As humans, the way we process and react to information is influenced by both the biology of our brains as well as our social and cultural norms. We've talked many times here at PeakProsperity.com about the influence — conscious and subconsious — that our beliefs exert on our actions. Our past podcasts on behavioral economics have delved into this in detail.
But just because we believe something, that doesn't make it true. Which is why the scientific process is so important: when followed without bias, it enables us to understand reality as it truly is. And such accurate understanding of the facts allows us to make more useful decisions.
In this week's podcast, Chris speaks with Michael Shermer, monthly columnist for Scientific American and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, about the importance of cultivating a questioning mindset:
By skeptic, I just mean the scientific approach to claims and most scientists are skeptical by nature. Not by human nature, but by dent of their training because science starts with the hypothesis. It starts with the idea that whatever your claim is it’s not true until you prove to us otherwise. An example I use that everybody is familiar with…if you think you have a drug to cure AIDS or cancer or whatever, you can’t just send it to the FDA and ask for their approval without submitting your studies. Where are the peer-reviewed studies? Where are the journal articles? Where is your epidemiological evidence? Where is the controlled double blind experiments or something? You can’t just assert that something is true; you have to actually prove it. The FDA will not grant you permission to sell your drug until you prove to them that your drug is real. It’s always like that. You think Bigfoot is real? That’s nice, prove it. Show us the body. You want to name a new species in biology, you actually have to have a physical specimen that we can all look at. Grainy photographs, blurry videos and anecdotes about things that go bump in the night…that’s not evidence in science.
We start skeptical and then we go from there. It’s not like skeptics and scientists are curmudgeons and don’t believe everything. Just watch any science show, pick up any science book, there’s tons of things that scientists believe from the Big Bang Theory to quantum mechanics, to evolution germ theory of disease, plate tectonics in geology…tons and tons of theories that are believed in that sense because the evidence is there. Another analogy I make is are you a global warming skeptic or are you skeptical of the global warming skeptics, which would make you a believer? Skepticism is not just you go into it and you don’t believe anything period. It just depends on the particular claim and the evidence for it. I might be skeptical of global warming; I once was. Now I lean towards skepticism of the global warming skeptics because I think the evidence for global warming is pretty strong so that’s kind of a way to think about it.
By reason and science, I mean that the idea that we should try to solve problems in a rationale, systematic way…that really began with the scientific revolution and the enlightenment. It begins with Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and the idea that the universe is knowable…it’s governed by natural laws we can understand. From there it just trickled down into biology and economics. The original economists were really scientists working in areas unrelated to the economy. Francois Canet, the advisor to King Louis XIV in France, he’s the guy that coined the term “laissez-faire”…leave them alone. He said the economy is like blood flowing through the body; it needs to flow openly, freely, and if there’s too many obstructions it’s causing disease. Too many taxes cause disease of the economy. That’s where that idea comes from. The idea that an economy or a colony is governed by principles that we can understand and apply…that’s what we’ve been doing for centuries.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Michael Shermer (35m:41s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson, and it is July 22, 2016. For years, I thought I was in the information business. I gathered all the latest and greatest information from the fields of energy, the environment, and the economy. I carefully assembled it and presented it to many people, thinking that they would somehow see things differently as a result and, more importantly, take different actions in their lives as a result. Most didn’t, by which I mean 99% or more were unchanged by what I considered really earth shattering information about the trajectory of humanity over the next couple of decades.
So, I had to sit back, scratch my head, and take things from an entirely different angle. If information was perhaps necessary but insufficient to lead to personal change, what was still missing? After a lengthy detour through such fields as behavioral economics, psychology and addiction research among others, I had my answer…beliefs. Beliefs stood in the way. To effectively communicate challenging material, I had to be aware of the role of beliefs in causing people to either accept or reject information no matter how good that information was. Further, the way in which emotions and believes are intertwined was a complication. Given where we are in this crazy world today with more predicaments than you could sanely shake a stick at, and given how hard it is to dislodge cultural beliefs that stand in the way of progress, one could be forgiven for wondering if there’s any hope left…but there is, there always is.
