work” in the way we do
  • the lottery test: if you won the lottery would you work at your job, live in your neighborhood, live your life?
  • was civilization the biggest mistake humans ever made?
  • the “Big Gods” theory of religion vs. the communal theory of religion, and
  • how we can learn from our ancestors to lead more balanced and healthier lives.

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.

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Feb 04, 2020
101. Hugo Mercier — Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe
01:59:16

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:

  • If we’re not as gullible as we’ve been led to believe, then why do so many people apparently believe in ESP, astrology, the paranormal, the supernatural, conspiracy theories, and the like?
  • Epistemic Vigilance and skepticism
  • why most Germans did not believe in Nazi ideology
  • honest signaling, costly signaling, and virtue signaling
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers and why the “default to truth” theory is wrong.
  • folk biology and why creationism is intuitive and evolutionary theory counterintuitive
  • conspiracy theories and why we believe them (or not)
  • the real meaning of conformity experiments in which people appear to go along with the group
  • why people join cults … or ISIS.
  • why people belong to religions, and
  • why we are not living in a post-truth era, and why access to accurate information has never been so good.

Hugo Mercier is a cognitive scientist at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris and the coauthor of The Enigma of Reason. He lives in Nantes, France. Twitter @hugoreasoning

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Jan 28, 2020
100. Episode Special: Ask Me Almost Anything
01:01:46

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:

  • ETIs and the chances we’ve been visited by aliens
  • Generic Subjective Continuity, a secular version of reincarnation, and what happens after we die
  • Trump-style propaganda and how to deal with it
  • Should we separate artist from artwork, e.g., Michael Jackson’s music or Adolf Hitler’s paintings?
  • Eliminative Materialism (a type of determinism) and its implication for moral progress
  • How reliable are eyewitnesses, particularly those in the Bible, particularly with regard to stories about miracles?
  • When did you first learn that we are made of stardust and how did this change your thinking?
  • How much power do Christian Nationalists have in the U.S. today?
  • Have you changed your mind about science, religion, health, and politics in the past ten years?
  • Will we ever reach an end of scientific knowledge and understanding?

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

Jan 21, 2020
99. Bobby Duffy — Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding
01:33:33

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:

  • cognitive biases and how they distort what we think about the world
  • do men really have more sexual partners than women (and if so, who are they having sex with?)
  • why we lie to ourselves and others about almost everything
  • fears about immigrants and immigration
  • Brexit: leave or remain and why people vote each way
  • why we are more polarized politically than ever before (and what we can do about it)
  • the “backfire effect”: the bad news and the good
  • why we are not living in a post-truth era
  • why facts matter and why free speech matters, and
  • kids these days…

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.

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Jan 14, 2020
98. Robert Pennock — An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science
01:59:34

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:

  • the nature of science
  • why Intelligent Design creationists are not doing bad science — they’re not doing science at all
  • what to do with anomalies not explained by the current paradigm
  • the role of outsiders in science
  • what scientific training does to develop the virtues of science
  • how authority is different from expertise
  • when experts pronounce on ideas outside their field
  • fraud in science and why it happens
  • why scientists are skeptical of UFOs, ESP, bigfoot, and the like
  • falsification of a scientific hypothesis vs. positive evidence in support of a scientific hypothesis
  • the naturalistic fallacy and the Is-Ought problem, and
  • the ethics of autonomous vehicles and the trolley problem.

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.

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Jan 07, 2020
97. Amber Scorah — Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life
01:35:32

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:

  • the legals and logistics of writing a memoir
  • the rise of the nones and disbelief and why stories like hers provide social proof for living without religion
  • what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and why they believe it
  • what it’s like to go door-to-door witnessing for a religion
  • Armageddon and what doomsayers do when the world doesn’t end
  • the mindset of the fundamentalist
  • why religions are obsessed with female sexuality
  • why religions forbid homosexuality
  • the psychology of deconversion
  • the problem of evil, or why bad things happen to good people
  • how she would try to talk someone out of joining ISIS
  • what it’s like to be expelled from a religion and be an apostate, and
  • how to start your life over when you’ve lost everything.

