Of all the roles I play today, being a lifelong learner is my favorite. I love engaging my mind in deep thoughts. None ran deeper than the online class, Skepticism 101 from The Great Courses. Never has a class challenged me and influenced my thinking.
Being a Skeptic
Dr. Michael Shermer teaches the course, which is offered as a series of 18 audio lectures, each about 30 minutes long. You may know of Shermer from his other roles as the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the executive director of the Skeptics Society, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American.
He begins the course with some disturbing statistics about the state of beliefs among Americans. For example, more people believe in miracles than in evolution. He attributes the issue to a lack of understanding of the scientific process and miscommunication by the media.
This scenario has created a need for skepticism, which he describes as, “the rigorous application of science and reason to test the validity of any and all claims.”
The Tour of Beliefs, Fallacies, and Myths
The 18 lectures explore several controversial topics, such as the existence of God, the paranormal, and UFOs. He peppers his lectures with thoughtful scientific research. He quotes many authors and experts to remove the possibility of misinterpretation. He is one who follows his own principles as the true skeptic.
Shermer brings many of our long-held beliefs, experiences, and behaviors down to the neurological processes of the brain. He offers rational explanations for phenomenon such as UFO abductions, cult experiences, and conspiracy theories. I found these discussions comforting in a way because they explain our humanness.
Mind and Brain
I have to admit that some lectures ventured into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territories. One running theme involves dualism versus monism. The former is the belief that two classes of substances exist in the world, corporeal and incorporeal. A spin on this is the existence of a brain and a mind. The latter sees them as one.
To the scientist, mind and brain are indivisible. The religious individual looks to the existence of the soul that lingers separately from the physical brain. I struggled a bit with the concept that my persona is simply the intricate pattern of neural networks that I have cultivated with time, education, and experience. I guess I’m like many others in this regard in wanting something more.
The class treads on grounds that many online classes do not enter. It’s powerful, thought-provoking, and enlightening. I left the class feeling empowered to spot the pseudoscience that impairs rational thought. I got to know my inner skeptic better. I also felt at peace. Science needn’t conflict with spirituality. The story has to much to tell.
http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR