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psychology

Jessica Schleider — How to Build Meaningful Moments that Can Transform Your Mental Health

Shermer and Schleider discuss: her own experience with mental illness and eating disorder • 80% of people meet criteria for a mental illness at some point in their life • the goal of therapy • navigating therapy modalities, access, payments, insurance • What prevents people from getting the mental health help they need? • outcome measures to test different therapies • traditional therapy vs. single-session interventions • growth mindset • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) • difference between goals and values…

Dan Ariely — What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things?

Shermer and Ariely discuss: What is disinformation and what should we do about it? • How do we know what is true and what to believe? • virtue signaling one’s tribe as a misbelief factor • the role of complex stories in misbelief • emotions, personality, temperament, trust, politics, and social aspects of belief and misbelief • the funnel of belief • social proof and the influence of others on our beliefs • a COVID-23 pandemic • social media companies…

The Rise of Lies and the Demise of Shame

We are fascinated and enraged by pathological liars like George Santos, who lie with every breath. But everybody lies, out of courtesy, self-protection, or self-advancement. Toddlers start lying as soon as they start speaking, suggesting that deception evolved right along with language as an adaptive strategy. The social danger is not that people lie, but the obliteration of the line between a lie and its consequences. Once, anyone lying as blatantly as Santos would have been shamed or laughed out…

Tanya Luhrmann on How Gods and Spirits Come to Feel Vividly Real to People

Shermer and Luhrmann discuss: the anthropology of religion • what it means when people say they “hear the voice of God” or are “walking with God” • normal “voices within” vs. hallucinations and psychoses • mystical experiences • anomalous psychological experiences • sleep paralysis and other cognitive anomalies • belief in angels and demons • absorption and religious beliefs • prayer vs. meditation vs. mindfulness • sensed presences • why people believe in God • empirical truths, religious truths, mythic truths…

Kennon Sheldon – Free Will, Determinism, and Self-Determinism

Shermer and Sheldon discuss: definitions of free will, determinism, compatibilism, libertarian free will • dualism • reductionism, materialism, predetermination, and epiphenomenalism • Christian List’s three capacities for free will • AI, Star Trek’s Data, sentience and consciousness, ChatGPT, GPT-4 • how what people believe about free will and determinism influences their behaviors • the case for hard determinism • brain injuries, tumors, addictions, and other “determiners” of behavior • emergence • symbolic self • System 1 vs. System 2 thinking •  Experiencing Self vs.…

What is a Woman, Anyway?

Dr. Shermer comments on current events surrounding trans matters and reads his in-depth essay on the subject, originally published as one of his regularly Skeptic columns on Substack.

Behind the Rhetoric: The Untold Story of “Gender-Affirming” Clinics

What is gender identity? Why do some people feel an inconsistency between their natal sex and the gender they consider themselves to be, and when and why does that “dysphoria” begin? A few very young children, mostly boys, prefer the clothes, names, and activities of girls before they even have a concept of “boy” and “girl.” But do the reasons for their gender incongruence apply to the adolescents, mostly girls, who show no interest in transitioning until puberty or later?…

Ben Alderson-Day — Presence: The Strange Science and True Stories of the Unseen Other

Shermer and Alderson-Day discuss the psychologist’s journey to understand the phenomenon of sensed-presence: the disturbing feeling that someone or something is there when we are alone. Using contemporary psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, and philosophy, Alderson-Day attempts to understand how this experience is possible. Is it a hallucination, a change in the brain, or something else? The journey to understand takes us to meet explorers, mediums, and robots, and step through real, imagined, and virtual worlds.

Psychotherapy Reconsidered

Is psychotherapy effective? Which of the many types is best? Are certain therapies better suited to treat certain problems? How can you rationally choose a therapist? Is it better to pick a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or some other type of counselor? There is a veritable cornucopia of individuals offering advice about mental health issues, from celebrities to life coaches to pastors to concerned friends, some with formal training and some with no credentials at all. Does psychotherapy ever make patients…

Political Polarization: Uncertainty and the Neurobiology of Why We’re So Divided

While many essays have addressed the social events and psychological traits that drive polarized thinking, the neural underpinnings of uncertainty and polarization are largely unknown. We know the brain processes information and makes decisions, but we know little about how politically polarized information is encoded, and even less about how attitudes about uncertainty influence that processing. Why is it important? In this article Natasha Mott explains that uncertainty may be seen as a threat, which moves individuals toward certain positions…

