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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

Watch or listen here or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

EPISODE # 233

Goodbye Pat Linse, Skeptic Co-founder and My Best Friend…

Michael Shermer shares his thoughts on life and death in an emotional remembrance of his friend and business partner of 30 years, Pat Linse (1947–2021), the co-founder of the Skeptics Society and Art Director of Skeptic magazine.

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EPISODE # 232

Amishi Jha on the Neuroscience of Attention

Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day (book cover)

Research shows we are missing 50 percent of our lives because we aren’t paying attention. From the constant buzz of your phone and the lure of your media feed to your unrelenting, all-encompassing, and ever-growing mental to-do list — the demands on your attention have never been so severe. The result is an escalating crisis, where we feel mentally foggy, scattered, and overwhelmed. Remarkably, the solution to our attention crisis has been right here in front of us.

In this conversation with the acclaimed neuroscientist Amishi Jha, she shows why whether you’re simply browsing, talking to friends, or trying to stay focused in an important meeting, you can’t seem to manage to hang on to your attention. Why is it that no matter how hard you try, you seem to find yourself somewhere else — if you’re even aware you’ve drifted off to that place. Dr. Jha recounts her neuroscience research revealing that, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with you — your brain isn’t broken. The human brain evolved to be distractible. And there’s even better news: You can train your brain to pay attention more effectively.

Dr. Amishi P. Jha is professor of psychology at the University of Miami. She serves as the Director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, which she co-founded in 2010. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California–Davis and postdoctoral training at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center at Duke University. Dr. Jha’s work has been featured at NATO, the World Economic Forum, and The Pentagon. She has received coverage for the New York Times, NPR, TIME, Forbes and more. Watch her TED Talk on “How to Tame Your Wandering Mind” with 5 million+ views.

Shermer and Jha discuss:

  • her personal experiences that led her to study the neuroscience of attention,
  • how the mind works: from basic rationality to mind reading (theory of mind) to mental travel,
  • what attention evolved to do,
  • how attention is powerful, fragile, and trainable,
  • how attention is diverted: depleted attention, hijacked attention, fragmented attention, disconnected attention,
  • gorilla inattentional blindness,
  • police and military: distorted attention bias,
  • stress and attention,
  • negativity bias and attention,
  • thought flooding and attention,
  • active listening and attention,
  • multitasking,
  • the attention economy: from legacy media to social media,
  • new neuroscience research on how to train attention,
  • how to find your focus through the “flashlight” metaphor of attention,
  • how to live in the “now” without neglecting the past and the future,
  • how biased thinking affects attention and clarity,
  • meta-awareness: how to pay attention to your attention,
  • exercises in how to improve your attention and achieve peak mind, and
  • mindfulness and well-being.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)
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EPISODE # 231

Jason Hill on What White Americans Owe Black People

What do White Americans Owe Black People? Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression (book cover)

In this conversation with Jason Hill based on his book What do White Americans Owe Black People? Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression, Shermer probes the philosopher on the arguments for and against reparations.

In this provocative and highly original work, philosophy professor Jason Hill explores multiple dimensions of race in America today, but most importantly, a black-white divide which has grown exponentially over the past decade.

Central to his thesis, Hill calls on black American leaders (and their white liberal sponsors) to escape from the cycle of blame and finger-pointing, which seeks to identify black failures with white hatred and indifference. This overblown narrative is promulgated by a phalanx of black nihilists who advocate the destruction of America and her institutions in the name of ending “whiteness.” Much of the black intelligentsia consists of these false prophets, and it is their poisonous ideology which is taught, uncontradicted, to students of all races. It is they who are responsible for the cultural depression blacks are suffering in today’s society.

Ultimately, the answer to “what do White Americans owe?” is not about the morality or practicality of reparations, affirmative action, or other redistributionist schemes. Hill rejects the collectivist premise behind the argument, instead couching notions of culpability, justice, and fairness as responsibilities of individuals, not arbitrary racial or ethnic groupings.

Jason Hill is a professor of philosophy and Honors Distinguished Faculty at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author of five books, including We Have Overcome: An Immigrant’s Letter to the American People. He specializes in ethics, politics, foreign policy, and moral psychology.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)
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EPISODE # 230

Bart Ehrman — Did the Christmas Story Really Happen? The Birth of Jesus in History & Legend

In this conversation with the renowned biblical scholar and historian, Bart Ehrman reviews the highlights of his forthcoming live seminar on December 5. In addition to that, Shermer and Ehrman discuss:

  • how we know Jesus existed and was crucified,
  • how these questions are different epistemologically from those about Jesus’ resurrection and the claim that he died for our sins,
  • how Christians deal with the trinity problem: How can God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit be one and the same and yet separate and different? “God sacrificed himself…to himself…to save us from himself.” How is this possible?
  • how Christians answer these question: Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us for our sins?
  • Why was the virgin birth so important to early Christians?
  • Why was the resurrection so important to early Christians?
  • Anti-Semitism in the early Christian church (“the Jews killed Jesus” or “the Jews killed God”) and why it makes no theological sense (Jesus was Jewish, and if he had to die to save us from our sins, whoever killed Jesus should be thanked),
  • why Jews and Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the messiah,
  • how Jesus became God and how Christianity grew from a few dozen followers at the time of Jesus’s death to over two billion followers today,
  • theodicy and the problem of evil: Why does an all powerful, all knowing, all good God allow people to suffer?

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

LIVE SEMINAR WITH DR. BART EHRMAN DEC 5

Did the Christmas Story Really Happen? The Birth of Jesus in History and Legend

Live Seminar Dec. 5, 2021
6:30am – 1pm PST / 9:30am – 4pm EST
$39.95 Early Bird Price (ends Nov. 28 at 9am PST, then $49.95)
BONUS! Registration includes lifetime access to seminar recording ($79.95 value)

  • What can we actually know about the birth of Jesus?
  • How can we decide whether he was born in Bethlehem?
  • Is it possible to reconcile the different Gospel accounts?
  • Was the story of the Virgin Birth a later fabrication?
  • What is the evidence for (or against) the many details, such as the trip to Bethlehem, the visit of the wisemen, and the “slaughter of the innocents”?
  • How many of the most familiar parts of the stories come from later legends?

Register now

Dr. Bart D. Ehrman has written or edited thirty-three books, including six New York Times bestsellers: How Jesus Became God, Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, Jesus Interrupted, Forged, and The Triumph of Christianity. Bart is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he has taught thousands of students and won numerous awards. Ehrman’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek; he has appeared on National Geographic, CNN, the BBC, NBC’s Dateline, the Discovery Channel, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Sam Harris Podcast, and many other top media outlets.

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EPISODE # 229

Fritjof Capra on Patterns of Connection: Is there a Tao of physics? Is life a web? Is humanity at a turning point?

Patterns of Connection: Essential Essays from Five Decades (book cover)

Fritjof Capra, scientist, educator, activist, and accomplished author, presents the evolution of his thought over five decades in Patterns of Connection. First introduced in the late 1950s to the work of Werner Heisenberg, a founder of quantum mechanics, Capra’s connections between the discoveries of quantum physics and the traditions of Eastern philosophy resulted in his first book, the bestselling The Tao of Physics. This synthesis, representative of the change from the mechanistic worldview of Descartes and Newton to a systemic, ecological one, went on to inform Capra’s thinking about the life sciences, ecology, and environmental policy. Fritjof Capra remains a major figure at the crossroads of physics, spirituality, environmentalism, and systems theory.

Fritjof Capra is the recipient of many awards, including the Gold Medal of the UK Systems Society, the Medal of the President of the Italian Republic, the Bioneers Award, the New Dimensions Broadcaster Award, and the American Book Award. He became universally known for his book The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, which explored the ways in which modern physics was changing our worldview from a mechanistic to a holistic and ecological one. Capra lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and daughter.

Shermer and Capra discuss:

  • from Austria to Berkeley: the making of a California holist,
  • the influence of Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy,
  • 50 years of progress or regress (since the publication of The Turning Point),
  • the 1960s counterculture and challenges to authority,
  • metaphors in science: world as machine, world as alive,
  • limitations of models and theories of reality,
  • limitations of analogies between western physics and eastern mysticism,
  • Stephen Jay Gould’s critical review of The Tao of Physics and Capra’s response (“Gould was right!”),
  • mind and consciousness,
  • the Santiago theory of consciousness,
  • what it means to be spiritual in an age of science,
  • nuclear energy and why Capra thinks we don’t need it and Shermer thinks we do,
  • how systems theory allows for human volition and free will, and
  • why Capra is hopeful for the future of humanity.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)
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EPISODE # 228

Steven Koonin on what climate science tells us, what it doesn’t, and why it matters, based on his book Unsettled

Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters (book cover)

According to Steven Koonin, when it comes to climate change, the media, politicians, and other prominent voices have declared that “the science is settled.” Koonin avers that the long game of telephone from research to reports, to the popular media, is corrupted by misunderstanding and misinformation. Koonin says that core questions about the way the climate is responding to our influence, and what the impacts will be remain largely unanswered. Koonin acknowledges that the climate is changing, and claims the why and how aren’t as clear as you’ve probably been led to believe.

Now, one of America’s most distinguished scientists is clearing away the fog to explain what science really says (and doesn’t say) about our changing climate. In Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, Steven Koonin draws upon his decades of experience — including as a top science advisor to the Obama administration — to provide up-to-date insights and expert perspective free from political agendas.

Michael Shermer challenges Dr. Koonin with many of the most common critiques of his book, to which he responds.

Dr. Steven Koonin is a University Professor at New York University, with appointments in the Stern School of Business, the Tandon School of Engineering, and the Department of Physics. He founded NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, which focuses research and education on the acquisition, integration, and analysis of big data for big cities. He served as Undersecretary for Science in the US Department of Energy under President Obama from 2009 to 2011, where his portfolio included the climate research program and energy technology strategy. He was the lead author of the US Department of Energy’s Strategic Plan (2011) and the inaugural Department of Energy Quadrennial Technology Review (2011). Before joining the government, Dr. Koonin spent five years as Chief Scientist for BP, researching renewable energy options to move the company “beyond petroleum.” For almost thirty years, Dr. Koonin was a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech. He also served for nine years as Caltech’s Vice President and Provost, facilitating the research of more than 300 scientists and engineers and catalyzing the development of the world’s largest optical telescope, as well as research initiatives in computational science, bioengineering, and the biological sciences. In addition to the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Koonin’s memberships include the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and JASON, the group of scientists who solve technical problems for the US government; he served as JASON’s chair for six years.

