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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 # 302

Tim Palmer — The Primacy of Doubt: From Quantum Physics to Climate Change, How the Science of Uncertainty Can Help Us Understand Our Chaotic World

The Primacy of Doubt (book cover)

Why does your weather app say “There’s a 10% chance of rain” instead of “It will be sunny tomorrow”? In large part this is due to the insight of Tim Palmer, who made uncertainty essential to the study of weather and climate. Now he wants to apply it to how we study everything else.

In The Primacy of Doubt, Palmer argues that embracing the mathematics of uncertainty is vital to understanding ourselves and the universe around us. Whether we want to predict climate change or market crashes, understand how the brain is able to outpace supercomputers, or find a theory that links quantum and cosmological physics, Palmer shows how his vision of mathematical uncertainty provides new insights into some of the deepest problems in science. The result is a revolution—one that shows that power begins by embracing what we don’t know.

Shermer and Palmer discuss: doubt and skepticism • when doubt slides into denial • uncertainty as a measurement problem vs. inherent in natural systems • contingency and necessity, randomness and law • the butterfly effect • the geometry of chaos • quantum uncertainty • weather forecasting • climate change • pandemics • economic recessions • human decision making and creativity • free will • consciousness, and God.

Tim Palmer, FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society), CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) is a Royal Society Research Professor in the department of physics at the University of Oxford. He pioneered the development of operational ensemble weather and climate forecasting, and in 2007, he was formally recognized as having contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Nobel Peace Prize. Palmer is a Commander of the British Empire, a fellow of the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Institute of Physics’ Dirac Gold Medal. He lives near Oxford, UK.

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This episode is sponsored by Wren and Wondrium:

Wren (sponsor)
Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on October 18, 2022.

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