The Human Brain: How We Decide

When Jonah Lehrer was in town to talk about his latest book, “How We Decide”, Calacademy snagged the opportunity to interview him for “Science in Action”.

He took the Visualization Studio through a tour of the brain as we make decisions whether in the cereal aisle or piloting a plane. Then the artists went to work, creating the brain visuals.

http://www.calacademy.org/

Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and the author of “How We Decide” and “Proust Was a Neuroscientist”. Lehrer graduated from Columbia University and studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

He has written for The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. Lehrer is also a Contributing Editor at Scientific American Mind and National Public Radio’s Radio Lab.

http://www.jonahlehrer.com/
http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/

Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been dedicated to exploring, explaining, and protecting the natural world. It is the only place in the world to combine an aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium all under one living roof.

Atheist Life vs Religious Life

Transcript:

Some argue that religious life is the best way to live. They claim life without a god is sad and depressing. Statements like “I could not imagine my life without God”, and “My life would be meaningless without God”, are common defenses for a religious life. The following is a list of advantages atheists enjoy over a religious life. I invite the religious viewers to submit a response video with the advantages of a religious life.

Atheists can make moral decisions based on the specific context. Having absolutes like “Though Shall not Lie” stops people from thinking for themselves and making the right decision based on the situation at hand. In what situation would be okay to lie? Most religious people would say, never. Atheists would disagree. For example: If you were living in Germany hiding Jews in your attic during the holocaust, and Hitler’s Nazis knocked on your door and asked if you were hiding Jews, would it be okay to lie to save the lives of the Jews in your attic? I believe trying to save their lives would the moral and proper choice. Atheists have the power to do what’s right for all humanity, rather than the forced perspective of doing what is right for a god.

Atheists can experience healthy outrage at the outrageous without fear of questioning God’s plan. We can be outraged when a friend dies of a horrible disease, or is killed in a car accident. It is okay to be upset at disasters and horrible events. It is not a part of any plan. It is just a horrible event. Atheists try to learn from them and not just chalk it up to God’s Plan. We use science to understand catastrophic events like hurricanes, and tsunamis. This gives us the ability to save lives. If we think a magical plan is going to happen no matter what, then why try to stop the events or make things better. Atheists do not wonder if a god is punishing us. Yes, there is cause and effect, and our actions effect how we live, you should save for retirement, and if your diet is bad you’ll end up fat, or sick, or both. But if an airplane part falls on your house, it is an accident. If you find a 5 dollar bill on the sidewalk, it is an accident. No magical intervention, no magical wrath, these are just accidents. Life has an element of chance. This may not seem comforting, but here is another way to look at it: Your loved one dies in a completely random car accident where nobody could possibly be blamed. Is it more comforting to know the accident happened because of bad luck or is better to think the accident could have been prevented by an omnipotent being that could have stepped in and saved them from an untimely death, but your god decided to just let them die? You don’t have to be frustrated thinking “Was it because I didn’t pray enough?” “Was God mad at me or them?” “Maybe I should have prayed more.” Atheist take comfort in knowing there is no plan.

Atheist can be friends with everyone without having the thought in the back of their mind that this person’s lifestyle may be evil. You have the power to accept people for what they are. Enabling you to enjoy their quirks rather than chastise them for being unique. Atheists can have relationships with people who have alternative lifestyles without feeling like they have to save them from some deity that is going to condemn them for being themselves. After all, if there was a creator, then he has made everyone the way they are. Atheists don’t fear that a large part of the earth’s population is going to hell for being true to themselves.

Atheists do not live with the fear of hell. This is one of the hardest things for religious people to shake and one of the best rewards. Religious people love the thought of heaven, but fear hell as a consequence. In order to lose the fear of hell, you have to let go of the false hope of heaven. Atheists have done both.

Atheists raise freethinking children; let them pick a religion, or none. What would you have picked? This is hard for parents. If a child wanted to be another religion, or even atheist, it would be devastating to most religious parents. Why not teach them about all religions and tell them why you believe the one you do, and then let them choose? Atheists do not force atheism on their children. We simple let them see the evidence for and against religion and let them make up there own mind. They may change there mind several times. This is okay. Atheists love their children no matter what belief they are drawn too. That is the beauty of free thinking. You can raise your children according to your values without feeling as though you have to defend Bible stories that even a child can see are fiction.

Evolution: How We Know it Happened & Why it Matters

THE HOTTEST CULTURAL CONTROVERSY OF 2005 was the Intelligent Design challenge to the theory of evolution, being played out in classrooms and courtrooms across America. The crux of the argument made by proponents of Intelligent Design is that the theory of evolution is in serious trouble. They claim that the evidence for evolution is weak, the gaps in the theory are huge, and that these flaws should be taught to students. In this brilliant synthesis of scientific data and theory, Occidental College geologist, paleontologist, and evolutionary theorist Dr. Donald Prothero will present the best evidence we have that evolution happened, why Darwins theory still matters, and what the real controversies are in evolutionary biology.

Dr. Donald Prothero teaches Physical and Historical Geology, Sedimentary Geology, and Paleontology. His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic. His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 and 40 million years ago, using the technique of magnetic stratigraphy. He is the author of “Evolution of the Earth,” “Bringing Fossils to Life,” “After the Dinosaurs,” “Horns, Tusks, and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals,” and the textbook “Sedimentary Geology.”