Since 1992, the Skeptics Society has sponsored the Distinguished Science Lecture Series, hosting hundreds of the biggest names in science. Covering the most cutting edge discoveries and controversial topics in all of science, this series of lectures has enabled students, educators, and the general public to hear what’s new in science and skepticism. These lectures have helped people learn how to think critically about claims made in the name of science.
Big names. Even bigger ideas. The Skeptics Society's Distinguished Science Lecture Series.
Now you can watch some of our most popular science lectures right here on Vimeo On Demand.
- Dr. Charles Adler—Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction 76 mins
FROM TELEPORTATION AND SPACE ELEVATORS to alien contact and interstellar travel, science fiction and fantasy writers have come up with some brilliant and innovative ideas. Yet how plausible are these ideas? Which concepts might actually happen, and which ones wouldn’t work at all? A professor of physics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Adler delves into the most extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy—time warps, shape changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle—and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena. From the works of Ursula K. Le Guin to Star Trek and Avatar, Adler considers what might become reality. He examines space travel and wonders why it isn’t cheaper and more common today, and discusses exoplanets and how the search for alien life has shifted from radio communications to space-based telescopes. He concludes by investigating the future survival of humanity and other intelligent races.
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WHETHER IT’S IN A COCKPIT AT TAKEOFF OR THE PLANNING OF AN OFFENSIVE WAR, a romantic relationship or a dispute at the office, there are many opportunities to lie and self-deceive—but deceit and self-deception carry the costs of being alienated from reality and can lead to disaster. So why does deception play such a prominent role in our everyday lives?
In his bold new work, Rutgers University evolutionary theorist Robert Trivers unflinchingly argues that self-deception evolved in the service of deceit—the better to fool others. We do it for biological reasons—in order to help us survive and procreate. From viruses mimicking host behavior to humans misremembering (sometimes intentionally) the details of a quarrel, science has proven that the deceptive one can always outwit the masses. But we undertake this deception at our own peril.
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SOME CENTRAL QUESTIONS in the natural and social sciences can’t be answered by controlled laboratory experiments, often considered to be the hallmark of the scientific method. This impossibility holds for any science concerned with the past. In addition, many manipulative experiments, while possible, would be considered immoral or illegal. One has to devise other methods of observing, describing, and explaining the world. Jared Diamond, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning Guns, Germs, and Steel and the bestselling work in environmental history Collapse, here reveals for the first time his methodology in the applied use of natural experiments and the comparative method. In this lecture based on his new edited volume, Natural Experiments of History, Diamond presents eight comparative studies drawn from history, archaeology, economics, economic history, geography, and political science. The studies cover a spectrum of approaches, ranging from a non-quantitative narrative style to quantitative statistical analyses. The studies range from a simple two-way comparison of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, to comparisons of 81 Pacific islands and 233 areas of India. The societies discussed are contemporary ones, literate societies of recent centuries, and non-literate past societies.
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- Dr. Stephen Jay Gould—Evolution Revolution: Festschrift 2000 for Stephen Jay Gould, Part III 124 mins
DR. STEPHEN JAY GOULD is one of the best known and most highly decorated scientists of our age. Gould delivers a remarkable lecture filled with wit, charm, and historical anecdote. He traced the history of Western culture’s uneasy relationship with the pedestal-shattering discoveries of science. The single best lecture in the history of the Skeptics Society. Don’t miss this one!
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RENOWNED PHILOSOPHER and public intellectual, Dr. Dennett, drawing on evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, economics and philosophy, demonstrates that free will exists in a deterministic world for humans only, and that this gives us morality, meaning, and moral culpability. This is the sequel to his bestseller Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.
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HISTORY USUALLY FOCUSES ON BELIEF SYSTEMS, but those who doubt were often engines of creativity and social advances. Dr. Jennifer Michael Hecht shows that doubt has a vibrant story and tradition with its own saints, martyrs, and sages. Hecht blends her wide-ranging historical expertise, passionate admiration of the great doubters, and poet’s sensibility to tell a stimulating story that is part intellectual history and part showcase of ordinary people asking themselves the difficult questions that confront us all.
