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Science Salon Archives

Science Salon is a series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, scholars, and thinkers, about the most important issues of our time. Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud, or using the audio or video players below.

SCIENCE SALON # 47

Dr. Susan Blackmore — Altered States and Conscious Beings

Dr. Susan Blackmore is no stranger to skeptics. Dr. Shermer has known Dr. Blackmore since the early 1990s. When the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine were founded in 1992 she was already a rock star in the skeptical movement, having moved from believing in the paranormal, ESP, telepathy, and all the rest, to being an arch skeptic of all such claims. After earning a Ph.D. in the paranormal she devoted a decade to testing various phenomena under rigorous laboratory conditions, and continually found null results. That is, the tighter the controls she implemented and the more rigorous the research protocols, the weaker the paranormal effects became until they disappeared entirely. She went on from there to develop a theory about the neural correlates of such altered states of consciousness as Out of Body Experiences and Near Death Experiences, and after that wrote her bestselling book The Meme Machine, in which she developed a theory of how memes can be replicated and selected in a manner first proposed by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, when he coined the term. Dr. Blackmore went on to publish one of the leading textbooks on consciousness and is now working on a theory of tremes, or technological memes and how they can be replicated and selected in machines without human input.

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This Science Salon was recorded on November 7, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 46

Zac Sechler interviews Michael Shermer about Why People Believe in God

In this unusual Science Salon we bring you an interview of Dr. Shermer by Zac Sechler, a high school senior at Grace Prep High School in State College, PA. Zac is interested in studying areas such as religion, science, and history. He plans on studying history in college and hopes to work in the education field. This interview was for his Senior Project, on studying different worldviews that people hold on religion, and why they believe what they believe. Dr. Shermer’s contribution was as an atheist and skeptic, although as he points out to Zac, atheism and skepticism are not worldviews. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in God, full stop. Skepticism is just a scientific way of exploring the world and confronting claims about it.

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This Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on October 10, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 45

Daniel de Visé — On Comebacks in Sports and Life

In this unusual dialogue Dr. Shermer talks to author and journalist Daniel de Visé about one of the greatest athletes in American history, three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and de Vise’s new book about the cyclist, The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling, and a Legendary Tour de France. They also get into what constitutes fairness in sports, Lance Armstrong and the era of doping in sports in which nearly every professional athlete (not just in cycling) was using Performing Enhancing Drugs, and the ethics of how something can be immoral if everyone is doing it. Shermer explains his game theory analysis of cheating and how to tilt the incentive matrix to encourage fair play among all agents in a system. They also touch on de Vise’s prior bestselling book Andy and Don, the story of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts and their classic American television series.

Daniel de Visé is an author and journalist. He has worked at the Washington Post, the Miami Herald, and in 2001 shared a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative journalism of the on-the-scene coverage of the pre-dawn raid by federal agents that took the Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives and reunited him with his Cuban father. His investigative reporting twice led to the release of wrongly convicted men from life terms in prison. He is the author of I Forgot to Remember and Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show .

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This Science Salon was recorded on September 14, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 44

Dr. David P. Barash — Human Nature Through a Glass Brightly

Through a Glass Brightly (book cover)

Humans have long seen ourselves as the center of the universe, the apple of God’s eye, specially-created creatures who are somehow above and beyond the natural world. This viewpoint — a persistent paradigm of our own unique self-importance — is as dangerous as it is false. In this conversation with Michael Shermer based on his new book Through a Glass Brightly, noted biologist and evolutionary psychologist David Barash explores the process by which science has, throughout time, cut humanity “down to size,” and how humanity has responded. Shermer and Barash also explore how evolutionary psychology became politicized, with the Right embracing it and the Left looking askance at it, based on a deeper commitment to human nature as grounded deeply in our biology and genetics vs. human nature as malleable and shaped primarily by culture. A lifelong liberal and social activist, Dr. Barash nevertheless accepts the science wherever it leads, regardless of ideology. From there Barash and Shermer discuss human aggression and violence, whether or not war is part of our nature, game theory and nuclear deterrence and why Barash thinks MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) is a dangerous and fraudulent game to play with extinction on the line, how we can get to Nuclear Zero, and whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic for our species’ future.

