The Michael Shermer Show is a series of long-form conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.
Michael Shermer speaks with renowned biblical scholar and historian, Bart Ehrman, about: how we know Jesus existed and was crucified; how these questions are different epistemologically from those about Jesus’ resurrection and the claim that he died for our sins; how Christians deal with the trinity problem: How can God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit be one and the same and yet separate and different? (“God sacrificed himself…to himself…to save us from himself.” How is this possible?); How Christians answer these questions: Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us for our sins?; Why was the virgin birth so important to early Christians? Why was the resurrection so important to early Christians? Anti-Semitism in the early Christian church (“the Jews killed Jesus” or “the Jews killed God”) and why it makes no theological sense (Jesus was Jewish, and if he had to die to save us from our sins, whoever killed Jesus should be thanked); why Jews and Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the messiah; how Jesus became God and how Christianity grew from a few dozen followers at the time of Jesus’s death to over two billion followers today; theodicy and the problem of evil: Why does an all powerful, all knowing, all good God allow people to suffer?
1 hr 7 min
Michael Shermer speaks with scientist, educator, activist, and accomplished author, Fritjof Capra, about the evolution of his thinking over five decades. In this conversation, based on Capra’s book, Patterns of Connection, Shermer and Capra discuss: what it means to be spiritual in an age of science, nuclear energy and why Capra thinks we don’t need it and Shermer thinks we do, 50 years of progress or regress, limitations of models and theories of reality, limitations of analogies between western physics and eastern mysticism, mind and consciousness, and why Capra is hopeful for the future of humanity.
1 hr 36 min
According to Steven Koonin, when it comes to climate change, the media, politicians, and other prominent voices have declared that “the science is settled.” Koonin avers that the long game of telephone from research to reports, to the popular media, is corrupted by misunderstanding and misinformation. Koonin says that core questions about the way the climate is responding to our influence, and what the impacts will be remain largely unanswered. Koonin acknowledges that the climate is changing, and he claims the whyand how aren’t as clear as you’ve probably been led to believe, and what the impacts will be remain largely unanswered. In this engaging conversation Michael Shermer challenges Dr. Koonin with many of the most common critiques of his book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, and Steven Koonin responds by drawing upon his decades of experience — including as a top science advisor to the Obama administration.
1 hr 37 min
In this wide-ranging conversation Shermer and Nisbett discuss Nisbett’s research showing how people reason, how people should reason, why errors in reasoning occur, how much you can improve reasoning, what kinds of problems are best solved by the conscious mind and what kinds by the unconscious mind, and how we should think about intelligence, along with the controversies over group differences and genetic influences on I.Q. scores and why Charles Murray (The Bell Curve) is wrong in inferring genetic causes for group differences in I.Q.. Nisbett also shows that self-knowledge can be dramatically off-kilter and points to ways to improve it, and demonstrates how different cultures have radically different ways of reasoning and feeling, and how this led to his most famous research showing the difference between Northerners and Southerners in rates of violence, the culture of honor, and a hair-trigger for slights and insults. The two also discuss the #metoo, BLM, antiracism, and woke movements today in context of his psychological research.
2 hr 15 min
Online trolls and fascist chat groups. Controversies over campus lectures. Cancel culture versus censorship. The daily hazards and debates surrounding free speech dominate headlines and fuel social media storms. In an era where one tweet can launch — or end — your career, and where free speech is often invoked as a principle but rarely understood, learning to maneuver the fast-changing, treacherous landscape of public discourse has never been more urgent. In Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, Suzanne Nossel, a leading voice in support of free expression, delivers a vital, necessary guide to maintaining democratic debate that is open, free-wheeling but at the same time respectful of the rich diversity of backgrounds and opinions in a changing country. Shermer and Nossel discuss: private vs. government restrictions on speech; hate speech, libel, slander, compelled speech; incitement to violence and insurrection; cancel culture; social media censorship; the euphemism treadmill, and more…
1 hr 36 min
In the early 1960s, the head of a prominent New York City Child Development Center and a psychiatrist from Columbia University launched a study designed to track the development of twins and triplets given up for adoption and raised by different families. The controversial and disturbing catch? None of the adoptive parents had been told that they were raising a twin — the study’s investigators insisted that the separation be kept secret. The details of what happened, until now, have been lost to the archives of history. In this conversation based on her new book, Nancy Segal reveals the inside stories of the agency that separated the twins, and the collaborating psychiatrists who, along with their cadre of colleagues, observed the twins until they turned twelve. Interviews with colleagues, friends and family members of the agency’s psychiatric consultant and the study’s principal investigator, as well as a former agency administrator, research assistants, journalists, ethicists, attorneys, and — most importantly — the twins and their families who were unwitting participants in this controversial study, are riveting.
1 hr 46 min
Boomers are narcissists. Millennials are spoiled. Gen Zers are lazy. We assume people born around the same time have basically the same values. But, do they? Michael Shermer speaks with social researcher Bobby Duffy who has spent years studying generational distinctions. In The Generation Myth, he argues that our generational identities are not fixed but fluid, reforming throughout our lives. Based on an analysis of what over three million people really think about homeownership, sex, well-being, and more, Duffy offers a new model for understanding how generations form, how they shape societies, and why generational differences aren’t as sharp as we think.
1 hr 50 min
We go to movies that make us cry, or scream, or gag. We poke at sores, eat spicy foods, immerse ourselves in hot baths, run marathons. Some of us even seek out pain and humiliation in sexual role-play. Why do we so often seek out physical pain and emotional turmoil? Where do these seemingly perverse appetites come from? In his latest book, The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, Bloom aims to understand how people find meaning in their lives, and, moreover, to explore what he calls, “the sweet spot” — the proper balance between pleasure and suffering. As one of the world’s leading psychologists, drawing on groundbreaking findings from psychology and brain science, Bloom shows how the right kind of suffering sets the stage for enhanced pleasure.
2 hr 24 min
Michael Shermer speaks with award-winning Irish neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan about her work exploring the complexity of psychogenic illness affecting people all around the world. Her book The Sleeping Beauties, documents her investigation of psychosomatic disorders as she traveled the world visiting communities suffering from these so-called mystery illnesses. O’Sullivan records the remarkable stories of syndromes related to her by people from all walks of life. Riveting and often distressing, these case studies — both fascinating and of serious concern — are recounted with compassion and humanity as these syndromes continue to proliferate around the globe.
1 hr 35 min
In recent decades, many philosophers and cognitive scientists have declared the problem of consciousness unsolvable, but Antonio Damasio is convinced that recent findings across multiple scientific disciplines have given us a way to understand consciousness and its significance for human life. In his latest work, Feeling & Knowing, Damasio helps us understand why being conscious is not the same as sensing, why nervous systems are essential for the development of feelings, and why feeling opens the way to consciousness writ large. He combines the latest discoveries in various sciences with philosophy and discusses his original research, which has transformed our understanding of the brain and human behavior.
1 hr 42 min
Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, natural history, agriculture, medical law and ethics, Charles Foster, in Being a Human, makes an audacious attempt to feel a connection with 45,000 years of human history. He experiences the Upper Paleolithic era by living in makeshift shelters without amenities in the rural woods of England. He tests his five impoverished senses to forage for berries and roadkill and he undertakes shamanic journeys to explore the connection of wakeful dreaming to religion. For the Neolithic period, he moves to a reconstructed Neolithic settlement. Finally, to explore the Enlightenment, he inspects Oxford colleges, dissecting rooms, cafes, and art galleries. He finds his world and himself bizarre and disembodied, and he rues the atrophy of our senses, the cause for much of what ails us. This glorious, fiercely imaginative journey from our origins to a possible future ultimately shows how we might best live on earth — and thrive.
1 hr 57 min
In this conversation with Steven Pinker on his new book Rationality, the Harvard psychologist and Michael Shermer discuss how today humanity is reaching new heights of scientific understanding — and also appears to be losing its mind. How can a species that developed vaccines for COVID-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing? Pinker rejects the cynical cliché that humans are simply irrational — cavemen out of time saddled with biases, fallacies, and illusions. After all, we discovered the laws of nature, lengthened and enriched our lives, and set out the benchmarks for rationality itself. We actually think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives, but fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning we’ve discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others. These tools are not a standard part of our education — but they should be.
1 hr 49 min
Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: to defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives. Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains startling revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war, from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Papers is a shocking account that will supercharge a long overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.
1 hr 31 min
Michael Shermer speaks with Mary Grabar about her books Debunking the 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America and Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America. According to the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” America was not founded in 1776, with a declaration of freedom and independence, but in 1619 with the introduction of African slavery into the New World. According to Mary Grabar, celebrated historians have debunked this, more than two hundred years of American literature disproves it, parents know it to be false, and yet it is being promoted across America as an integral part of grade school curricula and unquestionable orthodoxy on college campuses. This is a sequel, of a kind, to Grabar’s previous book Debunking Howard Zinn, whose A People’s History of the United States sold more than 2.5 million copies, is pushed by Hollywood celebrities, defended by university professors, and assigned in high school and college classrooms to teach students that American history is nothing more than a litany of oppression, slavery, and exploitation. According to Grabar, contra Zinn: Columbus was not a genocidal maniac, and was, in fact, a defender of Indians. American Indians were not feminist-communist sexual revolutionaries ahead of their time. The United States was founded to protect liberty, not white males’ ill-gotten wealth. Americans of the “Greatest Generation” were not the equivalent of Nazi war criminals. The Viet Cong were not well-meaning community leaders advocating for local self-rule. The Black Panthers were not civil rights leaders.
1 hr 38 min
In recent years, scientists have shown that DNA makes us different, in our personalities and in our health — and in ways that matter for educational and economic success in our current society. Michael speaks with University of Texas (Austin) professor of clinical psychology and Director of the Developmental Behavior Genetics Lab, Kathryn Paige Harden, about her book, The Genetic Lottery. Harden introduces us to the latest genetic science, dismantling dangerous ideas about racial superiority and challenging us to grapple with what equality really means in a world where people are born different. Weaving together personal stories with scientific evidence, Harden shows why our refusal to recognize the power of DNA perpetuates the myth of meritocracy, and argues that we must acknowledge the role of genetic luck if we are ever to create a fair society. Reclaiming genetic science from the legacy of eugenics, this groundbreaking book offers a bold new vision of society where everyone thrives, regardless of how one fares in the genetic lottery.
1 hr 46 min
In this conversation on two of the hottest social and cultural issues of our day — the decline of religion and the rise of identity politics, Mary Eberstadt presents her alternative theory for the “secularization thesis” (that religious decline was followed by the decline of the family), arguing instead that the undermining of the family has undermined Christianity itself. Drawing on sociology, history, demography, theology, literature, and many other sources, Eberstadt shows that family decline and religious decline have gone hand in hand in the Western world in a way that has not been understood before — that they are “the double helix of society, each dependent on the strength of the other for successful reproduction.” Eberstadt argues that there are enormous social, economic, civic, and other costs attendant on declines of both family and faith, and Dr. Shermer presents counter examples to show that America’s extreme religiosity has been a burden on its social health and that the decline of religion is a good thing. In the second part of the conversation Eberstadt and Shermer discuss her previous book on identity politics and how identitarians track and expose the ideologically impure, as people face the consequences of their rancor: a litany of “isms” run amok across all levels of cultural life; the free marketplace of ideas muted by agendas shouted through megaphones; and a spirit of general goodwill warped into a state of perpetual outrage. This rise of identity politics, she argues, is a direct result of the fallout of the sexual revolution, especially the collapse and shrinkage of the family. Eberstadt argues that from time immemorial humans have forged their identities within the structure of kinship. The extended family, in a real sense, is the first tribe and first teacher. But with its unprecedented decline across a variety of measures, generations of people have been set adrift and can no longer answer the question Who am I? with reference to primordial ties. Desperate for solidarity and connection, they claim membership in politicized groups whose displays of frantic irrationalism amount to primal screams for familial and communal loss.
1 hr 49 min
Democracy is in trouble. Why? In Our Own Worst Enemy, Tom Nichols challenges the current depictions of the rise of illiberal and anti-democratic movements in the United States and elsewhere as the result of the deprivations of globalization or the malign decisions of elites. Rather, he places the blame for the rise of illiberalism on the people themselves, tracing it to the growth of unchecked narcissism, rising standards of living, global peace, and a resistance to change. Ordinary citizens, laden with grievances, have joined forces with political entrepreneurs who thrive on the creation of rage rather than on the encouragement of civic virtue and democratic cooperation. While it will be difficult, Nichols argues that we need to defend democracy by resurrecting the virtues of altruism, compromise, stoicism, and cooperation — and by recognizing how good we’ve actually had it in the modern world.