Our surprising messenger of hope today is Dr. Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, a regular contributor to time.com, and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. His new book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Towards Truth, Justice, and Freedom. He is also the author of The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--How we Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. These are both books that I’m really looking forward to diving into here today. Welcome, Michael. Before we dive into your books, how did you come to be the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine? I’m wondering what events motivated you to place your energies there.
Michael Shermer: Well a couple things. First, I’m a science guy. I have training in the social sciences, experimental psychology in particular, and my Ph.D. is in the history of science. So, I have a broad education in a lot of different sciences and in the scientific method itself. When I was in graduate school the first time in the late 70’s, there was much scientific interest in the paranormal, ESP, psychic power, telekinesis…that sort of thing. Llife after death and whatnot. There were scientists doing this research and I thought there might be something to it, since I was just a grad student. So what do I know…so I was interested in it that way and then I was also interested in the intersection between science and culture, science and politics when I was doing research on the creationist movement in the 1980’s, when I was in my history and science doctoral program and why it is that people could not accept evolutionary theory. I mean, it was so obviously true. It was centuries worth of evidence piled up in support of it, and yet there was this pocket of pretty much only American fundamentalists, religious people who would not accept it. It was obvious to me there were some cultural, political, religious, whatever motive behind that. So that got me interested in motivated reasoning and the psychology of belief.
When we founded Skeptic magazine in the early 90’s…’92, as a science magazine that would specialize in areas that other science magazines didn’t cover. For example, for my monthly column in Scientific American called Skeptic, I would deal with say…the climate deniers, whereas scientists in the magazine as a whole would deal with climate science. I would deal with the margins, the fringes, the areas that had to do with belief for example. So, that’s sort of the background.
Chris Martenson: Well, if we could spend just a little time there, I know you’ve got a new book out but I’d like to go back to The Believing Brain for a second because it’s so important to what you’re saying and to my own work. What is a belief in your words and how important are they in our daily lives?
Michael Shermer: Well, beliefs are kind of broken down into either thoughts or language by which we communicate, and they’re the things that we hold to be true about any number of different areas,; anything simple from physics like: if I drop something it will fall, if I jump off a cliff I will die, my car will do this and that, just basic stuff…folk biology that organisms are alive and have an essence to them and they’ll act a certain way in a predictable manner. And then folk economics, folk politics…the way we think the world works by our intuitions. Those we evolved. There’s good reasons why, for example, people are uncomfortable with economic inequality; because our species evolved in these tiny groups, these small bands of hunter/gatherers that had very few resources at all. And there was much transparency in the group, because there’s not much else to do and everybody could see how much everybody had, which was not much. That’s what we’re used to, so when there’s cumulative wealth, and there’s not transparency, it feels like something is up…like somebody is cheating the system, somebody is getting too much. That would be an example of folk economics that runs counter to how we know markets worked, and so much of the modern world is counterintuitive to our intuitions about how the world works.
Chris Martenson: I think implicit in that is that what we’re seeing is what we’re getting. It’s certainly true that humans are motivated by incentives and we have very complex systems and some people have better access to the complexities of those systems. I would dare say that in my experience, and it’s fairly considerable at this point…we do not have a level playing field when it comes to markets at this point in time. As much as people would like to believe in free markets, my direct experience is they’re not free. We have asymmetry’s of information, colocations of servers, a variety of things that clearly say there is something less than a level playing field from time to time, but I will agree with you that as primates we’re wired for fairness. It’s part of our social package, our software package if you will. Can you talk to us about that sense of injustice and unfairness and how that forms our actions here?
Michael Shermer: Sure, it’s definitely genetic. In my talks I like to use this video clip from Franz de Waal’s research with capuchin monkeys…
Chris Martenson: Oh, the grape video!
Michael Shermer: You’ve seen that.
Chris Martenson: I love that one.
