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Upcoming Lectures

All events begin on a Sunday at 2pm in Baxter Lecture Hall on the Caltech campus, except for Steven Pinker’s lecture, which happens on a Saturday (October 4). Lecture events feature a Q&A period after the talk, and a book signing by the author. Also, lecture-goers are invited to meet and talk to the speaker and socialize with fellow skeptics over dinner and libations at Burger Continental in Pasadena. Missed a lecture? Most can be ordered on DVD.

Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter

Dr. Katherine-Freese.jpg

THE ORDINARY ATOMS that make up the known universe constitute only 5% of all matter and energy in the cosmos. The rest is known as dark matter and dark energy, because their precise identities are unknown. The Cosmic Cocktail is the inside story of the epic quest to solve one of the most compelling enigmas of modern science—what is the universe made of?—told by one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter, acclaimed University of Michigan theoretical physicist Katherine Freese. Theorists contend that dark matter consists of fundamental particles known as WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles. Billions of them pass through our bodies every second without us even realizing it, yet their gravitational pull is capable of whirling stars and gas at breakneck speeds around the centers of galaxies, and bending light from distant bright objects. Dr. Freese describes the larger-than-life characters and clashing personalities behind the race to identify these elusive particles. Order The Cosmic Cocktail from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.


The Myth of Mirror Neurons

Dr. Gregory Hickok

IN THIS MYTH-BUSTING TALK based on his new book, U.C. Irvine cognitive scientist Dr. Gregory Hickok calls for an essential reconsideration of one of the most far-reaching theories in modern neuroscience and psychology. Ever since the discovery of mirror neurons in macaque monkeys in 1992 there has been a stream of scientific studies implicating mirror neurons in everything from schizophrenia and drug abuse to sexual orientation and contagious yawning. Drawing on a broad range of observations from work on animal behavior, modern neuroimaging, neurological disorders, and more, Dr. Hickok argues that the foundational assumptions fall flat in light of the facts. He then explores alternative explanations of mirror neuron function while illuminating crucial questions about human cognition and brain function: Why do humans imitate so prodigiously? How different are the left and right hemispheres of the brain? Why do we have two visual systems? Do we need to be able to talk to understand speech? What’s going wrong in autism? Dr. Hickok provides deep insights into the organization and function of the human brain and the nature of communication and cognition. Order The Myth of Mirror Neurons from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.


The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide
to Writing in the 21st Century

Dr. Steven Pinker (photo by Rebecca Goldstein)

WHY IS SO MUCH WRITING SO BAD, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do people write badly on purpose, to obfuscate and impress? Have dictionaries abandoned their responsibility to safeguard correct usage? Do kids today even care about good writing? In his latest book the Harvard linguist, cognitive scientist, bestselling author (The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature) and chair of the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary, Dr. Steven Pinker, answers these questions and more. Pinker applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose. Filled with examples of great and gruesome modern prose, The Sense of Style shows how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right, that is also informed by science. Order The Sense of Style from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.


The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science & the Search for Meaning

Dr. Marcelo Gleiser (photo b Gil Inoue)

DO ALL QUESTIONS HAVE ANSWERS? How much can we know about the world? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth? To be human is to want to know, but what we are able to observe is only a tiny portion of what’s “out there.” In The Island of Knowledge, Dartmouth College astronomer and physicist Dr. Marcelo Gleiser traces our search for answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In so doing, he reaches a provocative conclusion: science, the main tool we use to find answers, is fundamentally limited. These limits to our knowledge arise both from our tools of exploration and from the nature of physical reality: the speed of light, the uncertainty principle, the impossibility of seeing beyond the cosmic horizon, the incompleteness theorem, and our own limitations as an intelligent species. Recognizing limits in this way, Gleiser argues, is not a deterrent to progress or a surrendering to religion. Rather, it frees us to question the meaning and nature of the universe while affirming the central role of life and ourselves in it. Science can and must go on, but recognizing its limits reveals its true mission: to know the universe is to know ourselves. Order The Island of Knowledge from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.


Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain

Dr. Bradley Voytek

WITH THEIR ENDLESS WANDERING, lumbering gait, insatiable hunger, antisocial behavior, and apparently memory-less existence, zombies are the walking nightmares of our deepest fears. What do these characteristic behaviors reveal about the inner workings of the zombie mind? Could we diagnose zombism as a neurological condition by studying their behavior? In Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, Dr. Bradley Voytek, a professor of computational cognitive science and neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, applies neuro-know-how to dissect the puzzle of what has happened to the zombie brain to make the undead act differently than their human prey. Combining tongue-in-cheek analysis with modern neuroscientific principles, Voytek shows how zombism can be understood in terms of current knowledge regarding how the brain works. Voytek draws on zombie popular culture and identifies a characteristic zombie behavior that can be explained using neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and brain-behavior relationships. Through this exploration he sheds light on fundamental neuroscientific questions such as: How does the brain function during sleeping and waking? What neural systems control movement? What is the nature of sensory perception? Order Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.


The Psychology of Magic (includes a magic show!)

Dr. Tony Barnhart (photo by Dimitri Sherman)

IN THIS DELIGHTFUL SHOW of mind and magic Dr. Tony Barnhart, a cognitive scientist and part-time professional magician (with over 20 years of performing experience), shows how magicians are informal cognitive scientists with their own hypotheses about the mind. His work on the science of magic has been featured in Science News for Kids as well as in national television shows, and he teaches a course on the Psychology of Magic at Northern Arizona University where he teaches students the principles of cognitive science through the art of magic. Don’t miss this entertaining and enlightening show and bring the kids!


Alan Turing: The Enigma

Dr. Andrew Hodges

IT IS ONLY A SLIGHT EXAGGERATION to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912–1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades—all before his suicide at age 41. In November a major motion picture starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing will be released, based on the classic biography Dr. Andrew Hodges, who teaches mathematics at Wadham College, University of Oxford (he is also an active contributor to the mathematics of fundamental physics). Hodges tells how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936—the concept of a universal machine—laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. Hodges also tells how this work was directly related to Turing’s leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic story of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program—all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.Order Alan Turing: The Enigma from Amazon. A book signing will follow the lecture.


Admission Policy for Baxter Hall

Due to security concerns, Baxter Hall will be locked and the audience will be admitted only through the doors on the South side of the building by the lily ponds. If, for medical reasons, you cannot climb the stairs to the hall on the 2nd floor, someone at the main entrance (located in the middle of the West side of the building) will escort you to the elevator. Get directions to the Caltech Campus, Baxter Hall and Beckman Auditorium.

Pricing

Ticket prices for Baxter Hall are $10 for Skeptics Society members/Caltech/JPL community; $15 for nonmembers. Ticket prices for Beckman Auditorium are $15 for Skeptics Society members/Caltech/JPL community; $20 everyone else. Tickets for all Baxter Lecture Hall events are sold on a first come, first served basis at the door. Seating is limited. Your admission fee is a donation that pays for our lecture expenses. For Beckman Auditorium, tickets may be purchased in advance through the Caltech ticket office in 101 Winnett (MAP) at 626-395-4652, or at the door. Ordering tickets ahead of time is strongly recommended. Do not leave a message; call between 9am–4pm Monday through Friday.

Service Charge for Beckman Auditorium Tickets

For all tickets purchased by phone or fax for Beckman Auditorium lectures, Caltech will add an $8 service charge per ticket order (no matter how many tickets are ordered). No service charge will be added to tickets purchased at the door on the day of the event or purchased in person at the Caltech ticket office in advance.

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