Published April 2021 on YouTube

492: Michael Shermer | Why We Believe Weird Things

1. Introduction

Michael Shermer discusses how our beliefs are formed in our brain and why they persist, even when they're wrong. He also explains how our genes can influence our political and religious beliefs.+

2. Science in Media

Science in Media:Michael Shermer talks about the importance of promoting science and reason in media, and how the democratization of media has both positive and negative effects on science education.+
Skepticism vs Cynicism:Michael explains the difference between skepticism and cynicism, emphasizing that skepticism is a scientific approach to claims that relies on evidence, whereas cynicism is just a negative attitude. He also discusses how he became a skeptic after being interested in the paranormal and pseudosciences.+

3. Psychic Powers Debunked

The Uri Geller Effect:Michael Shermer discusses how Uri Geller's claims of psychic powers and spoon-bending launched the modern skeptical movement and how magicians like Randi and Ray Hyman were able to debunk his tricks. Despite Geller's admission that it was a magic trick, there are still people who believe in the paranormal.+
Belief and Bias:Michael explains how our brains are wired to believe what we want to be true and ignore evidence that doesn't fit. He also discusses how science works around cognitive biases to arrive at unbiased conclusions.+

4. Psychic Tricks Exposed

Psychic Tricks Exposed:Michael Shermer exposes the tricks of psychics like Van Praagh, revealing that their success is based on cold reading and working the crowd to find the most gullible participants. Despite being less than 10% accurate, people tend to remember the few hits and forget the many misses.+
The Art of Cold Reading:Michael explains how cold reading works and how psychics use it to make people believe they have supernatural abilities. He shares techniques like starting broad and positive, using categories like love, health, money, and career, and throwing a lot of things at the wall to see what sticks.+

5. Sponsors

Jordan talks about the importance of comfort in an uncomfortable world and introduces two sponsors, Purple Mattress and Better Help online counseling.+

6. Belief Bias

Belief Bias:Michael explains how our brains look for evidence to confirm our beliefs, whether they are political, religious, or moral. We tend to filter information to fit our existing beliefs, leading to confirmation bias and cognitive bias.+
Smart People and Beliefs:Michael Shermer discusses how intelligence and education do not necessarily make people less likely to believe in nonsense, but rather, they can be better at rationalizing their beliefs. He also highlights how beliefs can be problematic, even when they are based on scientific evidence, and how experiments can be used to test different beliefs, such as gun control laws.+

7. Forming Beliefs

Forming Beliefs:Michael explains how beliefs are formed through subconscious processing of sensory data and finding patterns. Most of this happens without conscious thought, and is based on classical and operant conditioning. Jordan predicts a potential future conflict between those who want to drive their own cars and those who trust self-driving cars, highlighting the role of beliefs in shaping our attitudes towards technology.+
Belief and Confirmation Bias:Michael Shermer discusses how our beliefs are influenced by our upbringing and experiences, and how confirmation bias reinforces those beliefs. He also expresses concern about the recent trend of limiting free speech on college campuses and emphasizes the importance of being exposed to different ideas.+

8. Belief and Science

Belief and Confirmation:Michael Shermer explains how confirmation bias is the mother of all cognitive biases and how we believe first and then seek confirmation for our beliefs later. The antidote for this is science and critical thinking.+
Science and Superstition:Michael explains how science is flawed to a certain extent and how our brains are wired to connect A to B, leading to superstitions. He also talks about the importance of testing hypotheses and the limitations of experiments in determining causation.+

9. Fast vs Slow Thinking

Michael explains how our brains tend to assume that certain things are connected even when they're not, leading to false positives. He also discusses the importance of fast thinking in decision making and how emotions play a role in directing behavior.+

10. Sponsors

Online Security:Jordan Harbinger discusses the importance of online security with the help of LifeLock, a service that helps detect and fix identity threats. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and attempting to exploit people's hardship. LifeLock helps detect a wide range of identity threats and alerts users if their information has been potentially compromised.+
Protect Your Identity:Jen and Jordan Harbinger discuss the importance of protecting your identity and introduce LifeLock Identity Theft Protection as a solution. They also offer a discount for listeners who sign up.+

11. Genetic Programming

Genetic Programming:Michael explains how our genes code for personality temperament and how it affects our social behavior and moral tribes. He also discusses the bizarre twins' studies and how our emotions and feelings are genetically programmed, which influences our behavior and the groups we belong to.+
Belief and Bias:Michael explains how our beliefs are wired into our brain chemistry and how it affects our understanding of reality. They also discuss how biases like confirmation bias and in-group bias reinforce these beliefs.+

12. Cognitive Bias Overcoming

Overcoming Cognitive Bias:Michael and Jordan discuss the difficulty of recognizing our own cognitive biases and suggest ways to overcome them, including removing barriers and shifting systems over time.+
The Evolution of Belief:Michael explains how cognitive dissonance affects beliefs and how to approach conversations about controversial topics. He also shares resources available at for those interested in learning more about skepticism and how to talk to others about global warming and evolution.+

13. Outro

Jordan explores the science of belief with Michael Shermer, discussing how patternicity influences our beliefs and why we struggle to admit when we're wrong. He also announces the return of old episodes to the feed and encourages listeners to join his free Six Minute Networking course.+