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.

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Dec 31, 2019
96. Catherine Wilson — How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well
01:11:52

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:

  • the hedonic treadmill and the problem of pursuing material goods
  • why money will not bring you happiness or meaning
  • eternal moral truths
  • judging figures from the past by modern moral standards
  • why she thinks everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Joe Biden should have known better and acted differently
  • why she thinks Jeffrey Epstein committing suicide was a rational choice for him
  • how to think about the abortion issue
  • why we need not fear death, and
  • how to lead a meaningful life.

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.

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Dec 24, 2019
95. John Martin Fischer — Death, Immortality and Meaning in Life
01:34:40

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:

  • meaning in life
  • meaning in death
  • the badness of death
  • different philosophical, religious, and scientific ideas on immortality
  • near-death experiences
  • extending life through medical technology
  • medical immortality vs. real immortality
  • the problem of identity for immortality (who or what becomes immortal?)
  • living for 100 years vs. 1000 years vs. forever
  • responding to the theistic argument that without God anything goes, there is no objective morality, and no meaning to life
  • If you don’t believe in God or the afterlife, what do you say to someone who is dying or has lost a loved one?
  • Is immortality, like existence, one thought too many?

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).

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Dec 17, 2019
94. David Leiser — How We Misunderstand Economics and Why it Matters
01:22:39

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:

  • folk economics and why our intuitions are so often wrong
  • the evolutionary origins of our thinking about economics and why we are not prepared cognitively to understand complex economic ideas
  • Universal Basic Income
  • income inequality
  • CEO pay and why we think it’s too high
  • the importance of trust in economic exchanges
  • tariffs and Trump
  • China, and
  • reparations for slavery vs. reparations for the Holocaust.

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.

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Dec 10, 2019
93. Geoffrey Miller — Virtue Signaling: Essays on Darwinian Politics & Free Speech
02:04:20

Michael Shermer talks with the polymathic polyamorous sapiosexual classically liberal evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller about:

  • virtue signaling and why we all do it
  • how the phrase “virtue signaling” became a derogatory political meme
  • how virtue signaling really works and why it is not a bad thing
  • why evolutionary psychology is not based on “just so” story telling
  • how multiple traits can be selected at once
  • individual selection vs. group selection
  • the role of virtue signaling in the evolution of the moral sentiments
  • how virtue signaling helps produce real morality (and not just fake altruism)
  • abortion, immigration, Trump, the Far Right, the Far Left, and other topical controversies
  • gender differences in career preferences
  • neurodiversity and speech codes
  • cultural diversity and the Harvard lawsuit over discrimination
  • why social groups tend to splinter and defenestrate members who are not virtuous enough.

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.

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Dec 02, 2019
92. Tim Samuels — Future Man: How to Evolve and Thrive in the Age of Trump, Mansplaining, and #MeToo
01:47:12

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:

  • why it’s time for men to listen to women
  • why it is also time for women to listen to (non-toxic) men
  • why the treatment of women and men is not zero-sum
  • fatherhood
  • violence and how to curb it
  • war and what it does to men
  • porn and the problems it causes
  • why men need sports
  • mental health
  • toxic masculinity
  • gender roles
  • divorce, child custody, alimony, and spousal support.

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.

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Nov 19, 2019
91. James Traub — What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea
01:21:30

In this wide-ranging conversation James Traub and Michael Shermer discuss:

  • the changing meaning of “liberalism” over the centuries and decades
  • why the first liberals were deeply skeptical of majority rule
  • how, by the second half of the 20th century, liberalism become the national creed of the most powerful country in the world
  • why this consensus did not last
  • the giants of liberalism: James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Isiah Berlin
  • Karl Popper, the Open Society, and the paradox of tolerance (that tolerating intolerance is self-defeating)
  • Donald Trump as the first American president to regard liberal values with open contempt
  • illiberalism in the UK, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Germany
  • why liberalism lost the support it once enjoyed
  • the intolerance of the illiberal left, identity politics, and political correctness
  • what a potential future for liberalism would look like.