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THE HOTTEST CULTURAL CONTROVERSY OF 2005 was the Intelligent Design challenge to the theory of evolution, being played out in classrooms and courtrooms across America. The crux of the argument made by proponents of Intelligent Design is that the theory of evolution is in serious trouble. They claim that the evidence for evolution is weak, the gaps in the theory are huge, and that these flaws should be taught to students. In this brilliant synthesis of scientific data and theory, Occidental College geologist, paleontologist, and evolutionary theorist Dr. Donald Prothero will present the best evidence we have that evolution happened, why Darwin’s theory still matters, and what the real controversies are in evolutionary biology.
Dr. Donald Prothero teaches Physical and Historical Geology, Sedimentary Geology, and Paleontology. His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic. His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 and 40 million years ago, using the technique of magnetic stratigraphy. He is the author of Evolution: What the Fossils Say & Why it Matters, Evolution of the Earth, Bringing Fossils to Life, After the Dinosaurs, Horns, Tusks, and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals, and the textbook Sedimentary Geology.
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THE CONCEPT OF ADDITIONAL SPATIAL DIMENSIONS is as far from intuitive as any idea can be. In this lecture based on her new book, Dr. Randall employs creative analogies to explain how our universe may have many unseen dimensions. Randall works hard to make her astoundingly complex material understandable, providing a great deal of background for recent advances in string and supersymmetry theory. As coauthor of the two most important scientific papers on this topic, she’s ideally suited to explain these ideas. Although physicists do not yet know if there are extra dimensions a fraction of a millimeter in size, dimensions of infinite size, or only the dimensions we see, Randall shows how these theories will be tested in coming years.
Dr. Randall is a professor of physics at Harvard University and one of the leading theoretical physicists in the world today who works on string theory, particle physics, and cosmology.
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ONE OF THE GREATEST THINKERS of our age tackles one of the most important questions of our time: why people believe in God and how religion shapes our lives and our future. In this lecture, based on his new book of the same title, Dr. Dennett shows that for the vast majority of people there is nothing more important than religion. It is an integral part of their marriage, child rearing, and community. Dennett takes a hard look at this phenomenon and asks: Where does our devotion to God come from and what purpose does it serve? Is religion a blind evolutionary compulsion or a rational choice? In a spirited investigation that ranges widely through history, philosophy, and psychology, Dennett explores how organized religion evolved from folk beliefs and why it is such a potent force today. Deftly and lucidly, he contends that the “belief in belief” has fogged any attempt to rationally consider the existence of God and the relationship between divinity and human need.
Dr. Dennett is a professor and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, and the author of the highly acclaimed Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Consciousness Explained, and Freedom Evolves.
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WHY DO PEOPLE DODGE RESPONSIBILITY when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell? Renowned social psychologist Dr. Carol Tavris takes a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right — a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong. Dr. Tavris is a social psychologist and author of Anger and The Mismeasure of Woman. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Scientific American, and many other publications. This lecture, entitled “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts,” is based on her new book, co-authored with Dr. Elliot Aronson.
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IN THIS UNUSUAL TAG-TEAM LECTURE Zak and Shermer debunk two myths: (1) Homo economicus: that “economic man” is rational, free and selfish and (2) that evolution and economics are based almost entirely on cutthroat competition and self-maximizing greed. In Zak’s Moral Markets and Shermer’s The Mind of the Market, the authors demonstrate that people are as irrational with money as they are in all other aspects of life, and that Alfred Tennyson’s characterization of competition in nature — “red in tooth and claw” — and the Gordon Gekko “greed is good” characterization of capitalism are woefully incomplete in understanding how evolution and economics works.
Dr. Paul Zak is at the Center for Neuroeconomics, Claremont Graduate University, where he conducts research on the neurobiology of trust, the relationship of touch, oxytocin, and trust, social cognition producing cooperation or conflict, and the link between economic systems, social structures, and trust. He earned his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 and is the editor of such technical books as The Euro, the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System and Monetary Stability and Economic Growth. His new book is Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy.
Dr. Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, an Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University, and the author of Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and The Science of Good and Evil. His latest book is The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics.
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THE TWELFTH CENTURY BIRTHED A NEW BRAND of sanctioned terror, an international network of secret police and courts, an army of inquisitors whose sworn duty was to seek out anyone regarded as an enemy, and a casualty list numbering in the tens of thousands. The original agents of the Inquisition — priests and monks, scribes and notaries, attorneys and accountants, torturers and executioners — were deputized by the Church and their worst excesses were excused as the pardonable sins of soldiers engaged in a holy war against heresy.
