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Science Salon

Brian Klaas — Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters

Shermer and Klaas discuss: contingency and necessity/convergence • chance and randomness • complexity and chaos theory • Jorge Luis Borges “The Garden of Forking Paths” • self-organized criticality • limits of probability • frequency- vs. belief-type probability • ceteris paribus, or “all else being equal” • economic forecasting • Holy Grail of Causality • Hard Problem of Social Research • Special Order 191 and the turning point of the Civil War • Hitler, Nazi rise to power in Germany, World…

Chris Anderson — Infectious Generosity: The Ultimate Idea Worth Spreading

Shermer and Anderson discuss: what makes TED successful • power laws and giving • charging vs. giving away • altruism • being good without God • billionaires • how the average person can participate • public vs. private solutions to social problems • donor fatigue.

Paul Halpern — Extra dimensions, Other Worlds, and Parallel Universes

Shermer and Halpern discuss: definitions of universe and types of multiverses • Is the multiverse science, metaphysics, or faith? • theists claim the “multiverse” is just handwaving around the God answer • many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics? • inflationary and Darwinian cosmology • infinity and eternity • multiple dimensions • string theory • cyclical universes • Big Bounce • Anthropic Principle (weak, strong, participatory) • time travel • sliding doors, contingency, and the multiverse.

Michael Shellenberger Explains Government Censorship of Social Media

Michael Shellenberger explains the role of government agencies in social media censorship, his work on the Twitter files, and the differences between independent and mainstream journalism. PLUS: how to deal with the opioid epidemic, what we can do about homelessness, his take on January 6, George Floyd, UFOs and UAPs, and more. Recorded live in Santa Barbara, CA at the Skeptics Society 2023 conference.

Jens Heycke — Multiculturalism and Lessons From the Rwandan Genocide

Shermer and Heycke discuss: • melting pots • culture • multi-culturalism • identity politics • cancel culture • cultural appropriation • Critical Race Theory • Affirmative Action • why group preferences tend to last forever • human nature and factionalism • how official recognition and group preferences exacerbate group divisiveness • how group identification is fluid and contextual • the future of democracy • the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years.

Caylan Ford — Good and Evil, Human Nature, Education Reform, and Cancel Culture

Shermer and Ford discuss: • education reform • public vs. private vs. charter schools • the blank slate • Thomas Sowell’s Constrained Vision vs. Unconstrained Vision • French Revolution vs. American Revolution • truth, justice, and reality • what promotes humanity and what degrades it • transhumanism • political correctness • identity politics • cancel culture • totalitarianism • preference falsification • free speech • hate speech • how to stand up to cancel culture.

Michael Greger — How Not to Age

Shermer and Greger discuss: • why we age and die • lifespan, vs. healthspan • longevity escape velocity • how to determine causality in aging science • nutrition fads • the anti-aging industry • Centenarians Diet • Mediterranean Diet • Okinawan Diet • Red, White, and Blue Zones • plant-based eating • exercise, sleep, stress • the Anti-Aging 8 • cholesterol and statins • vaccines • brain supplements • UV protection • alcohol • Alzheimer’s • social ties, friendships, and…

Andrew Shtulman — Learning to Imagine: The Science of Discovering New Possibilities

Shermer and Shtulman discuss: • imagination: the capacity to generate alternatives to reality • imagination’s purpose and structure • anomalies and counterfactuals • principles: scientific, mathematical, ethical • models: pretense, fiction, religion • development of imagination • how children understand causality • purpose of pretend play • theory of mind • religious practices • AI and creativity • The Beatles • Montessori education.

Angus Deaton — Economics in America: Inequalities and the Future of Capitalism

Shermer and Deaton discuss: the science of science is economics • winning a Nobel Prize • what economists do, and how they determine causality • Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand • why a college education matters • meritocracy and “Just World” theory • minimum wage • healthcare • poverty • inequality • opioid crisis, alcoholism, suicide • inflation and interest rates • modern monetary theory • think tanks.

Philip Goff — The Purpose of the Universe

Shermer and Goff discuss: • living in a computer simulation • the universe itself as a conscious mind • cosmic purpose • fine-tuning • free will • consciousness (the ground of all being?) • morality and the Is-Ought Fallacy • What is my purpose in life? • religious vs. secular answers to the purpose question • awe and how to be spiritual but not religious.

