The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

An Evening at the Historic Mt. Wilson Observatory

with Jared Diamond & Michael Shermer

Saturday, March 18th, afternoon and evening

Jared Diamond Photo

The Skeptics Society is in the midst of our annual fundraising campaign. In our literature mailing we promised Patrons who donate $5,000 or more “a dinner with Michael Shermer and a world-renowned scientist and a private insider’s tour of one of the greatest scientific sites in Southern California where our understanding of the world was changed dramatically.”

The world-renowned scientist is Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, and the newly-published Collapse.

The scientific site is the Mt. Wilson Observatory, where the astronomer Edwin Hubble expanded our universe by orders of magnitude through his observations from the 100-inch telescope.

about the event

Our small, private group will depart around 3:00 pm and drive to Mt. Wilson. There we will receive a two-hour tour of the grounds, the museum, and the 100-inch telescope where Hubble made his discoveries. You can see the bentwood chair in which he sat, and all the mechanics and electronics are still in place and operational. We will then proceed to the solar telescope where we can witness the setting of the sun as projected on the solar disk plate. We will all dine together and when it gets dark we will move to the 60-inch telescope dome for which we have rented the telescope for an evening of spectacular and heavenly viewing. Throughout the day and evening there will be ample time to mingle with and talk to Dr. Diamond, as well as the astronomers who will accompany our group.

Several people are already qualified to go. For those of you who have already made donations under the Patron level to the Society in this year’s drive and you would like to join the tour, you can make a second donation that will bring your total to the Patron’s level of $5000.

This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and your support is greatly appreciated and will go toward our badly-needed science education projects.

Contact Michael Shermer, 626-794-3119 to make your reservation. This will be a small group that we anticipate will fill up quickly.

My personal experiences
with Mt. Wilson

by Michael Shermer

Photo of Mt. Wilson

On October 6, 1923, Edwin Hubble first realized that the fuzzy patches he was observing through the 100-inch telescope were not “nebula” within the Milky Way galaxy but were, in fact, separate galaxies, and that the universe is bigger than anyone imagined. He subsequently discovered through this same telescope that those galaxies are all red-shifted—their light is receding from us and thus stretched toward the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum—meaning that all galaxies are expanding away from one another, the result of a spectacular explosion that marked the birth of the universe. It was the first empirical data indicating that the universe had a beginning, and thus was not eternal. What could be more awe-inspiring—more numinous, magical, spiritual—than this cosmic visage? Darwin and the geologists gave us deep time. Hubble and the astronomers gave us deep space.

Since I live in Southern California I have had many occasions to make the climb to Mt. Wilson, a 25-mile trek from the bedroom community of La Canada up a twisting mountain road whose terminus is a cluster of old telescopes, new interferometers, and communications towers that feed the mega-media conglomerate below. As a young student of science in the 1970s I took a general tour. As a serious bicycle racer in the 1980s I rode there every Wednesday (a tradition still practiced by a handful of us cycling diehards). In the 1990s I took several scientists there, including the late paleontologist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould, who described it as a deeply moving experience. And, most recently, in November, 2004, I arranged for a visit to the observatory for the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (the other great bard of life’s history), during his trip to Los Angeles on a book tour for his just-published opus, The Ancestor’s Tale, itself a source of scientific spirituality in its three billion year pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution. As we were standing beneath the magnificent dome housing the 100-inch telescope reflecting on how marvelous, even miraculous, this scientistic visage of the cosmos and our place in it all seemed, Dawkins turned to me and said “all of this makes me proud of our species.”

The Mt. Wilson observatory was founded in December, 1904 by George Ellery Hale, and as our deeply informed tour guides Don Nicholson and Gale Gant took us from dome to dome we were able to reflect upon a century of spectacular science: Hale’s 1906 discovery that sunspots are regions of reduced solar temperature; Hale’s 1908 detection of the solar magnetic field, the first ever found outside the earth; Hale’s 1914 discovery that sunspots in northern and southern hemispheres of the sun reverse polarity every 11 years; Harlow Shapley’s 1917 location of the galactic center; Albert Michelson’s 1920 measurement of the first stellar diameter (Betelgeuse); Hubble’s 1923 discovery of a Cepheid variable star in the Andromeda Galaxy, proving that ours is only one of many galaxies; Michelson’s 1925-1929 measurements of the velocity of light between Mt. Wilson and Lookout Mountain; Hubble’s 1929 correlation of galactic distance and recessional velocity (redshift), confirming the expansion of the universe; Olin Wilson’s 1937 discovery of the first Wolf-Rayet star; Seth Nicholson’s 1938 discovery of Jupiter’s 10th satellite; Walter Baade’s 1941 discovery of the remnant of Kepler’s 1604 supernova; Robert Leighton’s and Robert Noyes’s 1962 discovery of the 5-minute solar oscillations; the first infrared sky survey in 1965; Robert Howard’s and Barry LaBonte’s 1980 discovery of the torsional oscillations of the sun; “First fringes” for U.S. Naval Observatory’s Mark III stellar interferometer in 1986; “First fringes” for Charles Townes’ UC Berkeley Infrared Spatial Interferometer (ISI) in 1988; “First fringes” for Georgia State’s CHARA array in 1999; third telescope added to ISI infrared interferometer array in 2000; and “First fringes” over longest (331m) CHARA baseline in 2001, to name but a few.

The following is a schedule of Michael Shermer’s 2005 Spring/Summer Lecture Series

Knoxville, TN
Wednesday, February 9th

Darwin Day Lectures
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN

afternoon lecture:

The Science of Good and Evil: The Evolutionary Origins of Morality

evening lecture:

Creationism, Holocaust Denial, and Why People Believe Weird Things


Marc Cadotte, [email protected],,

Redmond, WA
Tuesday, February 15th, 1:30–4:00 pm

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399
Visiting Speaker Series, Microsoft Corporation


Tamara Pesik, [email protected]

Seattle, WA
Tuesday, February 15th, 7:30–9:00 pm

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
Elliott Bay Bookstore, 101 S. Main St., Seattle, WA 98104


Rick Simonson, [email protected]

San Francisco, CA
Wednesday, February 16th, 6:00–7:30 pm

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
Commonwealth Club, 595 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94105, (415) 597-6700, Free to members, Non-members $15.


Rosemary Wright, [email protected]. Cosponsor: Stacy’s Books

Menlo Park, CA
Thursday, February 17th, 7:30–9:00 pm

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
Kepler’s Books, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025


Jenny Davis, [email protected]

Portland, OR
Friday, February 18th, 7:30–9:00 pm

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
Powell’s Books, 1005 West Burnside, Portland, OR 97209


Michal Drannen, [email protected]

Los Angeles, CA
Wednesday, February 23rd, 7:00 pm

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown
Mark Taper Auditorium. Los Angeles Public Library, 630 W. 5th St.

Free, reservations recommended: or (213) 228-7025.
Parking: 524 S. Flower St. garage, $7 maximum weekdays after 4 pm

Fulton, Missouri
Wednesday, March 9th, 8 pm

Evolutionary Theory v. Intelligent Design Theory
Champ Auditorium, Westminster College
Dr. Michael Shermer v. Dr. Stephen Myer


Chad Ahren,[email protected]
or Brian Bye, [email protected]

Conway, Arkansas
Monday, April 4th, 1:30 pm

Why People Believe Weird Things
Campus Theater, University of Central Arkansas, Psychology Club, Honors Society
7:00 pm talk at the Psi Chi banquet at Cajun’s Wharf


Dr. Heide Island, [email protected]

Indianapolis, IN
Tuesday, April 5th, 7:30 pm

The Science of Good and Evil
Atherton Union Reilly Room, Butler University


Stuart Glennan, [email protected]
or Norm Minnick, [email protected]

Greencastle, IN
Wednesday, April 6th

4:00 pm — “Why People Believe Weird Things”
8:00 pm — “The Science of Good and Evil
Student Union Ballroom and Science Center, DePauw University


Keith Nightenhelser, [email protected]
or Tavia Pigg [email protected]

Laramie, WY
Thursday, April 7th, 1:00 pm

Why People Believe Weird Things
Education Auditorium, University of Wyoming


Missy Samp, [email protected]
or Don Allen Roth, [email protected]

San Francisco, CA
Friday, May 27th

Demon Haunted Mind
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco, CA
Dr. Shermer’s lecture is one of several in an all day seminar;
Mind States Conference, 2005 theme: “Technology & Transcendence”


Jon Hanna, [email protected],

June 1—12

June 1—8: “In Darwin’s Footsteps” Tour of Galapagos Islands
June 9—12: World Summit on Evolution
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Islas Galapagos, Ecuador,

Sponsored by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). Through a series of presentations and discussions, the world’s outstanding leaders in evolution will be brought face-to-face to share their insights on evidence for this theory and to discuss future research horizons.

Day 1: General Vision of Evolution (The Origins of Life, Evolution in the Archean, Proterozoic , and Phanerozoic Eons, Genetic Basis for Evolution, Microbial Evolution, Human Evolution)
Day 2: Evidence for Evolution (Plant Evolution, Evolution of Animal Behavior, Animal Development and Evolution, Fungi Genomics, Sexual Selection, Darwin Finch Speciation)
Day 3: Field Work led by local scientific experts of the Darwin Station
Day 4: Evolution: History, Present and Future

Big Sur, CA
August 12—14

Science, Spirituality, & the Search for Meaning
Esalen Institute, , 55000 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Weekend Workshop at the Esalen Institute

$595 (includes workshop, housing, and meals at one of the most beautiful locations in the world overlooking the Pacific Ocean with natural hot springs and majestic scenery)


email:[email protected]
website: or phone:
831-667-3038 (programs)
831-667-3005 (reservations)
831-667-3003 (general)
Fax: 831-667-0329

workshop schedule

Friday, August 12, 8:30—10:30 pm
Saturday, August 13, 10:00 am—12:00 pm, 4:00—6:00 pm, 8:00—10:00 pm
Sunday, August 14, 9:30—11:30 am

Science, Spirituality, & the Search for Meaning

The intellectual and spiritual quest to understand the universe and our place in it is at the core of both science and religion. At the beginning of the 20th century social scientists predicted that belief in God would decrease by the end of the century because of the secularization of society. In fact, the opposite happened. Never in history have so many, and such a high percentage of the population, believed in God and expressed spirituality. To find out why, science historian and social scientist Dr. Michael Shermer has undertaken a monumental study of science, spirituality, and the search for meaning through his numerous writings, presented here for the first time in workshop format.

Since humans are storytelling animals, a deeper aspect of this issue involves the origins and purposes of myth and religion in human history and culture. Why is there is an eternal return of certain mythic themes in religion, such as messiah myths, flood myths, creation myths, destruction myths, redemption myths, and end of the world myths? What do these recurring themes tell us about the workings of the human mind and culture? What can we learn from these myths beyond the moral homilies offered in their narratives? What can we glean about ourselves as we gaze into these mythic mirrors of our souls?

Humans are not only storytelling animals, we are also pattern-seeking animals, and there is a tendency to find pattern even when none exists. To most of us the pattern of the universe indicates design. For countless millennia we have taken these patterns and constructed stories about how our cosmos was designed specifically for us. For the past few centuries, however, science has presented us with a viable alternative in which we are but one among tens of millions of species, housed on but one planet among many orbiting an ordinary solar system, itself one among possibly billions of solar systems in an ordinary galaxy, located in a cluster of galaxies not so different than billions of other galaxy clusters, themselves whirling away from one another in an expanding cosmic bubble that very possibly is only one among a near infinite number of bubble universes. Is it really possible that this entire cosmological multiverse exists for one tiny subgroup of a single species on one planet in a lone galaxy in that solitary bubble universe? In this workshop, we will explore the deepest question of all: what if the universe and the world were not created for us by an intelligent designer, and instead is just one of those things that happened? Can we discover meaning in this apparently meaningless universe? Can we still find the sacred in this age of science? The answer is YES!

about the seminar leader

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Lecture Series at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the co-host and producer of the 13-hour Fox Family television series, Exploring the Unknown.

He is the author of Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, about how the mind works and how thinking goes wrong. His book The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share Care, and Follow the Golden Rule, is on the evolutionary origins of morality and how to be good without God. He wrote a biography, In Darwin‚s Shadow, about the life and science of the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. He also wrote The Borderlands of Science, about the fuzzy land between science and pseudoscience, and Denying History, on Holocaust denial and other forms of pseudohistory. His book How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, presents his theory on the origins of religion and why people believe in God. He is also the author of Why People Believe Weird Things on pseudoscience, superstitions, and other confusions of our time.

According to the late Stephen Jay Gould (from his Foreword to Why People Believe Weird Things):

Michael Shermer, as head of one of America‚s leading skeptic organizations, and as a powerful activist and essayist in the service of this operational form of reason, is an important figure in American public life.

Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University. Since his creation of the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech, he has appeared on such shows as 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Larry King Live, Tom Snyder, Donahue, Oprah, Leeza, Unsolved Mysteries, and other shows as a skeptic of weird and extraordinary claims, as well as interviews in countless documentaries aired on PBS, A&E, Discovery, The History Channel, The Science Channel, and The Learning Channel.

about the Esalen Institute

Esalen is, geographically speaking, a literal cliff, hanging precariously over the Pacific Ocean. The Esselen Indians used the hot mineral springs here as healing baths for centuries before European settlers arrived. Today the place is adorned with a host of lush organic gardens, mountain streams, a cliff-side swimming pool, hot springs embedded in a multimillion-dollar stone, cement, and steel spa, and meditation huts tucked away in the trees. Esalen was founded in 1962 by Stanford graduates Michael Murphy and Richard Price and has featured such notable visitors as Richard Feynman, Abraham Maslow, Timothy Leary, Paul Tillich, Carlos Castaneda, and B. F. Skinner. Regardless of your source of spirituality (science, religion, or self), Esalen embodies the integration of body, mind, and spirit.

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