In this lecture based on his new book, Jonathan Kirsch delivers a sweeping and provocative history that explores how the Inquisition was honed to perfection and brought to bear on an ever-widening circle of victims by authoritarians in both church and state for over 600 years. Ranging from the Knights Templar to the first Protestants, from Joan of Arc to Galileo; from the torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent women during the Witch Craze to its greatest power in Spain after 1492, when the secret tribunals were directed for the first time against Jews and Muslims to the modern war on terror — Kirsch shows us how the Inquisition stands as a universal and ineradicable symbol of the terror that results when absolute power corrupts.
Jonathan Kirsch is the author of the best-selling and critically acclaimed The Harlot by the Side of the Road, Moses, The Woman Who Laughed at God, and A History of the End of the World. Kirsch is also a book columnist for the Los Angeles Times, an attorney, and a guest host and commentator on NPR.
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- Dr. William Lobdell—How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America (and Found Unexpected Peace) 71 mins
WILLIAM LOBDELL'S JOURNEY of faith — and doubt — is one of the most compelling spiritual memoirs of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell — a veteran journalist — noticed that religion wasn’t covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith. What happened next was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall Street firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn’t exist. He explored every doubt, every question — until, finally, his faith collapsed. Hear his remarkable story in this lecture based on his new book.
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RICHARD DAWKINS BEGINS by explaining that all of his previous books naïvely assumed the fact of evolution, which meant that he never got around to laying out the evidence that evolution is true. Dawkins also came to realize that a disturbingly large percentage of the American and British public didn’t share his enthusiasm for evolution. In fact, they actively abhorred the idea, since it seemed to contradict the Bible and diminish the role of God. So Dawkins decided to write a book for these history-deniers, in which he would dispassionately demonstrate the truth of evolution beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt. If Charles Darwin walked into a 21st-century bookstore and wanted to know how his theory had fared, this is the book he should pick up. As Darwin famously noted, “There is grandeur in this view of life.” What Dawkins demonstrates is that this view of life isn’t just grand: it’s also undeniably true.
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SAM HARRIS’S FIRST BOOK, The End of Faith, ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In the aftermath, Harris discovered that most people — from religious fundamentalists to nonbelieving scientists — agree on one point: science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Indeed, our failure to address questions of meaning and morality through science has now become the most common justification for religious faith. It is also the primary reason why so many secularists and religious moderates feel obligated to “respect” the hardened superstitions of their more devout neighbors. In this explosive new book, The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a “moral landscape.” Just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality.
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- Dr. Michio Kaku—The Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 75 mins
PHYSICIST MICHIO KAKU TAKES US ON A JOURNEY into the future to reveal the revolutionary developments in medicine, computers, quantum physics, and space travel that will forever change our way of life and alter the course of civilization. For example:
• The Internet will be in your contact lens
• You will control computers and appliances via tiny sensors that pick up your brain scans
• Sensors in your clothing, bathroom, and appliances will monitor your vitals, and nanobots will scan your DNA and cells for signs of danger, allowing life expectancy to increase dramatically
• Radically new spaceships using laser propulsion may replace the expensive chemical rockets of today
• You may be able to take an elevator hundreds of miles into space by simply pushing the up button.
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TIM FLANNERY IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST INFLUENTIAL SCIENTISTS. In Here on Earth Flannery presents a captivating and dramatic narrative about the origins of life and the history of our planet. Beginning at the moment of creation with the Big Bang, Flannery explores the evolution of Earth from a galactic cloud of dust and gas to a planet with a metallic core and early signs of life within a billion years of being created. He describes the formation of the Earth’s crust and atmosphere, as well as the transformation of the planet’s oceans from toxic brews of metals to life-sustaining bodies covering 70 percent of the planet’s surface. Life first appeared in these oceans in the form of microscopic plants and bacteria, and these metals served as catalysts for the earliest biological processes known to exist. From this starting point, Flannery tells the fascinating story of the evolution of our own species.