Dannagal Young — How Media, Politics, and Identity Drive Our Appetite for Misinformation

Shermer and Young discuss: how do you know if you are wrong, or that someone else is wrong • the evolution of reason: veridical perception or group identity? • the 3 “Cs” of our needs: comprehension, control, community • open-minded thinking • intellectual humility • political polarization • echo vs. identity chambers • social media • lies • disinformation • Donald Trump • democracy • science and morality • solutions to identity-driven wrongness.

JFK 60th Anniversary of the Assassination — Who Really Killed Camelot … and Why Do We Still Care?

Shermer, Griffin, Posner, and Gagné discuss: the nostalgic myth of “Camelot” • Lee Harvey Oswald and why he killed Kennedy • Cuba, Castro, the Bay of Pigs debacle • the CIA and why it is rational to be skeptical of their activities • the “magic bullet,” pristine or predictably damaged? • James Hosty and the FBI’s files on Oswald before he killed JFK • CIA and FBI coverups • General Edwin Walker • Jack Ruby • Bernard Weissman, • common…

Adam Frank — Aliens: Real and Imagined

Shermer and Frank discuss: origin of Life • Drake Equation • Fermi’s Paradox • UFOs and UAPs • Projects Sign, Blue Book, Cyclops, Grudge • AATIP (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program) • Alien Autopsy film • SETI & METI • technosignatures & biosignatures • aliens: biological or AI? • convergent vs. contingent evolution • interstellar travel • Dyson spheres, rings, and swarms • Kardashev scale of civilizations • aliens as gods and the search as religion • why aliens matter.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Converted to Christianity

On November 11, 2023, my friend, colleague, and hero Ayaan Hirsi Ali released a statement explaining “Why I am Now a Christian”. What follows is my response, “Why I am Not a Christian,” and why in any case the alternative to theistic morality is not atheism but Enlightenment humanism—a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on human and civil rights, individual autonomy and bodily integrity, free thought and free speech, the rule of law, and science and reason as the…

Garrett Graff — UFO: The Inside Story of the U.S. Government’s Search for Alien Life

Shermer and Graff discuss: national security • how long government secrets can be kept • cultural context for UFO sightings • why David Grusch’s testimony could be accurate but still not represent alien contact • Kenneth Arnold • Roswell • The Fermi Paradox • why 90-95% of all UFO sightings are explainable • anomalies and how to treat them • Avi Loeb (Galileo Project) • President Clinton’s investigation into UFOs • UFOs as a modern myth or religion.

Yascha Mounk — Identity Politics and its Discontents

Shermer and Mounk discuss: the identity synthesis/trap • Israel, Hamas, Palestine • why students & student groups are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel • the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years • proximate/ultimate causes of anti-Semitism • the rejection of the civil rights movement and the rise of critical race theory • overt racism vs. systemic racism • the problem of woke ideology • Trump and the 2024 election • the possibility of another Civil War • What should we do personally…

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…

Behnam Ben Taleblu — The Role of Iran in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Image in background by Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons. People in Iran burning the flags of the United States and Israel

Shermer and Taleblu discuss: • Iran and Hamas • Hamas and Israel • Does Iran really want to wipe Israel off the map? • Islam, Islamism, Jihadism • Sharia Law • Hamas, Hezbollah, and terrorism in the Middle East • Would Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) work with Iran? • Do economic sanctions work against Iran? • Trump’s strategies in the Middle East: what worked, what didn’t and why • the Iran Deal, and why they support terrorists • U.S. support…

Liza Mundy — The Secret History of Women at the CIA

Shermer and Mundy discuss: • CIA research methods • a brief history of the CIA • the purpose of intelligence agencies • Misogyny and sexism in the early decades • the skills needed to be a spy • what women notice that men don’t in the spy business • Lisa Manfull Harper feminine approach to espionage, and finding Osama Bin Laden • how women worked around the restrictions on women advancing in the CIA • Lisa Manfull Harper and the…

Elan Journo — America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Shermer and Journo discuss: who really owns land? • British Mandate • Theodore Herzl • Zionism, Judaism, and Israel • territorial disputes • Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), Hezbollah (Party of God), and terrorism • Palestinian grievances • The Palestinian cause • Is Israel a colonial conquering empire? • Is Israel an apartheid state? • Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement • Gender Apartheid • Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians as separate identities • Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) • Islam and Islamism •…

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