Skeptic magazine has published two articles explaining how we know that global warming is real and human caused:

Shermer and Koonin discuss:

  • The five basic questions about climate change:

    1. Is the Earth getting warmer?
    2. Is human activity the primary driver of the warming?
    3. How much warmer is it going to get?
    4. What are the effects of the warming?
    5. What should we do about it?
  • climate consensus (the 97% figure). Here’s what Dr. Shermer wrote in Scientific American:

    A 2013 study published in Environmental Research Letters by John Cook, Dana Nucitelli, and their colleagues examined 11,944 climate paper abstracts published from 1991 to 2011. Of those papers that stated a position on AGW, 97.1 percent concluded that climate change is real and human caused. What about the three percent? What if they’re right? In a 2015 paper published in the journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Rasmus Benestad, Dana Nucitelli, and their colleagues examined the three percent and found “a number of methodological flaws and a pattern of common mistakes.” That is, instead of the three percent converging to a better explanation than that provided by the 97 percent, they failed to converge to anything. “There is no cohesive, consistent alternative theory to human-caused global warming” Dana Nuccitelli concluded in an August 25, 2015 commentary in The Guardian. “Some blame global warming on the sun, others on orbital cycles of other planets, others on ocean cycles, and so on. There is a 97% expert consensus on a cohesive theory that’s overwhelmingly supported by the scientific evidence, but the 2 — 3% of papers that reject that consensus are all over the map, even contradicting each other. The one thing they seem to have in common is methodological flaws like cherry picking, curve fitting, ignoring inconvenient data, and disregarding known physics.” For example, one skeptical paper attributed climate change to lunar or solar cycles, but to make these models work for the 4,000-year period that the authors considered they had to throw out 6,000 years’ worth of earlier data.

Dr. Shermer then presented Dr. Koonin with critiques of his book, to which he responded. These include Gary Yohe (climate scientist), Marianne Lavelle (reporter, Inside Climate News), and Nadir Jeevanjee (science advisor to C-Change Conversations).

Gary Yohe, Climate Scientist

Yohe, Professor of Economics and Environmental Science, Wesleyan, quoting Koonin and then countering his arguments:

“Heat waves in the US are now no more common than they were in 1900, and that the warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.” (Italics in the original.) This is a questionable statement depending on the definition of “heat wave”, and so it is really uninformative. Heat waves are poor indicators of heat stress. Whether or not they are becoming more frequent, they have clearly become hotter and longer over the past few decades while populations have grown more vulnerable in large measure because they are, on average, older [Section 19.6.2.1]. Moreover, during these longer extreme heat events, it is nighttime temperatures that are increasing most. As a result, people never get relief from insufferable heat and more of them are at risk of dying.

“The warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.” According to what measure? Highest annual global averages? Absolutely not. That the planet is has warmed since the industrial revolution is unequivocal with more than 30 percent of that warming having occurred over the last 25 years, and the hottest annual temperatures in that history have followed suit [Section SPM.1].

“Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.” For a risk-based approach to climate discussions about what we “should do,” this statement is irrelevant. It is the future that worries us. Observations from 11 satellite missions monitoring the Arctic and Antarctic show that ice sheets are losing mass six times faster than they were in the 1990s. Is this the beginning of a new trend? Perhaps. The settled state of the science for those who have adopted a risk management approach is that this is a high-risk possibility (huge consequences) that should be taken seriously and examined more completely. This is even more important because, even without those contributions to the historical trend that is accelerating, rising sea levels will continue to exaggerate coastal exposure by dramatically shrinking the return times of all variety of storms [Section 19.6.2.1]; that is, 1-in-100 year storms become 1-in-50 year events, and 1-in-50 year storms become 1-in-10 year events and eventually nearly annual facts of life.

“The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.” It is unconscionable to make a statement like this, and not just because the adjective “minimal” is not at all informative. It is unsupportable without qualification because aggregate estimates are so woefully incomplete [Section 19.6.3.5]. Nonetheless, Swiss Re recently released a big report on climate change saying that insurance companies are underinsuring against rising climate risks that are rising now and projected to continue to do so over the near term. Despite the uncertainty, they see an imminent source of risk, and are not waiting until projections of the end of the century clear up to respond.

Marianne Lavelle, reporter for Inside Climate News

Lavelle has covered environment, science, law, and business in Washington, D.C. for more than two decades. Here are five statements Koonin makes in Unsettledthat mainstream climate scientists say are misleading, incorrect or undercut by current research:

  1. “The warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years.”

    The average annual temperature in the contiguous U.S. has increased from 0.7 degrees to 1.0 degrees Celsius (1.2 to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the start of the 20th century. The year 2020 was the fifth-warmest year in the 126-year record for the contiguous U.S. And the five warmest years on record have occurred since 2012, NOAA reports. There is a more marked increase in nighttime lows than in daytime highs (the “warmest” temperatures) because of factors like the cooling effect of daytime aerosol pollution and soil moisture evaporation.

  2. “Most types of extreme weather events don’t show any significant change — and some such events have actually become less common or severe — even as human influences on the climate grow.”

    There have been statistically significant trends in the number of heavy precipitation events in some regions. Some regions have experienced more intense and longer droughts, while in other places, droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter. Marine heatwaves, periods of extremely high ocean temperatures in specific regions, have become more than 20 times more frequent over the last 40 years due to human activity and the burning of greenhouse gases, according to a 2020 study that relied on satellite measurements of sea surface temperatures.

  3. “Humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the past century.”

    In 2020, scientists detected a trend of increasing hurricane intensity since 1979 that is consistent with what models have projected would result from human-driven global warming. Rapid intensification of hurricanes has increased in the Atlantic basin since the 1980s, which federal researchers showed in 2019 is attributable to warming. A 2018 study showed that Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston the prior year, could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change. That same year, a separate study showed that increased stalling of tropical cyclones is a global trend.

  4. “Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.”

    Scientific findings indicate with high confidence that the Greenland ice sheet, the world’s second-largest land-based ice reservoir, has lost ice, contributing to sea level rise over the last two decades. And Greenland is on track to lose more ice this century than at any other time in the 12,000-year Holocene, the epoch encompassing human history, scientists reported in 2020. The rate of ice melt in Greenland has varied widely over the decades, and there is evidence of a period of rapid melting in the 1930s that exceeded the rate of today. But the 1930s-era melt affected fewer glaciers, mostly those located entirely on land. Today’s melting involves more glaciers, most of them connected to the sea, with average ice loss more than double that of the earlier period.

  5. “The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.”

