This Friday, May 13th, the Freethought Society is sponsoring their first “Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center’s International Educational Seminar via Zoom,” and I will be the keynote speaker. The festivities begin at 6:45 PM ET with standup comedian Ian Harris. There are a number of other speakers, and my keynote will be at 8:00 PM ET. The direct link to the zoom event can be found here. No registration is required. Should be fun.
Psychologist Matthew Brodhead from Michigan State University won the First Sighting in the Wild award by spotting the book at Hooked in Lansing, Michigan, which is described as a bookstore, coffee shop, and wine bar. It sounds like a place that specializes in all my favorite things. Thanks to Matt for the photo and to Hooked for carrying my book. I look forward to visiting when I am next in Lansing.
To learn a little about the new book, you can listen to my recent appearance on the Association for Psychological Science’s “Under the Cortex” podcast with Charles Blue. This was my second time on Under the Cortex, and I was very fortunate that my first interview about The Uses of Delusion was on this pod. Charles is an excellent interlocutor, and the podcast is very professionally done. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity.
Finally, despite all this book-related activity, I managed to write my column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. My latest article, “Is Autism Really a Spectrum?” challenges the current system used to diagnose autism-related disorders. The column includes comments from Amy Lutz, a parent of a young man with severe autism and vice president of the National Council on Severe Autism.
Last Sunday at our local Stonington Free Library, I gave a talk about the history of Stonington’s Steamboat Hotel, co-sponsored by the library and the Stonington Historical Society. It was wonderful to be gathered together for the first time since the beginning of the Pandemic, and thanks to a great combined effort by the two sponsoring organizations, there was a standing-room-only crowd. The event was live-streamed on Facebook and the video is now available on YouTube.
In addition, I can now reveal that there will be a book on the history of the Steamboat Hotel, to be published by The History Press, an imprint of Arcadia Publishing. I will be submitting the final manuscript by the end of the month and with luck, the book will be out by the fall. If so, I will be in the pleasantly awkward position of having two books come out in the same year.The Uses of Delusion will launch on May 2.
Since my last post, the Spanish translation of my book Superstition: A Very Short Introduction was released by Alianza Editorial. A few reviews have come in, including this very nice one in El País. But I was more than delighted to read (with the help of Google translation) this one in FantasyMundo. At the end of a very praising assessment, the author, Fran M. Hidalgo, called Breve historia de la superstición “one of the essential non-fiction books this year.” That one made my day.
I cannot leave without noting how dramatically the world has changed in the last few weeks. The Ukrainian people have demonstrated for all the world what it means to fight for freedom and self-determination. If you are moved to make a donation to help, this Vox article has a pretty good list of options. I will be attending the vigil for Ukraine at the Stonington Free Library on Sunday. It seems important to do whatever we can to support this valiant effort in the face of senseless destruction.
My latest column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, “Mass Psychogenic Illness: The Unacceptable Diagnosis,” is about Havana Syndrome and other diseases that have psychological rather than physiological origins. When you are suffering from genuine and severe physical symptoms, the psychogenic diagnosis is famously difficult to accept. As I argue, the “it’s all in your head” conclusion is neither helpful nor accurate, but many sufferers might benefit from a better understanding of the mind-body connection.
This is a little different. On Sunday, March 13 @ 5:00 pm ET at the Stonington Free Library, I will give a talk about the remarkable history of the building I live in. I’ve never done local history before, but this was something of a pandemic side gig that became one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever undertaken. It was a labor of love and a gift to the village that has been my home for over 20 years. This will be a hybrid event, co-sponsored by The Stonington Free Library and the Stonington Historical Society: in-person at the library and streamed live on the Stonington Historical SocietyFacebook page. If neither of those works for you, the talk will be recorded and posted on the library’s YouTube channel. I will let you know when it goes up.
My latest column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine is “Jumping to Superstitious Conclusions.” A number of recent studies show that people who believe weird things are not very diligent researchers. When asked to investigate a simple problem, they give up more quickly and jump to a conclusion. These studies seem particularly relevant in a period when people are “doing their own research” on vaccines.
Earlier in January, I had a fun conversation with writer Gary Belsky about whether his beloved but beleaguered team, the Arizona Cardinals might be under the sway of a curse. I provided a few pithy quotes at the end of his January 14th article in the New York Times. It was a particular treat to chat with Belsky because I knew him as the co-author, with Cornell University psychologist Thomas Gilovich, of the great 2010 book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them.
As of today, the Spanish edition of my book Superstition: A Very Short Introduction (Breve Historia de la Superstición) is out from Alianza Editorial. In the United States, it is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book format from Barnes & Noble.
