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Knowing & Not Knowing

by Michael Shermer, Apr 14 2009

The willing suspension of disbelief takes over Shermer’s brain

I confess — when it comes to writing a film review I’m not much of a skeptic. I wrote my first review about the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still for Scientific American, a film I really enjoyed … until all my science fiction friends and scientist colleagues told me that they thought the filmed sucked! Wow, how did I miss that? The answer: the willing suspension of disbelief.

When it comes to films and television movies, I suspend my skepticism in order to enjoy the experience. When I watch movies with my daughter she’s constantly pointing out scenery inconsistencies, plot anomalies, and the like, and I’m always telling her that I don’t want to know because it takes me out of the scene and plops me back into my living room, which tends to be a far less interesting place than being on the bridge of the Titanic, inside the pod trying to get HAL to open the pod bay doors, or face to face with Gort the robot, trying desperately to remember what it was I am suppose to tell him so that he doesn’t zap me with his lazar helmet. For the record, it’s “Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikto,” which I translated as “Gort, Klaatu says don’t destroy Earth just yet … and come get me and bring me back to life, because these idiot humans shot me again.” Continue reading…

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The Belief Trilogy

by Michael Shermer, Mar 26 2009

This is a brief video introduction to the power of belief through the three books of my trilogy: Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, The Science of Good and Evil, and (pace Douglas Adams) volume 4 of the trilogy, The Mind of the Market. The first volume is on science and pseudoscience and, as the title says, why people believe weird things. Vol. 2, How We Believe, is on why people believe in God (but the publisher didn’t want to call it that so they went with the more generic title on belief). Vol. 3 is on why we are moral, but since the book deals more than with the evolutionary origins of morality, they once again went with the broader title. Vol. 4, then, expands on the theme of belief in the realm of economics, and why people believe weird things about money and why markets seem to have a mind of their own.

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The Magic Cube

by Michael Shermer, Jan 20 2009

Readers of will immediately suspect something is up when I ask you to watch a video and tell me if you think I have ESP or not. Of course I don’t believe in ESP and most of you probably do not either. However, when you see this video consider that it might be something related to ESP that is not, in fact, at all paranormal. That is synesthesia.

Synesthesia is the phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sense modality produces a sensation in a different sense modality, for example, touching something and sensing a color. Go ahead, watch this video, and tell me if you think I have synesthesia. Continue reading…

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On the Road with Michael Shermer
(Or, The Chronicles of Skeptica) Part 2

by Michael Shermer, Nov 18 2008

[webmaster broke last week's post into two parts and added new photos to this part]

Day 2. November 8, 2008

“Memo to all American speakers: At some point during your talk please apologize for George W. Bush and make a joke about his stupidity, then thank God for Obama (even you atheists) and mention that you voted for him.” Although no such paper memo was distributed to the speakers, by the second day I began to wonder if it was a tacit agreement nonetheless, since nearly everyone did it. Except me.

On this day the German ethologist and evolutionary psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, author of the excellent book, Gut Feelings, began with a funny story about an economics professor who was struggling to decide if he should take a new job position at another university, when a colleague told him to just compute the value and diminishing marginal utility of each option and then calculate the decision, “just like you teach your economics students to do.” The professor’s response: “Oh, come on, you don’t understand, this is serious!” His point was that when it comes to real life most of us make most of our decisions under great uncertainty. We use our gut feelings instead, and more often than not that works just as well as complex models. Gigerenzer’s most notable example was an economist (I believe it was Harry Markowitz) who received the Nobel Prize for his complex model of how best to make investments, but when it came to his own portfolio Markowitz reverted to a simple 1/n formula of the equal distribution of funds over a large number of investment tools.

Continue reading…

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On the Road with Michael Shermer
(Or, The Chronicles of Skeptica) Part 1

by Michael Shermer, Nov 11 2008

I have never kept a diary — the narrative recounting of daily events — mainly because most of my daily routine is uneventful and uninteresting. Like everyone else, I’m a creature of habit. If it is Tuesday or Thursday morning, I’m doing the “Barry Ride” with my cycling buddies (so christened because it was started in the 1980s by Barry Wolfe, a National Champion cyclist who passed away a couple of years ago), a two-hour loop through the hills of Glendale and La Canada. (I may someday write a book entitled Tuesdays with Barry, recounting the conversations we have had during the ride over the past 20 years on all manner of topics from the sublime to the superficial.) After the ride I pick up a 20-oz. Latte at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, stop by the P.O. Box to pick up the Skeptics Society mail, then go into the office for the rest of the day. If it is Wednesday we ride our bikes to Mt. Wilson, a 20-mile climb (followed by a 20-mile descent), then I hang out at the Starbucks in La Canada for a couple of hours, writing and editing without phone interruptions, then to the office. If it is Monday I work all day in the office. If it is Friday I write at home for a couple of hours, then take my step-dad out to lunch, trying out different burger joints around Southern California (and, when needed, drive him to his various doctor appointments, which have grown more common now that he is in his 80s). If it is Saturday morning I’m with the boys again, hammering through a 4-hour ride in the mountains, rotating weeks through four different routes, one flat and the other three monstrous leg-breaking climbs. Sundays are my secular Sabbath, just hanging out at home and doing my best to be unproductive. Best of all, every weekday morning I drive my daughter to school — the best 20 minutes of my day — as we get uninterrupted time to talk and/or listen to audio books (latest one — The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs, an hilarious account of trying to literally follow the hundreds of commandments in the good book). As I said, nothing to write home about.

Continue reading…

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