Michael Shermer Explains the Pattern Behind Self-Deception (TEDTalks VIDEO)

In his TEDTalk, Michael Shermer debunks all types of myths, superstitions and urban legends, and along the way explains why we believe them.

Michael Shermer, founder and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, “has exposed fallacies behind intelligent design, 9/11 conspiracies, the low-carb craze, alien sightings and other popular beliefs and paranoias.” But for Shermer it’s not just about debunking “for debunking’s sake,” it’s about “matching good theory with good science” so that we can all better understand the world we live in.

Shermer explains:

In the absence of sound science, incomplete information can powerfully combine with the power of suggestion (helping us hear Satanic lyrics when “Stairway to Heaven” plays backwards, for example). In fact, a common thread that runs through beliefs of all sorts, is our tendency to convince ourselves: We overvalue the shreds of evidence that support our preferred outcome, and ignore the facts we aren’t looking for …

Science is not a thing. It’s a verb. It’s a way of thinking about things. It’s a way of looking for natural explanations for all phenomena.

michael shermer


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  1. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I guess I’m a scientist, too. I’m a sociologist, and I had five stat courses. I have a friend who loves Shermer. But I think hewing to this particular perspective (basically that all variables are known, or that we should use that as a working theory) impoverishes us.

  2. Shermer raises interesting points to explain how we can be fooled and why we think the way we think. Well worth watching and you’ll love the last 2 minutes. Yes, its worth the wait, even if you didn’t love the earlier part (which I did). Enjoy.

  3. As a scientist (i.e. someone who thinks and works using the scientific method of testing hypotheses and evaluating data) I believe we need more people understanding science and using it in our daily lives. However, everything useful is not necessarily scientific. As Hank notes, we might lose weight using an approach that is not based on science, or at least hasn’t been shown to be scientific at this time, but it still can be useful.

    Let’s support science, but let’s also be open to asking why something works, which might not seem scientific. Science is now beginning to understand the power of the mind (If we believe something will work, even though there may not be a scientific explanation for the value, it can change our reality).

  4. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I guess I have to gain back the 50 pounds I lost on low-carb now. Oh well. Hey, some people want to replace higher ed with Ted Talks now.

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