Liveblogging The Amazing Meeting 9: Saturday Afternoon Sessions

***If you want instant updates, I suggest reading the #TAM9 Twitter feed***

Thanks to @UAJamie for the great pictures!

We’ll be providing updates on the conference all day while getting interviews with many of the speakers. Stick around and refresh the page for more info!

You can read about the Friday Morning Session here, the Friday Afternoon Session here, the Saturday Morning Session here, the Saturday Afternoon Session here, the Sunday Morning Session here, and the Sunday Afternoon Session here.

Alright… after a couple interviews, I’m back just in time to catch the end of Carol Tavris‘ speech, in which she talks about Dissent and Dissonance. There are soundbytes left and right — according to one Tweeter, it sounds like it was the Don’t Be a Dick speech, but with specific examples and a focus on practicality. She mentions that our movement is large and there will inevitably be significant differences of opinion. We need to find a way to work through that.

It’s Bill Nye! His talk is called “Bringing them around with our place in space.”

First up is a story about how Ripley’s Believe It or Not said that bumblebees were aerodynamically unable to fly! Nye knew that was wrong and became skeptical at a young age.

He went to Cornell, where he learned Astronomy under Carl Sagan. He shows a picture of him with Sagan that totally belongs on this site.

When Nye began his show, Sagan sent him a letter saying he had seen it, adding, “Also, I thought I caught a few conceptual errors.” :) But Nye backed up what he said on his show.

Another time, Nye gave a lecture at a community college and mentioned that, unlike the account in the Book of Genesis, the moon does not give off its own light. Rather, it reflects light. A lady screamed, “We believe in god!” and stormed out. Yikes.

“By the way, ‘ice sheet’ is a term that means ‘sheet of ice’.” — Nye, dumbing down the lecture a bit for the crowd :)

Now, we’re talking about going to Mars. Sweet. There was a time we could imagine going to Mars, finding water, possibly finding microbial life, and, oh, how that would change the world! But we’re not going to be exploring space more anytime soon.

In October of this year, Earth will have more than 7 billion people. This alone is evidence for climate change, because that many people doing stuff (“Can I say stuff?” asks Nye) will affect our climate.

There’s a lot of talk about the amazing things the Planetary Society, which Nye is the Executive Director of, is doing. You can get a gist of them by looking at the “Innovative Technologies” section of this page.

Nye is channeling a bit of Sagan, too, talking about how this planet is all we have and why we must protect it. We’re on a pale blue dot, after all. But we have the ability to do that and we have all the social media we could ever want to create a real change. Gil Scott-Heron was wrong when he said “the revolution will not be televised.”

The last line of his talk: “With science, we can — dare I say it — change the world!”

The last talk of the night is from Richard Dawkins, who will be talking about his forthcoming book aimed at young adults The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. It’s an exclusive sneak preview!

He’s introduced by James Randi, who praises two of Dawkins’ previous books The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion.

Last year, Dawkins just participated in a Q&A, so it’s a nice change at TAM to hear him give a talk.

You have to wonder if Dawkins is going to address ElevatorGate… in the introduction, he doesn’t mention it.

He asks everyone that he’s only showing us a preview of the book with the understanding that it doesn’t leave the room — no video or photos. Umm… good luck with that.

There are three types of magic Dawkins will discuss in the book:

1) Fairy Tale Spells
2) Illusionists, Conjurors, “Magicians” [Nice picture of James Randi here!]
3) The magic of reality

In each chapter, Dawkins will talk about the myth before he talks about the reality. For example, in the chapter asking “Who was the First Person?” He’ll mention the Christian answer (mixed in with all other religious/cultural nonsense) before saying the truth: There was never really a “first person.”

That goes on for a while. Where do the light and day come from? What is a rainbow? When and how did everything begin? What is an earthquake? Why do bad things happen to good people? What is a miracle? The myths will be followed by the scientific truths.

Once again, we have a speaker who’s (literally) telling us about his book, things we can read for ourselves. While it’s really exciting to see an exclusive preview of Dawkins’ new book, I feel like it’d be more entertaining to hear how the book came about or which chapters were the most challenging to write.