Michael Shermer: These monkeys, for your listeners, are trained to swap a little pebble for a piece of food and by the time they run the experiment in the day they’re hungry so they’re motivated and so they run over and get a little pebble and give it to the experimenter, who gives them a slide of cucumber and they like cucumbers…but they like grapes even better so they’ll work harder for grapes. They’ll swap two stones for a grape versus one stone for a slide of cucumber. Anyway, in this famous experiment there’s two side-by-side capuchin monkeys in a transparent cage and the one gets a slice of cucumber and he eats it and the other one swaps and gets a cucumber. Then the next one, in the next round, the other monkey gets a grape and so the first monkey sees this…Oh, we get a grape, oh boy! He runs and gets his pebble and gives it to the experimenter and he’s looking forward to getting his grape and instead he gets a cucumber slice and you can see he is not happy about this. He throws the cucumber slice back at the experimenter, he pounds on the cage floor, he rattles the cage walls. These are small-brained monkeys. They don’t have language. They can’t say…Hey, that’s not cool! I am not pleased! But they can express those emotions through their behavior and it's clear what their actions are saying. There’s lots of examples of that. The fact that we’re separated by tens of millions of years of evolutionary history with capuchin monkeys tells us that the sense of fairness is deeply ingrained in all humans.
We know from these experimental behavioral games that are played around the world with, not just Western cultured people, but in eastern cultures, and in traditional societies, and farming societies, and herding societies. Everybody has a sense of fairness and when somebody gets something more than you and it isn’t clear why they got it, the immediate impulse is to think they got it unfairly. Really historically, even the last couple thousand years, that often was the case. The system was hugely rigged through kings, and priests getting the unfair share of the goods from the commoners. The whole system has always been rigged so all we can say about our system is that it’s not as bad as it used to be [laughs] and that it’s getting better. And the whole idea of constantly tweaking our governance system is to try and lower the barriers to entry for everybody and to make it as fair as possible, which is why we have insider trading laws for example. The same thing with doping in sports. You have the rules; you try to enforce the rules,. It’s not a perfect system.
Chris Martenson: Indeed, and I would say that at this point in history, as we look around what’s really happening across the world, we might say that science has brought us really far and we would love for it to continue. There seems to be some counter-veiling forces always because what’s the old…science advances one funeral at a time. There are certainly some elements now, perhaps in our education system or otherwise, that might lead one to suspect that science is sometimes getting a bad rap. In some cases, we have organized PR firms that are actively undermining what I consider to be science. First, the definition of a skeptic is a person who is inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions, but you’re promoting something called skepticism and perhaps that’s something different. What is the difference?
Michael Shermer: By skeptic, I just mean the scientific approach to claims, and most scientists are skeptical by nature. Not by human nature, but by dint of their training, because science starts with the hypothesis. It starts with the idea that whatever your claim is it’s not true until you prove to us otherwise. An example I use that everybody is familiar with…if you think you have a drug to cure AIDS or cancer or whatever, you can’t just send it to the FDA and ask for their approval without submitting your studies. Where are the peer-reviewed studies? Where are the journal articles? Where is your epidemiological evidence? Where is the controlled double blind experiments or something? You can’t just assert that something is true; you have to actually prove it. The FDA will not grant you permission to sell your drug until you prove to them that your drug is real. It’s always like that. You think Bigfoot is real? That’s nice, prove it. Show us the body. You want to name a new species in biology, you actually have to have a physical specimen that we can all look at. Grainy photographs, blurry videos and anecdotes about things that go bump in the night…that’s not evidence in science.
We start skeptical and then we go from there. It’s not like skeptics and scientists are curmudgeons and don’t believe everything. Just watch any science show, pick up any science book. There’s tons of things that scientists believe from the Big Bang Theory to quantum mechanics, to evolution germ theory of disease, plate tectonics in geology…tons and tons of theories that are believed in that sense because the evidence is there. Another analogy I make is: Are you a global warming skeptic or are you skeptical of the global warming skeptics, which would make you a believer? Skepticism is not just you go into it and you don’t believe anything period. It just depends on the particular claim and the evidence for it. I might be skeptical of global warming; I once was. Now I lean towards skepticism of the global warming skeptics, because I think the evidence for global warming is pretty strong. So, that’s kind of a way to think about it.
