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—Benjamin Radford and Kendrick Frazier

CHEATS AND DECEITS: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead . Martin Stevens. In this book, Martin Stevens, associate professor of sensory and evolutionary ecology at the University of Exeter, examines how trickery and deception are widespread in nature. Animals and plants mimic other objects or species in the environment for protection, to trick other species into rearing their young, to lure prey to their death, and to deceive potential mates for reproduction. Harmless butterflies, for example, mimic the wing patterning of a poisonous butterfly to avoid being eaten. Cheats and Deceits describes the remarkable range of such adaptations in nature and considers how they have evolved as part of an arms race between predator and prey or host and parasite. Skeptics are inherently interested in deception—not only how people mislead each other but also how people fool themselves. Stevens’s book reminds us that trickery, in all its many forms, is common in the world around us and is indeed part of evolution and life itself. Oxford University Press, 2016, 296 pp, $34.95.

THE EDGE OF REASON: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World. Julian Baggini. Not just science is under siege; reason itself is more and more dismissed and has ceased to be a universally admired faculty. British philosopher, writer, and cofounder of The Philosopher’s Magazine Julian Baggini says we have lost our reason, and it’s not an accident. It is too often misperceived as a cold tool and “an enemy of mystery and ambiguity.” Baggini, who considers himself a generalist whose perspective enables him to appreciate virtues of reason less evident from purely academic viewpoints, sets out here to rehabilitate reason and rationality (he uses both terms interchangeably). It is important because “it is only through the proper use of reason that we can find our way out of the quagmires in which many big issues of our times have become stuck.” He has a moderate, commonsense view of reason, drawing on Hume’s “mitigated skepticism,” and he sets out to debunk myths about reason that have led to its widespread diminishment (the first is “that reason is purely objective and requires no subjective judgment”). He ends with a short section on the uses of skepticism and a fifty-two-point “User’s Guide to Reason.” It is a timely and important book. Yale University Press, 2016, 272 pp., $26.

FELT TIME: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time. Marc Wittmann, translated by Erik Butler. We have varying and subjective perceptions of time; children have trouble waiting for anything, while as we grow older, time seems to speed up. Marc Wittmann, a research fellow at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Frieburg, Germany, explores the riddle of subjective time. Drawing on the latest insights from psychology and neuroscience, Wittmann offers new answers to the question of how we experience time. Wittmann explains, among other things, how we choose between savoring the moment and deferring gratification; why impulsive people are bored easily; and why the feeling of duration can serve as an “error signal,” letting us know when it is taking too long for dinner to be ready or for the bus to come. The book is of particular significance to skeptics investigating or seeking to understand psychological factors underlying eyewitness testimony and perceived elapsed time. It suggests, for example, that the duration of sudden or surprising events (such as UFO, ghost, or Bigfoot sightings) may be significantly overestimated by the eyewitnesses. The MIT Press, 2016, 184 pp, $24.95.

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Skeptical Inquirer
Jan Feb 2017

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