Michael Shermer, founding publisher and science writer of Skeptic magazine, told Elon students on Tuesday night how important it is to be skeptical, even if it is difficult. He explained the importance of science and the role it has on skepticism and beliefs. Shermer said, “Skepticism is about looking for natural explanations for natural phenomenon.”
Shermer said it’s key to find a good balance between being too skeptical and not being skeptical enough. He showed a video that said, “If you were skeptical about everything, you’d have to be skeptical about your own skepticism.”
Shermer said science is the only distinction between what is and isn’t real. “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away,” he said, and if two people are skeptical about something, then “it comes down to the evidence.” Shermer joked about the importance of evidence, “You know what they call love without evidence? Stalking.”
Shermer said being skeptical is difficult. “A person making the extraordinary claim has the burden of proving its validity,” he said.
Shermer talked about the errors humans make when thinking. He said people tend to see patterns where they don’t exist, which causes errors in thinking.
An experiment was performed on brain activity while being skeptical, and scientists concluded that being skeptical is difficult. “The reaction time is slower for disbelief and uncertainty…it takes more time to be skeptical…it’s way easier to just believe,” he said.
Shermer emphasized the importance of skepticism. “If you believe everything is true…there’s nowhere to go,” he said, but if people are more skeptical, then their brain has something to work with.