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BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY wows the audience with wit, humor, and inspiration about the future of science, technology, and education, how he got his start as “the science guy” and what we can all do to “change the world” so that everyone can embrace the wonders of science and reason. Also featured was a very special appearance by James “The Amazing” Randi, who regaled the audience with stories from his forthcoming book, A Magician in the Laboratory, and along the way explained how to test paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, his many challengers who have tried to win the million-dollar challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation, and inspired a new generation of young skeptics in the audience to go out and make a difference by thinking skeptically and critically about all claims.
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This lecture is one of five available from our Science Symposium held at Caltech in 2011.
Read more about our Science Symposium:
You can also order these other Science Symposium lectures on DVD:
The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer
On Science Religion & Morality, by Michael Shermer
The Belief Changing Kit, a 3-DVD Set with Audience Q&A, with Nye, Randi, Dalton, Prothero
skeptic.com/productlink/av236 includes av233, av234, and av235
Mr. Deity and Friends, with Brian Keith Dalton
FACED WITH THE CEASELESS STREAM OF NEWS about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as the Harvard University psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened? This groundbreaking work continues Pinker’s exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives—the inner demons and the better angels—and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail.
“Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, is one of the most important science books I have ever read, and in my opinion may very well be one of the most important science books ever written. Period. It is a stunning piece of research and an epic masterpiece of narration and storytelling. It is nearly 800 pages long and I’ve already read it twice. It’s that good.” —Michael Shermer
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CALTECH COSMOLOGIST AND PHYSICIST Sean Carroll teams up with Skeptic magazine publisher and science historian Michael Shermer in this epic debate with noted conservative author and King’s College President Dinesh D’Souza and MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson as they go head-to-head over one of the most controversial issues of our age. As science pushes deeper into territory once the province of religion, with questions such as Why there is something rather than nothing?, Where did the universe come from?, How did life arise?, What was the origin of morality?, and others, inevitable conflicts arise over the best approach to answer them. Don’t miss this great debate and come with your questions for the audience participation portion of the day!
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HOW IS IT POSSIBLE for ordinary, average, even good people to become perpetrators of evil? Dr. Zimbardo ran the famous “Stanford Prison Experiment” in the late 1960s that randomly assigned healthy, normal intelligent college students to play the roles of prisoner or guard in a projected 2 week-long study that he was forced to terminate after only 6 days because it went out of control, with pacifists becoming sadistic guards, and normal kids breaking down emotionally. Dr. Zimbardo applies his theories to understanding torture in the Inquisition, the massacre in Rwanda, the rape of Nanking, and the abuse & torture of in Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
Dr. Zimbardo reviews the research findings from conformity, obedience to authority, role-playing, dehumanization, deindividuation and moral disengagement, that validate the assertion that situational power is stronger than we appreciate, and may come to dominate individual dispositions. He introduces the “evil of inaction” as a new form of evil that supports those who are the perpetrators of evil, by knowing but not acting to challenge them. Finally, after considering “The banality of evil” as everyman and every woman’s potential for engaging in evil deeds despite their generally moral upbringing and pro-social life style, Dr. Zimbardo introduces the new concept of “The Banality of Heroism” by those who defied the Lucifer Effect.
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If the human instinct to survive and reproduce is “selfish,” why do people engage in self-sacrifice, and even develop ideas like virtue and shame to justify that altruism? Many theories have been put forth, some emphasizing the role of nepotism, others emphasizing the advantages of reciprocation or group selection effects. Evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm offers an elegant new theory. Tracing the development of altruism and group social control over 6 million years, Boehm argues that our moral sense is a sophisticated defense mechanism that enables individuals to survive and thrive in groups. One of the biggest risks of group living is the possibility of being punished for our misdeeds by those around us. Bullies, thieves, free-riders, and especially psychopaths are the most likely to suffer this fate. Getting by requires getting along, and this social type of selection, Boehm shows, singles out altruists for survival. This selection pressure has been unique in shaping human nature, and it bred the first stirrings of conscience in the human species. Dr. Boehm offers profound insight into humanity’s moral past—and how it might shape our moral future.