    Global warming is very likely to have exacerbated global economic inequality, with the disparities between poor and wealthy countries 25 percent greater than in a world without warming, researchers concluded in 2019. Only a limited number of studies have calculated the aggregate economic impact of climate change, not enough to place confidence in numeric results. But the data indicates with high confidence that climate change will aggravate other stressors, like inadequate housing, food or water supplies, with negative outcomes especially for the poor.

Nadir Jeevanjee, Science Advisor to C-Change Conversations and a research scientist at NOAA’S Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, a major U.S. climate-modeling center

But our confidence in these climate changes doesn’t stem solely from the observational record. In large part, it stems from our understanding of basic physics and climate model projections, which show that increased CO2 leads inexorably to a warmer planet, and a warmer planet leads inexorably to melting ice, higher seas, and more extreme weather. Unsettled ignores such projections entirely, arguing that because climate models require empirical adjustments known as “tuning,” and because their quantitative predictions often span a wide range, they cannot be trusted to tell us anything at all. But these models, despite their shortcomings, are skillful in many respects; indeed they have long predicted many aspects of today’s warmer climate, including enhanced warming over land and the arctic. So when these models tell us, unanimously, that heat waves will increase, sea level rise will accelerate, and hurricanes will intensify, we tend to believe them, even if we can’t prove (yet) that the changes we’re currently seeing are definitively due to climate change.

So, should Unsettled be a reminder that climate messaging is not always accurate and sometimes needs to be taken with a grain of salt? Absolutely. But this does not mean the bulk of climate science is suspect. There will always be gaps in the historical data, anomalies to ponder, and models to improve, but by focusing on those elements, Koonin misses the bigger picture: the aggregate of our data, models, and the laws of physics tell us with confidence that significant changes are indeed coming around the bend, and perhaps have already arrived.

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EPISODE # 227

Richard Nisbett on Thinking & Reason

Thinking: A Memoir (book cover)

In this wide-ranging conversation Shermer and Nisbett discuss Nisbett’s research showing how people reason, how people should reason, why errors in reasoning occur, how much you can improve reasoning, what kinds of problems are best solved by the conscious mind and what kinds by the unconscious mind, and how we should think about intelligence, along with the controversies over group differences and genetic influences on I.Q. scores and why Charles Murray (The Bell Curve) is wrong in inferring genetic causes for group differences in I.Q.. Nisbett also shows that self-knowledge can be dramatically off-kilter and points to ways to improve it, and demonstrates how different cultures have radically different ways of reasoning and feeling, and how this led to his most famous research showing the difference between Northerners and Southerners in rates of violence, the culture of honor, and a hair-trigger for slights and insults. The two also discuss the #metoo, BLM, antiracism, and woke movements today in context of his psychological research.

Shermer and Nisbett discuss:

  • how Nisbett compares cultural upheavals of the past to today’s world of fake news, alternative facts, conspiracy theories like QAnon and the rigged election, postmodernism, and the belief in the cultural relativity of truth
  • In looking back on his legendary career as a research psychologist, how does he control for the hindsight bias, the self-serving bias, and the self-justification bias?
  • Religion and race in his background
  • Jewish influence on social psychology
  • Milgram and Zimbardo
  • Role of emotions, feelings, and thinking
  • His most famous cited study: “Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes” (with T.D. Wilson, 1977, Psychological Review): introspective reports can provide only an account of “what people think about how they think,” but not “how they really think.”
  • higher homicide rates in the south; people seemed to be more impolite in the Northeast than in Texas and other southern states, why southerners are extremely sensitive to insults — the culture of honor and how it was developed, and how migration patterns from Europe (farmers vs. herders) influenced this culture,
  • I.Q., intelligence, environment, and genes,
  • base rate neglect and why people frequently overweight a small amount of evidence relative to its true value,
  • How rational are people?
  • the replication crisis in social science and why Nisbett thinks there is no crisis (most of those studies have been replicated),
  • Are we all Nazis?
  • thoughts on the movements: #BLM, #metoo, antiracism, and social justice.

Richard Nisbett is the Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the University of Michigan. He also taught psychology at Columbia University and Yale University. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science and the National Academy of Science, and he was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. He received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association and the Gold Medal Award for Lifetime Mentorship from the Association for Psychological Science. Most of his work has focused on social psychology and cognitive psychology. His book, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association. To learn more, go to richardnisbett.com.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)
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EPISODE # 226

Suzanne Nossel on defending free speech for all, based on her book Dare to Speak

Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All (book cover)

Online trolls and fascist chat groups. Controversies over campus lectures. Cancel culture versus censorship. The daily hazards and debates surrounding free speech dominate headlines and fuel social media storms. In an era where one tweet can launch — or end — your career, and where free speech is often invoked as a principle but rarely understood, learning to maneuver the fast-changing, treacherous landscape of public discourse has never been more urgent. In Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, Suzanne Nossel, a leading voice in support of free expression, delivers a vital, necessary guide to maintaining democratic debate that is open, free-wheeling but at the same time respectful of the rich diversity of backgrounds and opinions in a changing country. Centered on practical principles, Nossel’s primer equips readers with the tools needed to speak one’s mind in today’s diverse, digitized, and highly-divided society without resorting to curbs on free expression.

