The Science of Illusion with Penn & Teller

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About This Episode

Is there something about the human brain that makes us particularly susceptible to magic and illusion? Is skepticism the antidote to pseudoscience? All will be revealed when Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews Penn & Teller, two of the world’s most popular magicians, who also happen to be world famous skeptics. In studio, Neil is joined by co-host Chuck Nice and neuroscientist Dr. Susana Martinez-Conde, Ph.D., who co-wrote the book on magic and the human mind. You’ll learn how it’s possible to practice honest, moral magic – and also how a magic trick was once used to further the goals of colonialism through racism and misogyny. Find out why Harry Houdini went from believing that you could communicate with the dead to becoming the scourge of phony mediums. Michael Shermer, the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, calls in to discuss what magical thinking is, and why we should be wary of superstition, psychics, astrology, and other flavors of pseudoscience. Plus, Bill Nye explains why we want to believe in magic, and Penn Jillette lets us in on the only secret in magic.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: The Science of Illusion with Penn & Teller

 

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  • Michael

    wow, thanks for this amazing StarTalk episode – seeing all of my favorite persons being picked and interviewed by Neil deGrasse Tyson (who’s obviously one of them himself) is just great

  • Valentin Avalos Astorga

    Oh man! A couple of my favorite persons getting together to make one of my favorite podcasts! Could this get any better?

  • Bill Davis

    Of course it is ok to not know, question, even be skeptical. Many conclude there is no God, I see the same information and conclude there is a God and that He must be overwhelmingly good.

    • somethingshastobesaid

      Can I ask you what considerations you make before concluding that, if there’s a god, he’s overwhelmingly good?

      • Taxil Necrobane

        Sure you can ask, but he is under no obligations to tell you. Nor I.

        How about asking a better question. Can you ponder what observations he made to get that same conclusion?

        • somethingshastobesaid

          He isn’t obliged to answer?? Wow, how I learn new things every day still amazes me. I ask because im curious since im in No way able to reach the same conclusion. Sure there’s a lot of good, and even beautiful stuff going on in our world. But equally I see Kids dying meaningless deaths each day of starvation, disease and murder. People get tortured, they choke on food, families get wiped out in car crashes. Besides this, I choose to focus on the positive aspects of life. But I can’t ignorere that people suffer terrible meaningless fates every day, simply because they are on the wrong place the wrong time, or were born the wrong place. If there were a god, I sure as hell wouldnt call him “overwhelmingly good”, not by a long shot.

          • Taxil Necrobane

            Yes, he isn’t obliged to answer. But fine. If you need an answer, I’ll give you a great one. It’s 42.

            I see God as a very good as well as rather Lawful and by the rules as well. He wrote the rules after all. He wants us to follow them. The real problem is that we as whole humanity is rebellious and bucks the rules. We as a whole suffer for it. That is why there is evil and suffering in this world. You are upset at God because you do not understand. What you do not understand, you fear it. What you fear, in time turn to hate. When you hate, it will nearly always end in suffering. The cycle repeats. Just calm down and think longer about it.

          • Taxil, at last we agree on something: 42!

          • Taxil Necrobane

            42 can answer so much!

          • somethingshastobesaid

            What does “42” relate to, if I might ask?

          • 42 is the answer to “the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything” in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” series by Douglas Adams. As such, it has become a bit of a cult answer among sci fi fans.

          • somethingshastobesaid

            I see!

          • Taxil Necrobane

            Everything in the end can be answered by 42. You REALLY need to read “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” books. trust me on this.

          • Taxil, at last we agree on something: 42!

          • Ignacio Machado

            1) If god is out of reach of our understanding how do you know god is good and lawful?
            2) Humanity is, according to you, as God made it. So if humanity is rebellious and this causes evil then God causes evil.
            3) I don’t fear what i don’t know. Dumb people fear what they don’t know. Humanity as a whole has made great strides in order to answer unknowns, and it has been fearless in the process, the only thing they might have to fear is the retaliation of religious lunatics trying to kill them for asking the wrong questions.

          • somethingshastobesaid

            Someone close to me died of cancer when I was 9. She had a genetic mutation that put her at risk of developing cancer, which she did, when the other allele of the gene also mutated in a cell of her breast, making it proliferate uncontrollably to develop a tumor. When the surgeons were supposed to remove it, it was accidently cut, making the cancerous cells reach many parts of her body through her vascular system, which she did not survive. She was the best person I’ve known, and she died a meaningless random death, which was not guided by rebellion, it was not because of a god who thought she deserved it, and it wasn’t a mystery why she died either. She died because the biochemical mechanisms of keeping a cell from proliferating was inhibited by a random genetic mutation, and this fact combined with a surgical error resulted in her death and a whole lot of pain in her loved ones.