Chris Martenson: I note that you were once a skeptic of global warming, but then new facts came to your attention that skepticism experienced a conversion of sorts. I’m interested in that process of how, if I can paraphrase what you said…skepticism is a method, not a position. It’s saying…Listen, until the facts come in I’m going to hold this view. When new facts come in, I might hold this view. Take us through that journey of conversion. You were skeptical in the first place, but you shifted. What caused that shift with global warming for you?
Michael Shermer: It was really starting to look at the primary literature, the scientific papers. Cumulatively, to be honest, I’d been a skeptic a long time; really since the 70’s when I started college when the doomsayers were making these claims about the end of the rain forest, and the hole in the ozone, and peak oil, and running out of minerals, running out of gas, overpopulation, billions of people would die…none of this happened and by the 90’s I thought…You know what? These guys are doomsayers. I think they’ve gone too far here; I’m skeptical.
I didn’t pay that close of attention to the research on global warming in particular until I was at my first TED in 2006, before TED was a big thing and Al Gore gave his lecture on The Inconvenient Truth. It became a movie later, but that was his keynote slide show that he became famous for…that’s where he gave it. I saw it and I went…Huh, okay. There’s a lot of stuff going on here. I’d better read more about it. It wasn’t that Al Gore turned me into a global warming believer, but he stimulated me to at least read the primary literature and science and I did and there’s just tons of it. We did issues in Skeptic on it pro and con by global warming skeptics published in there and I gave it a fair shot, both sides, but I just came to the conclusion that it’s very probably real and very probably human caused.
Chris Martenson: That’s fascinating. I saw you most recently at Freedom Fest 2016 in Las Vegas, where you were part of a mock trial where the claims of global warming were being both prosecuted and defended. Tell us about the experience for you, and how did it turn out? What did you learn?
Michael Shermer: I’ve been going to Freedom Fest for years. Mark Skousen is a good friend of mine, and so he talked me into doing the mock trial. We have to remember it’s just kind of for fun and sort of a show. It’s entertaining. Okay, that’s fine…so they actually have a jury and a judge. Michael Medved was the judge and they handpicked the people from the audience as the jury. They tried to convict me of exaggerating the evidence and the jury was hung at 6:6 so I was acquitted in that sense so I feel like I won, which was my second victory of the day, because earlier in the day I debated Dinish D’Souza on the Bible…good book or bad book…and I won that one. I converted more people to my side by show of hands before and after, so it was kind of a double whammy victory for me. I felt pretty good about that, but of course, that’s not how science works. It’s not done by debate or vote. When we talk about consensus in climate science it isn’t a democracy. It isn’t that we’re basing our truths on how many people think it’s true…no. It’s that the people that are most qualified to assess the evidence have come to a sort of consilience or convergence of evidence towards one conclusion.
I cited a study I wrote about in Scientific American that the number we often hear…97% of scientists believe in global warming…that’s not actually correct. A study found that 97% of 11,000 published papers concluded that global warming is real and human caused. What about the other 3%? Maybe they’re right. Maybe the 97% is wrong and the 3% is right; it’s happened before. The authors of this paper pointed out that there was no convergence of evidence in the 3%. In other words, they didn’t all conclude that: it’s due to sun spots, it’s due to volcanic activity, it’s due to misreading of the earth’s temperatures because the thermometers were in cities instead of out in the rural areas…nothing like that. They were all over the board whereas the 97% all converged to the same lines of evidence over and over and over. The reason that’s particular powerful is these are different scientists working in different areas. They don’t even know each other. They don’t go to the same conferences. tThey don’t publish in the same journals. Some of them are physicists, some are meteorologists, some are ecologists, geologists…they have lots of different fields, and so it’s not like they’re meeting on the weekends to get their story straight because we’ve got to destroy capitalism and free trade. No, nothing like that at all.
That’s also what helped turn me around was so many scientists from so many different fields who don’t work together, don’t even know each other, keep coming to this conclusion over and over again that tells us that it’s a fairly robust theory.