1 hr 36 min
Michael Shermer speaks with Mike Rothschild, a journalist specializing in conspiracy theories, about QAnon and its followers. On October 5th, 2017, President Trump made a cryptic remark in the State Dining Room at a gathering of military officials. He said it felt like “the calm before the storm” — then refused to elaborate as puzzled journalists asked him to explain. But on the infamous message boards of 4chan, a mysterious poster going by “Q Clearance Patriot,” who claimed to be in “military intelligence,” began the elaboration on their own. In the days that followed, Q’s wild yarn explaining Trump’s remarks began to rival the sinister intricacies of a Tom Clancy novel, while satisfying the deepest desires of MAGA-America. But did any of what Q predicted come to pass? No. Did that stop people from clinging to every word they were reading, expanding its mythology, and promoting it wider and wider? No. Why not?
1 hr 37 min
Michael Shermer speaks with Gale Sinatra and Barbara Hofer about the key psychological explanations for science denial and doubt that can help provide a means for improving scientific literacy and understanding — critically important at a time when denial has become deadly. Sinatra and Hofer offer tools for addressing science denial and explain both the importance of science education and its limitations, show how science communicators may inadvertently contribute to the problem, and explain how the internet and social media foster misinformation and disinformation. The authors focus on key psychological constructs such as reasoning biases, social identity, epistemic cognition, and emotions and attitudes that limit or facilitate public understanding of science, and describe solutions for individuals, educators, science communicators, and policy makers. If you have ever wondered why science denial exists, want to know how to understand your own biases and those of others, and would like to address the problem, this book will provide the insights you are seeking.
1 hr 30 min
Michael Shermer speaks with Ashley Rindsberg about his book The Gray Lady Winked in which he pulls back the curtain on the the world’s most powerful news outlet and flagship of the American news media, the New York Times, to reveal a quintessentially human organization where ideology, ego, power and politics compete with the more humble need to present the facts. Rindsberg offers an eye-opening, often shocking, look at the New York Times’s greatest journalistic failures, so devastating they changed the course of history.
1 hr 43 min
We pile on “to-dos” but don’t consider “stop-doings.” We create incentives for good behavior, but don’t get rid of obstacles to it. We collect new-and-improved ideas, but don’t prune the outdated ones. Every day, across challenges big and small, we neglect a basic way to make things better: we don’t subtract. Leidy Klotz’s pioneering research shows why. Whether we’re building Lego® models or cities, grilled-cheese sandwiches or strategic plans, our minds tend to add before taking away. Even when we do think of it, subtraction can be harder to pull off because an array of biological, cultural, and economic forces push us towards more. But we have a choice — our blind spot need not go on taking its toll on our cities, our institutions, and our minds. By diagnosing our neglect of subtraction, we can treat it.
46 min 49 sec
We are living through the most prosperous age in all of human history, yet people are more listless, divided and miserable than ever. Wealth and comfort are unparalleled, and yet our political landscape grows ever more toxic, and rates of suicide, loneliness, and chronic illness continue to skyrocket. How do we explain the gap between these two truths? What’s more, what can we do to close it? For evolutionary biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, the cause of our woes is clear: the modern world is out of sync with our ancient brains and bodies. The cognitive dissonance spawned by trying to live in a society we’re not built for is killing us. Heying and Weinstein cut through the politically fraught discourse surrounding issues like sex, gender, diet, parenting, sleep, education, and more to outline a science-based worldview that will empower you to live a better, wiser life. They distill more than 20 years of research and first-hand accounts from the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth into straightforward principles and guidance for confronting our culture of hyper-novelty.
1 hr 31 min
In this special episode of the podcast Michael Shermer honors the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with a commentary on the truth about that event and how it changed our lives, 7 myths about terrorism that need debunking if we are to understand how we should respond to this threat, and why we need not sacrifice liberty for security.
27 min 46 sec
Bullshit is the foundation of contaminated thinking and bad decisions that leads to health consequences, financial losses, legal consequences, broken relationships, and wasted time and resources. No matter how smart we believe ourselves to be, we’re all susceptible to bullshit — and we all engage in it. While we may brush it off as harmless marketing sales speak or as humorous, embellished claims, it’s actually much more dangerous and insidious. It’s how Bernie Madoff successfully swindled billions of dollars from even the most experienced financial experts with his Ponzi scheme. In episode # 207, Michael Shermer speaks with experimental social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University, John Petrocelli about his research that examines the causes and consequences of bullshit and bullshitting in the way of better understanding and improving bullshit detection and disposal. Petrocelli provides invaluable strategies not only to recognize and protect yourself from everyday bullshit, but to accept your own lack of knowledge about subjects and avoid engaging in bullshit just for societal conformity.