Since it’s TAM9, Dawkins is going to go in some depth about Chapter 9: “Are We Alone?” (Eerily perfect for this conference…)

Turns out if life arises once in the universe, we’re alone. But if it happened once per galaxy, there could be 100,000,000,000 life forms. If it happened once per star, there would be 1022 lives. Crazy to imagine…

If we are alone, though, think about how rare it would have to be. Virtually impossible. So the notion of recreating the origin of life in a lab is just silly. What you want, then, is a “staggeringly implausible theory”! Dawkins doesn’t think that’s the case. He thinks it’s more likely there are indeed other forms of life out there.

Defining “intelligent life” is another question, Dawkins says, as he puts up images of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin :) (And some commenters are Twitter are whining about how he put up images of two women. That wasn’t his point…)

So let’s say intelligent life exists out there. What would it look like? How much of what we know about life here would be true of those life forms? Just because things are true for us, would it also be true for them? (Sure, this is speculation, but Dawkins finds them to be interesting questions.)

Does life have to be Darwinian? Dawkins says it would have to be. That’s really the only thing he’s sure about regarding other life forms.

What kind of event is an origin of life? We don’t even know how it happened on Earth, but we know it must have been the origin of a high-fidelity replicator. Like DNA, though that’s way more complex than what the original replicator would’ve been.

Does it have to be carbon? Does life need protein? What if evolution were re-run? What would happen? (How did Dawkins’ talk turn into a college science class…?)

This is all well and good, but it’s just a rehashing of Dawkins’ previous books. Nothing his fans haven’t heard before.

The general reaction on Twitter seems to be that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Wiseman’s talks (and the space panel from yesterday) were the highlights on stage so far. Dawkins is good, but he’s not killing it.

He ends his talk on a very different note: suggesting that we offer childcare at conferences so that mothers/parents can attend — a fantastic gesture. Camp Quest has offered this service for years now at various conferences and Dawkins’ foundation has partnered with them to offer this service at future conferences.

There’s a brief Q&A at the end… nothing too interesting to note. Though I should mention that Chuck Norris is also in the hotel right now for a martial arts conference. Oh, if only the encounters that are now going on in my mind would happen in real life…

Dawkins says he has no idea who Chuck Norris is, solidifying his Britishness and the fact that he really doesn’t pay attention to what happens on the Internet.

That’s it for tonight! We’ll be back tomorrow for the last of the talks.

By the way, a special shoutout goes to Elyse Anders and the Women Thinking Free Foundation. They coordinated it so that over 300 TAM attendees got their Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (TDaP) Vaccines (for free) in just under 6 hours today. Take THAT, Jenny McCarthy!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Msgalaxy

    Excellent recap, Hemant! Not as good as being there, but at least I know you’ll be on my Dream Team next year. :)

    ~ Ms Galaxy

  • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

    I must have missed what Dawkin’s point was re: Palin and Bachmann. I must not be considered intelligent life…

    • Anonymous

      Wait, what? I hadn’t really picked up from your comments that you were a crazy Republican bent on restoring religion into American law through force if necessary. I’m not completely sure what you’re bent out of shape about; there’s nobody else in quite the same league of ignorance as Palin and Bachmann when it comes to, well, anything.

      • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

        Proportionally there are a lot more male crazy Republican politicians bent on restoring religion into American law through force if necessary than there are female crazy etc. etc. For example, Ms. Bachmann is only one of 17 female US Representatives in the Republican caucus (there are 240 republican Representatives). There are currently only 35 current or former female governors of a US state, 15 of which were Republican. Obviously the number of crazies bent on etc. etc. is much harder to quantify. The fact that two female crazy etc. etc. made it onto the slide and
        (from what I hear) no male crazy etc. etc. has an obvious connotation.

        The fact that Mr. Mehta, who I respect, dismisses this and states that I’ve missed the point, it makes me curious as to what his point was. If is point was that there are crazy Republican etc. etc. why limit depictions to such a small subset?

        • Anonymous

          I understand more where you’re coming from now, but I think the reason these people were chosen for the slide was the incoming election for presidency. These people could wield a huge amount of power in this country, and out of possible candidates, these two are the scariest in terms of policy (granted, Palin hasn’t yet submitted her candidacy). If someone like Bill O’Reilly had been running for president, I wonder if Dawkins might have placed him on the slide as well. I surely cannot know his intent, but this is just my guess.

          • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

            Neither Bachmann or Palin are serious contenders for even the nomination. If anything they are dangerous in that they move the overton window to the right. I would argue that they’re not extraordinarily scary compared to their colleages (unless one finds vaginas to be scary.)

            Tim Pawlenty IS a serious contender for the nomination, and he vetoed gas tax increases in his state (and thus weak infrastructure repair budgets) up to the point that I-35 collapsed. If/when Perry announces his campaign, he will represent the pinnacle of air-headed Republican pandering (he thinks Texas would be better off as its own country. His response to the drought/wildfires in texas is to (a) complain about lack of federal disaster funds, and (b) pray for rain). I could go on.

            Do I think Dawkins intended to imply that female Republicans are particularly idiotic? No, of course not, but intent doesn’t matter. Effect does.

            • Ella

              But from an international perspective, Bachmann and Palin are much more well known.  I actually recognise their names and vaguely know about their ignorance.  I’ve got no clue who Tim Pawlenty is (though from your description he sounds plenty crazy).

              • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

                Tim Pawlenty is quite crazy, but his polling numbers are abysmal. He’s been desperate to get attention and everyone knows it.

                Palin and Bachmann are major political players. If not as candidates then just as political voices alone. Republicans really  love Bachmann and Palin. It’s one of the things that has liberals like me fascinated with them and loving to point out their insanity. They are huge gaff machines and an endless source of entertainment. Dawkins was just using examples that would resonate the most. Examples that would get the biggest laughs.

                Stating that showing those 2 females as examples has an obvious anti-female connotation is grasping at straws.

                • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

                  See my reply to Ella – they are popular in the Tea Party BECAUSE they are women in an anti-woman movement. The media gives them extra attention because they are women in an anti-woman movement. Dawkins is more familiar with them because they are women in an anti-woman movement. How is using their faces as the symbol of idiotic politics NOT an example of cultural sexism? Again, I don’t think Dawkins intended to be sexist – I DO think he was not thoughtful about his presentation and relied on sexist cultural references rather than developing anything interesting.

                  To claim that they are “major political players” is laughable – sure, they are very influential with a tiny but vocal minority of the Republican party, but so is Ron Paul. So is Eric Cantor (who pretty much single-handedly bombed a relatively non-contentious negotiation to raise the debt ceiling). If either of them wins the Republican nomination I will eat a shoe.

                • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

                  See my reply to Ella – they are popular in the Tea Party BECAUSE they are women in an anti-woman movement. The media gives them extra attention because they are women in an anti-woman movement. Dawkins is more familiar with them because they are women in an anti-woman movement. How is using their faces as the symbol of idiotic politics NOT an example of cultural sexism? Again, I don’t think Dawkins intended to be sexist – I DO think he was not thoughtful about his presentation and relied on sexist cultural references rather than developing anything interesting.

                  To claim that they are “major political players” is laughable – sure, they are very influential with a tiny but vocal minority of the Republican party, but so is Ron Paul. So is Eric Cantor (who pretty much single-handedly bombed a relatively non-contentious negotiation to raise the debt ceiling). If either of them wins the Republican nomination I will eat a shoe.

                • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

                  Wow. So the main reason those 2 women are well-known is sexism. People like them because they’re sexist. People hate them because they’re sexist. The media gives them attention because they’re sexist. It’s all about the sexism.

                  That’s not paranoia.

              • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

                Tim Pawlenty is quite crazy, but his polling numbers are abysmal. He’s been desperate to get attention and everyone knows it.

                Palin and Bachmann are major political players. If not as candidates then just as political voices alone. Republicans really  love Bachmann and Palin. It’s one of the things that has liberals like me fascinated with them and loving to point out their insanity. They are huge gaff machines and an endless source of entertainment. Dawkins was just using examples that would resonate the most. Examples that would get the biggest laughs.

                Stating that showing those 2 females as examples has an obvious anti-female connotation is grasping at straws.

              • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

                The fact that Palin and Bachmann are more famous for being (legitimately) idiotic than their legitimately idiotic colleages is a SIGN of the way sexism works in our country.  Amanda Marcotte just wrote a timely explanation of the fact that their popularity rests on the hyper-chauvinistic culture of the far-right.