Suzanne Nossel currently serves as the CEO of PEN America, the leading human rights and free expression organization. Her prior career spanned government service and leadership roles in the corporate and nonprofit sectors. She has served as the COO of Human Rights Watch and as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. During the first term of the Obama Administration, Nossel served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, where she led U.S. engagement in the United Nations and multilateral institutions, on human rights and humanitarian issues. During the Clinton Administration, Nossel was Deputy to the U.S. Ambassador for UN Management and Reform at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, where she was the lead negotiator in settling U.S. arrears to the world body. During her corporate career, Nossel served as Vice President of U.S. Business Development for Bertelsmann and as Vice President for Strategy and Operations for the Wall Street Journal. Nossel is a featured columnist for Foreign Policy magazine and has published op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and dozens of other outlets. Nossel is a magna cum laude graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

Shermer and Nossel discuss:

  • the increasingly fashionable embrace of expanded government and corporate controls over speech,
  • hate speech = violence?
  • incitement to violence and the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection,
  • libel and slander,
  • self-censorship,
  • private vs. government restrictions on speech,
  • social media, tech companies, and censorship,
  • call out culture and cancel culture,
  • how to apologize for wrong or hurtful speech,
  • free expression as speech (flag burning, Madonna’s videos, etc.),
  • corporate controls on speech,
  • the euphemism treadmill,
  • compelled speech,
  • Who is more censorious, the Left or the Right?
  • how to use language conscientiously without self-censoring ideas,
  • how to protest without silencing speech,
  • how to reinforce the marginalization of lesser-heard voices without silencing or discriminating against others.

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EPISODE # 225

Nancy Segal — Deliberately Divided: Inside the Controversial Study of Twins and Triplets Adopted Apart

Deliberately Divided: Inside the Controversial Study of Twins and Triplets Adopted Apart (book cover)

In the early 1960s, the head of a prominent New York City Child Development Center and a psychiatrist from Columbia University launched a study designed to track the development of twins and triplets given up for adoption and raised by different families. The controversial and disturbing catch? None of the adoptive parents had been told that they were raising a twin — the study’s investigators insisted that the separation be kept secret.

In this conversation based on her new book, Deliberately Divided: Inside the Controversial Study of Twins and Triplets Adopted Apart, Nancy Segal reveals the inside stories of the agency that separated the twins, and the collaborating psychiatrists who, along with their cadre of colleagues, observed the twins until they turned twelve. This study, far outside the mainstream of scientific twin research, was not widely known to scholars or the general public until it caught the attention of documentary filmmakers whose recent films, Three Identical Strangers and The Twinning Reaction, left viewers shocked, angered, saddened and wanting to know more. Interviews with colleagues, friends and family members of the agency’s psychiatric consultant and the study’s principal investigator, as well as a former agency administrator, research assistants, journalists, ethicists, attorneys, and — most importantly — the twins and their families who were unwitting participants in this controversial study, are riveting. Through records, letters and other documents, Segal further discloses the investigators’ attempts to engage other agencies in separating twins, their efforts to avoid media exposure, their worries over informed consent issues in the 1970s and the steps taken toward avoiding lawsuits while hoping to enjoy the fruits of publication. Segal’s spellbinding stories of the twins’ separation, loss and reunion offers readers the behind-the-scenes details that, until now, have been lost to the archives of history.

Nancy Segal, Ph.D. (CA), is a professor in the Department of Psychology at California State University, Fullerton, and the director of the Twin Studies Center, which she founded in 1991. She is the author of six books on twins including (most recent ones first): Accidental Brothers: The Story of Twins Exchanged at Birth and the Power of Nature and Nurture; Twin Mythconceptions: False Beliefs, Fables, and Facts About Twins; Born Together—Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study; Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins and Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior, and the senior editor of Uniting Psychology and Biology: Integrative Perspectives on Human Development. She is also an associate editor of Twin Research and Human Genetics, the official journal of the International Society for Twin Studies. Dr. Segal’s media appearances include Today, Good Morning America, 20/20, the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Martha Stewart Show, Discovery Health, and the Diane Rehm Show on NPR.

Shermer and Segal discuss:

  • her historical interest in twins research and behavior genetics,
  • the many different types of twins and family arrangements,
  • a brief history of twins research:

    • Francis Galton,
    • William Blatz,
    • Josef Mengele,
    • conjoined twins Masha and Dasha Krivoshlypova in 1950’s Russia,
    • John Money’s attempt to turn an accidentally castrated male twin into a female,
    • Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart: Tom Bouchard, Nancy Segal,
    • Jack and Oskar, Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, Barbara and Daphne,
    • Segal’s doctoral research on twin children and cooperation and competition,
  • twins separated accidentally (switched with an unrelated infant, switched with another twin),
  • twins separated intentionally (China’s one-child policy),
  • twins reunited,
  • the meaning of “heritability” and “genetic,”
  • the relative role of nature and nurture in how lives turn out,
  • What is the “nonshared environment”?
  • How many genes go into height, personality traits, intelligence, creativity?
  • epigenetics and gene expression,
  • Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker article on Peter Neubauer’s twin adoption study,
  • psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Dr. Peter B. Neubauer,
  • Dr. Viola Bernard,
  • Louise Wise Adoption Services in NYC,
  • Child Development Center Twin Study,
  • Jewish Board of Guardians (now the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services),
  • documentary films: The Twinning Reaction and Three Identical Strangers
  • twins Anne and Susan,
  • twins Melanie and Ellen,
  • twins Howard and Doug,
  • twins Paula and Elyse,
  • twins Paula and Marjorie,
  • twins Michele and Allison,
  • triplets Bob, Dave, Eddy and their psychiatric problems.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

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EPISODE # 224

Bobby Duffy on The Generation Myth: Why When You’re Born Matters Less Than You Think

The Generation Myth (book cover)

Boomers are narcissists. Millennials are spoiled. Gen Zers are lazy. We assume people born around the same time have basically the same values. It makes for good headlines, but is it true? Bobby Duffy has spent years studying generational distinctions. In The Generation Myth, he argues that our generational identities are not fixed but fluid, reforming throughout our lives. Based on an analysis of what over three million people really think about homeownership, sex, well-being, and more, Duffy offers a new model for understanding how generations form, how they shape societies, and why generational differences aren’t as sharp as we think. The Generation Myth is a vital rejoinder to alarmist worries about generational warfare and social decline. The kids are all right, it turns out. Their parents are too.

