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  • Why are so many humans religious? Why do we daydream, imagine, and hope? Philosophers, theologians, social scientists, and historians have offered explanations for centuries, but their accounts often ignore or even avoid human evolution. Evolutionary scientists answer with proposals for why ritual, religion, and faith make sense as adaptations to past challenges or as by-products of our hyper-complex cognitive capacities. But what if the focus on religion is too narrow? Renowned anthropologist Agustín Fuentes argues that the capacity to be religious is actually a small part of a larger and deeper human capacity to believe. Why believe in religion, economies, love? Fuentes employs evolutionary, neurobiological, and anthropological evidence to argue that belief — the ability to commit passionately and wholeheartedly to an idea — is central to the human way of being in the world.

    The premise of the book is that believing is our ability to draw on our range of cognitive and social resources, our histories and experiences, and combine them with our imagination. It is the power to think beyond what is here and now in order to see and feel and know something — an idea, a vision, a necessity, a possibility, a truth — that is not immediately present to the senses, and then to invest, wholly and authentically, in that “something” so that it becomes one’s reality. The point is that beliefs and belief systems permeate human neurobiologies, bodies, and ecologies, and structure and shape our daily lives, our societies, and the world around us. We are human, therefore we believe, and this book tells us how we came to be that way.

    Shermer and Fuentes also discuss:

    what it means to “believe” something (belief in evolution or the Big Bang is different from belief in progressive taxes or affirmative action), evolution and how beliefs are formed…and why, evolution of awe, wonder, aesthetic sense, beauty, art, music, dance, etc. (adaptation or exaptation/spandrel?), evolution of spirituality, religion, belief in immortality, Were Neanderthals human in the “belief” sense? human niche and the evolution of symbolism/language, evolution of theory of mind, how to infer symbolic meaning from archaeological artifacts, components of belief: augmented cognition and neurobiology, intentionality, imagination, innovation, compassion and intensive reliance on others, meaning-making, dog domestication and human self-domestication, Göbekli Tepe and the underestimation of ancient peoples’ cognitive capacities, the development of property, accumulation of goods, inequality, and social hierarchy, gender role specialization, monogamy and polyamory, gender and sex, and continuum vs. binary thinking, violence and warfare, political and economic systems of belief, and love as belief.

    Agustín Fuentes is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. He is an active public scientist, a well-known blogger, lecturer, tweeter, and an explorer for National Geographic. Fuentes received the Inaugural Communication & Outreach Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the President’s Award from the American Anthropological Association, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

  • Apollo’s Arrow offers a riveting account of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as it swept through American society in 2020, and of how the recovery will unfold in the coming years. Drawing on momentous (yet dimly remembered) historical epidemics, contemporary analyses, and cutting-edge research from a range of scientific disciplines, bestselling author, physician, sociologist, and public health expert Nicholas A. Christakis explores what it means to live in a time of plague — an experience that is paradoxically uncommon to the vast majority of humans who are alive, yet deeply fundamental to our species. Featuring new, provocative arguments and vivid examples ranging across medicine, history, sociology, epidemiology, data science, and genetics, Apollo’s Arrow envisions what happens when the great force of a deadly germ meets the enduring reality of our evolved social nature.

    Shermer and Christakis discuss:

    the replication crisis in social science and medicine, determining causality in science and medicine, how we know smoking causes cancer and HIV causes AIDS, but vaccines do not cause autism and cell phones do not cause cancer, randomized controlled trials and why they can’t be done to answer many medical questions, natural experiments and the comparative method of testing hypotheses (e.g., comparing different countries differing responses to Covid-19), the hindsight bias and the curse of knowledge in judging responses to pandemics after the fact, looking back to January 2020, what should we have done?, comparing Covid-19 to the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and other pandemics, bacteria vs. viruses, coronaviruses and their effects, and why viruses are so much harder to treat than bacteria, Bill Gates’ TED talk warning in 2015 and why we didn’t heed it, treatments: hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, Vitamin D.

    How civilization will change:

    medical: coronavirus is here to stay — herd immunity naturally and through vaccines, personal and public health: handshakes, hugs, and other human contact; masks, social distancing, hygiene, long run healthier society (e.g., body temperatures have decreased from 98.6 to 97.9), economics and business, travel, conferences, meetings, marriage, dating, sex, and home life, entertainment, vacations, bars, and restaurants, education and schools, politics and society (and a better understanding of freedom and why it is restricted), from pandemic to endemic.

    Nicholas A. Christakis is a physician and sociologist who explores the ancient origins and modern implications of human nature. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, in the Departments of Sociology, Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Statistics and Data Science, and Biomedical Engineering. He is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, the co-author of Connected, and the author of Blueprint.

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  • Understanding how brains produce consciousness is one of the great scientific challenges of our age. Some philosophers argue that consciousness is something “extra,” beyond the physical workings of the brain. Others think that if we persist in our standard scientific methods, our questions about consciousness will eventually be answered. And some even suggest that the mystery is so deep, it will never be solved. Decades have been spent trying to explain consciousness from within our current scientific paradigm, but little progress has been made.