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THE AMBITIOUS DAWN MISSION, launched in September 2007, is one of NASA’s most remarkable ventures into the solar system. The spacecraft has recently completed a spectacular exploration of Vesta and is now traveling to Ceres; these were among the last uncharted worlds in the inner solar system prior to Dawn. They are the two most massive residents of the main asteroid belt. Ceres is so large that it is included in the category of dwarf planets, along with Pluto. Remnants from the time that planets were formed, Ceres and Vesta hold clues that will help scientists understand the dawn of the solar system. Dawn orbited Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012 and returned astonishing views of this fascinating world. It is the only spacecraft ever to orbit an object in the asteroid belt. Such a mission would be impossible without the use of ion propulsion, a technology that has mostly been in the domain of science fiction, but which was tested extensively on the Deep Space 1 mission, paving the way for Dawn. Dr. Marc Rayman, Dawn’s Chief Engineer and Mission Director at JPL, will describe the Dawn mission and its use of ion propulsion as well as its two exotic destinations. He will also share the excitement and profundity of controlling a spacecraft in deep space.
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- Dr. Kevin Dutton—The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success 70 mins
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD RESEARCH PSYCHOLOGIST Dr. Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry. Dutton argues that there are “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.
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IN THIS LECTURE, based on his book on the psychology of human interactions, organizational psychologist Dr. Adam Grant (the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton Business School) argues that as much as hard work, talent and luck, the way we choose to interact with other people defines our success or failure. Give and Take demolishes the “me-first” worldview and shows that the best way to get to the top is to focus not on your solo journey but on bringing others with you. Grant reveals how one of America’s best networkers developed his connections, why a creative genius behind one of the most popular shows in television history toiled for years in anonymity, how a basketball executive responsible for multiple draft busts turned things around, and how we could have anticipated Enron’s demise four years before the company collapsed—without ever looking at a single number.
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- Dr. Daphne J. Fairbairn—Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom 86 mins
WHILE WE JOKE that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, our gender differences can’t compare to those of other animals. For instance: the male garden spider spontaneously dies after mating with a female more than 50 times his size. Female cichlids must guard their eggs and larvae—even from the hungry appetites of their own partners. And male blanket octopuses employ a copulatory arm longer than their own bodies to mate with females that outweigh them by four orders of magnitude. Why do these gender gulfs exist? This lecture, based on her book, explores some of the most extraordinary sexual differences in the animal world. From the fields of Spain to the deep oceans, evolutionary biologist Daphne Fairbairn uncovers the unique and bizarre characteristics that exist in these remarkable species and the special strategies they use to maximize reproductive success. Fairbairn also considers humans and explains that although we are keenly aware of our own sexual differences, they are unexceptional within the vast animal world.
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FROM THE BEST-SELLING AUTHOR of The Drunkard’s Walk and coauthor of The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking) and War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra) comes a fascinating, illuminating examination of the profound ways in which the unconscious mind shapes our lives. Every aspect of our mental lives plays out in two versions: one conscious, which we are constantly aware of, and the other unconscious, which remains hidden from us. Over the past two decades researchers have developed remarkable new tools for probing the unconscious, or subliminal, workings of the mind. This explosion of research has led to a sea change in our understanding of how the mind affects the way we live. As a result, scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that how we experience the world—our perception, behavior, memory, and social judgment—is largely driven by the mind’s subliminal processes and not by the conscious ones, as we have long believed.
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POPULAR SCIENCE WRITER Jennifer Ouellette has tackled math in The Calculus Diaries and physics in both The Physics of the Buffyverse and Black Bodies and Quantum Cats.
In Me, Myself and Why she turns her attention to the science of the self and delivers a fascinating survey of the forces that shape who we are and why we act the way we do. Ouellette acts as both journalist and subject, as she takes a battery of personality tests, has her genes sequenced and an MRI brain scan done, and even goes on her first and only LSD trip, all the while taking the reader along for the ride. As an adoptee, with basic information about her biological parents, Ouellette considers what traits she undeniably has inherited through genetics and what traits she has in common with her siblings (also adoptees) and her parents, which leads to a fascinating discussion on synapses and how the brain is wired and continues to change as we grow older.
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- Drs. Linda & Thomas Spilker—How To Boldly Go into Space: An Insider’s Look into Space Missions 105 mins
DRAWING ON THEIR DECADES OF WORK FOR NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Drs. Linda and Thomas Spilker give us an inside view of what goes into the unmanned space program, from the origin of a space mission, to how the funds are found to finance it, to how the spacecraft is designed and built, and to the launching and running of such a mission, often designed to last for years and even decades. How do you get a spacecraft to Saturn, anyway? Who decides what it should study when it gets there? What happens when something goes wrong? And, as a society, why do we explore the solar system (and beyond) and what do we learn from it? Don’t miss this revealing account of what rocket scientists do.
