Skeptic » eSkeptic » November 4, 2015

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason and the public interest in science, the Skeptics Society is pleased to announce that once a month we will be hosting an intimate Science Salon featuring an “in conversation” between Dr. Michael Shermer and a prominent scientist, scholar, or intellectual (similar to the conversations we have hosted with Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, and others). Dr. Shermer will discuss the guest’s latest science book or research project in a dialogue format, followed by an intimate conversation with the audience that allows more interaction with the guest than a formal Q&A.

Attend Upcoming Science Salons


As traditional with European salons, there will be time after for socializing with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Plus, you never know what other scientists and celebrities might just show up for these unique gatherings!

Concert at the Science Salon Venue

A concert at the Science Salon Venue


The salons will be held at a magnificent and architecturally award-winning home in Altadena with spectacular vistas of Southern California (a neighbor of Dr. Shermer) and balconies that allow for stimulating conversations with the guest and fellow skeptics while taking in the views. You will be given the address when you purchase your tickets.

Live Streaming

In addition to the intimate setting, every salon will be live streamed out to the world for all to see, and then archived on for future viewing. So, if you can’t make it to the lecture in person, you can still watch the live video broadcast for free, online.

  • 2–2:45 In Conversation
  • 2:45–3:30 Dialogue with audience
  • 3:30–4:00: Book signing
  • 4:00–6:00: hors d’oeurves and wine and socializing

$50 per individual (includes lecture, autographed copy of the guest’s book, hors d’oeuvres and wine). Call the Skeptics Society office at 1-626-794-3119 to reserve.


Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe

Lisa Randall (photo by Phil Knott)

Lisa Randall (photo by Phil Knott)

The renowned harvard cosmologist and theoretical physicist explores a scenario in which a disk of dark matter—the elusive stuff in the universe that interacts through gravity like ordinary matter, but that doesn’t emit or absorb light—dislodged a comet from the Oort cloud that was ultimately responsible for the dinosaurs’ extinction. Randall teaches us an enormous amount about dark matter, our Universe, our galaxy, asteroids, and comets—and the process by which scientists explore new concepts. Order Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs from Amazon.

The Quotable Feynman (& His Van)

Michelle Feynman (photo by Mark Houseman)

Michelle Feynman (by M. Houseman)

The Quotable Feynman (book cover)

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman (1918–88) was a towering scientific genius who could make himself understood by anyone and who became as famous for the wit and wisdom of his popular lectures and writings as for his fundamental contributions to science. The Quotable Feynman is a treasure-trove of this revered and beloved scientist’s most profound, provocative, humorous, and memorable quotations on a wide range of subjects edited by his daughter, Michelle Feynman, who will discuss her father’s life and legacy. In addition, physicist Seamus Blackey will bring Feynman’s van, newly restored and recently featured on The Big Bang Theory, so you can get your photograph taken with the famous vehicle featuring Feynman diagrams. Order The Quotable Feynman from Amazon.

Our special guest at this salon will be: Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, physicist and author of Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life and The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos.

Feynman’s van

Feynman’s van. See it up close at the event on December 20, 2015.

Perception Deception: Do We Perceive Reality as It Is?

One of the deepest problems in epistemology is how we know the nature of reality. Over the millennia philosophers have offered many theories, from solipsism (only one’s mind is known to exist) to the theory that natural selection shaped our senses to give us an accurate, or veridical, model of the world. Now a new theory by University of California, Irvine, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman is garnering attention. (Google his scholarly papers and TED talk with more than 1.4 million views.) Grounded in evolutionary psychology, it is called the Interface Theory of Perception (ITP) and argues that percepts act as a species-specific user interface that directs behavior toward survival and reproduction, not truth.

Hoffman’s computer analogy is that physical space is like the desktop and that objects in it are like desktop icons, which are produced by the graphical user interface (GUI). Our senses, he says, form a biological user interface—a gooey GUI—between our brain and the outside world, transducing physical stimuli such as photons of light into neural impulses processed by the visual cortex as things in the environment. GUIs are useful because you don’t need to know what is inside computers and brains. You just need to know how to interact with the interface well enough to accomplish your task. Adaptive function, not veridical perception, is what is important…

Continue reading the column

TwitterFacebookInsightThe Moral Arc Blog

A New Series by Mr. Deity: The God Distraction: Introduction

This is the introduction to a new ten part series by Brian Dalton, the creator of the Mr. Deity show, called The God Distraction. Brian doesn’t care if God exists, and, he says, neither should you.


How is it that naïve intuitions can survive the acquisition of contradictory scientific knowledge? In this week’s eSkeptic, Andrew Shtulman discusses the psychological concepts of knowledge enrichment and conceptual change, inquiring into why it is so difficult for scientific knowledge to take root, and whether scientific knowledge can overwrite deep-seated forms of intuition. This article was published in Skeptic magazine 19.3 (2014) in a Special Section on Changing Minds.