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.

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Nov 12, 2019
90. Melvin Konner — Believers: Faith in Human Nature
01:39:18

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:

 
  • the nature of human nature
  • what is religion?
  • what is faith?
  • is religion and faith adaptive or the byproduct of some other evolved adaptation?
  • his experience living among hunter-gatherers
  • how hunter-gatherers conceive of religion vs. modern peoples
  • the “Big Gods” theory of religion
  • the “God Module” theory of religion
  • the group selection theory of religion
  • why faith is not for everyone
  • the rise of the nones, but why religion will never completely die out
  • the upside of religion … and the downside
  • were our paleolithic ancestors warlike or peaceful?
  • would you want to switch places and live in a hunter-gatherer society?
  • why for at least a large minority of humanity, the belief in things unseen neither can nor should go away.

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.

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Nov 05, 2019
89. Richard Dawkins — Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide
40:09

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:

  • how Outgrowing God encapsulates his life’s work in two broad areas: (1) science, reason, and evolution theory; (2) God, Religion, and Faith. A “Dawkins 101” book and a perfect gift to friends and family.
  • his commitment to the truth, as best explained by science.
  • Is the Bible a “Good Book”?
  • Is adhering to a religion necessary, or even likely, to make people good to one another?
  • why religion is over-determined
  • separating religion from God beliefs
  • Is religion and belief in God an evolutionary adaptation or a byproduct (or both)?
  • Why we don’t need God in order to be good
  • How do we decide what is good?
  • human nature: selfish/selfless, violent/peaceful, better angels/inner demons
  • breaching the Is-Ought barrier
  • the future of atheism
  • career advice for young scientists and scholars
  • getting courage from science
  • the multiverse: “You Cannot be Serious!”

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.

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Oct 29, 2019
88. Daniel Oberhaus — Extraterrestrial Languages
01:21:26

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:

  • the late-19th-century idea to communicate with Martians via Morse code and mirrors
  • the emergence in the 20th century of SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), CETI (communication with extraterrestrial intelligence), and finally METI (messaging extraterrestrial intelligence)
  • the one-way space voyage of Ella, an artificial intelligence agent that can play cards, tell fortunes, and recite poetry
  • different media used in attempts at extraterrestrial communication, from microwave systems to plaques on spacecrafts to formal logic, and our attempts to formulate a language for our message, including the Astraglossa and two generations of Lincos (lingua cosmica)
  • how philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, science, and art have informed the design or limited the effectiveness of our interstellar messaging.

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.

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Oct 22, 2019
87. Douglas Murray — The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity
01:10:45

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:

  • gay: born this way?
  • race: why current attitudes are an inversion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream
  • gender: is it really all about power? Men and women in the workplace
  • trans: how big an issue is this and how many trans people are there? Reversing trans surgeries
  • the problem of intersectionality, or the oppression olympics
  • campus craziness: how big a problem is it really?
  • political correctness and free speech
  • the problem of “overcorrection” in moral progress, and
  • the way forward.

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.

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Oct 15, 2019
86. Neil deGrasse Tyson — Letters from an Astrophysicist
01:08:29

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:

  • killing Pluto
  • killing God
  • science and religion
  • why he takes a relatively conciliatory approach to religion
  • why he takes a hard-line against science deniers in religion (and elsewhere)
  • progress in science
  • how vs. why questions
  • race and racial progress
  • why the arc of the moral universe still bends toward justice
  • race and IQ and the curious letter he received about how to address this sensitive subject
  • his middle name and why one correspondent objected to it
  • Neil’s father and why he ends the book with a eulogy.

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Oct 08, 2019
85. Deepak Chopra — Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential
55:12

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.

