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Science Salon Archives

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason, 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 Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, or using the audio or video players below.

SCIENCE SALON # 99

Bobby Duffy — Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding

What percentage of the population are immigrants? How bad is unemployment? How much sex do people have? These questions are important and interesting, but most of us get the answers wrong. Research shows that people often wildly misunderstand the state of the world, regardless of age, sex, or education. And though the internet brings us unprecedented access to information, there’s little evidence we’re any better informed because of it. We may blame cognitive bias or fake news, but neither tells the complete story. In Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, Bobby Duffy draws on his research into public perception across more than forty countries, offering a sweeping account of the stubborn problem of human delusion: how society breeds it, why it will never go away, and what our misperceptions say about what we really believe. We won’t always know the facts, but they still matter. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything is mandatory reading for anyone interested making humankind a little bit smarter. Duffy and Shermer also discuss:

  • cognitive biases and how they distort what we think about the world
  • do men really have more sexual partners than women (and if so, who are they having sex with?)
  • why we lie to ourselves and others about almost everything
  • fears about immigrants and immigration
  • Brexit: leave or remain and why people vote each way
  • why we are more polarized politically than ever before (and what we can do about it)
  • the “backfire effect”: the bad news and the good
  • why we are not living in a post-truth era
  • why facts matter and why free speech matters, and
  • kids these days…

Bobby Duffy is director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. Formerly, he was managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and global director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute. He lives in London.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.


THE GREAT COURSES PLUS

Get One Free Month Using Michael Shermer’s Special Discount Link Below

We are now working with The Great Courses to bring you a special offer for Unlimited Access to Over 11,000 Video and Audio Lectures in Science, Math, History, Photography, and more… Read the following note from Michael Shermer to learn more.

As most of you know I consume a lot of online content while I’m driving, cycling, hiking, or doing chores around the house, and for years you’ve heard or seen me posting on social media The Great Courses I’ve been taking, for example:

  • Professor Patrick Grim’s The Philosopher’s Toolkit: How to be the Most Rational Person in Any Room.
  • Professor Richard B. Spence’s The Real History of Secret Societies, and
  • Professor Daniel Breyer’s Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature.

In the past I would purchase individual courses, but with The Great Courses Plus program you can subscribe to the service and listen to individual lectures — or entire courses — from a huge variety of courses from their catalogue.

With The Great Courses Plus program I often skip around and listen to lectures from different courses, depending on what, exactly, I’m interested in hearing that particular day. For example, The Philosopher’s Toolkit includes 24 30-minute lectures that teach you, for example, how to think like Artistotle, the power of thought experiments, the difference between cool rationality and hot thought, why we make mistakes, how to win debates, and near and dear to my heart, how to think scientifically.

For a limited time only, they are offering my listeners an entire month for free.

But to start your free month trial, you must sign up today using my special promotional URL: thegreatcoursesplus.com/salon

Get your free month

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SCIENCE SALON # 98

Robert Pennock — An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science

An exploration of the scientific mindset — such character virtues as curiosity, veracity, attentiveness, and humility to evidence — and its importance for science, democracy, and human flourishing. Exemplary scientists have a characteristic way of viewing the world and their work: their mindset and methods all aim at discovering truths about nature. In An Instinct for Truth, Robert Pennock explores this scientific mindset and argues that what Charles Darwin called “an instinct for truth, knowledge, and discovery” has a tacit moral structure — that it is important not only for scientific excellence and integrity but also for democracy and human flourishing. In an era of “post-truth,” the scientific drive to discover empirical truths has a special value. Taking a virtue-theoretic perspective, Pennock explores curiosity, veracity, skepticism, humility to evidence, and other scientific virtues and vices. Shermer and Pennock discuss:

  • the nature of science
  • why Intelligent Design creationists are not doing bad science — they’re not doing science at all
  • what to do with anomalies not explained by the current paradigm
  • the role of outsiders in science
  • what scientific training does to develop the virtues of science
  • how authority is different from expertise
  • when experts pronounce on ideas outside their field
  • fraud in science and why it happens
  • why scientists are skeptical of UFOs, ESP, bigfoot, and the like
  • falsification of a scientific hypothesis vs. positive evidence in support of a scientific hypothesis
  • the naturalistic fallacy and the Is-Ought problem, and
  • the ethics of autonomous vehicles and the trolley problem.

Robert T. Pennock is University Distinguished Professor of History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science at Michigan State University in the Lyman Briggs College and the Departments of Philosophy and Computer Science and Engineering. He is the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.