            • Ella

              But from an international perspective, Bachmann and Palin are much more well known.  I actually recognise their names and vaguely know about their ignorance.  I’ve got no clue who Tim Pawlenty is (though from your description he sounds plenty crazy).

  • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

    I must have missed what Dawkin’s point was re: Palin and Bachmann. I must not be considered intelligent life…

  • Anonymous

    Chuck Norris once met Dawkins, and after their meeting Dawkins repented and found god.

    (atheist here, but this non-believer can appreciate the Chuck Norris meme on the internet)

  • Trace

    Sounds great…can’t wait to her about some of the interviews you did.

  • Karl Winkelman

    I did not get the “Don’t be a Dick” impression for Carol’s speech.  If anything, she actually reinforced that the whole spectrum of expression was fine, but be aware of context.

  • Beau Quilter

    Re: Richard Dawkins and Chuck Norris.

    “Who is Chuck Norris?” is the question I would expect from many teens and college age students. Perhaps Dawkins is simply demonstrating that he’s not from a generation that knows Norris.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Rev. Ouabache

    For example, in the chapter asking “Who was the First Person?” [Dawkins]’ll
    mention the Christian answer (mixed in with all other religious/cultural
    nonsense) before saying the truth: There was never really a “first
    person.”

    I can’t wait for the book to come out because my daughter asked me that exact question a couple of months ago. Try as I might I don’t know how to explain that to a 4 year old. Especially when her grandma is telling her about Adam and Eve.

  • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

    I know who Chuck Norris is, he’s an idiot Americans are inexplicably fascinated with.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M4O2KN6G7BUQBMXJ3LJJMASJGE This field is mandatory

      Yes, because Brits aren’t inexplicably fascinated by anyone, right?  After all, no one in the UK has ever heard of Katie Price, right?

  • Tressa

    Thank you very much for live blogging this. I’ve been to the last three TAMs and chose to sit this one out so I could buy a new computer. Your blogging is really helping with the No-TAM-Blues! Much appreciated!

  • Tressa

    Thank you very much for live blogging this. I’ve been to the last three TAMs and chose to sit this one out so I could buy a new computer. Your blogging is really helping with the No-TAM-Blues! Much appreciated!

  • Sarah CQ

    @sthomson:disqus
    -With all the blunders they have made and things they have done, Palin and Bachmann are popularly considered, if not stupid, terribly ignorant. I’d say even more so with Bachmann now. Even if you personally don’t think that, it has become a cultural joke (among their non-supporters) that Dawkins was referring to.
     

    • http://anthrosarah.blogspot.com Sarah T.

      If we consider current impact, Ms. Palin does not hold public office and
      is not running for President. Wouldn’t, say, George W. Bush have been
      an example of a politician who is popularly considered to be terribly
      ignorant, with disastrous effects on the national and world stages?

      As for Ms. Bachmann’s ignorance, that seems to come down to her ignorance about economics (along with many MANY of her tea party colleages) and a confusion between John Wayne and JW Gacey (which is a mistake not in knowledge but in knowledge retrieval).

  • Beckster

    Heck yeah, I could actually think about coming if there were childcare.

    • michelle

      Absolutely!  I have never been able to attend TAM before for that very reason. 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M4O2KN6G7BUQBMXJ3LJJMASJGE This field is mandatory

        If people start bringing their fucking kids, I’ll stop attending. The last thing I want is a bunch of screaming kids running around, fucking up the event for everyone else. You parents are notoriously bad at determining when your kids are annoying. I can’t even eat at a restaurant or see a film these days without listening to kids talking loudly, screaming and crying, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    “Take THAT, Jenny McCarthy!”
    and Bill Maher!

    I like Maher. I watch every episode of Real Time and I own Religulous, but we let him get off too easy for that ridiculous anti-vax stance. FFS on one episode he did an interview with a doctor and directly encouraged pregnant mothers NOT to get vaccinated for Swine Flu. The people who are most at danger of it. That is just terribly fucked up.

  • Greg

    Who’s Chuck Norris?

    Don’t worry, Google is my friend, and I’m British. (So I’ll find out, and that explains things, apparently… ;))

  • Stephica

    Dawkins did have a blog entry on his own website (written by someone else on his staff) about Chuck Norris: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/4808-chuck-norris-mary-might-have-aborted-jesus-christ-under-obamacare-39-herodcare-39


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