Our guest for this episode, Will Storr, wrote a book called The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science.
In that book, Storr spends time with Holocaust deniers, young Earth creationists, people who believe they’ve lived past lives as famous figures, people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, people who stake their lives on the power of homeopathy, and many more – people who believe things that most of us do not.
For much of his career, science historian James Burke has been creating documentaries and writing books aimed at helping us to make better sense of the enormous amount of information that he predicted would one day be at our fingertips.
In this episode we interview Dean Burnett, author of Idiot Brain: What Your Brain is Really Up To. Burnett’s book is a guide to the neuroscience behind the things that our amazing brains do poorly.
Back in the early 1900s, the German biologist Jakob Johann Baron von Uexküll couldn’t shake the implication that the inner lives of animals like jellyfish and sea urchins must be radically different from those of humans.
Uexküll was fascinated by how meaty, squishy nervous systems gave rise to perception. Noting that the sense organs of sea creatures and arachnids could perceive things that ours could not, he realized that giant portions of reality must therefore be missing from their subjective experiences, which suggested that the same was true of us. In other words, most ticks can’t enjoy an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical because, among other reasons, they don’t have eyes. On the other hand, unlike ticks, most humans can’t smell butyric acid wafting on the breeze, and so no matter where you sit in the audience, smell isn’t an essential (or intended) element of a Broadway performance of Cats.
Now that algorithms are everywhere, helping us to both run and make sense of the world, a strange question has emerged among artificial intelligence researchers: When is it ok to predict the future based on the past? When is it ok to be biased?
“I want a machine-learning algorithm to learn what tumors looked like in the past, and I want it to become biased toward selecting those kind of tumors in the future,” explains philosopher Shannon Vallor at Santa Clara University. “But I don’t want a machine-learning algorithm to learn what successful engineers and doctors looked like in the past and then become biased toward selecting those kinds of people when sorting and ranking resumes.”
One of the most effective ways to change people’s minds is to put your argument into a narrative format — a story — but not just any story. The most persuasive narratives are those that transport us. Once departed from normal reality into the imagined world of a story, we become highly susceptible to belief and attitude change.
In this episode, you’ll learn from psychologist Melanie C. Green the four secrets to creating the most persuasive narratives possible.
When it comes to group activities — projects that require teams of people to work on a series of concrete tasks to reach a tangible goal — what do you think is the most important quality that group members should possess? Should they be smart? Should they be assertive? Should they nominate a leader or divide into pairs?
This is the question that psychologist Christopher Chabris has been pondering for several years now. He believes the answer is collective intelligence.