Marc Schulz — The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness

Shermer and Schulz discuss: an operational definition of the “good life” or “happiness” or “well being” • the reliability (or unreliability) of self-report data in social science • relative roles of genes, environment, hard work, and luck in how lives turn out • personality and to what extent it can be scientifically measured and studied • factors in early childhood that shape mental health in mid and late life • generational differences: • the impact of loneliness • misconceptions about happiness…

Paul Bloom — Psych: The Story of the Human Mind

How does the brain — a three-pound gelatinous mass — give rise to intelligence and conscious experience? Was Freud right that we are all plagued by forbidden sexual desires? What is the function of emotions such as disgust, gratitude, and shame? Renowned psychologist Paul Bloom answers these questions and many more in this conversation based on his riveting new book about the science of the mind: Psych.

Bad Behavioral Science Exposed: Review of The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills by Jesse Singal

There is probably no other scientific discipline in which fads come and go so quickly, and with so much hype, as psychology. In his Quick Fix, Jesse Singal discusses eight different psychological ideas that have been promoted as quick fixes for different social problems. He refers to these as “half-baked” ideas—ideas that may not be 100 percent bunk but which are severely overhyped. This review of Singal’s book discusses the many different flawed studies that derailed psychology for years.

Sex — Are We Doing It Right Yet? Reflections on the Ever-Evolving Sexual Revolution

In recent years a number of books written by women in their 30s reflect on their sexual histories in their 20s in a regretful way, deciding that the type of feminism that liberated women to have sex like men — carefree and commitment-free with a variety of partners and with no consequences — is perhaps not the best strategy inasmuch as women and men differ in their sexual psychology. In this article psychologist Carol Tavris evaluates this claim and how…

Elle Hardy — Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World

Shermer and Hardy discuss: Hardy’s religious journey (raised Catholic, now agnostic) • origin of Pentecostalism and its biblical basis Pentecostalism in Korea North and South, and Israel • the structure of the Pentecostal church and how it differs from other churches • Seven Mountain Mandate • how religions grow • pentecostalism and politics • the psychology of the believer • dispensationalism and the Rapture • prophecy • glossolalia • snake handling • eschatology and end-times theology • sin and redemption • prostitution • Jordan Peterson and…

Steven Hassan — Combating Cult Mind Control, Freedom of Mind, and The Cult of Trump

Shermer and Hassan discuss: types of cults, their characteristics • cult leader profiles • the influence continuum • mind control • brainwashing • Project MK-ULTRA • Scientology • NXIVM • strip search hoax • social media mind control • neuroscience of mind control • authoritarian mindset • Trump’s mind-control techniques • breaking free of cults.

What Darwin Got Wrong About the Female of (All) Species

According to the standard model of evolutionary psychology females tend to be sexually coy, discriminating, and risk averse while males are sexually assertive, indiscriminate, and risk taking. Not so fast, says Carol Tavris in this skeptical look at the standard model, as context and species also matters in how we analyze behavior, especially sexuality.

Abducted! Scientific Explanations of the Alien Abduction Experience

Alien abductions are among the most curious and interesting of all human psychological phenomena, and this article explores the different theories that explain from a scientific perspective what, exactly, is going on in someone’s brain when they feel like they’ve been abducted by aliens (assuming, of course, that they’re not actually being abducted by aliens).

Critical Race Theory: Noble Ends, Terrible Means

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is, at root, an American phenomenon. So thoroughly is this the case that although its ideas have been used outside the United States for some time, they are often highly flavored by U.S. racial history. CRT holds that race is a social construct that was created to maintain White privilege and […]

Kevin McCaffree — How Societies Change and Why 

Since the dawn of social science, theorists have debated how and why societies appear to change, develop and evolve. Shermer speaks with sociologist Kevin McCaffree about: his research on crime and gun violence • diversity, equity, and inclusion • political polarization •cultural and biological evolution • horizontal/equalitarian vs. vertical/hierarchical societies • human selfishness and the problem of altruism, and what the future holds for humanity and society…

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