Chris Martenson: Indeed, I had an interesting experience sitting towards the back of the audience at that trial where you were on trial. A gentleman in front of me, when he was presented with…you presented some carbon dioxide data that came from bubbles, that came out of the ice cores, and went back a number of years…and he just flatly shook his head and said…”Blah, blah, blah.” That was his rejection method…”Blah, blah, blah.” He didn’t believe it. But then there was this former Princeton professor who came on and said…”Oh by the way, we have CO2 data that goes back 65 million years and that shows that it was higher once”, and this guy shook his head up and down and said…”Yeah, how about that.” He loved one piece of data, hated the other. Presumably, both came from scientific methods. One confirmed beliefs, one ran afoul and therein lies the difference in his reaction.
Michael Shermer: That’s right. You have to accept evidence even when it goes against your belief. This is the problem with certain areas of science. When they bump up against moral foundations or world views that are important…deep world views…religion, politics, economics, ideology…most people accept most of science so it’s not like Republicans hate science. No they don’t. They love science. They use science and technology all the time. It’s only certain areas like creationism, because the theory of evolution feels like it's threatening our religion. Well, when I point out that it doesn’t have to threaten religion at all…you can be a Christian and believe that evolution was the means that God used to create diversity of life. Oh, okay! In fact, millions, many millions, tens of millions of American Christians believe that. The statistics are about 45% of Americans believe that evolution was God’s way of creating life. Okay, I’m an atheist. I’m a materialist. I don’t accept that, but I’m happy to give them that…whatever it takes for improving science education.
With global warming there’s this sense that if it’s real, then the government is going to impose these draconian laws that will restrict free trade, and capitalism, and business, and the economy, and we’ll go to hell in a handbasket because of that. No, I don’t think so at all. First of all, I don’t think that’s the solution. I think markets can solve the solution…people like Elon Musk, electric cars, whatever. If there’s a way to make money capturing carbon dioxide, some entrepreneur will do it [laughs] so I say…Katie, bar the door, let people have at it…solar panels, whatever. The deeper point is that it’s true whether you want it to be true or not so let’s look at why did you not want it to be true and diffuse that bomb. It’s not going to take away your world view. It’s not a threat to your ideology.
Chris Martenson: Well in that vein then, let’s turn now to your new book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Towards Truth, Justice & Freedom. In there, you present evidence that scientific rationalism is responsible for moral progress. First, is that an accurate way to capture that and second, what exactly do you mean by moral progress?
Michael Shermer: Yup, that’s an accurate assessment. By moral progress, I mean things are getting better in the long run. Follow the trend lines not the headline. This tragedy in Munich is unfolding in the news right here in front of me…six dead, another shooter, who knows…could be terrorism, could be a nut ball or whatever. If all you did was watch the news, it would seem like things are bad and getting worse when you talk about moral progress. We have to look at the long run and the long term over the course of centuries. I really start centuries or even millennia ago and look at how things used to be compared to now. I think of it as three steps forward, two steps back in terms of progress. There’s always going to be enough bad things that happen to fill the evening news with bad news because that’s what news does but if you look at the long term trend, the expansion of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, the abolition of slavery, the abolition of torture, worker’s rights, children’s rights, there’s just lots and lots of ways that we’ve tweaked the system for more people to have more prosperity, freedom, liberty, and choice than ever before.
You and I as men would have had a pretty high probability of dying violently if we were living in the Paleolithic era as the small bands of hunter/gatherers were constantly at war with each other, constantly fighting over land, and resources, and women, and it was dangerous place to be and we just don’t have that anymore. The raw numbers from World War II are staggering but the percentage of the population that dies violently is much lower…orders of magnitude lower than it was thousands of years ago. So, in the long run things are getting better. There is an arc to the moral universe, as Dr. King said, which inspired my title The Moral Arc.