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Oct 01, 2019
84. Christof Koch — The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness is Widespread but Can’t Be Computed
01:33:22

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:

  • the Neural Correlates of Consciousness (NCC)
  • where consciousness is located in the brain (or, more precisely, where it is not located)
  • what comas and vegetative states teach us about consciousness
  • what brain injuries and diseases teach us about consciousness
  • what hallucinogens teach us about consciousness
  • what split-brain surgeries teach us about the nature of the self and identity
  • Koch’s experience with psilocybin and what he learned about consciousness
  • Koch’s experience in a flotation tank and what he learned about consciousness
  • why computers as they are currently configured can never create consciousness
  • why mind-uploading cannot copy or continue consciousness
  • Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness
  • Global Workspace Theory of Consciousness
  • why consciousness is not an illusion, and
  • mysterian mysteries.

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.

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Sep 24, 2019
83. Peter Boghossian — How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide
01:15:27

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:

  • the growing political divide in American over the past quarter century
  • why politicians no longer reach across the aisle
  • when is the right time to have a difficult conversation
  • the best strategies to use to diffuse anger and keep a conversation productive
  • why the atheist movement splintered over disagreements
  • strategies used by hostage negotiators that you can employ in your conversations, and
  • negotiating the intractable social media.

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.

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Sep 17, 2019
82. Phil Zuckerman — What it Means to be Moral: Why Religion is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life
01:17:15

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:

  • what is morality and what does it mean to be good?
  • the evolutionary origins of morality
  • the “naturalistic fallacy,” or the “is-ought fallacy” and why it need not always apply
  • how we’ve made moral progress over the centuries thanks to secular forces
  • why religion is always behind the wave of moral progress (but takes credit for it later)
  • the origin of good and evil
  • how to solve crime, homelessness, and other social problems through science, reason, and secular forces, and
  • the seven secular virtues.

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.

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Sep 10, 2019
81. Bruce Hood — Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need
01:39:45

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:

  • who owns your body and mind
  • how the military draft, conscription, is a way of the state taking possession of your body
  • suicide and bodily ownership: why states prohibit you from killing yourself
  • organs and bodily ownership: why states prohibit you from selling your organs
  • prostitution: why states prohibit people from selling their bodies for sex
  • slavery: why historically states have legalized owning other people
  • marriage & children: why historically states have sanctioned men owning women and children
  • children’s sense of ownership
  • income inequality
  • objects vs. money vs. social capital as possessions
  • money is not a possession so much as a means of getting possessions.
  • jealousy as a form of possession
  • xenophobia as a fear of loss of ownership
  • who owns the land, air, water, minerals, etc.?
  • intellectual Property: who owns your ideas?
  • what wills and trusts tell us about the psychology of the transfer of ownership
  • the tragedy of the commons and environmental protection through private ownership: Ducks Unlimited, game reserves, licenses for killing big game in Africa
  • why original art is more valuable than fakes or duplicates, and
  • the Arab-Israel conflict and what happens when God ordains ownership of a piece of land to two different peoples.

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Sep 03, 2019
80. Bryan Walsh — End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World
01:03:35

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:

  • nuclear weapons
  • killer diseases
  • climate change
  • artificial intelligence
  • biotechnology
  • asteroids and volcanos
  • extraterrestrials, and
  • preparing for doomsday: should we all be doomsday preppers?

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.

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Aug 27, 2019
79. Anthony Kronman — The Assault on American Excellence
01:21:07

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:

  • free speech vs. hate speech
  • how language effects how we think about other people
  • diversity of characteristics (race, gender) vs. diversity of viewpoints
  • the search for universal truths vs. understanding other’s perspectives
  • affirmative action in the academy: from the University of California to Harvard
  • taking down statues of Hitler and Stalin vs. taking down statues of Confederate Generals
  • the problem of applying current moral values to the past, and
  • how to reform the academy to refocus on excellence.

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.

