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michael Shermer

Science Friction

Michael Shermer Science Friction
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Biographical note:

Michael Shermer is the author of The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, The Science of Good and Evil, The Mind Of The Market, Why Darwin Matters, Science Friction, How We Believe and other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.

Excerpt from book:

Introduction
 
Why Not Knowing
 
Science and the Search for Meaning
 
That old Persian tentmaker (and occasional poet) Omar Khayyám well captured the human dilemma of the search for meaning in an apparently meaningless cosmos:

Into this Universe, and Why not knowing,
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

It is in the vacuum of such willy-nilly whencing and whithering that we humans are so prone to grasp for transcendent interconnectedness. As pattern-seeking primates we scan the random points of light in the night sky of our lives and connect the dots to form constellations of meaning. Sometimes the patterns are real, sometimes not. Who can tell? Take a look at figure I.1. How many squares are there?
 
The answer most people give upon first glance is 16 (4 x 4). Upon further reflection, most observers note that the entire figure is a square, upping the answer to 17. But wait! There’s more. Note the 2 x 2 squares. There are 9 of those, increasing our count total to 26. Look again. Do you see the 3 x 3 squares? There are 4 of those, producing a final total of 30. So the answer to a simple question for even such a mundane pattern as this ranged from 16 to 30. Compared to the complexities of the real world, this is about as straightforward as it gets, and still the correct answer is not immediately forthcoming.
 
 
Ever since the rise of modern science beginning in the sixteenth century, scientists and philosophers have been aware that the facts never speak for themselves. Objective data are filtered through subjective minds that distort the world in myriad ways. One of the founders of early modern science, the seventeenth-century English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, sought to overthrow the traditions of his own profession by turning away from the scholastic tradition of logic and reason as the sole road to truth, as well as rejecting the Renaissance (literally “rebirth”) quest to restore the perfection of anci
Bestselling author Michael Shermer delves into the unknown, from heretical ideas about the boundaries of the universe to Star Trek's lessons about chance and time

A scientist pretends to be a psychic for a day-and fools everyone. An athlete discovers that good-luck rituals and getting into "the zone" may, or may not, improve his performance. A historian decides to analyze the data to see who was truly responsible for the Bounty mutiny. A son explores the possiblities of alternative and experimental medicine for his cancer-ravaged mother. And a skeptic realizes that it is time to turn the skeptical lens onto science itself.

In each of the fourteen essays in Science Friction, psychologist and science historian Michael Shermer explores the very personal barriers and biases that plague and propel science, especially when scientists push against the unknown. What do we know and what do we not know? How does science respond to controversy, attack, and uncertainty? When does theory become accepted fact? As always, Shermer delivers a thought-provoking, fascinating, and entertaining view of life in the scientific age.

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