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SCIENCE SALON # 64

Dr. Michael Tomasello — Becoming Human

Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny (book cover)

In this fascinating conversation with the evolutionary anthropologist Dr. Michael Tomasello, the Max Planck Institute scientist presents his new theory of how humans became such a distinctive species. Other theories focus on evolution. Here, Tomasello proposes a complementary theory of human uniqueness, focused on development. His data-driven model explains how those things that make us most human are constructed during the first years of a child’s life.

Dr. Tomasello assembles nearly three decades of experimental work with chimpanzees, bonobos, and human children to propose a new framework for psychological growth between birth and seven years of age. He identifies eight pathways that starkly differentiate humans from their closest primate relatives: social cognition, communication, cultural learning, cooperative thinking, collaboration, prosociality, social norms, and moral identity. In each of these, great apes possess rudimentary abilities. But then, Tomasello argues, the maturation of humans’ evolved capacities for shared intentionality transform these abilities—through the new forms of sociocultural interaction they enable—into uniquely human cognition and sociality. The first step occurs around nine months, with the emergence of joint intentionality, exercised mostly with caregiving adults. The second step occurs around three years, with the emergence of collective intentionality involving both authoritative adults, who convey cultural knowledge, and coequal peers, who elicit collaboration and communication. Finally, by age six or seven, children become responsible for self-regulating their beliefs and actions so that they comport with cultural norms.

Becoming Human places human sociocultural activity within the framework of modern evolutionary theory, and shows how biology creates the conditions under which culture does its work.

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This Science Salon was recorded on February 19, 2019.

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Fake news, crafted to exploit us, wreaks havoc on our health, finances and politics. VeriSign founder David Cowan avers that science is the key to combatting the spread of disinformation.

How Science Will Explain & Fix Fake News

The instant, global spread of information through the Internet clearly benefits us as individuals and as a civilization. But the Internet can also be wielded to spread disinformation, a formidable downside of the technology that we’ve recently labeled “fake news.” Simple web publishing tools enable anyone to fabricate stories that appear identical to legitimate journalism, which prompts social media users—both human and robotic—to share them as easily as real news. Fake news, crafted to exploit us, wreaks havoc on our health, finances and politics.

Reality constrains the quantity of real news stories, but our boundless imaginations unleash a torrent of fake stories that now overwhelm our news feeds. Not only does fake news deceive us, it undermines our trust in legitimate news sources. This is the real catastrophe and, many believe, the objective of Russia’s fake news campaign leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections. Fake news threatens the institution of democracy itself, because an uninformed public cannot make sound governance decisions.

Fake news, crafted to exploit us, wreaks havoc on our health, finances and politics.

Many groups have tried to stem fake news through various fact-checking initiatives that have all failed, because they fundamentally misunderstand the problem. Some employ human editors, who cannot possibly keep up in any useful timeframe. More scalable schemes crowd-source the work, as though the public could possibly know what is happening elsewhere in the world. Others employ machine learning, as though reality follows some recognizable pattern. Others use automated reference-checking to verify facts elsewhere online, defying the very definition of “news.” Some internet media platforms necessarily publish “both sides of the story” side by side, serving up contradictory facts that guarantee misinformation and confusion. Some find the problem so intractable that their only remedy is to “educate the public” that news sources simply cannot be trusted, and that truth is a matter of opinion always “worthy of respect.” […]

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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.

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