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Past Conferences

In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity

Hosted by Michael Shermer at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium, May 29–31, 2015

Speakers included: Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Lawrence Krauss, Esther Dyson, John McWhorter, Ian Morris, Carol Tavris, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Michael Shermer, and Donald Prothero.

Topics included: the future of the universe, the solar system, and the earth and its resources, the fate of civilizations and the nation-state, changing economic systems, the expanding moral sphere and progress or regress in morality, what language humans will speak, what race (if any) humans will be, the changing nature of gender roles, the future of religion, conflicts, and wars, how we can (or if we should) colonize the solar system and galaxy, and how humanity can become a Type I, Type II, or even a Type III civilization.

The conference also close-up magic by Jamy Ian Swiss and Jack Velour, lightning mathematical calculations by mathemagician Arthur Benjamin, and a performance by Las Vegas headliner Frankie Moreno. Plus, two stellar geology tours.

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Science Symposium

Friday–Sunday, June 24–26, 2011 | Beckman Auditorium, Caltech

Our 2011 Science Symposium was a rare opportunity to hear four of the world’s leading Skeptics discuss their experiences fighting irrationality and promoting science, and what you could do to help! Speakers included: Dr. Michael Shermer, James “The Amazing” Randi and special guests: Bill Nye the Science Guy® and Mr. Deity (Brian Keith Dalton).

Symposium Summary

Dr. Michael Shermer presented his “greatest hits” from 20 years of adventures in science and pseudoscience, skepticism and critical thinking, including his very best material from his books, popular talks, college courses, television shows, Scientific American column, and investigations conducted for Skeptic magazine. He also showcased new material from his just-published book The Believing Brain which focuses on the reasons we adopt the belief systems that we hold.

Topics included: science and pseudoscience • the psychology and neuroscience of belief • evolution and intelligent design • science and religion • the evolutionary origins of morality • how to be good without God • the Baloney Detection Kit • how beliefs can be changed • how to get people to stop believing weird things.

The day also featured special appearances and presentations by James “The Amazing” Randi from his book, A Magician in the Laboratory, in which he explained how to test paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Also, Bill Nye the Science Guy presented on a skeptical view from our place in space. The evening included a unique appearance of the Deity (Mr. Deity that is) who, at long last, answered Stephen Hawking’s question of why the universe goes to all the bother of existing.

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WATCH the Symposium Q&A for free

Origins & the Big Questions (2008)

Today, there is arguably no hotter topic in culture than science & religion. So much of the debate turns on the Big Questions that involve Origins: the origin of the universe, the origin of the ‘fine-tuned’ laws of nature, the origin of time and time’s arrow, the origin of life and complex life, and the origin of brains, minds, and consciousness. From theologians and philosophers to creationists and intelligent design theorists, the central core of almost all of their arguments centers on filling these origin gaps with God. But now science is making significant headway into providing natural explanations for these ultimate questions, which leaves us with the biggest question of all: Does science make belief in God obsolete?

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The Environmental Wars (2006)

This conference was held over the weekend of June 2–4, 2006, at Caltech on the theme of ‘The Environmental Wars: The Science Behind the Politics.’ It featured Jonathan Adler, Ronald Bailey, Dr. David Baltimore, Dr. Gregory Benford, Dr. Brian Fagan, Dr. David Goodstein, Dr. Paul MacCready, Chris Mooney, Dr. Donald Prothero, Dr. Michael Shermer, special guests John Stossel and Michael Crichton.

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Brain, Mind & Consciousness (2005)

The Brain, Mind & Consciousness conference, on what Nobel Laureate Francis Crick called “the greatest unsolved problem in biology,” was held over the weekend of May 13–15, 2005 at Caltech. Watch the entire conference for free below in three sessions (approximately 7.5 hours over 3 videos):

Research on the brain, mind, and consciousness was given a significant boost by Nobel laureate Dr. Francis Crick in 1994, when he wrote in his book, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, “that ‘you,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

This is what is called “the hard problem”—explaining how billions of neurons swapping chemicals give rise to such subjective experiences as consciousness, self-awareness, and awareness that others are conscious and self-aware; that is, not only the ability to wonder, but the ability to wonder why we wonder, and even wonder why others wonder why....

Explaining each of the functional parts of the brain is the easy problem, such as the differences between waking and sleep, discrimination of stimuli, or the control of behavior. By contrast, what has come to be known as the hard problem in consciousness studies is experience: what it is like to be in a given mental state? Adding up all of the solved easy problems does not equal a solution to the hard problem. Something else is going on in private subjective experiences—called qualia—and there is no consensus on what it is.