THE GREAT COURSES PLUS

Get One Free Month Using Michael Shermer’s Special Discount Link Below

We are now working with The Great Courses to bring you a special offer for Unlimited Access to Over 11,000 Video and Audio Lectures in Science, Math, History, Photography, and more… Read the following note from Michael Shermer to learn more.

As most of you know I consume a lot of online content while I’m driving, cycling, hiking, or doing chores around the house, and for years you’ve heard or seen me posting on social media The Great Courses I’ve been taking, for example:

  • Professor Patrick Grim’s The Philosopher’s Toolkit: How to be the Most Rational Person in Any Room.
  • Professor Richard B. Spence’s The Real History of Secret Societies, and
  • Professor Daniel Breyer’s Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature.

In the past I would purchase individual courses, but with The Great Courses Plus program you can subscribe to the service and listen to individual lectures — or entire courses — from a huge variety of courses from their catalogue.

With The Great Courses Plus program I often skip around and listen to lectures from different courses, depending on what, exactly, I’m interested in hearing that particular day. For example, The Philosopher’s Toolkit includes 24 30-minute lectures that teach you, for example, how to think like Artistotle, the power of thought experiments, the difference between cool rationality and hot thought, why we make mistakes, how to win debates, and near and dear to my heart, how to think scientifically.

For a limited time only, they are offering my listeners an entire month for free.

But to start your free month trial, you must sign up today using my special promotional URL: thegreatcoursesplus.com/salon

Get your free month

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

SCIENCE SALON # 97

Amber Scorah — Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life

In this revealing conversation Amber Scorah opens the box into the psychology of religious belief to show how, exactly, religions and cults convince members that theirs is the one true religion, to the point, she admits, that she would have gladly died for her faith. As a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, Amber Scorah had devoted her life to sounding God’s warning of impending Armageddon. She volunteered to take the message to China, where the preaching she did was illegal and could result in her expulsion or worse. Here, she had some distance from her community for the first time. Immersion in a foreign language and culture — and a whole new way of thinking — turned her world upside down, and eventually led her to lose all that she had been sure was true. As a proselytizer in Shanghai, using fake names and secret codes to evade the authorities’ notice, Scorah discreetly looked for targets in public parks and stores. To support herself, she found work at a Chinese language learning podcast, hiding her real purpose from her coworkers. Now with a creative outlet, getting to know worldly people for the first time, she began to understand that there were other ways of seeing the world and living a fulfilling life. When one of these relationships became an “escape hatch,” Scorah’s loss of faith culminated in her own personal apocalypse, the only kind of ending possible for a Jehovah’s Witness. Shunned by family and friends as an apostate, Scorah was alone in Shanghai and thrown into a world she had only known from the periphery — with no education or support system. A coming of age story of a woman already in her thirties, this unforgettable memoir examines what it’s like to start one’s life over again with an entirely new identity. Scorah and Shermer also discuss:

  • the legals and logistics of writing a memoir
  • the rise of the nones and disbelief and why stories like hers provide social proof for living without religion
  • what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and why they believe it
  • what it’s like to go door-to-door witnessing for a religion
  • Armageddon and what doomsayers do when the world doesn’t end
  • the mindset of the fundamentalist
  • why religions are obsessed with female sexuality
  • why religions forbid homosexuality
  • the psychology of deconversion
  • the problem of evil, or why bad things happen to good people
  • how she would try to talk someone out of joining ISIS
  • what it’s like to be expelled from a religion and be an apostate, and
  • how to start your life over when you’ve lost everything.

Amber Scorah is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, The Believer, and USA Today. Prior to coming to New York, Scorah lived in Shanghai, where she was creator and host of the podcast Dear Amber: An Insider’s Guide to Everything China. Leaving the Witness is her first book.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 96

Catherine Wilson — How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well

In this wide-ranging conversation the philosopher Catherine Wilson makes the case that if the pursuit of happiness is the question, Epicureanism is the answer. Not the mythic Epicureanism that calls to mind gluttons with gout or an admonition to eat, drink, and be merry. Instead, in her new book How to Be an Epicurean, Wilson shows that Epicureanism isn’t an excuse for having a good time: it’s a means to live a good life. Although modern conveniences and scientific progress have significantly improved our quality of life, many of the problems faced by ancient Greeks — love, money, family, politics — remain with us in new forms. To overcome these obstacles, the Epicureans adopted a philosophy that promoted reason, respect for the natural world, and reverence for our fellow humans. By applying this ancient wisdom to a range of modern problems, from self-care routines and romantic entanglements to issues of public policy and social justice, Wilson shows us how we can all fill our lives with purpose and pleasure. Wilson and Shermer also discuss:

  • the hedonic treadmill and the problem of pursuing material goods
  • why money will not bring you happiness or meaning
  • eternal moral truths
  • judging figures from the past by modern moral standards
  • why she thinks everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Joe Biden should have known better and acted differently
  • why she thinks Jeffrey Epstein committing suicide was a rational choice for him
  • how to think about the abortion issue
  • why we need not fear death, and
  • how to lead a meaningful life.

Catherine Wilson received her PhD in philosophy from Princeton University and has taught at universities in the US, Canada, and Europe. She has published more than 100 research papers and eight books, including A Very Short Introduction to Epicureanism and Metaethics from a First-Person Standpoint: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. She has two children and lives in New York City, where she is currently Visiting Presidential Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center at CUNY.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 95

John Martin Fischer — Death, Immortality and Meaning in Life

John Martin Fischer’s Death, Immortality, and Meaning in Life offers a brief yet in-depth introduction to the key philosophical issues and problems concerning death and immortality. In this wide-ranging and thoughtful conversation, Shermer and Fisher discuss:

  • meaning in life
  • meaning in death
  • the badness of death
  • different philosophical, religious, and scientific ideas on immortality
  • near-death experiences
  • extending life through medical technology
  • medical immortality vs. real immortality
  • the problem of identity for immortality (who or what becomes immortal?)
  • living for 100 years vs. 1000 years vs. forever
  • responding to the theistic argument that without God anything goes, there is no objective morality, and no meaning to life
  • If you don’t believe in God or the afterlife, what do you say to someone who is dying or has lost a loved one?
  • Is immortality, like existence, one thought too many?

John Martin Fischer is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, and a University Professor at the University of California. He is coauthor of Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife (OUP, 2016), and coeditor of Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings (Eighth Edition, OUP, 2018). He was Project Leader of The Immortality Project (John Templeton Foundation).

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 94

David Leiser — How We Misunderstand Economics and Why it Matters

This is the first book to explain why people misunderstand economics. From the cognitive shortcuts we use to make sense of complex information, to the metaphors we rely on and their effect on our thinking, this important book lays bare not only the psychological traits that distort our ability to understand such a vital topic, but also what this means for policy makers and civil society more widely.

Shermer and Leiser dive into the mismatch between the complexities of economics and the constraints of human cognition that lie at the root of our misconceptions, as well as explore:

  • folk economics and why our intuitions are so often wrong
  • the evolutionary origins of our thinking about economics and why we are not prepared cognitively to understand complex economic ideas
  • Universal Basic Income
  • income inequality
  • CEO pay and why we think it’s too high
  • the importance of trust in economic exchanges
  • tariffs and Trump
  • China, and
  • reparations for slavery vs. reparations for the Holocaust.

David Leiser is Full Professor of Economic and Social Psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. He is Past President of the International Association for Research in Economic Psychology, and President of the Economic Psychology Division of the International Association of Applied Psychology. He studies lay conceptions, especially in the economic domain.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 93

Geoffrey Miller — Virtue Signaling: Essays on Darwinian Politics and Free Speech

Michael Shermer talks with the polymathic polyamorous sapiosexual classically liberal evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller about:

  • virtue signaling and why we all do it
  • how the phrase “virtue signaling” became a derogatory political meme
  • how virtue signaling really works and why it is not a bad thing
  • why evolutionary psychology is not based on “just so” story telling
  • how multiple traits can be selected at once
  • individual selection vs. group selection
  • the role of virtue signaling in the evolution of the moral sentiments
  • how virtue signaling helps produce real morality (and not just fake altruism)
  • abortion, immigration, Trump, the Far Right, the Far Left, and other topical controversies
  • gender differences in career preferences
  • neurodiversity and speech codes
  • cultural diversity and the Harvard lawsuit over discrimination
  • why social groups tend to splinter and defenestrate members who are not virtuous enough.