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Aug 20, 2019
78. Dr. Donald Hoffman — The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth From Our Eyes
01:44:11

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:

  • the nature of reality (ontology)
  • how we know anything about reality (epistemology)
  • the possibility that we’re living in a simulation
  • the possibility that we’re just a brain in a vat
  • the problem of other minds (that I’m the only sentient conscious being while everyone else is a zombie)
  • the hard problem of consciousness
  • what it means to ask “what’s it like to be a bat?”
  • does the moon exist if there are no conscious sentient beings anywhere in the universe?
  • is spacetime doomed?
  • quantum physics and consciousness
  • the microtubule theory of consciousness
  • the global workspace theory of consciousness, and
  • how Hoffman’s Interface Theory of Perception differs from Jordan Peterson’s Archetypal Theory of Truth (Shermer’s label for Peterson’s evolutionary theory of truth).

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Aug 13, 2019
77. Dr. Lee McIntyre — The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience
01:54:05

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:

  • the strengths and weaknesses of Karl Popper’s “falsification” criteria for the line of demarcation
  • how conspiracy theorists draw their own line of demarcation between their version of the conspiracy vs. that of others within their own community
  • the problem of anomalies that are not explained by the mainstream theory and what to do with them
  • McIntyre’s adventure at the Flat Earth conference
  • Graham Hancock and alternative archaeology
  • Creationists and why they are wrong (and how evolution could be falsified)
  • similarities between Evolution deniers and Holocaust deniers
  • anti-vaxxers and their motives
  • climate deniers and why they’re inappropriately skeptical of climate science, and
  • how to talk to a science denier of any stripe.

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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
01:19:54
  • When will the world end?
  • How likely is it that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists?
  • Are we living in a simulation like the Matrix?
  • Is our universe but one in a multiverse?
  • How does Warren Buffett continue to beat the stock market?
  • How much longer will your romance last?

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.

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Jul 23, 2019
75. Charles Fishman — One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew us to the Moon
01:32:35

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:

  • When President John F. Kennedy rallied the nation to go to the Moon in 1961, the task was impossible. None of the technology or techniques existed to do it. Engineers, scientists and factory workers in every state in the USA created that technology in just 8 years. They invented space travel on a deadline.
  • Apollo is sometimes judged a disappointment because it didn’t usher in the Jetsons-like Space Age we thought it would. Fishman argues that the success of Apollo is the age we live in now — it opened the world to the digital revolution in ways that have never before been appreciated or written about. “The race to the Moon didn’t usher in the Space Age; it ushered in the Digital Age,” he writes. “And that is as valuable a legacy as the imagined Space Age might have been.”
  • Secret tapes JFK made of meetings about space, along with other overlooked information from the Kennedy Administration, indicate that Kennedy himself was losing enthusiasm for the Moon race and the Moon landing by the fall of 1963. Had he not been assassinated, it’s not at all clear that Armstrong and Aldrin would have walked on the Moon in July 1969.
  • The on-board computer for Apollo was the smallest, most flexible, most powerful, most user-friendly computer ever created when it flew the astronauts to the Moon — and it did its mission with less computing power than your microwave oven has today.
  • Much of the most critical work to make the Moon missions possible was done by hand: the spacesuits were sewn by hand; the parachutes were sewn and folded by hand; the computer software was woven by hand; the heatshield was applied by hand, using a specialized version of a caulking gun.
  • The iconic image of astronauts unfurling an American flag on the Moon almost didn’t happen. NASA had not even thought about carrying a flag on the Moon missions until just weeks before the first mission blasted off.
  • Shermer ends by asking Fishman about the reputation of Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist who built the mighty Saturn V rocket that took the astronauts to the moon: how can we reconcile his genius and vision with his Nazi past, especially his involvement in the slave labor that built the V-2 rockets that rained death down on England in the final year of the war?