Science v. Intuition: Why is it Difficult for Scientific Knowledge to Take Root?

by Andrew Shtulman

Scientific discoveries come in two forms: those that can be understood in terms of a preexisting paradigm and those that require the adoption of a new paradigm altogether. Consider the difference between the discovery of Neptune and the discovery of heliocentrism. Neptune was predicted to exist many decades before it was discovered, on account of the fact that its mass caused known, but unexplained, perturbations in the orbit of Uranus. Nineteenth century astronomers thus sought observational confirmation of an eighth planet with the same basic properties as those of the seven planets already known to exist. When Neptune was observed in 1846, its existence was readily assimilated into astronomers’ preexisting model of the solar system. That model itself, however, was hard won.

Prior to the acceptance of heliocentrism, astronomers typically subscribed to geocentric models of planetary motion that differed from heliocentric models not only in what they identified as the center of the universe but also in what they considered planets to be (balls of other-worldly ether), what they considered stars to be (fixed points of light on a rotating sphere), and how they explained planetary motion (as caused by the planets themselves). Accepting the sun as the center of planetary motion thus required revision of the most basic astronomical assumptions of the time.

Like scientific discovery, the process of learning science also comes in two forms: learning that can be accomplished in terms of preexisting concepts, termed by psychologists as knowledge enrichment, and learning that requires the adoption of new concepts altogether, termed conceptual change. Both forms of learning occur in every domain, but knowledge enrichment is far more common and far easier than conceptual change. In astronomy, learning the names and locations of the planets would constitute knowledge enrichment, whereas learning why planets revolve around stars or how planetary motion causes such phenomena as tides or seasons would constitute conceptual change. In physics, learning the value of physical constants like the speed of light or the rate of acceleration due to gravity would constitute knowledge enrichment, whereas learning why all objects fall with the same acceleration or how acceleration is related to force and velocity would constitute conceptual change. In biology, learning the traits of unfamiliar organisms would constitute knowledge enrichment, whereas learning how organisms are related by common ancestry or how traits arise by natural selection would constitute conceptual change…

Continue reading the article



  1. Tom Aldrich says:

    Your Salon sounds great, very interesting, but it would be much more credible if it included proponents of God, and religion, to provide a broader view . It is so narrow in scope that sounds like pusillanimous complaining, by the doctrinaire.



  2. Richard Morris says:

    The roots causing cognitive dissonance run deep. The earlier one is taught a belief as true, the more often repeated, and the more an individual invests in the belief all work toward evidence the individual accepts as true not being accepted and the belief maintained. Pity. Therein lies the reason people struggle to hold on to beliefs in gods they cannot even define in a rational way.

    • Tom Aldrich says:

      Dear Richard,

      Speaking of Cognative Dissonance, if one is aware of one’s surroundings, what could possibly lead to a ” belief” in rationality? It seems to me that the ” belief” in rationality is part of the present day, very popular religion, called Science, in which I am one of the priests. Present day upbringings, and even the Pope, underpin the rationality dogma of Science. The “Truths” of Science are verified by a sort of physical pragmatism, which is essentially a tautology, as is the spiritual pragmatism of other religions! Would it not make one more comfortable, as a seeker, to attempt to obtain a feeling for a variety of religions, as the seeking of authority is so much a part of the human experience?



  3. Dr. Sidethink says:

    There is a carload of Anti-Catholic beliefs supporting the above facts….

    the first time and earlier in life you are told something is what you will likely believe the rest of your life.

    I have experienced people who will disavow such a belief and apologize for not checking out the facts. the next time I talk to them, they still hold the belief, and will “not remember” disavowing it.

    A Principal example here is the bogus belief that Catholics are required to pay money for Absolution in tha sacrament of Penance.

    In Fact, any priest or peninitent doing this commits a sin if “Simony”, is refused absolution, and another possible sin is added to their list.

    Depending on curcumstances of intent and Knowledge, Excomminication occurs, and release is relegated to the local bishop.

    If a priest is offered money he/she must refuse and advise the penitent of the seriousness of such an offer.


    Another example I have in mind is the false “fact” that Children of a previous Marriage will be declared “illigitimate ” by the partners in a “valid” Catholic marriage .

    Despite chapter and verse and item number in Canon Law and admission of the mistake and apologies for using such a bogus “Fact , all this is disregarded, and two weeks later they still spout the same bullshit as before, claiming never to have had such a conversation with you, or remembering that they told you this just to get you off of their case.

    To me there seems to be a “Pharisee” mentality about
    justifying condescsnsion and intolerance , while patting yourself on the back for being so “enlightened”

  4. Dr. Sidethink says:

    “Accepting the sun as the center of planetary motion thus required revision of the most basic astronomical assumptions of the time.”

    The debunking of the Geocentric Theory is easy .
    It cintradicts Newton’s Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum.
    Unfortunately, this Law (“basic assumption”) wasn’t known 100 years before Newton.

  5. DOL says:

    This “God is nonsense, Science is wonderful” meme is stale and tiresome. Likewise, looking to TED talks as a font of new revelations of science is almost as bad as promoting fundamentalist religion. How about a more nuanced and sophisticated analysis of religion (not just American fundamentalist Protestantism and the absurd misinformation it provides about Catholicism) and science? You could begin with a credible foundation of history (referring to you, Mr. Shtulman).

Patreon: a new way to support the things skeptic creates

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2018. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.