Geoffrey Miller is a tenured evolutionary psychology professor at University of New Mexico. He’s been writing and teaching about the origins and functions of moral virtues for decades. His previous books include The Mating Mind, Spent, Mating Intelligence, and What Women Want. He got his B.A. from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He’s also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, University College London, and the London School of Economics. He has over 110 publications about sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has also given 200 talks in 16 countries, and his research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 92

Tim Samuels — Future Man: How to Evolve and Thrive in the Age of Trump, Mansplaining, and #MeToo

If ever there was an urgent need for a frank understanding of what’s going on with men, it is now. Male rage and frustration have driven resurgent populism, mass shootings, and epidemics of addiction and violence. Powerful men who have abused their positions for decades have been and are being #MeToo-outed and dismissed. The patriarchy, that solid bedrock of male power for thousands of years, seems to be crumbling.

In Future Man, with his characteristic intelligence and humor, Tim Samuels assesses the state of contemporary manhood, its conflicts, confusions, and challenges. Trapped in bodies barely changed since cavemen days, men are contending with the stresses of corporate culture, lifelong commitment, rampant depression, and crazy expectations to be successful at work and at home. But how can you hunt and gather in an open-plan office? Why do men make up to 95 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs yet 93 percent of the prison population? Why do men commit suicide at more than three times the rate of women?

Shermer and Samuels discuss:

  • why it’s time for men to listen to women
  • why it is also time for women to listen to (non-toxic) men
  • why the treatment of women and men is not zero-sum
  • fatherhood
  • violence and how to curb it
  • war and what it does to men
  • porn and the problems it causes
  • why men need sports
  • mental health
  • toxic masculinity
  • gender roles
  • divorce, child custody, alimony, and spousal support.

Tim Samuels is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, broadcaster, and journalist. He won three Royal Television Society awards and best documentary at the World Television Festival as well as the “Making a Difference” award at the Mind Media Awards for his work on mental health. He created the BBC Radio 5 call-in show Men’s Hour and has been a host for eight years. He recently became a correspondent for National Geographic Channel’s Explorer, based out of New York, and he contributes to such US publications as GQ, New York Times Magazine, and Huffington Post. He lives in London.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 91

James Traub — What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present, and Promise of a Noble Idea

In this wide-ranging conversation James Traub and Michael Shermer discuss:

  • the changing meaning of “liberalism” over the centuries and decades
  • why the first liberals were deeply skeptical of majority rule
  • how, by the second half of the 20th century, liberalism become the national creed of the most powerful country in the world
  • why this consensus did not last
  • the giants of liberalism: James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Isiah Berlin
  • Karl Popper, the Open Society, and the paradox of tolerance (that tolerating intolerance is self-defeating)
  • Donald Trump as the first American president to regard liberal values with open contempt
  • illiberalism in the UK, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Germany
  • why liberalism lost the support it once enjoyed
  • the intolerance of the illiberal left, identity politics, and political correctness
  • what a potential future for liberalism would look like.

James Traub has spent the last forty years as a journalist for American’s leading publications, including the New Yorker and the New York Times magazine. He now teaches foreign policy and intellectual history at New York University and at NYU Abu Dhabi, and is a columnist and contributor at Foreign Policy. He is the author of six previous books on foreign and domestic affairs. His most recent work is John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. He lives in New York City.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 90

Melvin Konner — Believers: Faith in Human Nature

World renowned biological anthropologist Mel Konner examines the nature of human nature, including and especially in his new book on the nature of religiosity. In Believers, Konner, who was raised in an orthodox Jewish home but has been an atheist his entire adult life, responds to attacks on faith by some well-meaning scientists and philosophers, most notably the “new atheists” Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens―known for writing about religion as something irrational and ultimately harmful. Konner explores the psychology, development, brain science, evolution, and even genetics of the varied religious impulses we experience as a species. Konner and Shermer discuss:

  • the nature of human nature
  • what is religion?
  • what is faith?
  • is religion and faith adaptive or the byproduct of some other evolved adaptation?
  • his experience living among hunter-gatherers
  • how hunter-gatherers conceive of religion vs. modern peoples
  • the “Big Gods” theory of religion
  • the “God Module” theory of religion
  • the group selection theory of religion
  • why faith is not for everyone
  • the rise of the nones, but why religion will never completely die out
  • the upside of religion … and the downside
  • were our paleolithic ancestors warlike or peaceful?
  • would you want to switch places and live in a hunter-gatherer society?
  • why for at least a large minority of humanity, the belief in things unseen neither can nor should go away.

Melvin Konner, MD, is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University. He is the author of Believers, Women After All, Becoming a Doctor, and The Tangled Wing, among other books.

Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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