Friday, June 27, 2008

Vegas, baby. TAM 6 - pt 2


Saturday's commute went a bit better; I arrived and registered fairly easily, got my breakfast and sat with Friend DEG again.

Michael Shermer's talk basically covered a few of the ways that thinking goes wrong especially with regards to the idea of agency in happenings. Apparently some of the work Sam Harris has been doing in neuroscience has shown that credulity is a default position for the human brain. We'll take what we hear at face value and to not believe it takes a bit more work.  Bad news for fighting the various folk beliefs in astronomy, biology, psychology, economics, politics, conspiracy theory, et cetera, that we need to.


Susan Begley gave an excellent informative talk that strayed close to a depressing talk. The upshot it that in the fight against creationism and pseudo-science we can't count on the media. it would be a mistake to think that the role of the press is education, and as such it's important to know they're not our ally in the fight against ignorance in the American (and other) public.

Some of the stats illustrating said ignorance were laugh/cry inducing. How can a population that has such a high percentage of post-secondary educated citizens not have a majority of people who know why a year is a year or that an atom isn't bigger than a molecule?

Great talk. Can't dispute the conclusions. Don't like 'em much.


Derek and Swoopy of Skepticality spoke briefly about podcasting but I didn't really take notes. Sorry, guys. My bad.


Steven Novella gave a great talk about dualism versus materialism in neuroscience. In short, there's no ghost, homunculus or soul in the brain. His argument was that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.

Since my niece's brain cancer we've had ample evidence that the wiring is everything in the brain and personality. Everything. My niece has been less patient, more prone to temper tantrums, and slower of speech since her surgery almost 2 years ago. When my aunt died last year of Alzhiemer's she couldn't recognize her own children, her brother (my dad), nor did she know that she wasn't in nor had she been in Newfoundland for years. Personality, memory and person erased by a disease whose toll on the victim and the family is near incalculable.


Phil Plait took us on a tour of the solar system stopping at one weird feature at each major way point along the way.

Some highlights:

Venus: What caused the runaway greehouse effect? We don't know.

Mars: Why is Phobos backwards? We don't know.

Jupiter: How can a red spot hurricane large enough to keep dumping Earths into last for all of recorded history? We don't know.

Neptune: Why is Neptune so hot? We don't know.

Pluto: Not a planet, so we don't care (cue geek fueled laughter)

The conclusion was two-fold. First: The universe is a fucked up place. (decensored by me) Second: without being able to say that we don't know there's no science and no research.

Science isn't about having all the answers. It's about finding the questions that we don't have them for, and going to work there.


Adam Savage gave a 400 km/h talk about his efforts to make the world's most accurate replica of the Maltese Falcon. It was both a look into his techniques of modelling and his mind, both of which are complicated.


Mark Chapman, co-incidentally Darwin's great-grandson, spoke about his efforts to get a presidential science debate going.


Richard Wiseman gave a hell of a talk (are the British just funnier?) and led the group in the world's largest spoon bending demonstration after having Teller give a talk on using misdirection to set up the trick.

Spoon bending consists of prepping (pre-stressing) a spoon then the following 4 stages: Slap, Hold, Wiggle and Drop. Not only a great mnemonic, but also a great innuendo.


No picture or notes from the panel discussion.

One great quote: The panel was asked what hope there was in fighting against the forces of endarkenment? Can we win? Phil Plait replied that we'll come out on top, "because we're right and they're wrong." Simple and sweet.

Oh and although I didn't get to the Sylvia Browne show, some folks did go. Fun here. Oddly enough, John Edward took June off from his shows at the Flamingo.

If you get the chance, get to a TAM. Number 7 is coming up July 9-12 2009 at the Southpoint Casino. And there looks to be efforts to get a EuroTAM going next year or the year after.

Opportunities abound.

No comments: