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Distinguished Science Lecture Series Archives

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Arthur Benjamin — Mathemagics & the Future of Math

The world’s greatest lightning calculator, Arthur Benjamin, entertains the audience with a dazzling display of mental math, and along the way shows how anyone can learn the techniques he employs to improve their math literacy. This is one of the most entertaining performances ever given at Caltech.

Arthur Benjamin is considered to be the world’s greatest living lightning calculator. If you have never seen him perform, you are in for a treat! Bring your calculators and challenge the master! Dr. Benjamin will not only demonstrate how he does calculations in his head faster than you can with a calculator, he will reveal his secrets and teach you how to do it yourself. Not only will he reveal his own secrets, he will demonstrate how the great lightning calculators of the past did it. Dr. Benjamin is the Smallwood Family Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College. He has received numerous awards for his writing and teaching, and served as editor of Math Horizons magazine for the Mathematical Association of America. He has given three TED talks, which have been viewed over 10 million times. Reader’s Digest calls him “America’s best math whiz.” His newest book, out this Fall, is called The Magic of Math: Solving for x and Figuring out Why.

This lecture was recorded on May 30, 2015 at a conference called “In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity” (May 29–31, 2015) as part of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015).

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Esther Dyson — The Future of Human Health & Longevity

The renowned computer analyst, journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur discusses her latest project called HICCup and its Way to Wellville in which five places over five years will be measured with five metrics related to the production of the health of people living there, and considers how what they’ve learned may be applied elsewhere.

This lecture was recorded on May 30, 2015 at a conference called “In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity” (May 29–31, 2015) as part of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015).

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Dr. Jared Diamond — On Mistakes Made by People and Nations that Hurt Their Futures

UCLA Professor of Geography Jared Diamond, author of the the Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel, along with The Third Chimpanzee, Collapse, and The World Until Yesterday, considers the risks and mistakes that people and nations make. Based on his extensive research on and experience with the human condition Dr. Diamond considers the future based on what we know about the past — historically and personally.

Jared Diamond began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical society. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s Cosmo Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize Honoring the Scientist as Poet. He has published more than 600 articles and his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

This lecture was recorded on May 30, 2015 at a conference called “In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity” (May 29–31, 2015) as part of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015).

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Dr. Ian Morris — On the Future of War and Human Values

Looking over the past 10,000 years historian and archaeologist Ian Morris reveals patterns in the past related to energy consumption and resources, and how our age of fossil fuels will likely be a temporary one as we transition to renewables, and how this transition may lead to new human values, including the value of peace in a long human history filled with war.

Ian Morris is Professor of History at Stanford University and a Fellow of the Stanford Archaeology Center. His book Why the West Rules — For Now traces the patterns of history and what they reveal about the future. His latest book is Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, a compelling new argument about the evolution of human values, one that has far-reaching implications for how we understand the past — and for what might happen next. Fundamental long-term changes in values, Morris argues, are driven by the most basic force of all: energy. Humans have found three main ways to get the energy they need — from foraging, farming, and fossil fuels. Each energy source sets strict limits on what kinds of societies can succeed, and each kind of society rewards specific values. But if our fossil-fuel world favors democratic, open societies, the ongoing revolution in energy capture means that our most cherished values are very likely to turn out not to be useful any more.

This lecture was recorded on May 30, 2015 at a conference called “In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity” (May 29–31, 2015) as part of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015).

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Dr. Donald Prothero — On the Future of Life on Earth

The geologist and paleontologist who is expert in ancient climates turns his acumen to current environmental problems that must be solved before our civilization can move forward. The obstacles are considerable but not insurmountable. First and foremost we must deal with climate change and its consequences for our immediate future as the earth’s population approaches 10 billion by 2050. Prothero offers some solutions as well as outlining the problems.

Donald R. Prothero is Senior Paleontologist at ArchaeoPaleo Environmental Management, Inc., and Research Associate in Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He taught for 35 years at Columbia, Knox, Pierce, Vassar, Occidental, and Caltech. He is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 34 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. In 2013, he received the James Shea Award of the National Association of Geology Teachers for outstanding writing and editing in the geological sciences. He has also been featured on many television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC).

This lecture was recorded on May 30, 2015 at a conference called “In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity” (May 29–31, 2015) as part of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015).

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The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos

Leonard Mlodinow

From the best-selling author of The Drunkard’s Walk and Subliminal, and coauthor of The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking): an account of scientific discovery from the invention of stone tools to theories of quantum physics. In this fascinating and illuminating work, Leonard Mlodinow guides us through the critical eras and events in the development of science, all of which were propelled forward by humankind’s collective struggle to know. From the birth of reasoning and culture to the formation of the studies of physics, chemistry, biology, and modern-day quantum physics, we come to see that much of our progress can be attributed to simple questions—why? how?—bravely asked. Mlodinow shows that just as science has played a key role in shaping the patterns of human thought, human subjectivity has played a key role in the evolution of science. At once authoritative and accessible, and infused with the author’s trademark wit, this deeply insightful book is a stunning tribute to humanity’s intellectual curiosity.

Order The Upright Thinkers from Amazon.