1 hr 36 min
Cooperation is the means by which life arose in the first place. It’s how we progressed through scale and complexity, from free-floating strands of genetic material, to nation states. But given what we know about the mechanisms of evolution, cooperation is also something of a puzzle. How does cooperation begin? A biologist by training, Nichola Raihani looks at where and how collaborative behavior emerges throughout the animal kingdom, and what problems it solves. She reveals that the species that exhibit cooperative behavior — teaching, helping, grooming, and self-sacrifice — most similar to our own tend not to be other apes; they are birds, insects, and fish, occupying far more distant branches of the evolutionary tree. By understanding the problems they face, and how they cooperate to solve them, we can glimpse how human cooperation first evolved. And we can also understand what it is about the way we cooperate that has made humans so distinctive and so successful.
2 hr 7 min
In episode 205, Michael Shermer speaks with Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish Gene, voted The Royal Society’s Most Inspiring Science Book of All Time, and also the bestsellers The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, The Ancestor’s Tale, The God Delusion, and two volumes of autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder and Brief Candle in the Dark. He is a Fellow of New College, Oxford and both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. In 2013, Dawkins was voted the world’s top thinker in Prospect magazine’s poll of 10,000 readers from over 100 countries. This episode is heavily edited because Dawkins was having trouble with his voice, and Shermer tried to speak a little more to give Dawkins a chance to let his voice rest.
1 hr 27 min
In episode 204, Michael Shermer speaks with codirector of undergraduate studies in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Carole Hooven, PhD about testosterone. While most people agree that sex differences in human behavior exist, they disagree about the reasons. But the science is clear: testosterone is a potent force in human society, driving the bodies and behavior of the sexes apart. But, as Hooven shows in T, it does so in concert with genes and culture to produce a vast variety of male and female behavior. And, crucially, the fact that many sex differences are grounded in biology provides no support for restrictive gender norms or patriarchal values. In understanding testosterone, we better understand ourselves and one another — and how we might build a fairer, safer society.
1 hr 47 min
“Climate change is a hoax — and so is coronavirus.” “Vaccines are bad for you.” These days, many of our fellow citizens reject scientific expertise and prefer ideology to facts. They are not merely uninformed — they are misinformed. They cite cherry-picked evidence, rely on fake experts, and believe conspiracy theories. How can we convince such people otherwise? How can we get them to change their minds and accept the facts when they don’t believe in facts? In this conversation based on his new book, Lee McIntyre shows that anyone can fight back against science deniers, and argues that it’s important to do so.
1 hr 35 min
When it comes to what we believe, humans see what they want to see. We have what Julia Galef calls a “soldier” mindset: a drive to defend the ideas we most want to believe — and shoot down those we don’t. But if we want to get things right more often, argues Galef, we should train ourselves to have a “scout” mindset. Unlike the soldier, a scout’s goal isn’t to defend one side over the other. It’s to go out, survey the territory, and come back with as accurate a map as possible. Regardless of what they hope to be the case, above all, the scout wants to know what’s actually true. In The Scout Mindset, Galef explores why our brains deceive us and what we can do to change the way we think.
1 hr 46 min
In this AMA Dr. Michael Shermer answers your questions about evolution and creationism, intelligent design theory, the hard problem of consciousness, the origins of morality, how science deals with anomalies, to what extent humans are naturally rational or irrational / skeptical or gullible, and why there is something rather than nothing.
1 hr 13 min
August 15 marks the 50th anniversary of day one of the Stanford Prison Experiment — one of the most controversial studies in the history of social psychology. In this conversation, Michael Shermer speaks with renowned social psychologist and creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo, exploring the mechanisms that make good people do bad things, how moral people can be seduced into acting immorally, and what this says about the line separating good from evil. His book, The Lucifer Effect, explains why we are all susceptible to the lure of “the dark side.” and how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women. Shermer and Zimbardo discuss: Zimbardo’s life mission to understand the nature of evil, the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) and its critics, the nature of human nature, The Dark Triad that leads to violence, obedience to authority, free will/determinism, and how we can teach ourselves to act heroically.
1 hr 50 min
This conversation takes a deep dive into disruptions. How do things change? The question is critical to the historical study of any era but it is also a profoundly important issue today as western democracies find the fundamental tenets of their implicit social contract facing extreme challenges from forces espousing ideas that once flourished only on the outskirts of society. Not all radical groups are the same, and all the groups that the book explores take advantage of challenges that have already shaken the social order. They take advantage of mistakes that have challenged belief in the competence of existing institutions to be effective. It is the particular combination of an alternative ideological system and a period of community distress that are necessary conditions for radical changes in direction. As Disruption demonstrates, not all radical change follows paths that its original proponents might have predicted.