Bobby Duffy, one of the UK’s most respected social researchers, is professor of public policy and director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. Duffy previously directed public affairs and global research at Ipsos MORI and the Ipsos Social Research Institute, which, among other initiatives, ran the world’s largest study of public perception. He is the author of Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. His research has been covered by the Washington Post, Economist, Financial Times, Quartz, NBC, BBC, and elsewhere. He lives in London.

Shermer and Duffy discuss:

  • how companies waste millions of dollars hiring “experts” on generations, e.g., a “millennial expert” or “millennial consultant”, but they don’t know what they’re talking about,
  • how earlier scholars of generations were like astrologers writing horoscopes; e.g., William Strauss and Neil Howe: every generation falls into one of 4 types: idealist, reactive, civic, and adaptive, same order in an 80-year cycle of crisis and renewal,
  • generations: Pre-war/Silent, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z,
  • categories and concepts of generations: (Ludwig Wittgenstein’s search for necessary and sufficient conditions for any of our everyday concepts),
  • The 3 effects that explain generational change in societies:

    1. Life-Cycle Effects (people change as they age),
    2. Period Effects (everyone is effected by war, economic recessions, pandemics),
    3. Cohort Effects that leave particular generations imprinted by specific experiences that happen at a crucial point when their attitudes are forming — early adulthood.
  • environment: Greta Thurnberg vs. Al Gore — there is less intergenerational conflict than some media headlines might suggest and that some of the stereotypes about certain generations are just plain wrong, for example, that millennials and Generation Z are more concerned about the environment than baby boomers,
  • social justice warriors: our current generation of young are not a particularly unusual group of “culture warriors”. Young people are always at the leading edge of change in cultural norms, around race, immigration, sexuality and gender equality. The issues have changed, but the gap between young and old is not greater now than in the past.
  • Coddled Gen-Z?
  • smoking: younger generations start smoking later but do not give up the habit as quickly,
  • dating, sex, and marriage,
  • wealth and income shifts: asset values over the decades favors baby boomers over millennials; younger generations depend on the bank of mom and dad,
  • politics: attitude shift in a more liberal direction; attitude gap between boomers and their parents is greater than that between subsequent generations,
  • economics: big cultural attitudes toward economics between boomers and their children,
  • income and wealth: home values have gone up more for boomers than subsequent generations; “Millennials are around half as likely to be a homeowner than generations born only a couple of decades earlier.”
  • religion and belief in God and the rise of the “nones,”
  • social media: generational differences in social media use; young people cooped up at their parents’ house can access others online. Duffy argues using social media is not as damaging as we fear.
  • happiness/life satisfaction across the generations.

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EPISODE # 223

Paul Bloom on the Pleasures of Suffering and the Meaning of Life

The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning (book cover)

As one of the world’s leading psychologists, Paul Bloom studies how we make sense of the world around us. Known for his accessible, witty, and provocative style steeped in years-long research, Bloom has studied everything from the origins of morality and religion (Just Babies and Descartes’ Baby) to the nature of pleasure (How Pleasure Works), to his most recent book, which the New York Times has described as “an invigorating, relevant and often very funny re-evaluation of empathy” (Against Empathy). And now, in The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, Bloom aims to understand how people find meaning in their lives, and, moreover, to explore what he calls, “the sweet spot” — the proper balance between pleasure and suffering.

We go to movies that make us cry, or scream, or gag. We poke at sores, eat spicy foods, immerse ourselves in hot baths, run marathons. Some of us even seek out pain and humiliation in sexual role-play. Why do we so often seek out physical pain and emotional turmoil? Where do these seemingly perverse appetites come from? Drawing on groundbreaking findings from psychology and brain science, Bloom shows how the right kind of suffering sets the stage for enhanced pleasure. Pain can distract us from our anxieties and help us transcend the self. Choosing to suffer can serve social goals; it can display how tough we are or, conversely, can function as a cry for help. Feelings of fear and sadness are part of the pleasure of immersing ourselves in play and fantasy and can provide certain moral satisfactions. And effort, struggle, and difficulty can, in the right contexts, lead to the joys of mastery and flow.

Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at University of Toronto, and the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University. His research explores the psychology of morality, identity, and pleasure. Bloom is the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including, most recently, the million-dollar Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize. He has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly. He is the author or editor of eight books, including Just Babies, How Pleasure Works, Descartes’ Baby, and, most recently, Against Empathy.

Shermer and Bloom discuss:

  • definitions of pleasure and pain,
  • What is the value of suffering?
  • how effort and struggle and pain are a source of both pleasure and meaning, central to a life worth living,
  • what David Hume meant when he wrote: “reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”
  • Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek on suffering. Jordan: “The purpose of life is finding the largest burden you can bear and bearing it.” Zizek: “the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle.”
  • controlled vs. uncontrolled suffering,
  • motivational pluralism,
  • negativity bias and why losses hurt twice as much as gains feel good,
  • Victor Frankl’s experience at Auschwitz,
  • Why do so many people enjoy spicy foods, painfully hot baths, rigorous exercise, and scary movies?
  • literature/films and suffering: what are the most successful plots in David Robinson’s analysis of 112,000 plots? Six:

