Why people believe weird things | Michael Shermer | Summary and Q&A

3.0M views
ā€¢
April 15, 2008
by
TED
YouTube video player
Why people believe weird things | Michael Shermer

TL;DR

Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society, discusses the need for skepticism in science and debunks various pseudoscientific claims.

Install to Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Transcripts

Questions & Answers

Q: How does the Skeptics Society investigate claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience?

The Skeptics Society investigates claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience through rigorous scientific investigation, examining evidence and analyzing the credibility of various claims. They aim to provide evidence-based explanations and debunk false or misleading information.

Q: What does Michael Shermer mean when he says, "People remember the hits and forget the misses"?

When Shermer mentions "hits" and "misses," he is referring to the success or failure of claims made by psychics, astrologers, and others. People tend to remember when these individuals make correct predictions or have accurate information, but they often forget about instances when they were wrong. This bias in memory can create the illusion that these individuals have special powers or knowledge when, in reality, their accuracy is no better than random chance.

Q: How does Michael Shermer debunk the idea of intelligent design?

Shermer debunks intelligent design by highlighting the importance of testing and evidence in science. He argues that intelligent design offers no testable explanations and uses linguistic place fillers like "miracle occurs" to account for gaps in understanding. In contrast, science relies on natural explanations supported by data and theory. Shermer presents examples of alleged religious icons in everyday objects, such as the Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich, to demonstrate how our pattern-seeking tendency can lead us to see significance where there isn't any.

Q: How does Michael Shermer demonstrate the role of skepticism in understanding auditory illusions?

Shermer demonstrates the role of skepticism in auditory illusions by playing a backward version of a well-known song and asking the audience to identify the hidden messages. He shows that without priming and guidance, people are unlikely to hear the alleged messages. This highlights how our expectations and biases can influence our perceptions, leading us to perceive patterns and intentions that don't actually exist.

Summary

In this video, Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society, discusses the importance of skepticism and critical thinking in evaluating claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience. He provides examples of debunking the Quadro 2000 Dowser Rod and highlights the need to consider the misses, not just the hits, in scientific investigations. Shermer also emphasizes the difference between science and religion and explores the cognitive biases that lead people to believe in weird things. He concludes with a positive story about promoting good science through a pop song.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does the Skeptics Society investigate claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience?

The Skeptics Society investigates claims through rigorous scientific examination, looking for natural explanations for phenomena. They aim to debunk unscientific claims by critically analyzing the evidence presented.

Q: What is the Quadro 2000 Dowser Rod, and why did the Skeptics Society debunk it?

The Quadro 2000 Dowser Rod is a piece of plastic with a Radio Shack antenna attached to it. It was marketed as a tool to supposedly detect marijuana in students' lockers. The Skeptics Society debunked it by testing its effectiveness and finding that it was no better than a coin flip model, showing that it had no scientific basis.

Q: How do psychics, astrologers, and tarot card readers convince people with their claims?

Psychics, astrologers, and tarot card readers often rely on the confirmation bias, where people tend to remember the hits and forget the misses. They emphasize the accurate predictions they make while ignoring the predictions that fail to come true, leading people to believe in their perceived abilities.

Q: Are people getting smarter or dumber?

People are getting smarter. According to Shermer, there is a gradual increase in IQ scores, about three IQ points per 10 years. This indicates that our society is becoming more intellectually capable over time.

Q: How does skepticism relate to science and religion?

Skepticism is a fundamental aspect of science, as it involves critical thinking and questioning of claims. Science and religion are not incompatible but rather represent different ways of understanding and explaining the world. Science relies on natural explanations, while religion focuses on faith and spirituality.

Q: What is the Skeptic magazine's approach to evaluating claims?

The Skeptic magazine, published by the Skeptics Society, approaches claims with a scientific mindset. They critically analyze evidence, conduct experiments, and examine the reliability of the claims being made. Their goal is to promote scientific thinking and debunk unscientific ideas.

Q: What is the role of skepticism in determining the more likely explanation for extraordinary claims?

Skepticism helps in assessing the more likely explanation for extraordinary claims. Shermer exemplifies the likelihood of Photoshop being responsible for crop circles rather than extraterrestrial beings. Skepticism encourages examining natural explanations before concluding something is out of this world.

Q: Why is it important to consider data and theory together in scientific investigations?

The balance between data and theory is crucial in scientific investigations. Shermer highlights Galileo's observations of Saturn's rings as an example. Without a theory of planetary rings and high-quality data, it's impossible to form a reliable theory. The interplay between data and theory allows scientists to develop a comprehensive understanding of natural phenomena.

Q: What are cognitive biases, and how do they influence our beliefs?

Cognitive biases are inherent mental tendencies that skew our thinking and decision-making processes. Shermer discusses the bias of seeing faces, which led people to interpret the Face on Mars as monumental architecture made by Martians. These biases can cause us to perceive patterns where none exist and lead to beliefs in conspiracy theories or supernatural phenomena.

Q: How can simple visual and auditory illusions affect our perception of reality?

Simple visual and auditory illusions can significantly influence our perception of reality. Shermer demonstrates how just by priming the audience with the expectation of hearing a hidden message (such as "Satan") in a reversed song clip, people start to hear it even though it may not actually be there. Our brains are easily fooled by suggestion and can lead us to perceive things that aren't actually present. Ā 

Q: How did Katie Melua respond to an astronomy error in her song?

After a science educator pointed out the inaccuracies in her song "Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing," Katie Melua contacted him and expressed embarrassment. She re-cut the song to correct the astronomical error and ensure accuracy. This incident highlights the importance of promoting good science and correcting misconceptions.

Takeaways

Michael Shermer emphasizes the importance of skepticism, critical thinking, and scientific inquiry in evaluating claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience. He demonstrates how people can be easily misled by cognitive biases and highlights the need to consider both data and theory in scientific investigations. Skepticism helps to distinguish between scientific explanations and unscientific claims, leading to a better understanding of the natural world.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Michael Shermer introduces the work of the Skeptics Society, which investigates claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience.

  • He showcases a fraudulent dowser rod that was being sold to high-school administrators and demonstrates its ineffectiveness in finding marijuana in lockers.

  • Shermer emphasizes the importance of keeping track of both hits and misses in science and how bias can affect our perception of reality.

  • Using examples like the face on Mars and auditory illusions, he highlights the tendency to see patterns where they don't exist and the role of theory in scientific understanding.

Share This Summary šŸ“š

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on:

Explore More Summaries from TED šŸ“š

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on: