The Michael Shermer Show
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.
274. Frans De Waal on Sex and Gender Across the Primate Spectrum
1 hr 27 mins
274. Frans De Waal on Sex and Gender Across the Primate Spectrum
What is gender? How different are men and women? Are differences due to biological sex or to culture? How do they compare with what is known about our fellow primates? Do apes also culturally learn their sex roles or is “gender” uniquely human? Shermer and de Waal discuss: sex and gender in humans, primates, and mammals • who you identify as vs. who you’re attracted to • binary vs. nonbinary vs. continuum: how fuzzy can human sex categories be for a sexually reproducing species? • gender differences in physical and mental characteristics • why would homosexuality evolve? • chimpanzees and bonobos • what is the “purpose” of orgasms in women, nipples in men? • myths of the demure female • rape in humans and other primates: what is the purpose — sex, power or both? • murder, and human violence: how do men and women differ? • dominance and power • rivalry, friendship, competition and cooperation • maternal and paternal care of the young • same-sex sex • monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, etc. in humans, primates & mammals • grandmother hypothesis • primates & primatologists, humans & anthropologists: bias in science • the future of primates and primatology. Frans de Waal has been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University’s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
1 hr 27 mins
273. Cathy Young — The Russian Riddle Wrapped in a Ukrainian Mystery Inside an American Enigma
Shermer and Young discuss: Florida’s “Don’t say ‘gay’” law • What is the appropriate age to discuss sex and gender issues with children? • sex, gender, and trans matters • Critical Race Theory, race and racism, and age appropriate discussions • white privilege and racial profiling • social media and political polarization • Putin, Russia, and Ukraine • Is there a Russian character that differs from that of Europeans or Americans? • What is Putin’s character and what does he want? • Aleksandr Dugin: Putin’s Rasputin and the drive to make Russia great again • What happens if Putin succeeds in Ukraine? What if he fails? • How should the west treat Russia and Putin in the future? • Should Putin be put on trial for war crimes? • U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and elsewhere, and its consequences • Could the conflict escalate from armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine to NATO and the U.S. and result in the use of tactical nuclear weapons and in the end global thermonuclear war? • What should NATO do now or in the near future? • From Soviet USSR to post-1990 Russia to Putin-Russia • Russian invasion of Ukraine moral equivalent to U.S. invasion of Iraq? • The moral equivalency between American foreign policy and Russian aggression. Cathy Young is a writer at The Bulwark. She is also a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute, a columnist for Newsday, and a contributing editor to Reason. Previously, she was an associate editor at ArcDigital and a columnist for the Boston Globe, the Detroit News, and RealClearPolitics. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Week, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, Quillette, the New Republic, and elsewhere. Young was born in Moscow and came to the United States with her family in 1980 and is the author of two books: Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality (Free Press, 1999) and Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood (Ticknor & Fields, 1989). She has a B.A. in English from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @CathyYoung63
2 hrs 5 mins
272. Stuart Vyse — The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational
Shermer and Vyse discuss: What is a delusion? • veridical perception • perceptual illusions and irrationalities • Kahneman vs. Gigerenzer: rationality, irrationality, and bounded rationality • Rational Choice Theory and Homo economicus • William Clifford v. William James: When is it ok to believe anything upon insufficient evidence? • pragmatic truths, 3 conditions: living hypothesis, forced question, momentous • death and delusion: Is it useful to believe death is not the end of consciousness and self? • paradoxical behavior and the search for underlying reasons for our actions • rational irrationalities • self delusions — that is, delusions about the self • optimism and overoptimism • depressive realism • bluffing self and others • lies vs. bullshit • self-control, will power, and time discounting • status quo bias • superstitions, rituals and incantations • faith and religion • delusion in love and marriage • brainwashing and influence (Stockholm Syndrome, etc.) • conformity, role playing, obedience to authority, and the banality of evil • the core of personality and the constructed self • free will and determinism. Psychologist Stuart Vyse’s new book, The Uses of Delusion, is about aspects of human nature that are not altogether rational but, nonetheless, help us achieve our social and personal goals. In his book, and in this conversation, Vyse presents an accessible exploration of the psychological concepts behind useful delusions, fleshing out how delusional thinking may play a role in love and relationships, illness and loss, and personality and behavior. Throughout, Vyse strives to answer the question: why would some of our most illogical beliefs be as helpful as they are? Vyse also suggests that evolutionary pressures may have led to the ability to fool ourselves in order to survive. Stuart Vyse is a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. He taught at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Connecticut College. Vyse’s book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstitionwon the 1999 William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association. He is a contributing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, where he writes the “Behavior & Belief” column, and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
May 17 2022
1 hr 25 mins
271. Peter Ward — The Price of Immortality: The Race to Live Forever
Shermer and Ward discuss: religious immortality • Church of Perpetual Life in Florida • what it means to live forever • why lives have doubled in length the past century • Stein’s Law: things that can’t go on forever won’t • Why do we age and die? • how to live to 100, 1000, 10,000 years • escape velocity to reach immortality • Aubrey de Grey’s program • tech billionaires programs • transhumanists/extropians • diet, exercise, supplements, stem cells, telomeres, and other aging hacks • Ray Kurzweil • cryonics • nanotechnology • brain preservation • mind uploading and digital immortality • Ernest Becker and Terror Management Theory Peter Ward is a British business and technology reporter whose reporting has taken him across the globe. Reporting from Dubai, he covered the energy sector in the Middle East before earning a degree in business journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His writing has appeared in Wired, The Atlantic, The Economist, GQ, BBC Science Focus, and Newsweek.
