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The Michael Shermer Show

Neil deGrasse Tyson — Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization

Shermer and Tyson discuss: why he decided to write about social, cultural, and political issues now • conflict and resolution in science and society • moral progress in society and why it happens • meatarians and vegetarians • race and gender • law and order • the principle of interchangeable perspectives • conflicting rights and how to resolve them • Rationalia (Neil’s hypothetical country whose laws are based on rationality) • life and death • how long Neil would like to live • the meaning in life.

Andrew Doyle — How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World

Shermer and Doyle discuss: terminology of: PC, identity politics, woken, social justice, antifa, BLM, TERF, intersectionality • Critical Social Justice as a witch craze • Satanic Panic (1980s) • Recovered Memory Movement (1990s) • How widespread is the problem: minor skirmishes on social media or mainstream? • Hill-Harris 2021 poll: 32% voters ID as woke and 31% said they don’t know what the term means • new puritanism as a secular religion • Whiteness and White fragility • Implicit Association Test • Postmodernism • Neo-Marxism • Cancel Culture • hate speech • J.K. Rowling • pluralistic ignorance.

Stephen Bloom on Jane Elliott’s Famous Experiment on Race and Brutality and What It Reveals About Today’s Racial Divide

Shermer and Bloom discuss: “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” — Jane Elliott famous racism experiment • reactions to it (in the classroom, locally, nationally, internationally) • whether the “experiment” was really more of a demonstration • public interest, from Johnny Carson to Oprah Winfrey • the questionable ethics of the experiment • what it reveals about tribalism, racism, obedience to authority, role playing, social proof • whether it reveals hidden racist attitudes or creates them in children • race sensitivity training programs (and why they don’t really work) • what drives moral progress • the future of journalism.

Marian Tupy & Gale Pooley — Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet

Shermer, Tupy, and Pooley discuss: why we long for the “good ol’ days” • the Malthusian trap • Ehrlich’s predictions on overpopulation • the birth dearth • the Simon Abundance Index • compound interest • What does it mean for the economy to grow 2–3% a year? • accumulating wealth • what poorer countries need to do to become richer countries • running out of fossil fuels • Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech • inflation • electric vehicles • How many people can the Earth sustain? • post-scarcity trekonomics • the future of religion and other social institutions in a superabundant world.

Sabine Hossenfelder — Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions

What is time? Does the past still exist? How did the universe begin and how will it end? Do particles think? Was the universe made for us? Why doesn’t anyone ever get younger? Has physics ruled out free will? Will we ever have a theory of everything? To examine these ideas, Shermer speaks with Sabine Hossenfelder, a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Germany. She has published more than eighty research articles about the foundations of physics, including quantum gravity, physics beyond the standard model, dark matter, and quantum foundations.

Konstantin Kisin — An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West

Shermer and Kisin discuss: growing up in Russia • “The Talk” Russian parents give their children • What is the “West” and how do Russians view it • Should Whites feel some guilt for slavery, racism, misogyny, bigotry, etc.? • systemic racism: criminal justice, housing, employment, income, wealth • Critical Race Theory (CRT) • immigration • free, private, and public speech • how language is used to distort truth • the origin of “political correctness” • journalism vs. activism • capitalism • and how the West could be lost.

Gary Marcus — Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust

Shermer and Marcus discuss: why AI chatbot LaMDA is not sentient • “mind”, “thinking”, and “consciousness”, and how do molecules and matter give rise to such nonmaterial processes • the hard problem of consciousness • the self and other minds • How would we know if an AI system was sentient? • Can AI systems be conscious? • free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism • language • Can we have an inner life without language? • How rational or irrational an animal are we?

Rob Ashton — Silent Influence and the Science of Writing, Reading, and Communicating

Shermer and Ashton discuss: what it’s like advising Google and Buckingham Palace on how to communicate • what makes writing appealing and effective • how to write better emails and social media posts • why the messages we write often backfire • why emails so often make us angry • What makes Donald Trump such a powerful communicator that he can seemingly hypnotize tens of millions of people and dictate entire news cycles with a single statement? • when you should stop writing and pick up the phone to talk instead.

Anastacia Marx de Salcedo — Eat like a Pig, Run Like a Horse

Shermer and de Salcedo discuss: her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 27 • her long-term psychological strategy for living with a serious illness • what “eating like a pig” actually means • our 70-year-old “diet detour” • the obesity crisis • how dietary studies are conducted • the baseline health of lab rats • static vs. dynamic metabolism • diseases you can treat, manage, or prevent with exercise • cholesterol and statins • why exercise is more important than diet • how you can have your cake and eat it, too.

