Many phenomena that were once a total mystery have now become better understood through the language of science. Our Greek and Roman ancestors believed that the God Apollo dragged the sun across the sky with his chariot every day. Throughout history, human cognitive biases such as the hyperactive agent detection device (HADD) have often led people to interpret actions with unclear causes to be the result of supernatural forces. The evolution of the human brain favored those who believed a person, animal, or 'spirit' was lurking over those who went through life without such fears. In evolutionary time, we are not far separated from these imaginings and fears of our ancestral environment. Therefore, trendy discussions of ESP, astrology, ghosts, doomsday prophecies, and new age notions of ill-defined 'negative' and 'positive' energy continue their insidious spread throughout our society. If we want to protect ourselves from unwittingly participating in these unscientific assessments of nature and events, we need to acquaint ourselves with skepticism.
Guy P. Harrison is a journalist, science author and skeptic whose work addresses common pseudo-scientific myths. Harrison has been a world news editor, sports editor, photographer, page designer, and columnist. Harrison believes that the world would be a better place if more people understood how science works. He believes rational scientific explanations always improve on the heuristics of "folk wisdom." He believes democracy can only function correctly with an informed population. This has been reflected in his comprehensive pop-science books, including 50 Popular Beliefs that People Think are True, Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know about Our Biological Diversity, and 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God.
Post Interview: Harrison's firm belief is that skepticism is necessary for a happier, more efficient society. Inability to ask the right questions has proven to be costly. To illustrate this point, Harrison alluded to the field of homeopathy and the countless cases of death that have occurred due to medical misinformation. And although it is true that indulging in something like astrology may not seem as harmful, Harrison views even these pseudo-scientific distractions as the beginning of a slippery slope. Still, the science author remains optimistic. Skepticism becomes a positive force when used constructively and is essential to the protection and progress of our society.
You can listen to our Sunday, August 19th interview with Guy P. Harrison on skepticism here.
"We live in a crazy world.. There are people out there all the time waiting to lie to you or convince you of some crazy belief they sincerely think is true but is not. And it doesn't matter if you're conservative, liberal, educated, uneducated, smart, dumb, rich, poor, whoever. You need to be a good skeptic because that's how you live a safer and more efficient life."
"You don't have to be a crook to be pushing bad ideas… you only have to be a human. Because we're all vulnerable to this stuff. Any intelligent, sane, normal human brain is set up to be seduced and fooled by nonsense."
"You are tap dancing through a mine field. …If you can't figure out, say, astrology or a psychic, you're not going to figure out the problem with an extraordinary claim which may actually destroy your life."
"Right in your own home you've got monsters crawling around the floor, eating your dead skin cells. Get a microscope. Check them out. There's amazing stuff all around."
"You have to be careful about falling into the trap of associating lack of intelligence with irrational belief."
"I really think most of us are stronger than we realize. Including all religious people. …I just have more faith (forgive, the word) in humanity than religious people do. "
"We waste so much human potential on nonsense. I'm a child who grew up on the original original Stark Trek series, watching reruns when I was a kid. It's not crazy to think we could've had that kind of future by now."