May 14 2022
1 hr 26 mins
270. Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrationality (Moshe Hoffman and Erez Yoeli)
Shermer, Hoffman, and Yoeli discuss: the problems game theory was developed to solve • How rational or irrational an animal are we? • the evolutionary logic of game theory • Alan Fiske’s four relationships • kin selection, altruism and reciprocal altruism • deception and self-deception • costly signaling theory • pirate rationality • virtue signaling • Putin, Russia, and Ukraine • Israeli-Palestinian conflict • justice, self-help justice, norms and laws • chemical weapons/nuclear weapons taboos/norms • dueling: what problem did it solve? • beliefs: first-order vs. second-order. Moshe Hoffman is a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, a research fellow at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and a lecturer at Harvard’s department of economics. His research focuses on using game theory, models of learning and evolution, and experimental methods to decipher the motives that shape our social behavior, preferences, and ideologies. He lives in Lubeck, Germany. Erez Yoeli is a research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the director of MIT’s Applied Cooperation Team (ACT), and a lecturer at Harvard’s department of economics. His research focuses on altruism: understanding how it works and how to promote it. Yoeli collaborates with governments, nonprofits, and companies to apply the lessons of this research towards addressing real-world challenges. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
May 10 2022
1 hr 57 mins
269. Richard Dawkins — Flights of Fancy: Defying Gravity by Design and Evolution
Do you sometimes dream you can fly like a bird? Gliding effortlessly above the treetops, soaring and swooping, playing and dodging through the third dimension. Computer games, virtual reality headsets, and some drugs can lift our imagination and fly us through fabled, magical spaces. But it’s not the real thing. No wonder some of the past’s greatest minds, including Leonardo da Vinci’s, have yearned for flying machines and struggled to design them. Shermer and Dawkins discuss: nationalism • Russian revanchism • the recent rise of authoritarianism and autocracies: worrying trend or temporary stumble in the arc of the moral universe? • U.S. acceptance of the theory of evolution finally breaks the 50% barrier • woke attacks on E. O. Wilson: why? • why Dawkins dedicated his book to Elon • What good is half a wing? • What is flight good for? • Why do some animals lose their wings? • Why flying is easier if you are small • physics of flying • unpowered flight: parachuting and gliding • powered flight and how it works • weightlessness • aerial plankton • winged plants • the difference between evolved and designed flying machines. Richard Dawkins is one of the world’s most eminent writers and thinkers, and a major contributor to the public understanding of the science of evolution. The award-winning author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, The God Delusion and a string of other bestselling science books, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Society of Literature.
May 7 2022
1 hr 28 mins
268. Douglas Murray on The War on the West: Race, Politics, and Culture
Shermer and Murray discuss: what it takes to become a successful writer • Is this “war” on Western civilization just a necessary course correction from the sins of the past? • Is at least some of the criticisms of Western civilization a form of revenge for past wrongs? • CRT: If racism is not the explanation for the present Black/White differences in income, wealth, home ownership, and representation in professional careers, what is? • Racism and Antiracism • 1619 Project • BLM movement • White privilege • Colonialism and decolonizing cultural things • Monuments • If Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln should be cancelled, what about Marx? • Anti-Semitism • Objectivity and the search for truth: is this a Western tradition only? • Reparations: don’t we have a moral obligation to right a wrong? Douglas Murray is an associate editor of The Spectator. His previous book, The Madness of Crowds, was a bestseller and a book of the year for The Times and The Sunday Times. His previous book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, was published by Bloomsbury in May 2017. It spent almost twenty weeks on the Sunday Times bestseller list and was a number one bestseller in nonfiction. His new book is The War on the West in which Murray shows how many well-meaning people have been fooled by hypocritical and inconsistent anti-West rhetoric.
May 3 2022
267. Louis Theroux on Neo-Nazis, Jimmy Savile, UFO Cults, and Scientology
Shermer and Theroux discuss: how documentary films are made • religious fanaticism and why people believe • UFO cults, end-times sects, and cognitive dissonance • Scientology: religion or cult? • neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism • prisons, pornography, and prostitution • Jeffrey Epstein and Jimmy Savile • self-help movements and gurus • deception and self-deception • social proof and human conformity • are humans naturally rational, irrational, or both? Louis Theroux is a genre-defining documentary filmmaker best known for his explorations of controversial and complex topics. Using a gentle questioning style and an informal approach, Louis has shone light on intriguing beliefs, behaviors, and institutions by getting to know the people at the heart of them — from the officers and inmates at San Quentin prison to the extreme believers of the Westboro Baptist Church; from male porn performers in California to young women with eating disorders in London.
Apr 30 2022
1 hr 29 mins
266. Jesse Singal on Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills
Michal Shermer and Jesse Singal discuss: how social scientists determine causality • Primeworld: cognitive priming and how it works (and doesn’t work) • The Malcolm Gladwell-effect (named after the 10,000-hour effect, by Anders Ericsson) • the self-esteem and self-help personal-empowerment movements • power posing and positive psychology • New Age self-help movements • Grit (stick-to-itiveness) (Darwin’s “dogged as does it.”) • Persistence is task specific and context dependent • Big 5 personality as determiners: Grit = Conscientiousness • Implicit Association Test and racism, misogyny, and bigotry • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it • choice architecture and the nudging of human behavior • race, gender, class, I.Q. and other radioactive topics in group differences • free will and determinism • nature/nurture and how lives turn out • abortion • and U.S. foreign policy. Jesse Singal is a contributing writer at New York and the former editor of the magazine’s Science of Us online vertical, as well as the cohost of the podcast Blocked and Reported. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Slate, The Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, and other publications. He is a former Robert Bosch Foundation fellow in Berlin and holds a master’s degree from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs.
Apr 26 2022
1 hr 29 mins
265. Christopher Blattman on Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace
Shermer and Blattman discuss: Putin, Russia, and Ukraine • game theory and violent conflict • 5 Reasons for conflict and war • common elements of conflict in Medellin, Chicago, Sudan, Somalia, etc. • U.S. foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and elsewhere, and its consequences • human nature and conflict: are we wired to fight or do environments push us into conflicts? • cooperation vs. competition / selfish genes vs. collection action problems • inner demons and better angels • violence and wars in our paleolithic ancestors • why violence has declined over the centuries • Chicago as a test case for theories of conflict and peace • why gangs, groups, and even nations mostly avoid conflict and war because of its consequences • and whether international aid and economic development attenuate violence. Dr. Christopher Blattman is the Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies (University of Chicago), where he coleads the Development Economics Center and directs the Obama Foundation Scholars program. His work on violence, crime, and poverty has been widely covered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Forbes, Slate, Vox, and NPR.
Apr 23 2022
1 hr 43 mins
264. Adam Levin on Identity Theft and How to Protect Yourself from Scammers, Phishers, and Fraudsters of All Types
Increasingly, identity theft is a fact of life: from fake companies selling “credit card insurance”; criminal, medical, and child identity theft; catphishers, tax fraud, fake debt collectors who threaten you with legal action; and much more. We might once have hoped to protect ourselves from hackers with airtight passwords and aggressive spam filters, and those are good ideas as far as they go. But with the breaches of huge organizations like Target, AshleyMadison.com, JPMorgan Chase, Sony, Anthem, and even the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, more than a billion personal records have already been stolen, and chances are good that you’re already in harm’s way. This doesn’t mean there’s no hope. Your identity may get stolen, but it doesn’t have to be a life-changing event. In this conversation, Shermer speaks with Adam Levin, a consumer advocate with more than 30 years’ experience in personal finance, privacy, real estate and government service. A former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Levin is Chairman and founder of CyberScout. A longtime consumer advocate and identity fraud expert, Levin provides a method to help you keep hackers, phishers, and spammers from becoming your problem. As Levin shows, these folks get a lot less scary if you see them coming.