1 hr 23 min
In this expansive conversation, Michael Shermer speaks with Bernardo Kastrup, the executive director of Essentia Foundation. His work has been leading the modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism, the notion that reality is essentially mental. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy (ontology, philosophy of mind) and another Ph.D. in computer engineering (reconfigurable computing, artificial intelligence). Shermer and Kastrup discuss: materialism, idealism, dualism, monism, panpsychism, free will, determinism, consciousness, the problem of other minds, artificial intelligence, out of body and near-death experiences, model dependent realism, and the ultimate nature of reality.
2 hr 14 min
Michael Shermer speaks with entrepreneur, writer, and activist Yaron Brook about Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Objectivism; individualism vs. collectivism; the nature of human nature; altruism, cooperation, reparations, and charity; the starting point of morality and the foundation of ethics; collective action problems and how they are best solved; our moral obligation to help those who cannot help themselves; the Is-Ought problem of determining right and wrong; reason and empiricism; immigration, abortion, foreign wars, the welfare state, and terrorism.
2 hr 6 min
In this conversation about her new book, the acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul explodes the myth that the brain is an all-powerful, all-purpose thinking machine that works best in silence and isolation. We are often told that the human brain is an awe-inspiring wonder, but its capacities are remarkably limited and specific. Humanity has achieved its most impressive feats only by thinking outside the brain: by “extending” the brain’s power with resources borrowed from the body, other people, and the material world. The Extended Mind tells the stories of scientists and artists, authors and inventors, leaders and entrepreneurs — Jackson Pollock, Charles Darwin, Jonas Salk, Friedrich Nietzsche, Watson and Crick, among others — who have mastered the art of thinking outside the brain. It also explains how every one of us can do the same, tapping the intelligence that exists beyond our heads — in our bodies, our surroundings, and our relationships.
1 hr 34 min
The most fundamental lesson that all magicians learn is that seeing is not believing. In episode 195, Michael speaks with internationally acclaimed sleight-of-hand artist and 35-year activist for scientific skepticism, Jamy Ian Swiss, about his lively, personal book, The Conjuror’s Conundrum, that takes readers on a magical mystery tour of the longstanding connection between magic and skepticism. Shermer and Swiss discuss: Swiss’s first encounter with fraud, the paranormal and supernatural, magic and mentalism, hot/cold/universal readings, pychics, talking to the dead, James van Praagh, belief, the afterlife, “the amazing” Kreskin, the Alpha Project, and more…
2 hr 12 min
John Mackey says the treatment for the cancer of crony capitalism is conscious capitalism, grounded “in an ethical system based on value creation for all stakeholders,” which includes not just owners, but employees, customers, the community, the environment, and even competitors, activists, critics, unions, and the media. Mackey cites Google and Southwest Airlines as role models, and pharmaceutical companies and financial corporations as anti-role models. In a surprise pivot, Mackey lays the blame for the myth of the profit motive as the only measure of value at the feet of capitalists themselves. Mackey’s goal is to write a new narrative for capitalism that asks us to care about customers and human beings instead of data points on a spreadsheet.
1 hr 48 min
Michael Shermer speaks with Chris Edwards about educational reform, his study and teaching of world history, the problems in K–12 education, the zip-code model vs. the seat time model of education and how they result in massively different educational outcomes, how “no child left behind” left children behind, federal vs. state educational systems, cheating scandals and what to do about them, the future of education in a world of free (or nearly free) online learning, comparing the U.S. educational system to other countries. Shermer and Edwards also discuss thought experiments, based on Edwards’ latest book, Thought Experiments: History and Applications for Education.
2 hr 3 min
In a few decades, a torrent of new evidence and ideas about human evolution has allowed scientists to piece together a more detailed understanding of what went on thousands and even millions of years ago. Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson, a husband-and-wife team based at the University of California, Davis, have spent years together and individually researching and collaborating with scholars from a wide range of disciplines to produce a deep history of humankind. In A Story of Us, they present this rich narrative and explain how the evolution of our genes relates to the evolution of our cultures.
