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.
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. b******t • 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.