    Now, Philip Goff offers an exciting alternative that could pave the way forward. Rooted in an analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of modern science and based on the early twentieth-century work of Arthur Eddington and Bertrand Russell, Goff makes the case for panpsychism, a theory which posits that consciousness is not confined to biological entities but is a fundamental feature of all physical matter — from subatomic particles to the human brain. In Galileo’s Error, he has provided the first step on a new path to the final theory of human consciousness. Shermer and Goff discuss:

    the problem Galileo’s approach to science solved, Galileo’s error in solving the consciousness problem, that is the qualitative, Dualism, Monism, Panpsychism, Material Monism, Mind Monism, and Idealism, hard problem of consciousness defined, how consciousness is at the bottom of reality, why science cannot discover the ultimate nature of reality, Model Dependent Realism, philosophy, and science, Arthur Stanley Eddington and Bertrand Russell build panpsychism back into science, philosophical zombies and the “other minds problem,” free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism, objective moral values and science, fine tuning and the multiverse, and implications of panpsychism for attitudes toward nature and the meaning of life.

    Philip Goff is a philosopher who teaches at Durham University. He is the author of Consciousness and Fundamental Reality and has published more than 40 academic papers. His writing has also appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement, and he has guest-edited an issue of Philosophy Now. He lives in Durham, England.

  • The provocative thesis of Break It Up is simple: The United States has never lived up to its name—and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expression in the Civil War, but as Break It Up shows, the seduction of secession wasn’t limited to the South or the 19thcentury. It was there at our founding and has never gone away.

    Investigative journalist Richard Kreitner takes readers on a revolutionary journey through American history, revealing the power and persistence of disunion movements in every era and region. Each New England town after Plymouth was a secession from another; the 13 colonies viewed their Union as a means to the end of securing independence, not an end in itself; George Washington feared separatism west of the Alleghenies; Aaron Burr schemed to set up a new empire; John Quincy Adams brought a Massachusetts town’s petition for dissolving the United States to the floor of Congress; and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery pact with the devil.

    From the “cold civil war” that pits partisans against one another to the modern secession movements in California and Texas, the divisions that threaten to tear America apart today have centuries-old roots in the earliest days of our Republic. Richly researched and persuasively argued, Break It Up will help readers make fresh sense of our fractured age. Shermer and Kreitner discuss:

    what happens if Trump loses the 2020 election and refuses to leave, the possibility of the secession of California, Oregon and Washington, States rights vs. Federal power in issues like climate change, abortion, health care, etc., how Native American tribes and nations governed themselves and what the colonists learned from them, how the 1st colonial revolution was fought not to create a federation but to destroy one when Boston rebelled against the Crown-backed Dominion of New England, separatists movements throughout our history, Aaron Burr’s attempts to create a new nation he would head, spread of slavery to the west and Jefferson’s fear that it sounded like a “fire bell in the night,”

    why John Quincy Adams introduced a petition demanding the dissolution of the U.S.:

    If the day should ever come, (may Heaven avert it,) when the affection of the people of these states shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give away to cold indifference, or collisions of interest shall fester into hatred, far better will it be for the people of the disunited states, to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint.

    how Southern states initially sought to expand the union of slave holding states, not secession, why reconstruction failed, the Civil War of the 1960s, Brexit, Texit, and Calexit, Russia support for American secessionist movements,

    James Madison’s observation (in Federalist Paper No. 51) about the problem all human groups/tribes/nations must solve:

    But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

    Kreitner’s summation of America’s irrepressible conflict “The ‘irrepressible conflict’ was not just between North and South, freedom and slavery; it reflected something even deeper. The truly ‘irrepressible’ conflict was between union and disunion, whose forces bringing American together and those tearing them apart.”

    Richard Kreitner is a contributing writer to The Nation. He is the author of Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World. A graduate of McGill University, he has also written for The New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Baffler, Raritan, The Forward, and the Boston Globe. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

  • The common narrative of Neanderthals is that they were a group of dullard losers whose extinction 40,000 years ago was due to smarter competition and a little of interbreeding with our own forebears. Likening someone to a Neanderthal was and, most likely, still is a top-rate anthropological insult. But, in the past few decades, Neanderthal finds have greatly contradicted our perception of the species. In Kindred, Rebecca Wragg Sykes combs through the avalanche of scientific discoveries of the species and uses her experience at the cutting-edge of Paleolithic research to share our new understanding of Neanderthals, shoving aside cliches of rag-clad brutes in an icy wasteland. She reveals them to be curious, clever connoisseurs of their world, technologically inventive and ecologically adaptable. They ranged across vast tracts of tundra and steppe, but also stalked in dappled forests and waded in the Mediterranean Sea. Above all, they were successful survivors for more than 300,000 years, during times of massive climatic upheaval. Shermer and Sykes also discuss:

    the nature of species and if Neanderthals and Homo sapiens are one or two species, the deep time span of Neanderthals, the wide geography of Neanderthals, how archaeologists work today to discern Neanderthal lives and minds, Neanderthal DNA and what we have learned from it, Neanderthal bodies, Neanderthal brains and minds, Neanderthal tools and what they tell us about their lives, Neanderthal hunting/caloric needs, Neanderthal art, Neanderthal sex and love and social lives, Neanderthal death, burial, afterlife beliefs, and possible religious beliefs, and extinction: what happened to the Neanderthals?