The cover of the Spanish edition is somewhat unique in avoiding the more common black cat theme in favor of an image of crossed fingers.
That’s all for now. I hope that January 13th is a lucky day for you, too.
This quick missive will undoubtedly be my last of 2021.
Georgiana Houghton, “The Eye of the Lord.” 1870 (Author photo)
In my December column for Skeptical Inquirer, I venture into the realm of art history to discuss the work of two women, Georgiana Houghton and Hilma af Klint, who may deserve credit for the first introduction of abstract art. For decades, Wassily Kandinsky was identified as the first abstract artist, starting in 1910. But these two women were producing many abstract works before that date. I was drawn to this topic because all three artists were inspired by spiritualist beliefs. The article is entitled “Spiritualism and the Birth of Abstract Art.”
My only other item is a happy announcement. I have signed a contract for an audio version of my new book The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to be Rational.” So, when the book is released next spring it will be available in both hardcover and audiobook form. Given the popularity of audiobooks, I am delighted to know The Uses of Delusion will be produced for earbuds. At this point, I don’t know who the narrator will be.
That’s it for 2021. Merry Christmas, if you are celebrating that holiday, and Happy New Year to all.
I am back to report on two quick things, both of them rather spooky.
First, my latest column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine is “The Psychology of Scary Faces.” I’ve been watching French films lately, and this article was inspired by seeing George Franju’s classic horror film “Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face).” The movie employs several techniques for making faces scary. The column includes some rather gruesome images, so enter at your own risk.
A character in “Les Yeux Sans Visage” reacts to seeing a scary face.
Second, I recently had the opportunity to participate in a science podcast for kids called “Brains on!”, which is a production of Minnesota Public Radio and is supported by the National Science Foundation. The topic was “Spooky superstitions! Why we think 13 is bad luck,” and the hosts did a great job. I am always happy to participate in projects geared toward young people, and this one was a pleasure.
You can learn more about “Brains On!” here. A young kid serves as co-host for each show, and I highly recommend the podcast for any kids who are interested in science. (Which should be ALL kids!) The episode I appeared in is below:
In part due to the Halloween season, I had the opportunity to make a number of media appearances in recent weeks, all of them great fun.
On November 7, I made a virtual appearance on the BBC Channel 4 program “Sunday Brunch” for a lively conversation with hosts Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer. The interview was about my book Superstition: A Very Short Introduction. It ran for about seven minutes, which gave us time to get into sports superstitions, the number 13, and the common British fear of magpies.
Also in the UK, students at Cambridge University have recently formed a group called, Cambridge University Students Against Pseudoscience, and as part of their Fall speaker series, I gave a talk entitled, “How Do You Become Superstitious?” In this case, I had to borrow a friend’s dining room to use as a backdrop because there was a major construction project going on at my house. CUSAP appears to be a terrific organization, and it is my sincere hope that similar groups spring up on other campuses.
Finally, back in early October, I appeared on the “Under the Cortex” podcast of the Association for Psychological Science. The title of the episode was “Why Some People Won’t Get Vaccinated,” which was based on my recent Skeptical Inquirer column “Why Your Uncle Isn’t Going to Get Vaccinated.” This was a very enjoyable conversation about a timely and important topic. You can listen to the discussion below.
That’s all for this missive. I will be back before long to tell you about some upcoming events, but for now, happy Thanksgiving for those of you who will be celebrating.
Summer is over, and the glorious season of autumn is blooming here in New England. I hope that, wherever you are, you are happy and healthy. I have just two items to report.
First, I can now announce that I have a new book arriving next spring from Oxford University Press: The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational. After spending much of my career championing logic, reason, and science, I’ve come to a slightly more nuanced view. Without question, most of the time we should be driven by reason, but there are times when the path of reason is not the best path. Many people do things that don’t strictly make sense, and yet these actions help them achieve their personal goals and navigate the social world. That’s what this book is about.
The Uses of Delusion was the most pleasurable of all my books to write so far, and it is filled with stories and personal anecdotes to illustrate the main points. It will not appear until April or May, but it’s available for pre-order now. I already have one book talk scheduled, for the Stonington (CT) Free Library on August 24, 2022. You can be certain I will remind you about this and other opportunities to hear about the book as they emerge.
My latest “Behavior & Belief” column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine is called “Why Your Uncle Isn’t Going to Get Vaccinated.” All of us here in the US know someone who—six months after the vaccines have been widely available—still resists getting the shot. Meanwhile the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus rages. At this point, it seems unlikely these people can be convinced to get vaccinated, and in this article, I provide some possible explanations for a decision that seems more than a little crazy to the rest of us.