Apr 18 2022
1 hr 40 mins
263. Dave Rubin — Left, Right, and Woke, based on his book Don’t Burn This Country: Surviving and Thriving in Our Woke Dystopia
In this conversation, Shermer speaks with Dave Rubin: New York Times bestselling author, and creator and host of The Rubin Report. According to Rubin, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that something dark is happening in America. Just look around: Massive corporations monitor our every move. The Thought Police stand ready to cancel any who dare think for themselves. Brainwashed activists openly attack the American experiment. The dystopian future we’ve been warned of is here. Dave Rubin has been on the front lines of the culture wars for years. Now, in his book entitled Don’t Burn This Country: Surviving and Thriving in Our Woke Dystopia, he offers tactics you can use to protect yourself from today’s authoritarian rule — from resisting the grip of Big Tech to staying sane in a post-truth world. What’s more, he offers a vision for the next generation of patriots who will need to face the future head-on, holding fast to their values and creating a meaningful life no matter how frenzied and fabricated the news of the day is. Rubin says that in order for free-thinking people to thrive in this era of woke lunacy, we need to step up and create freedom for ourselves. While exposing Progressive lies and offering practical advice you can employ right now, his book is a call for Americans to live the freest life possible — and a roadmap for saving the greatest country in the history of the world.
Apr 16 2022
1 hr 5 mins
262. Oliver Stone on Ukraine, Putin, and the Military-Industrial Complex
In episode 262, Shermer speaks with Oliver Stone about: the relationship with truth in dramatic films vs. documentary films; how the world would be different if JFK were not assassinated; why diplomacy and trade agreements are necessary with Russia, even now after the invasion of Ukraine; the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey, and Nikita Khrushchev’s response; Putin’s justifications for Soviet/Russian actions in Hungary, Afghanistan, Georgia, Chechnya, Syria, and Crimea; what he thinks Putin would say to justify the invasion of Ukraine; why he thinks we can’t trust Western media; U.S. foreign policy and how he thinks it is just as aggressive as Russia’s; and his moral equivalency argument for American vs. Russian aggression. Oliver Stone studied at Yale University, taught English in South Vietnam, and served in the Vietnam War in the U.S. Army where he earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. He then attended film school at NYU and studied under the acclaimed director Martin Scorsese. Stone won his first Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Midnight Express (1978) and won his second and third as Best Director for Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) respectively. Stone also wrote the screenplay for Scarface, which went on to become one of the most iconic films in history. His directed several documentary films, including Comandante (2003), the Putin Interviews (2017), and the controversial JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass (2021).
Apr 12 2022
261. Jim Al-Khalili on the Joy of Science
In this conversation with quantum physicist, New York Times bestselling author, and BBC host Jim Al-Khalili reveals how 8 lessons from the heart of science can help us all get the most out of our lives. Today’s world is unpredictable and full of contradictions, and navigating its complexities while trying to make the best decisions is far from easy. In this brief guide to leading a more rational life, acclaimed physicist Jim Al-Khalili invites readers to engage with the world as scientists have been trained to do. The scientific method has served humankind well in its quest to see things as they really are, and underpinning the scientific method are core principles that can help us all navigate modern life more confidently. Discussing the nature of truth and uncertainty, the role of doubt, the pros and cons of simplification, the value of guarding against bias, the importance of evidence-based thinking, and more, Al-Khalili shows how the powerful ideas at the heart of the scientific method are deeply relevant to the complicated times we live in and the difficult choices we make.
Apr 9 2022
1 hr 42 mins
260. Batya Ungar-Sargon — Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy
Something is wrong with American journalism. Long before “fake news” became the calling card of the Right, Americans had lost faith in their news media. But lately, the feeling that something is off has become impossible to ignore. That’s because the majority of our mainstream news is no longer just liberal; it’s woke. Today’s newsrooms are propagating radical ideas that were fringe as recently as a decade ago, including “antiracism,” intersectionality, open borders, and critical race theory. How did this come to be? It all has to do with who our news media is written by — and who it is written for. Michael Shermer speaks with Batya Ungar-Sargon about her new book Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy in which she reveals how American journalism underwent a status revolution over the twentieth century — from a blue-collar trade to an elite profession. As a result, journalists shifted their focus away from the working class and toward the concerns of their affluent, highly educated peers. Ungar-Sargon avers that, in abandoning the working class by creating a culture war around identity, our national media is undermining American democracy.
