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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.

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Jeff Hawkins — A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence (book cover)

For all of neuroscience’s advances, we’ve made little progress on its biggest question: How do simple cells in the brain create intelligence? Jeff Hawkins and his team discovered that the brain uses maplike structures to build a model of the world — not just one model, but hundreds of thousands of models of everything we know. This discovery allows Hawkins to answer important questions about how we perceive the world, why we have a sense of self, and the origin of high-level thought.

Jeff Hawkins is the cofounder of Numenta, a neuroscience research company; founder of the Redwood Neuroscience Institute; and one of the founders of the field of handheld computing. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and author of On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines.

Shermer and Hawkins discuss:

  • What is intelligence?
  • What is consciousness?
  • All thoughts, ideas, and perceptions are the activity of neurons.
  • Everything we know is stored in the connections between neurons.
  • the neocortex as the key to higher intelligence,
  • cortical columns as the key to reference frames that lead to intelligence,
  • motor cortex, sensory cortex, and sensory-motor learning,
  • Vernon Mountcastle’s Big Idea,
  • why the old reptilian brain is heterogenous whereas the new brain is homogeneous,
  • Jeff Hawkins Big Idea: There is no central control room in our brains; instead, our perception is a consensus which the columns reach by voting. Within the columns — even within neurons — predictions are made, and depending how successful their predictions are, the neurons will vote for their version of events,
  • maps and models in your head,
  • predictive models of the world,
  • dendritic spikes as predictions,
  • species specific perception,
  • veridical perception vs. survival perception,
  • metaphors of how the brain works: a clockwork machine, pneumatic or hydraulic devices, cavities through which animal spirits flowed, electrical device, nerves as telegraph wires, cybernetics, computers, etc.,
  • Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 (Thinking, Fast and Slow),
  • Can immortality be achieved through mind uploading?
  • AI/AGI: Does Big Blue know it beat Gary Kasparov in Chess? Does Watson know it won Jeopardy?
  • SETI and the nature of alien intelligence, and
  • colonizing the galaxy with our intelligence.

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This episode is sponsored by:

The Great Courses Plus (sponsor)

This episode was released on April 3, 2021.


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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.

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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.

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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?

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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…

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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!

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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.

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