By reason and science, I mean that the idea that we should try to solve problems in a rationale, systematic way…that really began with the scientific revolution and the enlightenment. It begins with Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and the idea that the universe is knowable…it’s governed by natural laws we can understand. From there it just trickled down into biology and economics. The original economists were really scientists working in areas unrelated to the economy. Francois Canet, the advisor to King Louis XIV in France - he’s the guy that coined the term “laissez-faire”…leave them alone - he said the economy is like blood flowing through the body; it needs to flow openly, freely, and if there’s too many obstructions it’s causing disease. Too many taxes cause disease of the economy. That’s where that idea comes from. The idea that an economy or a colony is governed by principles that we can understand and apply…that’s what we’ve been doing for centuries, so that’s what I mean by that.
Chris Martenson: So this is a moral arc then that you’re describing where we build upon past progress, and off we go, even though we seem to have some temporary setbacks like ISIS seems to be a little bit of a throwback. You said an important word in there, though, about the Paleolithic’s…they were fighting over resources; be that land, food, women, whatever the resource was in question. I want to get your opinion on how much the moral arc is indeed due to a relative abundance that people can experience and what might happen if, in your mind, to the moral arc if suddenly humans encountered something like you were talking about in the 70’s…if we did experience a shortage of resources, since most wars, even Paleolithic and modern times are wars of resources in one form or another? What would happen to the moral arc, do you think, in a time of declining or stagnant resources?
Michael Shermer: Well, two things. First, it’s an intuitive idea that if life is good, then there’s moral progress, and if life is harsh them things get worse morally. But it could easily be argued the other way, that if you’re mistreated, if you’re poor, if your life is nasty, brutish, short and miserable, maybe you’re more sympathetic and empathetic with people that are also in your plight, so you’re less likely to be violent to them. It could go either way, so the question is, historically: Did it happen? And the answer is: The timing is not quite right. For example, some of the most brutal treatment of other people has happened during the Roman Empire at its height, when it was very prosperous, all the way to some of the Arab States today, where they have unfathomable amounts of wealth and yet they have the worst track record of civil rights. It’s not necessarily true that as life gets better we’re nicer to each other. That said, if we ran out of water, yes of course, that’s going to cause some conflict locally, but I think globally the expansion of the moral sphere has been due to other things, not so directly related to prosperity.
Prosperity has more indirect causes. So, for example, democracies are better than theocracies and autocracies for a lot of reasons, not the least of which, economies are more likely to flourish and wealthier countries can spend more on healthcare, education and so on, and an educated populus is likely to be more economically prosperous, and so it feeds back on itself. The rich shall get richer…the Matthew effect. Those are hard to untangle. It’s a thick web of causal variables going on there…democracy, free markets, education, health…they’re all going upwards, so it’s hard to pin which one is the main cause.
Chris Martenson: It’s interesting. I just finished reading a book called Why Nations Fail…interesting hypothesis in there. It has a good explanatory track record for why some nations succeed and others don’t, and in there I think the main conclusion would be if you have inclusive political institutions, meaning there isn’t just a tyrant and things don’t corruptively end up in the hands of a few, that’s marker number one. Number two, you need to have free markets and free access to capital, and there has to be a level playing field. That’s why I think that it’s really absolutely critical that we understand things like where does this moral progress come from and why do things succeed and fail, because there are in my estimation certainly some dark clouds on the horizon for things like freedom, which is why I attended Freedom Fest. To really understand what are the trends in play, what are the forces, certainly there have been some things that I consider to be counterproductive to inclusive political institutions and free markets [that] have developed of late, and of course you can’t…what would I say…you can’t just assume they’re going to be there. These are things that have to be carefully guarded, I would suppose.