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Jul 16, 2019
74. Shaili Jain, M.D. — The Unspeakable Mind: Stories of Trauma and Healing from the Frontlines of PTSD Science
01:12:10

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:

  • the history of PTSD and why no one talked about it after WWI, WWII, and Vietnam, but now we are
  • how Dr. Jain diagnoses PTSD by characteristics presented by a patient
  • how to treat PTSD through Cognitive Behavior Therapy through systematic desensitization
  • the problem of tracking rates of PTSD because of the expanding bin of who is considered a victim of the disorder
  • the difficulty of predicting deaths by suicide
  • the difficulty of predicting who will suffer from PTSD, given the many people who have suffered severe trauma and not developed it
  • why some stress is good for developing resiliency in life, but when too much stress causes harm, and
  • the unseen costs of war.

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Jul 09, 2019
73. Andrew Seidel — Busting the Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American
01:20:01

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:

  • the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade and he explains how this could happen in the next 3–5 years
  • new laws being passed in many southern states enacting the teaching of Christianity and the bible in public schools
  • the thousands of letters that the FFRF receives every year from both secularists and members of minority religions who feel and believe that their rights are being threatened and even violated by Christian nationalists
  • the “religious exemption” for vaccinations and why it’s nonsense
  • why Christianity was not responsible for the abolition of slavery
  • how the South justified slavery in the Civil War
  • how Christian nationalists cherry pick biblical passages to fit current secular moral trends
  • the historical treatment of women in Christianity
  • the historical treatment of homosexuals in Christianity, and
  • why moral progress must come from the bottom up from cultural change as well as top down from changing laws.

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Jul 01, 2019
72. Robert Zubrin — The Case for Space: Spaceflight Revolution
01:39:09

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:

  • what the Apollo program meant to Zubrin and to the current generation of space engineers and explorers
  • the balance between government and private enterprise for the future of space exploration
  • comparing future space explorers with past earth explorers
  • why type of government should be established on Mars
  • what if a tyrant takes over the Martian colony and controls the air?
  • what type of new species we will become if we establish permanent civilizations on other planets and moons?
  • is human progress inevitable?
  • the role of freedom in human progress.

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This Science Salon was recorded on June 17, 2019.

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Jun 24, 2019
71. Dr. Michael Shermer — What is Truth?
01:08:33

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.

Michael Shermer in Santa Barbara 2019 (photo by Robert Bernstein)

Michael Shermer in Santa Barbara 2019 (photo by Robert Bernstein)

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.

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This Science Salon was recorded on May 19, 2019.

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Jun 17, 2019
70. Dr. Brian Keating — Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science’s Highest Honor
01:31:33

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:

  • how he almost won the Nobel Prize for his research that confirmed the inflationary model of the Big Bang
  • the problems with the Nobel Prize as it is currently structured, such as its limitation to only three people (when modern experiments are typically directed by a great many more); that it can’t be awarded posthumously (thereby neglecting people like Amos Tversky, who did as much work as his Nobel Prize-winning collaborator Daniel Kahneman); its neglect of many women scientists as deserving of the prize as their male counterparts, and especially how it distorts incentives to collaborate in science
  • his upbringing and what inspired him to probe the deepest questions about the nature of the cosmos and reality
  • what it’s like conducting research in the harsh conditions at the South Pole
  • what banged in the Big Bang and what there was before the Big Bang
  • the possibility (or not) of a multiverse model and a cyclical model of universes outside of, or before, our universe
  • the relationship between science and religion and why they need not always be in conflict
  • his Prager U video on why believing in the multiverse takes as much faith as believing in God.

Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud.

This Science Salon was recorded on May 21, 2019. We apologize for the very poor audio-video quality of this recording.

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Jun 11, 2019
69. Dr. Barbara Tversky — Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought
01:23:23

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:

  • her new theory of cognition, in detail, with examples
  • what is a thought?
  • what did humans think about before language?
  • what do babies, chimpanzees, and dogs think about without language?
  • how will far future humans think if their language is completely different from ours?
  • if you had to warn humans 10,000 years from now not to open a container of nuclear waste, what symbols would you use?
  • gender differences in spatial reasoning
  • why there are not more women programmers in particular and women in tech in general
  • I.Q. tests, intelligence, and why thinking is so much more than what these tests capture.