Dr. David P. Barash is Professor of Psychology emeritus at the University of Washington and the author of Out of Eden, Buddhist Biology, Homo Mysterious, The Survival Game, Revolutionary Biology, and others, and co-author with his wife Judith Eve Lipton of Payback, Strange Bedfellows, How Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So Stories, Making Sense of Sex and The Myth of Monogamy.

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This Science Salon was recorded on October 19, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 43

Dr. Jonathan Haidt — Coming Apart

A lecture by and follow-up discussion with Jonathan Haidt about the excessive divisiveness of American politics and culture the past several years. Dr. Haidt visited the campus of Chapman University on October 18 on his book tour for The Coddling of the American Mind, about which Dr. Shermer talked to him in Science Salon # 36. While on campus Professor Haidt made a guest appearance in Professor Shermer’s class, Skepticism 101, and gave a lecture about his deep concerns of what is happening in America and what we should do about it, followed by an “in conversation” with Dr. Shermer in front of the class on several of these themes, including to what extent science and determine human values, what business America has in telling other countries and cultures what their values should be, his thoughts on the Harvard discrimination lawsuit, the deplatforming of Steve Bannon by The New Yorker, the legalization or criminalization of polygamy and prostitution, welfare programs and Universal Basic Income, and our moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves.

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Download the accompanying Powerpoint Presentation.

This Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on October 18, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 42

Dr. Clay Routledge — The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World (book cover)

In this dialogue on life’s deepest and most meaningful issues Michael Shermer talks with psychologist Clay Routledge about: the evolution of motivation and goals in animals and humans ● what a “purpose driven life” really means ● how atheists and nonbelievers can create meaningful and purposeful lives ● the self, personal identity, and existential psychology ● why people believe in God and fear death ● why religious people live longer and healthier lives ● the different types of atheists ● why one-third of atheists believe in some type of life after death ● free will as a useful fiction ● trans-humanism as a faux religion ● what should an atheist say to someone who is dying or has a loved-one who passed away ● terrorism as motivated by religion or politics or both.

Dr. Clay Routledge is an author, psychological scientist, consultant, public speaker, and professor. He is a professor at North Dakota State University. He studies basic psychological needs and how these needs influence wellbeing, physical health, and intergroup relations.Much of his research focuses on the need for meaning in life and the need to belong.He has published 95 scholarly papers, co-edited two books on existential psychology, and authored the book Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource. He was the lead writer for the TED-Ed animated lesson Why Do We Feel Nostalgia? His new book Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World was published in July 2018.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on September 12, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 41

Dr. Debra Lieberman — That’s Disgusting! Objection: Disgust, Morality and the Law

Objection: Disgust, Morality and the Law (book cover)

Why do we consider incest wrong, even when it occurs between consenting adults unable to have children? Why are words that gross us out more likely to be deemed “obscene” and denied the protection of the First Amendment? In a world where a gruesome photograph can decisively influence a jury and homosexual behavior is still condemned by some as “unnatural,” it is worth asking: is our legal system really governed by the power of reason? Or do we allow a primitive human emotion, disgust, to guide us in our lawmaking? In this wide-ranging conversation Dr. Lieberman considers disgust and its impact on the legal system to show why the things that we find stomach-turning so often become the things that we render unlawful. Shedding light on the evolutionary and psychological origins of disgust, she reveals how ancient human intuitions about what is safe to eat or touch, or who would make an advantageous mate, have become co-opted by moral systems designed to condemn behavior and identify groups of people ripe for marginalization. Over time these moral stances have made their way into legal codes, and disgust has thereby served as the impetus for laws against behaviors almost universally held to be “disgusting” (corpse desecration, bestiality) — and as the implicit justification for more controversial prohibitions (homosexuality, use of pornography).