Apr 5 2022
2 hrs 19 mins
259. Ogi Ogas — Journey of the Mind: How Thinking Emerged from Chaos
Why do you exist? How did atoms and molecules transform into sentient creatures that experience longing, regret, compassion, and even marvel at their own existence? What does it truly mean to have a mind―to think? Science has offered few answers to these existential questions until now. Michael Shermer speaks with computational neuroscientist, Ogi Ogas, about his unified account of the mind that explains how consciousness, language, self-awareness, and civilization arose incrementally out of chaos, and how leading cities and nation-states are developing “superminds,” and perhaps planting the seeds for even higher forms of consciousness.
Apr 2 2022
1 hr 41 mins
258. Jacek Kugler — Putin & Power Transition Theory: China, Russia, and Ukraine
Michael Shermer speaks with Professor of International Relations, Dr. Jacek Kugler, about his Power Transition Theory which states that an even distribution of political, economic, and military capabilities between contending groups of states is likely to increase the probability of war; peace is preserved best when there is an imbalance of national capabilities between disadvantaged and advantaged nations; the aggressor will come from a small group of dissatisfied strong countries; and it is the weaker, rather than the stronger power that is most likely to be the aggressor. Shermer and Kugler discuss: Power Transition Theory and how it applies to Putin and Russia today; the relationship between a nation’s economic strength and its political power; where China figures into the future of the new world order; what happens if Putin succeeds in Ukraine? What if he fails?; What should the U.S. should have done in response to the annexation of Crimea, intervention in Syria, the destruction of Georgia and Chechnya, the imprisonment and murder of Russian dissidents?; What should NATO do now or in the near future?; and more…
Mar 29 2022
1 hr 25 mins
257. Simon Conway Morris on Design in Evolution & the Possibility of Purpose in the Cosmos
If extraterrestrial intelligences exist, will look anything like us? Are we alone in the cosmos? If we reran the tape of life, would humans appear again? Is there purpose in the cosmos? Shermer speaks with Cambridge evolutionary palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris whose latest book challenges six assumptions that too often pass as unquestioned truths amongst the evolutionary orthodox. These include the idea that evolution is boundless in the kinds of biological systems it can produce. Not true, he says. The process is highly circumscribed and delimited. Nor is it random. This popular notion holds that evolution proceeds blindly, with no endgame. But Conway Morris suggests otherwise, pointing to evidence that the processes of evolution are “seeded with inevitabilities.” Shermer and Morris also discuss: convergent evolution and directionality in evolution; chance, contingency, and law in evolution; theistic evolution and teleology in nature; why Morris is a Christian but rejects Intelligent Design creationism; free will and determinism; and whether there good arguments for God’s existence.
Mar 26 2022
256. Imagining the Future with Reality Game Designer and Futurist Jane McGonigal
Shermer speaks with world-renowned future forecaster and game designer, Jane McGonigal, about her book Imaginable in which she draws on the latest scientific research in psychology and neuroscience to show us how to train our minds to think the unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable by inviting us to play with provocative thought experiments and future simulations. Shermer and McGonigal discuss: what a futurist is and what they do; counterfactuals: predicting the past; how could the present moment be different?; how can you imagine the unimaginable, or think the unthinkable?; how to envision what our lives will look like ten years from now; how to to solve problems creatively; how to make decisions that will help shape the future we desire; how to simulate any future you want; simulations as thought experiments as counterfactual causality tests; gaming as simulation of problem solving; the 10,000-hour rule for success; your present self vs. your future self and why most of us discount the future too much.
Mar 22 2022
1 hr 9 mins
255. David Chalmers — Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy
Shermer speaks with University Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science and codirector of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University, Dr. David Chalmers, to discuss: the hard problem of consciousness; virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence; VR inside a VR, indistinguishable from Reality; Are we living in a simulation?; Can you live a good life in VR?; Can AI systems be conscious? and more… How do we know that there’s an external world? What is the nature of reality? What’s the relation between mind and body? Virtual reality is genuine reality; that’s the central thesis of David Chalmers’ book: Reality+ — a highly original work of “technophilosophy” in which Chalmers gives a compelling analysis of our technological future. He argues that virtual worlds are not second-class worlds, and that we can live a meaningful life in virtual reality. He uses virtual reality technology to offer a new perspective on long-established philosophical questions. We may even be in a virtual world already.
Mar 19 2022
1 hr 51 mins