    Rebecca Wragg Sykes has been fascinated by the vanished worlds of the Pleistocene ice ages since childhood, and followed this interest through a career researching the most enigmatic characters of all, the Neanderthals. After a Ph.D. on the last Neanderthals living in Britain, she worked in France at the world-famous PACEA laboratory, Université de Bordeaux, on topics ranging from Neanderthal landscapes and territories in the Massif Central region of south-east France, to examining how they were the first ancient humans to produce a synthetic material and tools made of multiple parts. Alongside her academic activities, she has also earned a reputation for exceptional public engagement. The public can follow her research through a personal blog and Twitter account, and she frequently writes for the popular media, including the Scientific American and Guardian science blogs. Becky is passionate about sharing the privileged access scientists have to fascinating discoveries about the Neanderthals. She is also co-founder of the influential Trowelblazers project, which highlights women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists through innovative outreach and collaboration.

  • This classic lecture on skepticism was given by James Randi on March 22, 1992 at the inaugural session of the Distinguished Science Lecture Series hosted by Michael Shermer and presented by The Skeptics Society in California (1992–2015). The transcript for this lecture appeared in Skeptic magazine 1.1 (1992).

    James Randi presents an amazing first-hand analysis of astonishing claims encountered in his European visit. New-found freedoms stimulate rampant pseudoscientific practices in eastern bloc nations. With wit and wonderfully illustrative examples, Randi teaches us several lessons on the scientific investigation of unusual claims.

    Famed magician and investigator of paranormal claims, Randi is best selling author of The Faith Healers and Flim Flam! Randi was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Grant for his investigation of faith healers.

  • The United States today is hopelessly polarized; the political Right and Left have hardened into rigid and deeply antagonistic camps, preventing any sort of progress. Amid the bickering and inertia, the promise of the 1960s—when we came together as a nation to fight for equality and universal justice—remains unfulfilled.

    As Shelby Steele reveals in Shame, the roots of this impasse can be traced back to that decade of protest, when in the act of uncovering and dismantling our national hypocrisies—racism, sexism, militarism—liberals internalized the idea that there was something inauthentic, if not evil, in the America character. Since then, liberalism has been wholly concerned with redeeming modern America from the sins of the past, and has derived its political legitimacy from the premise of a morally bankrupt America. The result has been a half-century of well-intentioned but ineffective social programs, such as Affirmative Action. Steele reveals that not only have these programs failed, but they have in almost every case actively harmed America’s minorities and poor. Ultimately, Steele argues, post-60s liberalism has utterly failed to achieve its stated aim: true equality. Liberals, intending to atone for our past sins, have ironically perpetuated the exploitation of this country’s least fortunate citizens. Approaching political polarization from a wholly new perspective, Steele offers a rigorous critique of the failures of liberalism and a cogent argument for the relevance and power of conservatism.

    Shermer and Steele discuss:

    30th anniversary of his book The Content of Our Character, and what has changed in race relations in America in those 30 years?

    Steele’s response to President Johnson’s famous quote:

    “Freedom is not enough. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him; bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” why “The promised land guarantees nothing. It is only an opportunity, not a deliverance.”,

    literal truths vs. poetic truths and power:

    “What actually happened was that liberalism turned to poetic truth when America’s past sins were no longer literally true enough to support liberal policies and the liberal claim on power. The poetic truth of black victimization seeks to compensate for America’s moral evolution. It tries to keep alive the justification for liberal power even as that justification has been greatly nullified by America’s moral development.” political correctness is the enforcement arm of poetic truth, black families & fatherless homes, white guilt, race fatigue, reparations, anti-racism, achievement gap, Princeton racism letter, race and IQ, SAT tests, BLM and the nuclear family, training and sensitivity programs.

    Shermer and Steele also discuss his new film, produced with his son Eli Steele, titled What Killed Michael Brown?

    Steele:

    “We human beings never use race except as a means to power. Race is never an end. It is always a means, and it has no role in human affairs except as a corruption.”

    “America’s original sin is not slavery. It is simply the use of race as a means to power. Whether for good or ill, race is a corruption. Always. And it always turns one group into the convenience of another group.”

    “Liberalism’s great sin was to steal responsibility for black problems away from black people, leaving them vulnerable to destructive social forces, such as the drug epidemic of the 70s and 80s. It was the suffering of blacks that justified liberalism’s demand for power, but this only relegates blacks to permanent victimhood and alienates them from the power to uplift themselves.”

