I blew off work last Friday with my friend Bobby to attend a lecture given by Michael Shermer at Michigan State University. Shermer is the founder and director of the Skeptic’s Society and the Editor of its magazine, Skeptic. He also writes a regular column in Scientific American and gets a few books published in between. His most recent, “The Believing Brain,” is one of my favorites.
It was fun getting to watch his presentation in person after having worn out several YouTube videos online. He covered some of the main topics of his book, such as that the human brain is akin to a belief engine, and that we tend to come to our beliefs first, then go about finding the evidence which supports them. And if we run across anything that undermines our beliefs? Well, we just ignore it. He also talked about the concepts of “patternicity” and “agenticity,” and went into a number of scientific studies that point away from the conclusion of so many that things like ghosts and gods are real.
After his lecture, Bobby and I stood in line to have our respective copies of his book signed and chat with him a little. Personally, I can’t seem to take a normal picture with anyone. It’s equally a result of me being insecure and a total fucking goofball. So, you can see the results of that here:
|Shermer is clearly thrilled by my antics|
My friend Bobby, however, had a much cooler idea. He’s also not insecure in the same ways I am, so it was implemented well. Because Shermer discussed the concept of “magical thinking” during his talk, Bobby proposed an experiment to him. They both wear “SKEPTIC” pins and Bobby asked him to switch. If Bobby wore Shermer’s pin, and Shermer wore Bobby’s, would their “essence” transfer to one another? Here is a nice photo of them holding up each other’s pins.
I joked with Bobby afterward that he already seemed more skeptical, so the transfer of essence must have been in full-effect.
All in all, it was a really enjoyable time and I’m glad I took the time off work to do it. Experiences are much more fulfilling to me than just acquiring new possessions. If Michael Shermer happens to be in your neck of the woods sometime and you can make the trip, give it a shot. And if you come across a copy of Skeptic magazine or “The Believing Brain” at your local bookstore, I personally recommend that you pick it up.