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This Science Salon audio-only recording was created on June 1, 2019.

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Jun 04, 2019
68. Dr. Michael Ruse — A Darwinian Meaning to Life
01:39:06

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:

  • Dr. Ruse’s early life growing up as a Quaker in England and how this influenced his thinking about religion
  • why he is a bulldog against creationism but has a soft spot in his heart for religion
  • why we should not read religious texts literally, but allegorically, and when we do there are great truths to be found, just as there is in great literature
  • his beef with the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett
  • how Darwinism is a religion
  • Darwinian existentialism
  • how a naturalist can still find morals, values, and meaning in life through the laws of nature, particularly human and social nature
  • what’s wrong with academia today, and
  • what advice he would give to someone asking how to lead a meaningful life.

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This Science Salon was recorded on January 16, 2019.

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May 28, 2019
67. Dr. Christian Smith — Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can’t Deliver
01:36:10

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…

  • what constitutes moral values
  • objectivity of right and wrong
  • the secular moral philosophies of Philip Kitcher, Sam Harris, Peter Singer, and Steven Pinker
  • Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Rawls: who is right?
  • pluralism and morality
  • theism and can it deliver the objective moral values it promises?
  • moral progress.

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This Science Salon was recorded on April 19, 2019.

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May 21, 2019
66. Dr. Christian List — Why Free Will is Real: A response to Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, and Other Determinists
01:35:52

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.

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This Science Salon was recorded on May 1, 2019.

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May 15, 2019
65. Jared Diamond — Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis
01:30:18

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.

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This Science Salon was recorded on March 13, 2019.

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May 07, 2019
64. Michael Tomasello — Becoming Human
01:25:31

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.

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This Science Salon was recorded on February 19, 2019.

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Apr 30, 2019
63. Dr. Hector A. Garcia — Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide
01:36:13

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:

  • Trump and other political leaders through the lens of evolutionary psychology
  • what ancient fears Trump evokes when he says foreigners are bringing in disease and threaten our safety
  • why people tend to prefer politicians who are taller, better looking, and with broader shoulders
  • how liberals and conservatives differ in temperament and personality and how this difference plays out in public policy
  • the moralistic fallacy and the naturalistic fallacy
  • the authoritarian personality and social dominance theory
  • why the Left-Right/Liberal-Conservative political spectrum is universal and what deep preferences it represents
  • how women and men differ in cognitive styles of thinking, preferences, and career choices
  • how PTSD as a real phenomena, especially among returning veterans, but why normal anxiety should not be considered pathological

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.

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This Science Salon was recorded on February 25, 2019.

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Apr 24, 2019
AMA-5. Dr. Michael Shermer — “Are the Miracles of Jesus Unbelievable?” Debate Postmortem
27:14

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.

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Apr 21, 2019
62. Dr. Mark Moffett — The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall
01:32:13

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.

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This Science Salon was recorded on April 8, 2019.

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Apr 16, 2019
61. Dr. Richard Wrangham — The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution
01:41:54

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:

  • the paradox of Homo sapiens
  • the two types of aggression: proactive and reactive
  • the evolutionary origins of aggression and the logic behind it
  • the neural pathways of aggression
  • how species can be both artificially and self-domesticated
  • the tyrant/bully problem and how our ancestors solved it
  • war and human nature.

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This Science Salon was recorded on March 5, 2019.

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Apr 10, 2019
60. Nicholas A. Christakis — Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society
01:35:17

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:

  • his background and how he got into studying social networks and society
  • why evolutionary psychology is an equal opportunity offender (Right: biological creationism; Left: cognitive creationism)
  • the 8-character suite of human nature that goes into building a good society
  • Unintentional Communities like shipwrecks
  • Intentional Communities like communes
  • Artificial Communities like Seasteading
  • love and why it matters for a good society, and not just a good life
  • friends and social networks
  • genes and culture co-evolution
  • boo words like positivism, reductionism, essentialism, determinism and why we need not fear them
  • Hume’s Wall: is-ought naturalistic fallacy
  • engineering new social worlds and governing mars.