    Shelby Steele is the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Winner of the Bradley Prize and a National Humanities Medal and the author of the National Book Critics Circle award-winning The Content of Our Character, Steele lives in the Central Coast of California.

  • In this special episode of the Science Salon Podcast, Michael Shermer catches up with Douglas Murray one year after the publication of his bestselling book The Madness of Crowds, which was featured in Science Salon # 87 in October 2019. Murray’s book is now out in paperback with an Afterword update on all that has happened the past year, one of the most momentous in living memory. Shermer and Murray discuss:

    why he wasn’t “cancelled” after The Madness of Crowds was published and became a bestseller, what people should do if they’re cancelled, shamed, mobbed, or accused of being racist, misogynist, transphobic, or bigoted and they know they’re not, how to fight back against wokeness, political correctness, and identity politics, updates on the featured topics in The Madness of Crowds: gay, women, race, trans, J.K. Rowling and “people who menstruate” (if only there was a single word for that phrase), statues and why some people want them taken down (Lord Nelson may be next…find out why), why leftists think everyone (except them) are racists and why they’re really making these accusations, why we should be suspect of the motives of social justice warriors (who are anti-social, against justice, and not warriors), Michael Brown, George Floyd, and police violence, white fragility, white guilt, BLM, and anti-racism, corporate sensitivity training programs and why they’re really being conducted, what could happen after the 2020 election, depending on who wins, and comparing 2020 to 1968, and what the future holds for Western culture.

    In The Madness of Crowds Douglas Murray investigates the dangers of “woke” culture and the rise of identity politics. In lively, razor-sharp prose he examines the most controversial issues of our moment: sexuality, gender, technology and race, with interludes on the Marxist foundations of “wokeness”, the impact of tech and how, in an increasingly online culture, we must relearn the ability to forgive. One of the few writers who dares to counter the prevailing view and question the dramatic changes in our society — from gender reassignment for children to the impact of transgender rights on women — Murray’s penetrating book clears a path of sanity through the fog of our modern predicament.

    Douglas Murray is a regular columnist for both the Spectator and Standpoint and writes frequently for a variety of other publications, including the Sunday Times and Wall Street Journal. A prolific debater, Douglas has spoken on a variety of prominent platforms, including at the British and European Parliaments and the White House.

  • From the day her daughter was born, science journalist Marta Zaraska fretted about what she and her family were eating. She fasted, considered adopting the keto diet, and ran a half-marathon. She bought goji berries and chia seeds and ate organic food. But then her research brought her to read countless scientific papers and to interview dozens of experts in various fields of study, including molecular biochemistry, epidemiology and neuroscience. What Marta discovered shattered her long-held beliefs about aging and longevity. A strong support network of family and friends, she learned, lowers mortality risk by about 45 percent, while exercise only lowers it by about 23 percent. Volunteering your free time lowers it by 22 percent or so, while certain health fads like turmeric haven’t been shown to help at all. These revelations led Marta Zaraska to a simple conclusion: In addition to healthy nutrition and physical activity, deepening friendships, practicing empathy and contemplating your purpose in life can improve your lifespan. Shermer and Zaraska also discuss:

    diet, nutrition, and supplements: what works, what doesn’t, and what about meat? exercise: how much, what type, and when? the causal mechanisms behind how relationships and marriage effect health, how friendships and community affect longevity, how religion makes people healthier and longer lived, why we need others and why handshakes and hugs will return after COVID-19, the harmful effects of loneliness and isolation, the deleterious effects of stress, and how leading a purposeful and meaningful life leads to longevity.

    Marta Zaraska is a Canadian-Polish science journalist. She has written about nutrition and psychology for the Washington Post, Scientific American, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, New Scientist, and several other publications. She is the author of Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat (Basic Books, 2016), which has been translated into Japanese, Korean, simplified Chinese, Spanish and Polish, and chosen by the journal Nature as one of “the best science picks” in March 2016. Meathookedhas also been praised in The Wall Street Journal, Discover Magazine, Time, The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, Natural History Magazine, etc. She has also contributed a chapter to the recently published The Reducetarian Solution (TarcherPerigee, 2017) alongside Mark Bittman, Michael Shermer, and Peter Singer.

  • There’s a war against truth and if we don’t win it, intellectual freedom will be a casualty. The West’s commitment to freedom, reason, and true liberalism has never been more seriously threatened than it is today by the stifling forces of political correctness. Dr. Gad Saad exposes the bad ideas—what he calls “idea pathogens”—that are killing common sense and rational debate. Incubated in our universities and spread through the tyranny of political correctness, these ideas are endangering our most basic freedoms—including freedom of thought and speech.

    The danger is grave, but as Dr. Saad shows, politically correct dogma is riddled with logical fallacies. We have powerful weapons to fight back with—if we have the courage to use them. A provocative guide to defending reason and intellectual freedom and a battle cry for the preservation of our fundamental rights, The Parasitic Mind will be the most controversial and talked-about book of the year. Shermer and Saad discuss:

    which idea pathogens are the most dangerous, the analogy between biological and ideological parasites, the origin of political correctness and how it was corrupted, identity politics and how it perpetrates bigotry, racism, and misogyny, the psychology of victimhood status (why would anyone want to be a victim?), virtue signaling and why it isn’t virtuous, why social justice is injustice, social justice warriors as sneaky fuckers, the corruption of postmodernism, which began as a form of rational skepticism, Islamophobia, diversity, inclusion and equity, safe spaces, microaggressions, trigger warnings, What is liberalism, anyway? the paradox of tolerance, the dual search for freedom and truth, free speech as the foundation of all other rights, Ostrich Parasitic Syndrome, Collective Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, nomological networks of cumulative evidence in the quest for truth, and how big a problem are we really facing?

    Gad Saad, Ph.D. (Montreal, Canada), host of the popular YouTube show The Saad Truth and blogger for Psychology Today, is a professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University. He holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption and is the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, plus numerous scientific papers.

  • Does the universe have a speed limit? If not, some effects could happen at the same instant as the actions that caused them — and some effects, ludicrously, might even happen before their causes. By one hundred years ago, it seemed clear that the speed of light was the fastest possible speed. Causality was safe. And then quantum mechanics happened, introducing spooky connections that seemed to circumvent the law of cause and effect. Inspired by the new physics, psychologist Carl Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli explored a concept called synchronicity, a weird phenomenon they thought could link events without causes. Synchronicity tells that sprawling tale of insight and creativity, and asks where these ideas — some plain crazy, and others crazy powerful — are taking the human story next. Shermer and Halpern discuss:

    Model-Dependent Realism, the idea from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow that our understanding of nature depends on the model we apply to it, and that we cannot define science as an asymptotic curve toward Truth, from Newton to Einstein to Quantum Physics, Platonic ideals/idealism, Is the universe mathematical? Where/what are “laws of nature”? What is gravity? What is causality and how is it determined? quantum entanglement and what it says about our understanding of causality, Bell’s inequality, backward causality, Hume’s “constant conjunction” definition of causality and it’s limitations, Hume’s “counterfactual” theory of causality, Bogus mechanisms of causality: impetus, ether, energy fields, ESP, The friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, Jungian archetypes and how scientists think about them, God, religion, and spirituality.

    Paul Halpern is a professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and the author of sixteen popular science books, including The Quantum Labyrinth and Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and is a fellow of the American Physical Society. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

  • WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.

    Unlike much of the world today, and most people who have ever lived, WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. They focus on themselves — their attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations — over their relationships and social roles. How did WEIRD populations become so psychologically distinct? What role did these psychological differences play in the industrial revolution and the global expansion of Europe during the last few centuries? To answer these questions Joseph Henrich draws on anthropology, psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology. He illuminates the origins and evolution of family structures, marriage, and religion, and the profound impact these cultural transformations had on human psychology. Mapping these shifts through ancient history and late antiquity, Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church. It was these changes that gave rise to the WEIRD psychology that would coevolve with impersonal markets, occupational specialization, and free competition — laying the foundation for the modern world. Shermer and Henrich discuss:

    psychology textbooks that “now purport to be about ‘Psychology’ or ‘Social Psychology’ need to be retitled something like ‘The Cultural Psychology of Late 20th Century Americans’,” Darwin’s Dictum: “How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observations must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service.” What views Henrich is writing for and against, evolutionary psychology and the search for human universals in the context of his thesis that WEIRD cultures are so different, Max Weber’s book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and how his thesis holds up under modern studies, a 2×2 grid analysis of his thesis (what about the exceptions?): Cell 1: Catholic/Protestant Influence + WEIRD characteristics Cell 2: Catholic/Protestant Influence + non-WEIRD characteristics Cell 3: Non-Catholic/Protestant Influence + WEIRD characteristics Cell 4: Non-Catholic/Protestant Influence + non-WEIRD characteristics the problem of overdetermining the past (so many theories explaining history: Jared Diamond’s geographic models, Ian Morris’ War: What is it Good For?, Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (ideas having sex), Robin Dunbar’s Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, economic historian Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms, Benjamin Friedman’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, normative vs. descriptive accounts of human behavior polygamy vs. monogamy, 1st cousin marriages? conformity, shame and guilt, illusions, loss aversion, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, superstitions, religion doesn’t have to be true to be useful, national differences in cultural psychology (for example: Italy a loose culture, Germany a tight culture), origin of writing and literacy rates, origin of religion and its purpose(s), the “Big Gods” theory of religion’s origin, the purpose of religious rituals and food taboos, families and kin, kin selection, group selection, meaning and happiness in non-WEIRD cultures, “Then you get Westerners who are like ‘I’m an individual ape on a pale blue dot in the middle of a giant black space” and “What does it all mean?’”, physical differences: “WEIRD people have flat feet, impoverished microbiomes, high rates of myopia and unnaturally low levels of exposure to parasites like helminths, which may increase their risk of heart disease and allergies.”, and When we colonize Mars and become a spacefaring species, what should we take with us from what we’ve learned about human history and psychology?

