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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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EPISODE # 283

Michael Strevens — The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science (book cover)

If is science so powerful why did it take so long — two thousand years after the invention of philosophy and mathematics — for the human race to start using science to learn the secrets of the universe? Philosopher of science Michael Strevens argues that science came about only once thinkers stumbled upon the astonishing idea that scientific breakthroughs could be accomplished by breaking the rules of logical argument. Using a plethora of vivid historical examples, Strevens demonstrates that scientists willfully ignore religion, theoretical beauty, and even philosophy to embrace a constricted code of argument whose very narrowness channels unprecedented energy into empirical observation and experimentation. Strevens calls this scientific code the iron rule of explanation, and reveals the way in which the rule, precisely because it is unreasonably close-minded, overcomes individual prejudices to lead humanity inexorably toward the secrets of nature.

Michael Strevens, a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, is a professor of philosophy at New York University. He was born in New Zealand and has been writing about philosophy of science for twenty-five years. He lives in New York.

Shermer and Strevens discuss:

  • What is irrationality and how does it drive science?
  • What is science and the scientific method?
  • What is the knowledge machine?
  • What is irrationality?
  • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it
  • verification vs. falsification: from Francis Bacon to Karl Popper
  • Eddington’s eclipse experiments that verified (or failed to falsify) Einstein
  • What is the iron rule of explanation?
  • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification
  • climate skeptics and evolution skeptics
  • Model Dependent Realism
  • facts and values: when facts conflict with values
  • science and moral values
  • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness
  • science and morality
  • science and humanism
  • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns
  • facts and values: how far can science reach into human moral, political, and cultural issues?
  • Is there a place for God in scientific epistemology?
  • Why should we believe Anthony Fauci?
  • how to evaluate media sources of science.

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This episode was released on June 25, 2022.

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