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The Michael Shermer Show

The Michael Shermer Show is a series of long-form 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 via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, and TuneIn.

EPISODE # 153

Kevin Dutton — Black-and-White Thinking: The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World

Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, the binary brain was highly adept at detecting risk: the ability to analyze threats and respond to changes in the sensory environment — a drop in temperature, the crack of a branch — was essential to our survival as a species. Since then, the world has evolved — but we, for the most part, haven’t. Confronted with a panoply of shades of gray, our brains have a tendency to “force quit:” to sort the things we see, hear, and experience into manageable but simplistic categories. We stereotype, pigeon-hole, and, above all, draw lines where in reality there are none. In our modern, interconnected world, it might seem like we are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face — that living with a binary brain is like trying to navigate a teeming city center with a map that shows only highways.

Shermer and Dutton discuss:

  • black-and-white thinking in: physics, biology, psychology, politics, economics, society,
  • What are categories and why do we need them?
  • When does a hill become a mountain and how many grains of sand makes a heap?
  • from quantitative scaling to qualitative categories,
  • analogue vs. digital, vinyl records vs. DVDs,
  • What is a species, exactly?
  • How can there be dozens of genders if there are just males and females?
  • Abortion: where do you draw the line?
  • from categories to stereotypes to bigotries,
  • tribalism, xenophobia, & racism: the dark side of black-and-white thinking,
  • the difference between a cult, a sect, and a religion,
  • What constitutes mental disorders? Are we all a little crazy?
  • Consciousness: when do the lights come on?
  • When is a Republican a conservative and not a liberal?

Dr. Kevin Dutton is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a research psychologist at the University of Oxford. He regularly publishes in leading international scientific journals and speaks at conferences around the world. He is the author of Flipnosis and The Wisdom of Psychopaths, for which he was awarded a Best American Science and Nature Writing prize. His work has been translated into over twenty languages, and his writing and research have been featured in Scientific American, New Scientist, The Guardian, The Times, Psychology Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among other publications.

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Retrospective

Skeptic cover art by Pat Linse

Art of the Skeptic

In celebration of Skeptic magazine’s 100th issue, we present sage graphic art advice for skeptical groups and a gallery of art reflecting more than 47 years of skeptical activism from Skeptic’s long time Art Director, Pat Linse

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.

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Wisdom of Harriet Hall

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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.

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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.

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The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

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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
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Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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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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