    1. Rags to riches (rise)
    2. Riches to rags (fall)
    3. Man in a hole (fall then rise)
    4. Icarus (rise then fall)
    5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)
    6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)
  • Rocky lost the fight but he won his personal battle: “Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed. And if I can go that distance, see, if that bell rings and I’m still standing, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”
  • Fargo: violence cannot be contained,
  • revenge tragedy and comeuppance,
  • Why do we so often choose to suffer?
  • the myth that humans are natural-born hedonists, that the best life involves pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain,
  • people who seek out happiness are particularly likely to be depressed and dissatisfied,
  • what the best science says about what we should do to live our most fulfilling life,
  • Does having children really improve our lives?
  • boredom and immortality,
  • the difference between happiness and meaningfulness,
  • living in the now (2–3 seconds),
  • religion and meaningfulness.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

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EPISODE # 222

Suzanne O’Sullivan on psychosomatic disorders and other mystery illnesses, based on her book The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness

The Sleeping Beauties (book cover)

In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children fall into a state that resembles sleep for months or years at a time. In Le Roy, a town in upstate New York, teenage girls develop involuntary twitches and seizures that spread like a contagion. In the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, employees experience headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises during the night. These are only a few of the many suspected culture-bound psychosomatic syndromes — specific sets of symptoms that exist in a particular culture or environment — that affect people throughout the world.

In The Sleeping Beauties, Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan — an award-winning Irish neurologist — investigates psychosomatic disorders, traveling the world to visit communities suffering from these so-called mystery illnesses. From a derelict post-Soviet mining town in Kazakhstan to the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua to the heart of the María Mountains in Colombia, O’Sullivan records the remarkable stories of syndromes related to her by people from all walks of life. Riveting and often distressing, these case studies are recounted with compassion and humanity.

In examining the complexity of psychogenic illness, O’Sullivan has written a book of both fascination and serious concern as these syndromes continue to proliferate around the globe.

Suzanne O’Sullivan is an Irish neurologist working in Britain. Her first book, Is It All in Your Head? True Stories of Imaginary Illness, won the 2016 Wellcome Book Prize and the Royal Society of Biology General Book Prize. She lives in London.

Shermer and O’Sullivan discuss:

  • how a neurologist/scientist studies anomalous psychological phenomena,
  • The Mind-Body Problem: “psychological” or “mental” explanations imply dualism, but most neuroscientists are monists: the “mind” is what the brain does. So, saying that an effect was “caused” by something mental is really just saying that it was caused by the brain. A “sleeping illness” or a “twitching illness” or a “mass hysteria event” or… is no different from saying “my brain caused my arm to move” or “serotonin caused me to fall asleep” or “oxytocin caused warm feelings for another person”
  • The problem of labels:

    • normal: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual vs. abnormal,
    • Freud called the process by which unresolved conflicts are expressed as physical symptoms a “conversion disorder.”
    • psychosomatic disorders,
    • functional disorders,
    • mass psychogenic illness (MPI),
    • folk illness,
    • mass hysteria: characterized by excitement or anxiety, irrational behavior or beliefs, or inexplicable symptoms of illness affecting a group,
    • “biopsychosocial” disorders,
    • psychogenic/sociogenic,
    • “functional neurological disorders” (FND),
  • Causes:

    • factors: social, environmental, medical, psychological,
    • looping effect: “If a model for illness is vivid enough and the basis for the illness is sufficiently salient, it is easily internalized by the individual and then passed from person to person.”
  • Examples from the book:

    • Sweden: children of refugees whose asylum applications are rejected: “Between 2015 and 2016, 169 children in disparate towns in Sweden had gone to bed and not got up again.” Doctors called it resignation syndrome.
    • grisi siknis that grips the Miskito tribe of Nicaragua. Those affected experience initially innocuous symptoms such as headaches and dizziness that then spiral into irrational behavior, convulsions and hallucinations. The illness is unique to the Miskito Coast. The cause? Unknown.
  • Havana Syndrome: diplomats in Cuba, experiencing headaches, dizziness, tinnitus and fatigue, became convinced that they were victims of a new and terrifying sonic weapon,
  • Witches of Le Roy (NY),
  • Dozens of people in three Nicaraguan communities have had tremors, convulsions, breathing difficulties and hallucinations that make them fight with superhuman strength and run into the jungle.
  • older victims in two small towns in Kazakhstan blamed toxic mines for their sleeping sickness and strange behavior,
  • fainting high school girls in Colombia were told they were crazy, attention-seeking and sexually frustrated (illness allegedly caused by the HPV vaccine),
  • witch crazes,
  • penis panics,
  • Sybil and multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder),
  • rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD),
  • false memory syndrome,
  • satanic panic,
  • sleep paralysis (alien abductions, incubi and succubae),
  • Pentecostal church services and mass hysteria.

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EPISODE # 221

Antonio Damasio — Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious

Feeling and Knowing: Making Minds Conscious (book cover)

In recent decades, many philosophers and cognitive scientists have declared the problem of consciousness unsolvable, but Antonio Damasio is convinced that recent findings across multiple scientific disciplines have given us a way to understand consciousness and its significance for human life. In his latest work, Feeling & Knowing, Damasio helps us understand why being conscious is not the same as sensing, why nervous systems are essential for the development of feelings, and why feeling opens the way to consciousness writ large. He combines the latest discoveries in various sciences with philosophy and discusses his original research, which has transformed our understanding of the brain and human behavior.

Dr. Antonio Damasio is a University Professor, David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Philosophy, and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Self Comes to Mind, The Strange Order of Things, Descartes’ Error, Looking for Spinoza, and The Feeling of What Happens.