            Your argument is that because man is arrogant/rebellious, bad things “simply happen” in our world. You believe that, I believe that MY beliefs should be based on observations, and no observations of mine support your hypothesis. I don’t acknowledge your claim that I’m upset at god, since I don’t believe in god. I understand perfectly fine why she died, since I know how the human body works, but that does not remove any pain. I would also like to adress your claim that humanity as a whole is rebellious and bucks the rules. Those are personality traits, and far from everyone posseses them – which I’ve observed -, so I don’t know how you make that assumption. And if “god’s punishments” and all evil is because of the bad deeds of SOME of all mankind, then I will still stand by my claim and say that god could in no way be fair or “overwhelminly good”, if he lets some people suffer, because of the bad deeds of others.

            Now this may sound like the story of someone who lost someone close and therefore lost all faith. This is not the case, since I actually believed in god at that time, or at least considered the posibillity of his excistence (I was a child). My beliefs turned agnostic over a long period of time after acknowledging more and more FACTUAL observations that I could see were not in line with religious beliefs.

          • Taxil Necrobane

            I am skeptical of your claim of a loved one who died of cancer due to the anonymous of this site and the it came out from no where. But I am content to agree to disagree with you on how each of us view the world.

            The more I learn of this universe and of what is out there in space is telling me that the facts are not adding up. The more we learn how the structure of the universe is laid out, the more it does not make sense. Dark Matter? Dark Energy? The edge of the universe and what exists there? Black holes? It seems to me that you are just looking at the individual trees (which is fine by me), but I am looking at the whole forest.

            I see God is good but also lawful. God sees us as children and want us to grow up right and proper. Much like when I was a child, me and brother got into fights every so often. When we did, we both got spanked by my parents no matter who started it. That helped to curb the fights we had in the end. The same principals apply to all of us,.

            Oh, I should tell you, many if not most people suffer due to the ACTIONS of other people’s bad deeds. Not by God’s punishment or his withdrawing of his protections. That person you claim to have died of cancer might more than likely became that way due to all the pollution and radioactive contamination humanity has dumped into this world. God wants us to take care of this world and I feel we have screwed that job up as well.

          • somethingshastobesaid

            Be as skeptical as you like, even if it was a Lie it could still very well be true for thousands of other cases, so your skepticism doesnt really affect any of my arguments. My name is thor Linnet, I live in copenhagen, Denmark and am a med student if that takes care of the anonymous issue.

            I agree that there’s much about our universe yet to be discovered, but will in No way agree that’s a good argument for a godly existence. Almost systimatically science has debunked many beliefs derived from religion over the last couple hundreds of years, most significant of which was our placement in the universe. An eppileptic would be deemed possesed by the devil, now we know it’s the synchronous firing of neurons that cause the charactaristic symptoms. The list is a LOT longer, the point being that I dont believe it to be a far leap in judgment to think old religions could also be wrong about the existence of a god. After all the only emperical evidence religous individuels rely on, is an ancient text that is beautiful, but not necessarely holds more truth than a work of fiction.

            And as for your last comment: Pollution has been around for a century, random meaningless deaths has been around forever. Genetics Is the foundation of life, and like most things isn’t perfect, sometimes resulting in horrible deformeties and fates for the organisms suffering from its errors. Not long ago a woman in my country died because she slipped at her doorstep and slammed her head into some gardening equipment killing her instantly. Was that because of the bad behavior of mankind? did she deserve it for not keeping order in her equipment?

          • Cole van Christelrooy

            After reading this fascinating discussion, I note that Taxil Necrobane has abandoned it. Well played Thor, you have shown here how religion holds the answers to nothing and only serves to divide us as a species. Though I do not deny any human being their faith in any God, I reject all religions as control mechanisms held over from our evolution as an arboreal species. When man (as we know him today) climbed down from the trees and began to walk upright on the solid rock hurtling through space at 90,000 mph (figure taken from the ‘Galaxy Song’ – Monty Python) we call Earth, his brain grew in size in order to comprehend more readily its new found environment. With this evolution Neanderthals began to fear the setting of the sun and it is from this that all religion was born. The fear that the light-giving, warmth-bringing, celestial orb may never return. The earliest cave paintings show this to be known (Lascaux, France).

