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Brain Glitches: Cognitive Biases

These resources are from a Summer Youth Program for High School Students titled, “Brain Glitches” and taught by Diane Graft. You can find in-class exercises for this summer course here.

Our brain is the best tool we have for understanding the world, but our mental software has bugs. We have a better chance of sorting out the truth from the baloney if we understand the ways in which our brain works. The PowerPoints provided here are used to discuss many topics with students, including:

  • Confirmation Bias
  • Agency Detection and False Positives
  • Anchoring Bias and the Decoy Effect
  • Memory Failures/Filling in the Gaps
  • Placebo Effect
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy
  • Backfire Effect
  • Probability
  • Type 1 & Type 2 Errors

Anchoring Bias PowerPoint Found Here:
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(815 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

Confirmation Bias PowerPoint Found Here:
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(1.8 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Memory PowerPoint Found Here:
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(622 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

Prisoner’s Dilemma & Ultimatum Game

These exercises are from a Summer Youth Program for High School Students titled, “Brain Glitches” and taught by Diane Graft. You can find PowerPoints for the summer course here.

Prisoner’s Dilemma
The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a classic example of “game theory”. A simple game with strategies that are anything but simple. This exercise helps students understand the ways in which human brains work.

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(49 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

Ultimatum Game
Following the Prisoner’s Dilemma, students now play a game that explores the “Volunteer’s Dilemma”.

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(47 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

Superstitious Behavior: Affect Your Luck?

Does superstitious behavior affect your luck? In this presentation students use their knowledge of the scientific method to answer that question. For their final research project, the following superstitions are tested: (1) walking under a ladder, (2) opening an umbrella indoors, and (3) spilling salt. This presentation was created by Charles DeLoach, Paarth Trivedi, Eli Goodman, Brady Serwitz, and Sara Owens for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, Skepticism 101: How to Think Like a Scientist (Without Being a Geek) at Chapman University during the fall 2011 semester.

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(526 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

Heuristics and Cognitive Biases
Among the American Electorate

This presentation depicts the history of academic thought on voter turnout and shows how recent neuroscience has changed the prevailing wisdom on the subject. While political science scholars of the 70’s and 80’s believed voters were rational calculators, neuroscience has shown that emotion and narrative play a strong role in this process. This presentation was created by Michael Mermelstein for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2012 semester.

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(182 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

Darwinian Arts & Notions of Beauty

The presentation explores the evolutionary basis for the creation and consumption of art in all forms. It discusses art’s adaptive function; as well as, its role in natural and sexual selection. The universality and evolutionary basis of aesthetic tastes in art is also discussed. This presentation was created by Amanda Limongi for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2012 semester.

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(6.6 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Making Mistakes & Being Wrong

We all know the cliché “To err is human.” To most extent, this is true – human error is the cause of 70% of airplane crashes, 90% of car-wrecks, and 90% of workplace accidents. We love telling people that they (not us) are wrong and happily point out their oversights. But is there another side of making mistakes? This PowerPoint presentation explores why human beings are so prone to making errors and why it is sometimes quite good to make them. After all, as Kathryn Schulz also pointed out in her book “Being Wrong,” embracing error can lead to some transformative results – healed relationships and fascinating discoveries. This presentation was created by Veronika Alexander for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2012 semester.

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(623 kb Powerpoint Presentation)

Roots of Liberty: Enlightenment Humanism and American Secular Heritage

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism.”

This presentation introduces the “Social Perspectives” segment of the course. JFK’s remarks on the separation of Church and State to the Houston Ministerial Association in 1960 are addressed in the context of Rick Santorum’s criticism. Sean Faircloth’s book, Attack of the Theocrats, is previewed. The question “Is America a Christian Nation?” is addressed before examining the phenomenon of Christian Nationalism. The American Constitution as a document expressing Enlightenment principles is examined. Recent rulings of the Texas School Board are used to illustrate the political effects of Christian Nationalism. The presentation concludes with the lawsuit brought on behalf of Jessica Ahlquist as an inspiring illustration of defending secularism.

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(99 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Rejecting Conformity to Religious Belief

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation introduces the “Personal Perspectives” segment of the course. It covers the typologies of apostasy based on the work of Sociology Professor Phil Zuckerman, before introducing “The Clergy Project.” The personal experiences of Dan Barker are discussed. Various psychological factors underlying conformity to religious belief are examined, including obedience to authority, social proof, and groupthink.

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(77 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Parenting Beyond Belief: Raising Freethinkers

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation draws on the work of Dale McGowan, and addresses the following topics: (1) Prevalent cultural attitudes towards atheists; (2) Our evolved tendency towards moral behavior; (3) The campaign against labeling children; (4) McGowan’s “Seven Secular Values”; (5) The Purpose Driven Life; (6) Addressing Death with Children; (7) Creative Secular Rituals; and (8) McGowan’s “Best Practices” for raising freethinkers.

