A best-selling author will call for critical thinking when he addresses Illinois Wesleyan University students during next week's President's Convocation.
Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic magazine. His talk at IWU is titled “The Believing Brain: From Ghosts, Gods and Aliens to Conspiracies, Economics and Politics: How the Brain Constructs Beliefs and Reinforces Them as Truths.”
IWU officials said Shermer's talk coincides with the university's annual intellectual theme of Fact or Fiction, which aims to cultivate a spirit of curiosity and inquiry.
Shermer said on WGLT's Sound Ideas that skepticism is a virtue.
“Don’t be overly confident in your pet ideas and your cherished beliefs because there’s a good chance you are wrong and me too,” Shermer said. “I have to remind myself of this. It’s good to remember that most ideas in history have turned out to be wrong.”
Shermer said our brains are hardwired to seek simple solutions to complex problems. He said we can find comfort in conspiracy theories because they are easier for our brains to process as opposed to thinking critically.
“It’s in a way what labels do. You are a Democrat, you are a Republican, you are a conservative, you are a liberal,” Shermer said. “Oh good, I don’t have to think about your positions anymore, I already know what you think. That’s unfortunate.”
Shermer said those cognitive shortcuts can be dangerous.
He said this mindset has fueled a rise in fake news and in fact-checking websites since the 2016 election.
“People really do want to know what are the real facts and they are not willing to accept alternative facts and fake news,” Shermer said.
Shermer will deliver the IWU convocation on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
Shermer has appeared on a number of TV programs, including "20/20," "Dateline," "Oprah," "Unsolved Mysteries" and the "Colbert Report" to name a few. He also writes monthly for Scientific American.
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