Dr. Linda Spilker has been a NASA research scientist at JPL for almost 37 years. Since joining JPL in 1977 she has worked on the Voyager project during the flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. She is currently the Cassini Project Scientist and a Co-Investigator on the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer team. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA in geophysics and space physics.
Dr. Thomas R. Spilker retired last year after 20 years at JPL, and now consults in both the science and engineering aspects of scientific space flight missions. He worked on the Voyager, Cassini, Stardust, and Genesis missions, and currently is a science team co-investigator on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to a comet. He also worked in “Mission Formulation,” or designing new science mission concepts. His Stanford Ph.D. involved radio measurements of planetary atmospheres.
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SVANTE PÄÄBO IS THE FOUNDER of the field of ancient DNA and is the director of the department of genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. In Neanderthal Man he tells the story of his mission to answer the question of what we can learn from the genes of our closest evolutionary relative, culminating in his sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2009. We learn that Neanderthal genes offer a unique window into the lives of our hominin relatives and may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of why humans survived while Neanderthals went extinct. Drawing on genetic and fossil clues, Pääbo explores what is known about the origin of modern humans and their relationship to the Neanderthals and describes the fierce debate surrounding the nature of the two species’ interactions.
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GEOLOGIST, PALEONTOLOGIST, EVOLUTIONARY THEORIST AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST in the name of science and skepticism, Dr. Donald Prothero talks about his two new books that deal with battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain.
And on the lighter side, Prothero talks about how large numbers of people believe in demonstrably false phenomena, from UFOs and ESP to Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Even though these fictions have been repeatedly debunked and discredited, they persist in the human imagination and influence our beliefs and our society. Prothero gives an entertaining and educational overview of a variety of cryptids, presenting both the arguments for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience perpetuating their myths.
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WHY IS IT ALWAYS HARD to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian whose jokes fall flat or an athlete who chokes? In all of these cases, striving seems to backfire. In Trying Not To Try, Edward Slingerland explains why we find spontaneity so elusive, and shows how early Chinese thought points the way to happier, more authentic lives. We’ve long been told that the way to achieve our goals is through careful reasoning and conscious effort. But recent research suggests that many aspects of a satisfying life, like happiness and spontaneity, are best pursued indirectly. Through stories of mythical creatures and drunken cart riders, jazz musicians and Japanese motorcycle gangs, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to show us how we can live more fulfilling lives.
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SURPRISE, DELIGHT, AND UNBRIDLED MIRTH are not commonly encountered in the science classroom. But in the foothills of the Himalaya, at a program to teach cosmology to Buddhist monks by the University of Arizona astronomer Chris Impey, they were daily occurrences. Working with this unique audience spurred new ways of thinking about the universe and the art of teaching. This talk takes listeners on an adventure at the nexus of science, religion, philosophy, and culture. Dr. Impey studies quasars and distant galaxies and is the author of How it Began, How it Ends, and The Living Cosmos, and has won 11 teaching awards. Order Humble Before The Void from Amazon.
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STEPHEN HAWKING SAID PHILOSOPHY IS DEAD. Plato would disagree, says the acclaimed philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein, who provides a dazzlingly original plunge into the drama of philosophy, revealing its hidden role in today’s debates on religion, morality, politics, and science. Philosophy is not obsolete, and the ancient questions that Plato asked are still relevant in the age of cosmology and neuroscience, crowd-sourcing and cable news. Imagine that Plato came to life in the 21st century and embarked on a multicity speaking tour. How would he handle the host of a cable news program who denies there can be morality without religion? How would he mediate a debate between a Freudian psychoanalyst and a tiger mom on how to raise the perfect child? How would he answer a neuroscientist who, about to scan Plato’s brain, argues that science has definitively answered the questions of free will and moral agency? What would Plato make of Google, and of the idea that knowledge can be crowd-sourced rather than reasoned out by experts? With a philosopher’s depth and a novelist’s imagination and wit, Goldstein probes the deepest issues confronting us by allowing us to eavesdrop on Plato as he takes on the modern world. Order Plato at the Googleplex from Amazon.
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