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Past Lectures

Big names. Even Bigger Ideas. The Skeptics Society's Dinstinguished Lecture Series. hosted by Michael Shermer. Nnow on Vimeo On Demand.
Big names. Even Bigger Ideas.
Science lectures, online,
on Vimeo On Demand

Most of our past lectures are available for purchase on DVD, and many of our most popular lectures can now be rented for a small fee and watched online, on demand, around the world, on Vimeo On Demand.

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Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us

Dr. Donald Yeomans

Of all the natural disasters that could befall us, only an Earth impact by a large comet or asteroid has the potential to end civilization in a single blow. Yet these near-Earth objects also offer tantalizing clues to our solar system’s origin, and someday could even serve as stepping-stones for space exploration. In this lecture, Donald Yeomans introduces readers to the science of near-Earth objects—its history, applications, and ongoing quest to find near-Earth objects before they find us. Yeomans takes readers behind the scenes of today’s efforts to find, track, and study near-Earth objects. He shows how the same comets and asteroids most likely to collide with us could also be mined for precious natural resources like water and oxygen, and used as watering holes and fueling stations for expeditions to Mars and the outermost reaches of our solar system.

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The Particle at the End of the Universe:
How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us
to the Edge of a New World

Dr. Sean M. Carroll

Scientists have just announced an historic discovery on a par with the splitting of the atom: the Higgs boson. The key to understanding why mass exists has been found. In The Particle at the End of the Universe, Caltech physicist and acclaimed writer Sean Carroll takes you behind the scenes of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to meet the scientists and explain this landmark event. What is so special about the Higgs boson? We didn’t really know for sure if anything at the subatomic level had any mass at all until we found it. The fact is, while we have now essentially solved the mass puzzle, there are things we didn’t predict and possibilities we haven’t yet dreamed. A doorway is opening into the mind boggling, somewhat frightening world of dark matter. We only discovered the electron just over a hundred years ago and considering where that took us—from nuclear energy to quantum computing—the inventions that will result from the Higgs discovery will be world-changing.

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success

Dr. Kevin Dutton (photo by Robert Paul Williams)

University of Oxford research psychologist Dr. Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry. Dutton argues that there are “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.

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Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue,
Altruism, and Shame

Dr. Christopher Boehm (photo by Jenny Cool)

IF THE HUMAN INSTINCT to survive and reproduce is “selfish,” why do people engage in self-sacrifice, and even develop ideas like virtue and shame to justify that altruism? Many theories have been put forth, some emphasizing the role of nepotism, others emphasizing the advantages of reciprocation or group selection effects. Evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm offers an elegant new theory. Tracing the development of altruism and group social control over 6 million years, Boehm argues that our moral sense is a sophisticated defense mechanism that enables individuals to survive and thrive in groups. One of the biggest risks of group living is the possibility of being punished for our misdeeds by those around us. Bullies, thieves, free-riders, and especially psychopaths are the most likely to suffer this fate. Getting by requires getting along, and this social type of selection, Boehm shows, singles out altruists for survival. This selection pressure has been unique in shaping human nature, and it bred the first stirrings of conscience in the human species. Dr. Boehm offers profound insight into humanity’s moral past—and how it might shape our moral future.

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Born Together, Reared Apart:
The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study

Dr. Nancy Segal

“The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart” startled scientists by demonstrating that twins reared apart are as alike, across a number of personality traits and other measures, as those raised together, suggesting that genetic influence is pervasive. Dr. Nancy Segal, a professor in the Department of Psychology at California State University, Fullerton, and the director of the Twin Studies Center, offers an overview of the study’s scientific contributions and effect on public consciousness. Dr. Segal is an associate editor of Twin Research and Human Genetics, the official journal of the International Society for Twin Studies.

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The Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks

Art Benjamin

TEACHERS AND PARENTS, BRING YOUR STUDENTS AND KIDS to see the famous lightning calculator and mathemagician Art Benjamin demonstrate simple math secrets and tricks that will forever change how you look at the world of numbers. Get ready to amaze your friends—and yourself—with incredible calculations you never thought you could master, and learn how to do math in your head faster than you ever thought possible, dramatically improve your memory for numbers, and—maybe for the first time—make mathematics fun. Dr. Benjamin will teach you how to quickly multiply and divide triple digits, compute with fractions, and determine squares, cubes, and roots without blinking an eye. No matter what your age or current math ability, Dr. Benjamin will teach you how to perform fantastic feats of the mind effortlessly. This is the math they never taught you in school.

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Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

Christof Koch

WHAT LINKS CONSCIOUS EXPERIENCE OF PAIN, joy, color, and smell to bioelectrical activity in the brain? How can anything physical give rise to nonphysical, subjective, conscious states? Neuroscientist Christof Koch has devoted much of his career to bridging the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the physics of the brain and phenomenal experience. Koch recounts not only the birth of the modern science of consciousness but also the subterranean motivation for his quest—his instinctual (if “romantic”) belief that life is meaningful. Koch describes his own groundbreaking work with Francis Crick in the 1990s and 2000s and the gradual emergence of consciousness (once considered a “fringy” subject) as a legitimate topic for scientific investigation. Koch gives us stories from the front lines of modern research into the neurobiology of consciousness as well as his own reflections on a variety of topics, including the distinction between attention and awareness, the unconscious, how neurons respond to Homer Simpson, the physics and biology of free will, dogs, sentient machines, and Der Ring des Nibelungen.

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Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind
Rules Your Behavior

Leonard Mlodinow

FROM THE BEST-SELLING AUTHOR of The Drunkard’s Walk and coauthor of The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking) and War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra) comes a fascinating, illuminating examination of the profound ways in which the unconscious mind shapes our lives. Every aspect of our mental lives plays out in two versions: one conscious, which we are constantly aware of, and the other unconscious, which remains hidden from us. Over the past two decades researchers have developed remarkable new tools for probing the unconscious, or subliminal, workings of the mind. This explosion of research has led to a sea change in our understanding of how the mind affects the way we live. As a result, scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that how we experience the world—our perception, behavior, memory, and social judgment—is largely driven by the mind’s subliminal processes and not by the conscious ones, as we have long believed.

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Born Believers: The Science of Children’s
Religious Belief

Justin Barrett

FROM A NOTED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGIST and anthropologist at Oxford University, this fascinating theory about the value of religious faith posits that we are all predisposed to believe in God from birth. We are all Born Believers, explains Professor Justin L. Barrett. It begins in the brain. Infants, under the sway of powerful internal and external forces, make sense of their environments by imagining a creative and intelligent agent, a grand controller who makes the sun shine and the night fall. In the chaos of childhood, where so much is out of the child’s control, this belief in a morally good creator can bring tremendous comfort and calm. A child’s world is then filled with beings who intentionally act upon the environment, maintaining order. Summarizing scientific experiments conducted with children across the globe, Professor Barrett illustrates the ways human beings have come to develop complex belief systems about God’s omniscience, the afterlife, and the immortality of deities. He shows how the science of childhood religiosity reveals, across humanity, a “Natural Religion.”

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Sam Harris on “Free Will”

Sam Harris

SAM HARRIS IS THE AUTHOR of the New York Times bestsellers, The Moral Landscape, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. His new book is short (96 pages), to the point, and will change the way we all view free will, as Oliver Sacks wrote: “Brilliant and witty—and never less than incisive—Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000.” UCSD neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran notes: “In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates—with great intellectual ferocity and panache—that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings.”

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