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.

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This Science Salon was recorded on March 27, 2019.

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Apr 03, 2019
59. Cass R. Sunstein — On Freedom
59:30

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:

Libertarian paternalism makes a deeper assumption about our nature — that at our core we are moral beings with a deep and intuitive sense about what is right and wrong, and that most of the time most people in most circumstances choose to do the right thing. Thus, applying the principle of libertarian paternalism to the larger politico-economic system as a whole, I suggest that the default option should be to grant people the libertarian ideal of maximum freedom, while using the best science available to inform the policy that gives structure to the minimum number of restrictions on our freedoms. Let’s opt for more freedom and add back restrictions on freedom only where absolutely necessary and with great reluctance.

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This Science Salon was recorded on March 4, 2019.

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Mar 26, 2019
58. Ben Shapiro — The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great
50:08

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:

  • people are never to be treated as a means to an end but as an end in themselves (Kant)
  • people have an inalienable right to life, liberty & happiness (Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence)
  • people have an inherent right to privacy, speech, thought, and action (U.S. Constitution)
  • governments may not infringe on such rights (John Stuart Mill)
  • people should be treated equally under the law (John Locke)
  • punishments should fit the crime and society should be based on the greatest good for the greatest number (Jeremy Bentham).

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:

Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c.

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:

  • free will and determinism
  • human nature and sexuality
  • why rates of abortion are higher in the U.S. than other Western countries
  • the increase in rates of suicide and depression in the U.S.
  • unionizing the Intellectual Dark Web and striking for higher wages and redistribution of resources…

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This Science Salon was recorded on February 27, 2019.

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Mar 19, 2019
57. Dr. Frans de Waal — Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves
01:03:18

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:

  • the difference between feelings and emotions
  • the problem of “other minds” (how do we know what other people, much less animals, are thinking and feeling?)
  • why it took a century since Darwin’s book on the evolution of animal and human emotions before scientists took up the mantle
  • the push back from social scientists that Paul Ekman and other scientists, including de Waal, got for suggesting emotions evolved
  • A.I. and emotions (can we program feelings into robots?)
  • the six different emotions and why there are very probably more
  • the nature/nurture debate in the study of emotions
  • primate politics in U.S. elections: a biologist analyzes the Trump-Clinton debate #2
  • is Trump an alpha male or a bully?
  • the difference between sentience and consciousness
  • animal rights and the future of factory farming.

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This Science Salon was recorded on February 12, 2019.

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Mar 12, 2019
56. Dr. Tyler Cowen — How an Economist Views the World
01:21:00

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…

“Growth is good. Through history, economic growth, in particular, has alleviated human misery, improved human happiness and opportunity, and lengthened human lives. Wealthier societies are more stable, offer better living standards, produce better medicines, and ensure greater autonomy, greater fulfillment, and more sources of fun. If we want to continue on our trends of growth, and the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for societies that come with it, every individual must become more concerned with the welfare of those around us and in the world at large and most of all our descendants in the future. So, how do we proceed?”

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…

  • what it means to be “on the margin,” “marginal utility,” and his blog “Marginal Revolution”
  • trade wars and tariffs and what they really mean for consumers, companies, and countries (China, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), etc.)
  • unemployment is now under 4%, the lowest in decades. Is Trump a savvy economist?
  • why capitalism is a moral system as well as an economic system
  • income inequality
  • universal basic income
  • regulating financial markets
  • immigration: how does an economist think about borders and walls?
  • why incentives matter
  • libertarian paternalism and nudging people to do the right thing
  • social media companies and governmental regulation
  • Jordan Peterson and the power of narrative
  • governing Mars: what political and economic systems should we take with us to the Red Planet, and which should we leave behind.

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This Science Salon was recorded on January 15, 2019.

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Mar 06, 2019
AMA-4. Dr. Michael Shermer — The Problem of Evil
21:15