Dr. Debra Lieberman is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami, where she is co-director of the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory. Dr. Lieberman is a leading researcher in the area of human cognition and behavior from an evolutionary perspective.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on August 22, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 40

Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah — Who Am I? Who Are You? The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (book cover)

In this wide-ranging conversation Dr. Appiah and Dr. Shermer review the 5 “Cs” of identity—Creed, Country, Color, Class, and Culture—and what they tell us about who we are, or at least who we think we are. Dr. Appiah’s new book The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity explores the nature and history of the identities that define us. It challenges our assumptions about how identities work. We all know there are conflicts between identities, but Appiah shows how identities are created by conflict. Religion, he demonstrates, gains power because it isn’t primarily about belief. Our everyday notions of race are the detritus of discarded nineteenth-century science. Our cherished concept of the sovereign nation—of self-rule—is incoherent and unstable. Class systems can become entrenched by efforts to reform them. Even the very idea of Western culture is a shimmering mirage. These “mistaken identities,” Appiah explains, can fuel some of our worst atrocities—from chattel slavery to genocide. And yet, he argues that social identities aren’t something we can simply do away with. They can usher in moral progress and bring significance to our lives by connecting the small scale of our daily existence with larger movements, causes, and concerns. Elaborating a bold and clarifying new theory of identity, The Lies That Bind is a ringing philosophical statement for the anxious, conflict-ridden twenty-first century. This book will transform the way we think about who—and what—“we” are.

Kwame Anthony Appiah is a professor at NYU in the department of philosophy and the school of law, the Ethicist column for the New York Times, and the author of Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Experiments in Ethics, and most recently The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on August 21, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 39

Heather Mac Donald — The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture

The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture (book cover)

In this riveting review of the campus craziness investigative journals, writer, and lawyer Heather Mac Donald and Michael Shermer dive deep into the root causes of what has gone wrong on college campuses, in corporations, and in government agencies, over the decades that has led to a crisis in higher education … and beyond. Race and gender form the core of Identity Politics, which Mac Donald and Shermer discuss in dunking the myth that American society in general — and academia in particular — are rampant environments of bigotry and prejudice. Just the opposite is the case, as there has never been a safer and more inviting space to be than a college campus in 2018 America.

The discussion revolves around Mac Donald’s new book, The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture, in which she shows how toxic ideas first spread by higher education have undermined humanistic values, fueled intolerance, and widened divisions in our larger culture. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton? Oppressive. American history? Tyranny. Professors correcting grammar and spelling, or employers hiring by merit? Racist and sexist. Students emerge into the working world believing that human beings are defined by their skin color, gender, and sexual preference, and that oppression based on these characteristics is the American experience. Speech that challenges these campus orthodoxies is silenced with brute force.

Heather Mac Donald is a self-described secular conservative (she’s an atheist) who writes extensively on American politics and culture. She is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to New York’s City Journal. Her previous books include The War on Cops, Are Cops Racist?, The Immigration Solution, and The Burden of Bad Ideas.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on September 10, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 38

Dr. Yuval Noah Harari — 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

21 Lessons for the 21st Century (book cover)

Released September 4, 2018

In this dialogue with one of the most interesting minds of our time, the Hebrew University historian and best-selling author (Sapiens, Homo Deus), Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, he and Dr. Shermer discuss the central ideas of his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, an exploration of: history, work, liberty, equality, community, civilization, nationalism, religion, immigration, terrorism, war, humility, God, secularism, ignorance, justice, post-truth, science fiction, education, meaning, and meditation. Dr. Harari and Dr. Shermer cover as many of these topics as reasonable in this wide-ranging conversation, focusing especially on nationalism, tribalism, God and religion, free will and determinism, AI algorithms and human volition, the future of liberal democracy, colonizing Mars, and much more.

Dr. Yuval Noah Harari has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Oxford, and now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in world history. His two books, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, have become global best­sellers, with more than twelve million copies sold and translations in more than forty-five languages.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on August 19, 2018.

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