James Kirchick — Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington

Shermer and Kirchick discuss: archives and secret sources of secret histories • the cause of homophobia, and how and why homosexuality was thought of as a “contagious sexual aberrancy” • why there is no lesbian history of Washington • J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson and gay mythmaking • FDR and Sumner Welles • why at the height of the Cold War, it was safer to be a Communist than a homosexual • Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss • the McCarthy hearings and how the Lavender Menace became inextricably linked with the Red Menace • astronomer Franklin Kameny and the Mattachine Society • JFK and his tolerance of homosexuality • Richard Nixon’s notorious homophobia • Ronald Reagan’s conflicting attitudes toward homosexuality • George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and real progress in acceptance of homosexuality • the trans movement and its homophobic consequences.

Lucy Cooke — Bitch: On the Female of the Species

Shermer and Cooke discuss: the definition of male and female across the animal kingdom • male bias in the history of science • genes involved in sex determination and how they work • sexual selection • adaptationism vs. non-adaptationism • Why do women have orgasms? • why female animals are just as promiscuous, competitive, aggressive, dominant and dynamic as males • what humans can learn from non-human animals • maternal/paternal instincts • patriarchy/matriarchy across the animal kingdom • why the sexes are far more alike than they are different.

Bobby Azarian — Life, the Universe, and Cosmic Complexity

Shermer and Azarian discuss: laws of thermodynamics and directionality • how complexity formed after the Big Bang • laws of nature: discovered or created or both? • Stephen Jay Gould and contingency vs. necessitating laws of nature • convergent evolution and directionality in evolution • the left wall of simplicity • leading theories for the origin of life • complexity theory and emergence • consciousness, the self, and other minds • free will, determinism, compatibilism, panpsychism • Is there purpose in the cosmos?

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…

Helen Joyce — Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality

Biological sex is no longer accepted as a basic fact of life. Shermer and Joyce discuss: What is a woman? What is a man? • conflicting rights: trans vs. women • sex vs. gender • gender dysphoria • social contagions • gender affirming care • puberty blockers, testosterone, hormone treatment • detransitioning • top surgery, phalloplasty, vaginoplasty • preferred pronouns: compelled speech ≠ free speech • trans sports • exclusive spaces, and more…

Yoram Hazony on Traditional Conservatism vs. Enlightenment Liberalism

Political theorist Yoram Hazony argues that the best hope for Western democracy is a return to the empiricist, religious, and nationalist traditions of America and Britain. Shermer makes the case for Enlightenment liberalism, with its focus on science and reason, as the primary driver of moral progress over the centuries.

Michael Strevens — The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

Shermer and Strevens discuss: irrationality and how it drives science • the knowledge machine • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it • verification vs. falsification • the iron rule of explanation • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification • climate/evolution skeptics • model dependent realism • humanism • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns • how to evaluate media sources of science.

Anil Seth on the Hard Problem of Consciousness, the Self, and the Essence of Volition

Shermer and Seth discuss: consciousness • controlled hallucinations • the self and other minds • Where does consciousness go during general anaesthesia? After death? • Are we living in a simulation that itself is inside a simulation? • Does Deep Blue know that it beat the great Gary Kasparov in chess? • Does Watson know that it beat the great Ken Jennings in Jeopardy!? • Is Data on Star Trek sentient, conscious, and with feelings? • Can AI systems be conscious? • free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism.

Moneyball For Your Life: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on Using Data to Get What You Really Want

Most people rely on their gut instinct to decide how to date, who to marry, where to live, what career path to take, how to find happiness, but what if our gut is wrong? Biased, unpredictable, and misinformed, our gut, it turns out, is not all that reliable. Michael Shermer speaks with economist and former Google data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on using data to get what you really want in life.

Sam Rosenfeld on Party Polarization in the Postwar United States

Shermer and Rosenfeld discuss: why we have a duopoly • gerrymandering • voting restrictions • how we know all elections are not rigged • abortion • immigration • US foreign policy • the rise of conservative and liberal think tanks • ideology • political polarization • political leanings of industrialists vs. tech billionaires and rural poor vs. urban poor • Trump and 2016, 2020, and 2024 (are we facing civil unrest as never seen before?)…

Ian Morris on Deep Time and Big History

In this conversation on deep time and big history, Shermer and Morris discuss the history of Big History, the future of energy and civilization, China and the future of energy and political power, what Britain was like 8000 years ago, the major transitions in British history, counterfactual history, slavery and the abolition of the slave trade, the role of ideas in history (civil rights, rule of law, justice, etc.), reparations and making right the wrongs of the past.

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