Shermer and Damasio discuss:

  • Feeling & Knowing as a meditative reverie reflecting on making minds conscious,
  • homeostasis as a primary purpose of life,
  • the second law of thermodynamics is the first law of life,
  • sensing, minding, feeling, being, knowing, and consciousness,
  • What is mind, and is it the same as brain?
  • What does it mean to experience something?
  • spatially mapped patterns that represent objects and actions,
  • What is memory?
  • What is the self?
  • intelligence as the ability to resolve successfully the problems posed by the struggle for life,
  • multiple intelligences,
  • the purpose of emotions,
  • brains and bodies,
  • the purpose of a nervous system,
  • Are plants conscience? Other animals?
  • What is consciousness “for”?
  • consciousness as a rheostat instead of a light switch,
  • free will and determinism,
  • interchangeable substrates of consciousness,
  • AI: can a computer ever be conscious or sentient?
  • mind-uploading a copy of a connectome, and
  • Where does consciousness go during sleep and anaesthesia? Death?

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

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EPISODE # 220

Charles Foster on Being a Human: Adventures in Forty Thousand Years of Consciousness

Being a Human: Adventures in Forty Thousand Years of Consciousness (book cover)

How did humans come to be who we are? In his marvelous, eccentric, and widely lauded book Being a Beast, legal scholar, veterinary surgeon, and naturalist extraordinaire Charles Foster set out to understand the consciousness of animal species by living as a badger, otter, fox, deer, and swift. Now, he inhabits three crucial periods of human development to understand the consciousness of perhaps the strangest animal of all — the human being.

To experience the Upper Paleolithic era — a turning point when humans became behaviorally modern, painting caves and telling stories, Foster learns what it feels like to be a Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherer by living in makeshift shelters without amenities in the rural woods of England. He tests his five impoverished senses to forage for berries and roadkill and he undertakes shamanic journeys to explore the connection of wakeful dreaming to religion. For the Neolithic period, when humans stayed in one place and domesticated plants and animals, forever altering our connection to the natural world, he moves to a reconstructed Neolithic settlement. Finally, to explore the Enlightenment — the age of reason and the end of the soul — Foster inspects Oxford colleges, dissecting rooms, cafes, and art galleries. He finds his world and himself bizarre and disembodied, and he rues the atrophy of our senses, the cause for much of what ails us.

Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, natural history, agriculture, medical law and ethics, Being a Human is one man’s audacious attempt to feel a connection with 45,000 years of human history. This glorious, fiercely imaginative journey from our origins to a possible future ultimately shows how we might best live on earth — and thrive.

Charles Foster is the author of Being a Beast, which won the 2016 Ig Nobel Award for biology and was a finalist for the Baillie Gifford Prize. He teaches medical law and ethics at the University of Oxford and his writing has been published in National Geographic, the Guardian, Nautilus, Slate, the Journal of Medical Ethics and many other venues. He lives in Oxford, England.

Shermer and Foster discuss:

  • the personal journey of how Charles Foster became human,
  • what it’s like to be a badger, otter, deer, fox, bird, and human,
  • When did the “lights come on” for humans?
  • hard problem of consciousness,
  • symbolic language, communication, cognition?
  • Paleolithic and Neolithic cognition?
  • Göbekli Tepe and symbolic communication,
  • cave paintings and symbolic communication,
  • wired for God, agency, intention?
  • Rupert Sheldrake and spooky action at a distance,
  • paranormal/supernatural phenomena,
  • enlightenment thinking and how it can be restrictive,
  • What happens when we die?
  • Who or what is the self?
  • transubstantiation: does the wafer and wine really become the body and blood of Christ?
  • empirical truths vs. metaphorical truths,
  • Are religious truths different from scientific truths?
  • why Foster is religious and believes Christianity is the right religion.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Oregon State University:

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EPISODE # 219

Steven Pinker on Rationality: What it is, Why it Seems Scarce, Why it Matters

Rationality: What it is, Why it Seems Scarce, Why it Matters (book cover)

Today humanity is reaching new heights of scientific understanding — and also appears to be losing its mind. How can a species that developed vaccines for COVID-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing? Pinker rejects the cynical cliché that humans are simply irrational — cavemen out of time saddled with biases, fallacies, and illusions. After all, we discovered the laws of nature, lengthened and enriched our lives, and set out the benchmarks for rationality itself. We actually think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives, but fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning we’ve discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others. These tools are not a standard part of our education but they should be. Rationality also explores its opposite: how the rational pursuit of self-interest, sectarian solidarity, and uplifting mythology can add up to crippling irrationality in a society. Collective rationality depends on norms that are explicitly designed to promote objectivity and truth.

Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People and one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. His books include The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Sense of Style, and Enlightenment Now.

In this in-person conversation in Shermer’s home, Pinker and Shermer discuss:

  • The through-line of his many books: The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Enlightenment Now, and Rationality
  • consciousness and free-will/determinism as conceptual problems, not scientific problems; that is, problems with our concepts,
  • the Skeptic magazine conundrum: we publish a magazine promoting science and rationality in the presumption that we can counter irrationality and teach people to think critically and like scientists … but we document how irrational people are,
  • Daniel Kahneman vs. Gerd Gingernzer and Bounded Rationality,
  • Homer Simpson vs. Mr. Spock, Alfred E. Neuman vs. John von Neumann,
  • What does it mean to “believe” in ghosts, gods, angels, demons, conspiracies…?
  • subjective/internal truths vs. objective/external truths,
  • empirical truths vs. mythological truths (religious truths, political truths…),
  • logic and critical thinking,
  • System 1 vs. System 2 (Thinking Fast and Slow)
  • Iron filings to a magnet vs. Romeo and Juliet to each other,
  • reason and emotion. Hume: “reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”
  • the purpose of rationality: to determine reality or win arguments (scientist vs. lawyer)?
  • faitheism: does “belief in belief” explain why people believe in God?
  • two kinds of belief: reality and mythology,
  • is-ought fallacy fallacy: to what extent can we derive an ought from an is?
  • motivated reasoning,
  • the confirmation bias,
  • the myside bias,
  • what we can do to counter irrationality, and
  • how to talk to a conspiracy theorist.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium and Oregon State University:

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