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How to Clone a Mammoth:
The Science of De-Extinction

Dr. Beth Shapiro (photo by Kris Krug)

Credit: Kris Krüg

COULD EXTINCT SPECIES, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? According to evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro, the science says yes. From deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used to resurrect the past. Journeying to far-flung Siberian locales in search of ice age bones and delving into her own research and that of others, Shapiro considers de-extinction’s practical benefits and ethical challenges. Would de-extinction change the way we live? Is this really cloning? What are the costs and risks? And what is the ultimate goal?

Order the book from Amazon.

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Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions

Dr. Phil Zuckerman

OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS, “no religion” has become the fastest-growing religion in America. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have turned away from the traditional faiths of the past and embraced a moral yet nonreligious—or secular—life, generating societies vastly less religious than at any other time in human history. Drawing on innovative sociological research, Dr. Zuckerman—a Pitzer College professor who founded a Department of Secular Studies, the first of its kind—illuminates this demographic shift with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals, offering crucial information for the religious and nonreligious alike. Living the Secular Life reveals that, despite opinions to the contrary, nonreligious Americans possess a unique moral code that allows them to effectively navigate the complexities of modern life. Zuckerman discovered that despite the entrenched negative beliefs about nonreligious people, American secular culture is grounded in deep morality and proactive citizenship—indeed, some of the very best that the country has to offer. Order the book from Amazon.

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Dr. Carol Tavris — On the Future of Gender, Race & Human Nature

What will people look like centuries from now? How will they act? What race and gender roles that we take as natural today will be the same or different in the far future? In this insightful look into the future Carol Tavris, one of today’s most prominent social scientists and psychologists, considers how blinded we all are to the influences of the times in which we live.

Carol Tavris is a social psychologist, writer, teacher, and lecturer. Her book, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by ME), was coauthored with Elliot Aronson and applies cognitive dissonance theory to a wide variety of topics, including politics, conflicts of interest, memory (everyday and “recovered”), the criminal justice system, police interrogation, the daycare sex-abuse epidemic, family quarrels, international conflicts, and business. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association as well as a Charter Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Her honors and awards include the Distinguished Media Contribution Award from the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology (for her book The Mismeasure of Woman), the Media Achievement Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Distinguished Contribution to Women’s Health Award from the APA Conference on Women’s Health, and an award from the Center for Inquiry for contributions to skepticism and science.

This lecture was recorded on May 30, 2015 at a conference called “In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History, and the Far Future of Humanity” (May 29–31, 2015) as part of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015).

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The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter

Dr. Susan Pinker (photo by Susie Lowe)

Credit: Susie Lowe

IN THIS ENTERTAINING AND PERSUASIVE LECTURE based on her new book, psychologist Susan Pinker shows how face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience, and longevity. From birth to death, human beings are hardwired to connect to other human beings. Face-to-face contact matters: tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help children learn, extend our lives, and make us happy. Looser in-person bonds matter, too, combining with our close relationships to form a personal “village” around us. Not just any social networks will do: we need the real, in-the-flesh encounters that tie human families, groups of friends, and communities together. Marrying the findings of the new field of social neuroscience with gripping human stories, Susan Pinker explores the impact of face-to-face contact from cradle to grave, from city to Sardinian mountain village, from classroom to workplace, from love to marriage to divorce. Creating our own “village effect” makes us happier. It can also save our lives. Order The Village Effect online.

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The Moral Arc: How Science Leads Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

Michael Shermer (credit: Jeremy Danger)

Credit: Jeremy Danger

WE ARE LIVING in the most moral period of our species’ history. Ever since the Enlightenment, thinkers have consciously applied the methods of science to solve social and moral problems, and in the process created the modern world of liberal democracies, civil rights, equal justice, open political and economic borders, and prosperity the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. More people in more places have greater rights, freedoms, liberties, literacy, education, and prosperity—the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. In this provocative and compelling talk—that includes brief histories of freedom rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and animal rights, along with considerations of the nature of evil and moral regress—Shermer explains how scientific ways of thinking have moved us ever closer to a more just world.

Order the Book on the Official Website

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Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation

Bill Nye

SPARKED BY A CONTROVERSIAL DEBATE in February 2014, Bill Nye has set off on an energetic campaign to spread awareness of evolution and the powerful way it shapes our lives. In Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, he explains why race does not really exist; evaluates the true promise and peril of genetically modified food; reveals how new species are born, in a dog kennel and in a London subway; takes a stroll through 4.5 billion years of time; and explores the new search for alien life, including aliens right here on Earth. With infectious enthusiasm, Bill Nye shows that evolution is much more than a rebuttal to creationism; it is an essential way to understand how nature works—and to change the world. Don’t miss this enlightening “In Conversation” with Bill Nye, hosted by Michael Shermer.

A book signing followed the lecture. Order Undeniable from Amazon.

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Dr. Andrew Hodges discusses Alan Turing: The Enigma, the book that inspired the film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch

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 by 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, the book that inspired the film The Imitation Game.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoyed this Distinguished Science Lecture, please show your support by making a donation.

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The Psychology of Magic

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!

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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.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoyed this Distinguished Science Lecture, please show your support by making a donation.

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Detecting Baloney

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

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