2 hr 1 min
Everyone has heard of the term “pseudoscience”, typically used to describe something that looks like science, but is somehow false, misleading, or unproven. Many would be able to agree on a list of things that fall under its umbrella — astrology, phrenology, UFOlogy, creationism, and eugenics might come to mind. But defining what makes these fields “pseudo” is a far more complex issue. Given the virulence of contemporary disputes over the denial of climate change and anti-vaccination movements — both of which display allegations of “pseudoscience” on all sides — there is a clear need to better understand issues of scientific demarcation. Shermer and Gordin explore the philosophical and historical attempts to address this problem of demarcation.
1 hr 32 min
Disinformation. Trolling. Conspiracies. Social media pile-ons. Campus intolerance. On the surface, these recent additions to our daily vocabulary appear to have little in common. But together, they are driving an epistemic crisis: a multi-front challenge to America’s ability to distinguish fact from fiction and elevate truth above falsehood. In episode 190, Michael Shermer speaks with Jonathan Rauch as he reaches back to the parallel eighteenth-century developments of liberal democracy and science to explain what he calls the “Constitution of Knowledge” — our social system for turning disagreement into truth. His book is a sweeping and readable description of how every American can help defend objective truth and free inquiry from threats as far away as Russia and as close as the cellphone.
1 hr 40 min
Imagine that two doctors in the same city give different diagnoses to identical patients. Now imagine that the same doctor making a different decision depending on whether it is morning or afternoon, or Monday rather than Wednesday. This is an example of noise: variability in judgments that should be identical. Shermer speaks with Nobel Prize winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman about the detrimental effects of noise and what we can do to reduce both noise and bias, and make better decisions in: medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, child protection, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection.
1 hr 40 min
In this conversation about his memoir and National Geographicspecial on his life, Robert Ballard takes us along his many journeys to find the Titanic, the Lusitania, the Bismarck, Nazi submarine U-166, the USS Yorktown, JFK’s PT 109, and two missing nuclear submarines under the cover of searching for the Titanic. Ballard is also a scientist, and he recalls his many important discoveries that include 750°F hydrothermal vents, undersea volcanoes, black smokers, and the confirmation of the theory of plate tectonics. Now the captain of E/V Nautilus, a state-of-the-art scientific exploration vessel rigged for research in oceanography, geology, biology, and archaeology, leads young scientists as they map the ocean floor, collect artifacts from ancient shipwrecks, and relay live-time adventures from remote-controlled submersibles to reveal amazing sea life. For the first time, Ballard gets personal, telling the inside stories of his adventures and challenges as a midwestern kid with dyslexia who became an internationally renowned ocean explorer. Here is the definitive story of the danger and discovery, conflict and triumph that make up his remarkable life. Among his many honors he holds the Explorers Club Medal, the National Geographic Hubbard Medal, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal.
1 hr 59 min
In this dialogue, based on the new edition of his highly acclaimed bestseller (over 5 million copies sold in over 40 languages), Robert Cialdini — New York Times bestselling author of Pre-Suasion and the seminal expert in the fields of influence and persuasion — explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these insights ethically in business and everyday settings. Shermer and Cialdini discuss: Cialdini’s Universal Principles of Influence and 7 Principles of Persuasion, pluralistic ignorance, free will/determinism, cults, conformity, #BLM, #metoo, antiracism, social justice, and human rights. How rational are humans? Do we default to truth and naturally believe what people tell us? Are we natural-born skeptics or natural-born sheep?
1 hr 56 min
In this conversation, based on the book The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World, Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in environmental economics Dr. Nordhaus explains how and why “green thinking” could cure many of the world’s most serious problems — from global warming to pandemics. Solving the world’s biggest problems requires, more than anything else, coming up with new ways to manage the powerful interactions that surround us. For carbon emissions and other environmental damage, this means ensuring that those responsible pay their full costs rather than continuing to pass them along to others, including future generations. Nordhaus describes a new way of green thinking that would help us overcome our biggest challenges without sacrificing economic prosperity, in large part by accounting for the spillover costs of economic collisions. In a discussion that ranges from the history of the environmental movement to the Green New Deal, Nordhaus explains how rethinking economic efficiency, sustainability, politics, profits, taxes, individual ethics, corporate social responsibility, finance, and more would improve the effectiveness and equity of our society.