    Joseph Henrich is an anthropologist and the author of The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, among other books. He is the chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, where his research focuses on evolutionary approaches to psychology, decision-making, and culture.

  • In this sweeping psychological history of human goodness — from the foundations of evolution to the modern political and social challenges humanity is now facing — psychologist Michael McCullough answers a fundamental question: How did humans, a species of self-centered apes, come to care about others?Ever since Darwin, scientists have tried to answer this question using evolutionary theory. McCullough shows why they have failed and offers a new explanation instead. From the moment nomadic humans first settled down until the aftermath of the Second World War, our species has confronted repeated crises that we could only survive by changing our behavior. As McCullough argues, these choices weren’t enabled by an evolved moral sense, but with moral invention — driven not by evolution’s dictates but by reason. Today’s challenges — climate change, mass migration, nationalism — are some of humanity’s greatest yet. In revealing how past crises shaped the foundations of human concern, McCullough offers clues for how we can adapt our moral thinking to survive these challenges as well. Shermer and McCullough also discuss:

    Darwin’s Dictum: All observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service. the problem to solve: why are people kind to strangers (i.e., origins of empathy, altruism, and kindness)? why we don’t need “divine command” theory to explain real morality, which can be derived through evolutionary theory plus philosophical ethical systems, evolutionary “by-product” theory: when we help strangers in the modern world we are following ancient rules of thumb that worked well enough in a world in which meeting someone for the first time was a reasonably good indicator that you’d meet them again, Frans deWaal and the “thin veneer” theory of human morality and civilization he thinks Dawkins holds, and why our morals are a thick veneer on our evolved nature, Peter Singer’s expanding circle, Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process and his etiquette books advisories, why stranger-adaptation and blessed-mistake theories are too simplistic, a brief overview of the past 10,000 years of moral progress, our evolved human instincts: (1) our social instincts for helping others in hopes of receiving help in return, (2) our instinct for helping others in pursuit of glory, (3) our ability to track incentives, and (4) our capacity for reason, the 7 Ages of human history: Age of Orphans, Age of Compassion, Age of Prevention, First Poverty Enlightenment, Humanitarian Big Bang, Second Poverty Enlightenment, Age of Impact, and the end of poverty, UBI, and other social tools for creating a more just society of strangers.

    Michael McCullough is a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego. The winner of numerous distinctions for his research and writing, he is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He lives in La Jolla, California.

  • One of the most influential physicists of our time, Stephen Hawking touched the lives of millions. Recalling his nearly two decades as Hawking’s collaborator and friend, Leonard Mlodinow brings this complex man into focus in a unique and deeply personal portrayal. We meet Hawking the genius, who employed his mind to uncover the mysteries of the universe — ultimately formulating a pathbreaking theory of black holes that reignited the discipline of cosmology and paved the way for physicists to investigate the origins of the universe in completely new ways. We meet Hawking the colleague, a man whose illness leaves him able to communicate at only six words per minute but who expends the effort to punctuate his conversations with humor. And we meet Hawking the friend, who could convey volumes with a frown, a smile, or simply a raised eyebrow. Modinow puts us in the room as Hawking indulges his passion for wine and curry; shares his feelings on love, death, and disability; and grapples with deep questions of philosophy and physics. This deeply affecting account of a friendship teaches us not just about the nature and practice of physics but also about life and the human capacity to overcome daunting obstacles. Shermer and Mlodinow discuss:

    what it was like working with Stephen Hawking, what Stephen Hawking was like as a person and personality, Hawking’s place in the pantheon of great physicists in the history of science, Hawking’s major contributions to physics, What is grand about the grand design of the universe? model dependent realism and the philosophy of science, Can we ever know reality? Why is there something rather than nothing? What caused the Big Bang to bang? What there was before time began? Why does the universe look fine-tuned and designed? Is the universe itself a giant black hole? Did the universe begin in a singularity? Hawking’s beliefs about God and why the concept isn’t necessary to explain the universe.

    Leonard Mlodinow received his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and was on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology. His previous books include the best sellers The Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time (coauthored with Stephen Hawking), Subliminal (winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award), and War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra), as well as Elastic, Euclid’s Window, Feynman’s Rainbow, and The Upright Thinkers.

  • Science is how we understand the world. Yet failures in peer review and mistakes in statistics have rendered a shocking number of scientific studies useless — or, worse, badly misleading. Such errors have distorted our knowledge in fields as wide-ranging as medicine, physics, nutrition, education, genetics, economics, and the search for extraterrestrial life. As Science Fictions makes clear, the current system of research funding and publication not only fails to safeguard us from blunders but actively encourages bad science — with sometimes deadly consequences. Yet Science Fictions is far from a counsel of despair. Rather, it’s a defense of the scientific method against the pressures and perverse incentives that lead scientists to bend the rules. By illustrating the many ways that scientists go wrong, Ritchie gives us the knowledge we need to spot dubious research and points the way to reforms that could make science trustworthy once again. Shermer and Ritchie also discuss:

    why we need to get science right because science deniers will pounce on such fraud, bias, negligence, and hype in science, Daryl Bem’s ESP research and what was wrong with it, “psychological priming” and the problem of replication, sleep research and the problems in Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, Amy Cuddy and the problem with “Power Posture” research, Andrew Wakefield and the biggest fraud in the history of science linking vaccines & autism, diet and nutrition research and the complication of linking saturated fats, unsaturated fats, cholesterol, and heart disease, Phil Zimbardo‘s Stanford Prison Experiment, Samuel Morton’s skulls showing racial differences in head size, Steve Gould’s critique, the critique of Gould, and the critique of the critics of Gould, self-plagiarism, p values / p hacking the Schizophrenia/amaloid cascade hypothesis and why it has been hard to prove, the file-drawer problem, how to detect fraud, and Terror Management Theory and why it is almost certainly wrong.

    Stuart Ritchie is a lecturer in the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King’s College London. His main research focus is human intelligence: how it relates to the brain, how much it’s affected by genetics, and how much it can be improved by factors such as education. He is a noted supporter of the Open Science movement, and has worked on tools to reform scientific practice and help scientists become more transparent when reporting their results.

  • Is our gender something we’re born with, or are we conditioned by society? In The End of Gender, neuroscientist and sexologist Dr. Debra Soh uses a research-based approach to address this hot-button topic, unmasking popular misconceptions about the nature vs. nurture debate and exploring what it means to be a woman or a man in today’s society. Shermer and Soh discuss:

    If you are transitioning to a different gender, but the word “gender” is largely meaningless biologically, then what are you transitioning to and what is the point of hormone therapy and surgery? the 1990s push to find biological basis of homosexuality so it’s not a “lifestyle choice” and how this trend has been recently reversed, the problem of putting ideology before science, cognitive creationism on the left (evolution from the neck down), why biology is not destiny, cancel culture, sex and gender, percentages of the population of LGBTQ, what you identify as vs. who you’re attracted to, individual behavior vs. collective labels, sexual orientation and gender identity, gender neutral parenting, gender dysphoria, men and women dating, trans bathrooms, prisons, and sports.

    Dr. Debra Soh is a neuroscientist who specializes in gender, sex, and sexual orientation. She received her doctorate from York University in Toronto and worked as an academic researcher for eleven years. Her writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Harper’s Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, Playboy, Quillette, and many other publications. Her research has been published in academic journals including the Archives of Sexual Behavior and Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. As a journalist, Soh writes about the science and politics of human sexuality and gender, free speech, and censorship in academia. She lives in Toronto and divides her time between New York and Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @DrDebraSoh and visit her website at DrDebraSoh.com.

  • The Science of Diversity uses a multidisciplinary approach to excavate the theories, principles, and paradigms that illuminate our understanding of the issues surrounding human diversity, social equality, and justice. The book brings these to the surface holistically, examining diversity at the individual, interpersonal, and international levels. Shedding light on why diversity programs fail, the book provides tools to understand how biases develop and influence our relationships and interactions with others. Shermer and Weissmark also discuss:

    What is diversity and how do we understand it? How is diversity related to people’s perceptions of fairness and justice? Does respect for diversity promote peace and positive change? psychology and neuroscience of classification/stereotyping, Freudianism to behaviorism to cognitive science to post-cognitive science, the self, consciousness, ai, and free will in the context of a science of diversity, revenge and justice, Israel and Palestine, nationalism: ethnic and civic, just-world theory of inequality, intergenerational justice and reparations, BLM and reparations, and the future after 2020.

    Mona Sue Weissmark is an American clinical psychologist and social psychologist, researcher, and author whose work on diversity and justice has received global recognition. She is best known for her groundbreaking social experiment of bringing children of Holocaust survivors face-to-face with children of Nazis, and later, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of African American slaves with descendants of slave owners. She is also a professor of psychology and author of numerous journal articles and the books: Doing Psychotherapy Effectively (University of Chicago Press); Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II (Oxford University Press); The Science of Diversity (Oxford University Press).

  • Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world’s last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today’s Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions. But in 2019, as some claimed “billions of people are going to die,” contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction. His conclusion: “Climate change is real but it’s not the end of the world. It is not even our most serious environmental problem.”

    Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas. Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions. Shermer and Shellenberger also discuss:

    what’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism, the powerful financial interests in environmentalism, the desire for status and power among environmentalists, along with the all-too human propensity to moralize and tell other people what to do, Shellenberger’s hypothesis that environmentalism is a faux religion primarily followed by secular people searching for transcendence, Environmental Humanism as a replacement worldview, the problems and shortcomings of climate computer models, how much warmer it’s going to get and what the consequences of that warming will be, and what we do about it? (hint: nuclear), myths about nuclear power and why people fear it, renewables, solar, wind, geothermal, and why they are not nearly as efficient as nuclear, the Amazon: Are the Earth’s lungs burning? plastic straws, recycling, electric cars, and other things, Are we in a Sixth Extinction? How have sweatshops saved the planet? How have technology and capitalism saved the whales? meat eating, Temple Grandin, and happy farms vs. factory farms, the myth of natural: what is natural is good, non-natural is bad, why environmentalism is the dominant secular religion of the educated, upper-middle-class elite in the most developed nations, with good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, and Environmentalism as Calvinism — Richard Rhodes: “In the sense that the world is an evil place and it would be better if it were destroyed and turned back over to the natural kingdom.”

    Michael Shellenberger is a Time magazine “Hero of the Environment”; the winner of the 2008 Green Book Award from the Stevens Institute of Technology’s Center for Science Writings; and an invited expert reviewer of the next Assessment Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He has written on energy and the environment for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Nature Energy, and other publications for two decades. He is the founder and president of Environmental Progress, an independent, nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley, California.

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  • From authors William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and Tom Z. Collina, the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC, The Buttonrecounts the terrifying history of nuclear launch authority, from the faulty 46-cent microchip that nearly caused World War III to President Trump’s tweet about his “much bigger & more powerful” button. Perry and Collina share their firsthand experience on the front lines of the nation’s nuclear history and provide illuminating interviews with former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Congressman Adam Smith, Nobel Peace Prize winner Beatrice Fihn, senior Obama administration officials, and many others. Shermer, Perry and Collina also discuss:

    even if Trump loses the 2020 election and we have President Biden, real risks of nuclear catastrophe exist because of the system, not the person, why the Iran deal was a good one to keep that country from developing nukes, how to deal with North Korea and Perry’s experience with the Kim dynasty, why the Russians are rational actors who do not want nuclear war, terrorists and the possibility of them getting a nuke, why we must eliminate Launch on Warning and First Strikepolicies, what is in “the football” seen held by men constantly trailing the President? Stanislav Petrov: the man who saved the world, and what this story tells us about the precariousness of our current system, game theory, the logic of deterrence, and how to get around it, why nuclear weapons were not inevitable, and changing the taboo from not using nuclear weapons to not owning them.

    William J. Perry served as Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the Carter administration, and then as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, and has advised presidents all through the Obama administration. He oversaw the development of major nuclear weapons systems, such as the MX missile, the Trident submarine and the Stealth Bomber. His new “offset strategy” ushered in the age of stealth, smart weapons, GPS, and technologies that changed the face of modern warfare. His vision now, as founder of the William J. Perry Project, is a world free from nuclear weapons.

    Tom Z. Collina is the Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, DC. He has 30 years of nuclear weapons policy experience and has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was closely involved with successful efforts to end U.S. nuclear testing in 1992, extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, ratify the New START Treaty in 2010, and enact the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Collina has published hundreds of articles, op-eds, and reports and appears frequently in major media.

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  • More than half a century since Roswell, UFOs have been making headlines once again. On December 17, 2017, the New York Times ran a front-page story about an approximately five-year Pentagon program called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The article hinted, and its sources clearly said in subsequent television interviews, that some of the ships in question couldn’t be linked to any country. The implication, of course, was that they might be linked to other solar systems. The UFO community—those who had been thinking about, seeing, and analyzing supposed flying saucers (or triangles or chevrons) for years—was surprisingly skeptical of the revelation. Their incredulity and doubt rippled across the internet. Many of the people most invested in UFO reality weren’t really buying it. And as Scoles did her own digging, she ventured to dark, conspiracy-filled corners of the internet, to a former paranormal research center in Utah, and to the hallways of the Pentagon.

    In They Are Already Here we meet the bigwigs, the scrappy upstarts, the field investigators, the rational people, and the unhinged kooks of this sprawling community. How do they interact with each other? How do they interact with “anomalous phenomena”? And how do they (as any group must) reflect the politics and culture of the larger world around them? Funny and colorful, and told in a way that doesn’t require one to believe, Scoles brings humanity to an often derided and misunderstood community. Scoles and Shermer discuss:

    who the “they” are in her title, comparing the UFO community to that of SETI scientists, whom she wrote about in her previous book, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence? what it was like engaging UFOlogists at conferences, her answer to the Fermi paradox: where is everyone? what it means to “believe” in UFOs vs. ETIs, Project Saucer, Project Sign, Project Grudge, Project Bluebook, Robert Bigelow, Tom DeLonge, and the To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, the most probable explanation for the USS Nimitz UFO videos, Kenneth Arnold, Roswell, Area 51, and modern myth making, Scoles’ Mormon background and how she lost her religion, and what we will replace religion with in the future.

    Sarah Scoles is a science writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, Smithsonian, The Washington Post, Scientific American, Popular Science, Discover, New Scientist, Aeon, and Wired. A former editor at Astronomy magazine, Scoles worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the location of the first-ever SETI project. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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