Dualists hold that qualia are separate from physical objects in the world and that mind is more than brain. Materialists contend that qualia are ultimately explicable through the activities of neu- rons and that mind and brain are one. Our speakers, some of the top neuroscientists in the world, will address these and other problems, such as the evolution of the brain, and how and why it got to be so large. Skeptics will get a chance to interact with these world-class scientists on the breaks, during meals, and in a formal discussion period. We will also consider the implications of this new brain research to better understand apparent paranormal phenomena, as well as how and why people believe weird things.

Lectures included: The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach with Dr. Christof Koch, Children as Scientists: How the Brain Learns to Think with Dr. Alison Gopnik, In Search of Memory — True, False, Repressed, Recovered with Dr. Richard McNally, Sleep, Dreams, and the Subconscious with Dr. Terry Sejnowski, Exploring Altered States of Consciousness with Dr. Susan Blackmore, The Search for the Neurological Basis of the Social Emotions with Dr. John Allman, From Whence Trust Comes: Oxytocin and Behavioral Economics with Dr. Paul Zak, Consciousness is Nothing But a Word with Dr. Hank Schlinger, and From Biology to Consciousness to Morality with Dr. Ursula Goodenough.

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A Festschrift in Honor of Stephen Jay Gould (2000)

This conference was held on October 7, 2000 at Caltech Commemorating 26 years and 300 consecutive essays in Natural History — “This View of Life” by Stephen Jay Gould, America’s evolution laureate.

Dr. Gould is one of the best known and most highly decorated scientists of our age. After an A.B. from Antioch College and a Ph.D. from Columbia, Gould began his teaching career at Harvard, won the prestigious Schuchert Award for excellence in paleontological research by a scientist under 40, won the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship, was named “Scientist of the Year” by Discover magazine for the theory of punctuated equilibrium, was named Humanist Laureate by the Academy of Humanism, was awarded 41 honorary degrees, was voted a member of the National Academy of Science, and served a term as President of the AAAS. He has written 20 books (for which he received a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award) and over 600 scientific papers.

Speakers at this conference included: Dr. David Baltimore, Dr. Louis Friedman, Dr. Donald Prothero, Dr. Frank J. Sulloway, Dr. Paul MacCready, Dr. James Powell, James “the Amazing” Randi, Dr. Carol Tavris, Richard Milner, and Dr. Michael Shermer.

ORDER Festschrift for Stephen Jay Gould: Part 1 DVD
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Reinventing Evolution (1999)

This conference was held over the weekend of May 21–22, 1999 at Caltech. Participants enjoyed lectures on the following topics: Is Evolution in Trouble?; What Americans Believe About Evolution; Gould’s Dangerous Idea: What Really Scares People About Evolution; A Century of Pseudoscience: A Look Back at 20th-Century Nonsense; Why People Don’t Believe in Evolution; Is Evolution a Social Construction? Keynote entertainment, “Charles Darwin — Live and in Concert,” was provided by Richard Milner. Speakers included: Randy Cassingham, Dr. Niles Eldredge, Dr. John R. “Jack” Horner, Frank Miele, James “The Amazing” Randi, Dr. Michael Ruse, Dr. Eugenie Scott, and Dr. Michael Shermer.

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God, Religion & Myths (1998)

This conference was held over the weekend of May 22–24, 1998 at Caltech. Participants enjoyed an evening of magic and socializing, a day of lectures, a brilliant keynote address, and a one day workshop. Why do people need religion? Can a true believer come and explain to a room full of skeptics how you can be both a skeptic and a believer in God at the same time? What are the true origins of the gospels? Is theism/atheism a question of one’s knowledge of the Universe or of one’s opinion about it? How do myths deal with subjets such as transition and relationships between men and women, within families and in societies?

ORDER James Randi’s Solved Mysteries. Part 1 DVD
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Science Controversies (May 1997)

  • Conference introduction: “Pilate’s Unanswered Question — “What is Truth?”” by Frank Miele
  • “What Went Wrong in Anthropology?” by Dr. Vincent Sarich
  • “Why People Believe Weird Things: How to Bridge the Science Gap” by Dr. Michael Shermer
  • “The Million Dollar Psychic Challenge” with James Randi
  • “The Psychology Wars: Social Science or Social Science Fiction?” by Dr. Carol Tavris
  • “The Problem With History Today” by Dr. Frank Sulloway
  • Keynote by Jared Diamond: “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies: A Scientific History. ”
Skeptics Society Awards Ceremony
  • The Randi Award: The Skeptic of the Year 1996
  • The Dumbth Award: The Dumbest Thing of 1996
  • The Murrow Award: Skeptical Media of 1996
  • The Spinoza Award: Best Skeptic Article of 1996

ORDER Can History be a Science? Part II DVD
ORDER Guns, Germs & Steel, by Jared Diamond DVD

Evolutionary Psychology & Humanistic Ethics
(March 1996)

Part I: Evolutionary Psychology
  • Introduction to conference by Michael Shermer
  • Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology by Bernard Leikind
  • Intelligence and Consciousness: “What is it and How and Why Did it Evolve?” by Paul and Patricia Churchland.
  • “The Human Quest: A New Common Sense, A New Enlightenment” by Roger Bingham
  • James “The Amazing” Randi, “A Skeptical Update”
  • Introduction to afternoon session: “A Challenge to Evolutionary Psychology” by Frank Miele
  • “Beauty is in the Adaptations of the Beholder: The Evolutionary Psychology of Female Sexual Attractiveness” by Donald Symons
  • “Double Exposure: Twin-based Insights into the Genetics of Human Behavior” by Nancy Segal. Dr. Segal. is a Professor of Developmental Psychology and Director of the Twin Studies Center at CSU, Fullerton and is an authority on behavior genetics through her involvement in the famous Minnesota Twins study.
  • “The Myth of the Noble Savage: Lessons From the Yanomamö People of the Amazon” by Napoleon Chagnon. Dr. Chagnon is the colorful and controversial Professor of Anthropology at U.C. Santa Barbara who studied one of the last Paleolithic people on the planet, the subject of his bestselling book, Yanomamö: The Fierce People. He is also the editor of Evolutionary Biology and Human Social Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective.
  • Audience Q & A and discussion
Part II: Humanistic Ethics
  • “A Challenge to Skeptics & Humanists About Ethics & Morality” by Bernard Leikind
  • “Prospects for Morality: God, Women, and Evolution” by John Hartung
  • “The Secular Sphinx: The Riddle of Evolutionary Ethics, Humanistic Morals, and Living without God and Religion” by Michael Shermer
  • Open Forum with all speakers and audience on evolutionary ethics, humanistic morality, and living without God and religion. Moderated by Frank Miele.

Science Symposium (March 1995)

Part I: The Psychics of Immortality:
Can Science Prove the Existence of God?
  • Michael Shermer, opening remarks on: “The Myth of the Warfare Between Science and Religion”
  • Frank Tipler, cosmologist, Tulane University, author of the controversial books: The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and The Psychics of Immortality, on “The Psychics of God an Immortality”
  • Bernard Leikind, plasma physicist, Skeptic columnist on: “Can Science Really Prove God?: A Skeptical Analysis of the Physics of Immortality”
  • Michael Kerze, historian of religion and science, Occidental College on: “Theologizing Science: From Democritus to Tipler”
  • Caltech cosmologist Kip Thorne comments
  • Frank Tipler responds to critics
  • Audience Q & A and discussion
Part II: Skeptics in the Trenches:
Playing the Media Game & Shaping Public Opinion
  • Michael Shermer, Director, Skeptics Society: “Unsolved Mysteries, The Other Side, Donahue, and Sally: What Goes on Behind the Cameras
  • Frank Miele, contributing editor, Skeptic Magazine: “Giving the Devil his Due: Free Speech and Fringe Claims”
  • Linda Rose, Front Range Skeptics: “An Insider’s Account of an Investigation on Therapeutic Touch: Dealing With the Public, the Media, and Government”
  • Jessica Yu, Buzz magazine: “Psychics R Us: How I Became a Skeptic. Investigating Psychics—A Journalist’s View Inside the Psychic World.”
  • James “The Amazing” Randi on “A Skeptical State of the World Address”
  • Skeptic Magazine Awards

Symposium: Race & IQ (1995)

This one-day symposium was held on February 26, 1995. Subtitled “For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls,” this event included lectures by Dr. Vincent Sarich in support of The Bell Curve; Dr. Diane Halpern critical of The Bell Curve. and Dr. Daniel Kevles on the history of the race and IQ controversy.

ORDER Race and IQ: For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls (cassette tape only)

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