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(101 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

African American Secular Humanism

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation introduces the “Ethical Perspectives” segment of the course. Based largely on the work of Sikivu Hutchinson, the following topics are addressed: (1) Racism in America using high profile contemporary examples; (2) Black religiosity; (3) The Black Church as a historically important safe harbor from racism; (4) Gender Politics—why African-American women are disproportionately religious; and (5) A brief historical overview of Black Freethought and Secular Humanism.

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(110 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

The Catholic Church

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation opens with criticism of the Catholic Church in popular narratives, before a discussion of the televised IQ2 Debate—“Motion: The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.” Based largely on the work of English Historian, David Ranan, three historical landmarks of Church power are examined, including (1) The Trial of Galileo (Inquisition); (2) The Holocaust (Anti-Semitism); and (3) The Child Abuse Scandal. The presentation concludes by addressing the recent political activism of the Catholic Church opposing same-sex marriage and contraception.

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(143 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Historical Perspective: Did Jesus Exist?

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation introduces students to three schools of thought in the “Historical Jesus Debate”: (1) Christ-Myth Theory (Mythicists); (2) Criteria of Double Dissimilarity (Historicists); and (3) Christian Apologetics. The Gospel and Pauline accounts of Jesus are compared and contrasted, and the theory of Jesus as a character-type based on precursor dying-and-rising gods is addressed. The presentation concludes by examining implications of the Historical Jesus Debate.

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(87 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Refuting God

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation introduces the “Critical Perspectives” segment of the course. Basic standards for objectively evaluating evidence are discussed, before introducing the Baylor Four-God typology based on US regional differences. The work of Karen Armstrong is used to discuss how concepts of God evolved into patriarchal monotheisms, marginalizing female divinities. Dan Dennett’s concept of “Belief in Belief” is introduced before addressing Richard Carrier’s four proofs justifying why he is not a Christian. The presentation concludes with the Epicurean refutation of God and a refutation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

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(77 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Apocalyptic Perspective: End Time Anxiety

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation demonstrates the pervasiveness of the apocalyptic worldview in contemporary popular narratives and political discourse. The psychological underpinnings of apocalyptic thinking are examined drawing on the work of literary theorist Kenneth Burke. The presentation ends by examining the political implications of adopting an apocalyptic worldview.

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(145 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

New Atheism: Genesis of a Social Movement

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation provides contemporary historical background on Atheism as a social movement. A brief synopsis of the life of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her American Atheists organization, representing “Old Atheism,” is followed by an overview of the New Atheist movement, from the publication of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith to present.

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(142 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Atheism: A Rhetorical Perspective

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation introduces the rhetorical/cultural approach to studying Atheism. Two rationales for the course are provided: (1) Aligns with the critical thinking and truth seeking mission of the University; and (2) Provides students with an opportunity for personal understanding and clarifying values. A way of discreetly disclosing the identity of the Instructor as an Atheist, Tea Pot Agnostic, Freethinker, and Humanist is given. The presentation concludes by providing an overview of the course organization and a preview of topics.

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(107 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Religious America, Secular Europe

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation examines four interrelated topics: (1) The Secularization Thesis; (2) Religious decline in the United Kingdom; (3) The American anomaly (why the United States is anomalously religious compared to other western countries); and (4) Religious decline in the US.

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(147 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Scientific Perspective: Why We Believe

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation begins by correlating high levels of religious belief with high levels of scientific illiteracy in the United States. Based largely on J. Anderson Thomson’s book, Why We Believe in Gods, this presentation looks at the ways in which religious belief piggybacks on cognitive functions evolved for satisfying other purposes (social cognition) using examples from Thomson’s book.

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(85 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Scientific Perspectives: Evolution vs. Creationism

This PowerPoint is part of a course titled, “Perspectives on Atheism“.

This presentation begins by addressing mainstream misperceptions and fears regarding Evolution. Eugenie C. Scott’s “Three Pillars” of criticism leveled at the scientific theory of evolution are discussed. The landmark Dover ruling is examined before we experience more adventures with the Texas School Board. The presentation concludes with a brief film on the 1925 Scopes Trial from the PBS documentary God in America.

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(94 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

Inter-Faith Dialogue

This PowerPoint presentation emphasizes the need to counteract false stereotypes about atheists and provides reasons why atheists and liberal religious persons should work together for the common-good. It contains demographics of religion and unbelief in America and encourages religious persons to reevaluate how they understand atheism. This PowerPoint was used for an in-class presentation (in TEDTalk format) to promote inter-faith and atheist dialogue. This presentation was created by Kile Jones for Dr. Michael Shermer’s course, “Evolution, Economics & the Brain” taught at Claremont Graduate University during the spring 2012 semester.

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(1.8 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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