Michael Shermer: Absolutely, there’s nothing inevitable about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice and freedom and prosperity. The whole thing could turn around. This is not a gallein Marxist type end of history…the whole thing could go south on us for sure. But the further down the path you go, the less likely it is to make a massive reversal like that. Just think about, for example, everybody is worried about Putin. But what are the chances of Putin cobbling together something the equivalent of the USSR in the 1960’s and 70’s…all those states? The chances are pretty slim of that happening. Same thing with slavery. Slavery is illegal in every country in the world now. It’s still practiced a little bit in the form of slave labor and sex trafficking, but it’s illegal in those countries and the laws are just not enforced because the governments are corrupt. So, it’s really a pragmatic problem of law and order, rather than convincing people that slavery is bad. So, we’ve won those battles. Chances of any group of people voting back into their Constitution slavery is pretty nil. It would require a massive extinction of most of humanity and starting over for those kinds of institutions to come back. So, I think we [have] made so much progress that we can be fairly optimistic about that. We’re really talking about fine tuning the system here and there. As you said, setbacks in freedom here and there, you have to follow the Freedom House Survey every year…it goes up and down. This many countries are free, and this many countries are partially free, and not very free, and these are definitely not free. They have these categories and that kind of waxes and wanes. It’s not the all-time high right now. It’s down a little bit. Why? Why did that happen? Well, Syria for example. There’s been an uptick in homicides in Chicago. Why? There’s been an uptick in battle deaths because of Syria. Why? It really comes down to the details of figuring out the specific cause of the problem in that particular area to reverse the trend back in a positive way.
Chris Martenson: Well, Michael, in closing here, I have to ask…I ran across a really charming story you wrote a while ago about an event that shook your skepticism to the core. It was around your wedding. I’m wondering if you would relate that experience and if you have had any other thoughts about it since.
Michael Shermer: Oh sure, yes [laughs]…it was a little bit out of character for me, but it happened. So, I wrote about it in one of my columns in Scientific American - about the day my wife and I got married here at my house. She moved here to LA from Cologne, Germany. So, this was quite a step for her; and the steps that led to us getting married on this particular day were kind of random and it just happened because of immigration law and stuff like that. Better to do it now than later, okay…let’s do it this particular day…boom. It was kind of upon us quickly and there was no time for any of her friends or family to be here, so she was feeling kind of lonely and bad that I had my friends and family here and she had nobody. She was raised by a single mom and a grandfather, and her grandfather passed away now and she was close to him. So, she shipped over this radio that they used to listen to music on…classical music. It didn’t work and I couldn’t get it to work. I spent time trying to get it to work: new batteries, checking the wiring, but it was dead. So, I put it in the back of a drawer in the bedroom. Anyway, long story short, we’re getting ready and all of a sudden we heard music playing in our bedroom. It’s like…I don’t have a stereo system. Maybe my iPhone is on or something. No, it’s not the iPhone. Laptop? No, not the laptop. Neighbors? No, not the neighbors. Where is this music coming from? It was right underneath the printer/FAX machine and it's like…wait a minute, these things have a lot of functions, but they don’t have a radio, do they [laughs]? Sure enough we open the drawer and it turns out it was the radio playing. Totally random, came on at the very moment she called me to the back of the bedroom to just have a moment of privacy, because she was feeling so bad, and there was her grandfather’s radio playing classical music. It played the rest of the day and night, went dead the next morning, and it’s been dead ever since, despite my efforts.
What does it mean? I don’t know. I’m not going to take the leap that…oh boy, her grandfather was channeling through this particular radio station…who knows, but it’s the timing, the emotional component to it, and since I wrote about that I got hundreds of letters from people saying similar things happened to them. So, I think we should keep an open mind about the fact that anomalous experiences can have an effect on people’s lives, and that it’s okay to think about it and experience it. We don’t have to go crazy and project some new age theory about quantum physics, and consciousness, and life after death. Just enjoy the mystery and leave it at that. Even a skeptic scientist like me can say…You know what? I don’t know everything. Science doesn’t know everything. Who knows? I don’t know and I’m just going to appreciate it.
Chris Martenson: Well said. You know, I’m a scientist myself with Ph.D. in neurotoxicology and you know what Michael, I used to know it all. The older I get, the less I know. Science is uncovering mystery after mystery. Just for myself, looking at how the gut biome exploded across our consciousness and awareness, there’s so much yet to learn, so I love keeping the mystery open. It's healthy, I think, to understand we don’t know everything by any stretch.
We’ve been talking with Michael Shermer. He is the founder and publisher of Skeptic magazine and the author of the new book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Towards Truth, Justice & Freedom. Michael, thank you so much for your time today.
Michael Shermer: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.