            I say that it is you, Taxil, who makes too many assumptions based on your fears. Your fear of being an organism born entirely of chance, being in command of a life which has no meaning. I can only reassure you that this is nothing to fear and please continue to be a good human, not only to those around you whom you love but also to others of differing beliefs and even ones you’ll never meet or journey to their lands because, like you, they are all born of random chance and stardust.

          • Taxil Necrobane

            And here is where I feel I should chime in once more. Mankind, to be a social and sociable being. It needs to be controlled. Wither or not YOU believe in God/Religion, Religion also serves as a crucial role in how human society is held together. All of our modern morals and legal structures are based from various religious teachings (give or take where you are in the world). Compared to other sources of control, it is the nicest. For it prioritize for us to use self control over ourselves.

            I say to you, To accept that life has no meaning, to accept we where born out of pure chance, and that there is no God/life after death is uddery ridiculousness. It shows to me that view point has completely given up any chance or hope to having a shot at more than just this. I am not one to force you to believe in anything, but as long as you an I can remain civil. I would be glad to just shake your hand and let us part ways peacefully. We are, after all, born from God’s hand and the aether/Dark Matter of this universe.

      • Bill Davis

        All that is.

    • GWhiz

      I see the same “information” and I conclude that a grasshopper created everything and is all evil and constantly hungry.

      • Taxil Necrobane

        You likely see yourself as a vegetable in a garden then. But suit yourself if that makes you happy.

  • Taxil Necrobane

    You all might not know this yet, but Penn is actually good buddies with the Conservative and Open Christian radio and TV super star Shawn Hannity. They get along fine and have common views on some topics. One of which I can recall off the top of my head is they are both pro-vaccination.

    • Barnes

      So they both meet one bare minimum requirement for being a non-idiot?

      • Taxil Necrobane

        Now you disappoint me. I expected open minded people here to be a bit more tolerant, or at least be polite. I guess that was too much to expect then?

        • Barnes

          Two people not believing in crazy pseudoscience isn’t really a notable commonality.

          • Taxil Necrobane

            Oh, my mistake. I was assuming you where referring to Penn and Shawn as idiots. I misunderstood what you said there. My bad.

          • Barnes

            No, I was being sassy, but I wasn’t calling anyone an idiot. It just seemed like a weird thing to point out. Like saying that they both have been to Bennigan’s.

          • Barnes

            No, I was being sassy, but I wasn’t calling anyone an idiot. It just seemed like a weird thing to point out. Like saying that they both have been to Bennigan’s.

    • chizwoz

      Yep.
      I admire Penn’s ability to lean across the aisle. I guess he is quite tall though.

  • Taxil Necrobane

    1) I never said God is out of our complete understanding understanding. You made assumptions.
    2)Wrong. Humanity was made with free will. We have taken that free will and made the choice to be rebellious. When we go and do something foolish and then suffer for it. It’s not God’s will to allow evil, but he lets us suffer for our bad choices. Like how you will burn your hand on a hot stove top. Cause and effect really.This is an attempt for us to learn from our screw ups
    3)You don’t appear to understand religion at all. You sound quite angry already. My theory still holds.

    • somethingshastobesaid

      After reading through some of my comments I have realized that I come off as a tad arrogant, for which I apologize. My knowledge of the human body is of course far from complete, however, in the specific case I presented, the cause was indeed known. And I did not bring it up to gain support through empathy, but because it’s an experience from my life that, to me, clearly demonstrates that life Truly is a fragile thing, and that it’s demise has no “reason” per se, or metaphysical meaning. It’s simply a fact of life that its destruction is easy because it’s a low entropy construction in a universe always seeking high entropy. Life continues because of strength in numbers, but its persistence is not evidence of god, though i’ll admit that the existence of everything we currently know of, is truly a mystery. But whatever the explanation is,I feel confident that it’s nothing that fits the religious definition of a god, since the existence of life is but a speck of dust in the infinitie vastness of time and space. Whatever the cause of our universe’s existence i’m sure that understanding it is beyond the capabilities of the human mind, and if the theory on parallel universes holds up, it becomes even more difficult to comprehend the unbeliavably small scale of our existence compared to everything there is. I can’t wait to see what the next great thing discovered about our universe will be! As Tyson asks, I will keep looking up.

  • chizwoz

    My main question is whether Neil is crouching in that picture?

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