1 hr 6 min
Beginning in the late 19th century, many intellectuals began to insist that scientific knowledge conflicts with traditional theistic belief — that science and belief in God are “at war.” Philosopher of science Stephen Meyer challenges this view by examining three scientific discoveries with decidedly theistic implications. Building on the case for the intelligent design of life that he developed in Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, Meyer claims that discoveries in cosmology and physics coupled with those in biology help to establish the identity of the designing intelligence behind life and the universe. Previously Meyer refrained from attempting to answer questions about “who” might have designed life. Now he provides an evidence-based answer to perhaps the ultimate mystery of the universe. Shermer responds to each claim and a stimulating and enlightening conversation ensues. Note: It is Dr. Shermer’s intention in his podcast to periodically talk to people with whom skeptics and scientists may disagree. In some episodes Dr. Shermer tries to “steel man” a position held by someone with differing views — that is, he says in his own words what he thinks the other person is arguing — but in this case the other person is in the conversation and can represent his own position clearly, which is what happens. As well, such conversations enable principles of skepticism to be employed in ways constructive to those who hold views not necessarily embraced by skeptics and scientists. Such principles should be embraced by all seekers of truth, and that is why we want to talk to people with whom we may disagree.
1 hr 58 min
In this special episode of the show Shermer and Green discuss one of the most important and yet poorly understood concepts in modern society: money and why it matters. They discuss: the origins of money, and how to make it work for you, how the stock market works, the power of compound interest, the secrets of millionaires, the difference between a IRA, 401(k), and a Roth IRA, hedge-fund managers and investment advisors, the relationship between risk and reward, the relationship between saving and spending, the problem with free market capitalism, money, happiness, and meaning, and the role of luck and contingency in how lives turn out.
1 hr 41 min
Shermer, Weiss, and Bartning discuss: why we need the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) when we have the ACLU, the SPLC, etc.; Richard Dawkins canceled by the AHA; hate speech as violence; Liberal and Conservative attitudes toward free speech and how they shifted; private vs. public speech; government censorship vs. cancel culture; anti-Semitism on the Left and the Right; QAnon; Israel and the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions); What happened at The New York Times?; why free speech is foundational to other rights; and why we need to judge people based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin (or any other immutable characteristic).
1 hr 29 min
In this episode, Michael Shermer speaks with explorer of consciousness and the emcee of Contact in the Desert (the largest UFO event in the country), Alan Steinfeld, who for over 30 years has hosted and produced the weekly television series New Realities in New York City. In his book, Making Contact, Steinfeld has edited together multiple perspectives on what he claims can no longer be denied: UFOs and their occupants are visiting our world. The volume contains original writings by the leading experts of the phenomena such as: the former head of the Harvard Medical school of psychiatry and an alien abduction investigator, Darryl Anka, internationally known for his communication with the extraterrestrial Bashar; Nick Pope, former UK Ministry of Defense UFO investigator; Grant Cameron, expert on American presidents and UFOs; Caroline Cory, director of Superhuman and ET: Contact; Mary Rodwell, author of The New Human about star-seed children, and many others. Note: It is Dr. Shermer’s intention in his podcast to periodically talk to people with whom skeptics and scientists may disagree. In some episodes Dr. Shermer tries to “steel man” a position held by someone with differing views — that is, he says in his own words what he thinks the other person is arguing — but in this case the other person is in the conversation and can represent his own position clearly, which is what happens. As well, such conversations enable principles of skepticism to be employed in ways constructive to those who hold views not necessarily embraced by skeptics and scientists. Such principles should be embraced by all seekers of truth, and that is why we want to talk to people with whom we may disagree.
1 hr 48 min
Sexual conflict permeates ancient religions, from injunctions about thy neighbor’s wife to the permissible rape of infidels. It is etched in written laws that dictate who can and cannot have sex with whom. Its manifestations shape our sexual morality, evoking approving accolades or contemptuous condemnation. It produces sexual double standards that flourish even in the most sexually egalitarian cultures on earth. And although every person alive struggles with sexual conflict, most of us see only the tip of the iceberg: dating deception, a politician’s unsavory sexual grab, the slow crumbling of a once-happy marriage, a romantic breakup that turns nasty. When Men Behave Badly shows that this “battle of the sexes” is deeper and far more pervasive than anyone has recognized, revealing the hidden roots of sexual conflict — roots that originated over deep evolutionary time — which define the sexual psychology we currently carry around in our 3.5-pound brains. Providing novel insights into our minds and behaviors, When Men Behave Badlypresents a unifying new theory of sexual conflict, and offers practical advice for men and women seeking to avoid it.
1 hr 47 min