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SCIENCE SALON # 71

Dr. Michael Shermer — What is Truth?

In this live podcast event hosted by the Santa Barbara Science Salon in conjunction with the Skeptics Society and the Unitarian Society, co-hosted by Dr. Whitney Detar, Dr. Shermer reflects on the question “What is Truth?” in the context of his lifelong search to understand why people believe weird things.

What is a weird thing and how do we know what is true? This is what is known as the demarcation problem, and Dr. Shermer provides numerous examples of the difficulty of drawing a clear demarcating line between science and pseudoscience. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not.

Michael Shermer in Santa Barbara 2019 (photo by Robert Bernstein)

Michael Shermer in Santa Barbara 2019 (photo by Robert Bernstein)

Science, Dr. Shermer begins, is “A set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation.” That is, it is “A method to explain the world that is testable and open to change.”

Through the scientific method we aim for objectivity: the basing of conclusions on external validation. And we avoid mysticism: the basing of conclusions on personal insights that lack external validation.

Dr. Shermer then presents examples of subjective/internal truths (dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate; Stairway to Heaven is the greatest rock song) and objective/external truths (evolution happened, the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago), and gave examples of how subjective truths (meditation makes me feel better) may become objective truths (meditation works). The lecture was followed by an extensive AMA/Q&A with the audience.

Listen to the podcast via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

This Science Salon was recorded on May 19, 2019.

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