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The Mind of the Market: Excerpt

Prologue — Economics for Everyone

In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, recounted in Matthew 25:14–29, the gospel author recalls the messiah as saying in the final verse: “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” Out of context this hardly sounds like the wisdom of the prophet who proclaimed that the meek shall inherit the earth, but in context, Jesus’ point was that properly investing one’s money (as measured in “talents”) generates even more wealth. The servant who was given five talents invested it and gave his master ten talents in return. The servant who was given two talents invested it and gave his master four talents in return. But the servant who was given one talent buried it in the ground and gave his master back just the one talent. The master then ordered his risk-averse servant to give the one talent to the servant who had doubled his investment of five talents, and so he who earned the most was rewarded with even more. And thus it is that the rich get richer.

Jesus probably had in mind something more than an economic allegory about selecting the right investment tool for your money, but I want to employ the story as a parable about the mind of the market. In the 1960s, the sociologist of science Robert K. Merton conducted an extensive study of how scientific ideas are discovered and credited in the marketplace of ideas — in this case treating science as a market — and discovered that eminent scientists typically receive more credit than they deserve simply by dint of having a big name, while their junior colleagues and graduate students, who usually do most of the work, go largely unnoticed.1 A similar well-known effect can be seen in how both innovative ideas and clever quotes gravitate up and are given credit to the most famous person associated with them.2

Merton called this the Matthew Effect. Marketers know it as Cumulative Advantage. In a broader economic context I shall refer to it here as the Bestseller Effect. Once a product gets a head-start in sales it signals to consumers that other people want that product and therefore it must be good thereby causing them to desire it as well, which leads even more people to purchase the product, sending more signals to other consumers that they too must have it, and so it climbs up the bestseller list. Everyone in business knows about the effect, which is why authors and publishers, for example, try so fervently to land their book on the New York Times bestseller list. Once you are on the list bookstores move your title to the “bestseller” bookcase (sometimes even labeled “New York Times Bestseller List”) and to the front of the store where copies of the book are stacked like cordwood. This sends a signal to potential book buyers entering the store that this must be a good read, triggering an increase in sales that gets reported to the New York Times book review editors, who bump the title up the list, sending another signal to bookstore buyers to order even more copies, which secures the title more time in the bestseller list that increases sales even further, and round and round the feedback loop goes as the richest authors get even richer.3

To find out if the Bestseller Effect is real, the Columbia University sociologist Duncan Watts and his collaborators Matthew Salganik and Peter Dodds tested it in a web-based experiment in which 14,000 participants registered at a Web site where they had the opportunity to listen to, rate, and download songs by unknown bands.4 One group of registrants were only given the names of the songs and bands, while a second group of registrants were also shown how many times the song had been downloaded. The researchers called this the “social influence” condition, because they wanted to know if seeing how many people had downloaded a song would influence subjects’ decision on whether or not to download it. Predictably, the Web participants in the social influence condition were influenced by the download rate figures: songs with a higher download number were more likely to be downloaded by new participants, whereas subjects in the independent group who saw no download rates, revealed dramatically different song preferences.5 This is not to deny that the quality of a song or a book or any other product does not matter. Of course it does, and this too is measurable. But it turns out that subjective consumer preferences grounded in relative rankings by other consumers can and often does wash out the effects of more objective ratings of product quality.

Markets that traffic in rankings, ratings, and bestseller lists seem to operate on their own volition, almost like a collective organism. In fact, this is only one of many effects we shall see in this book that demonstrate just how much the mind influences the market, and in a broader sense how markets seem to have a mind of their own. Consider another economic parable with an evolutionary lesson related to the Bestseller Effect.

Imagine that you are a banker with a limited amount of money to lend. If you advance loans to people who are the poorest credit risks, you are taking a great gamble that they will default on their loans and you will go out of business. This sets up a paradox: the people who most need the money are also the worst credit risks and thus cannot get a loan, whereas the people who least need the money are also the best credit risks and thus once again the rich get richer. The evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides call this the Banker’s Paradox, and they apply it to a deeper evolutionary problem: to whom should we extend our friendship? The Banker’s Paradox, they suggest, “is analogous to a serious adaptive problem faced by our hominid ancestors: exactly when an ancestral hunter-gatherer is in most dire need of assistance, she becomes a bad ‘credit risk’ and, for this reason, is less attractive as a potential recipient of assistance.”6

If we think of life as an economy, and if we count resources as anything we have that could help others — including and especially friendship — by the logic of the Banker’s Paradox we have to make difficult choices in assessing the credit risk of people we encounter. In evolutionary theory the larger problem to be solved here is altruism: why should I sacrifice my genes for someone else’s genes? Or, more technically, an altruistic act is one that lowers my reproductive success while simultaneously raising the reproductive success of someone else.

Standard theory suggests two evolutionary pathways to altruism: kin selection (“blood is thicker than water”) and reciprocal altruism (“I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine”). By helping my kin relations, and by extending a helping hand to those who will reciprocate my altruism, I am helping myself. Thus, there will be a selection for those who are inclined to be altruistic … to a point. With limited resources we can’t help everyone and so we must assess credit risks, and some people are better risks than others. Here again is the Banker’s Paradox: those most in need of assistance are the least likely to be given help, and so yet again the rich get richer. But not always, because fair weather friends may be faking their signs of altruistic tendencies and later fail to come to our aid when the weather turns decidedly stormy. By contrast, true friends are those who are deeply committed to our welfare regardless of the potential for reciprocity. “It is this kind of friend that the fair weather friend is the counterfeit of,” Tooby and Cosmides continue. “If you are a hunter-gatherer with few or no individuals who are deeply engaged in your welfare, then you are extremely vulnerable to the volatility of events — a hostage to fortune.”7 The worse the environment the more important it is that we have true friends, and the environment of our evolutionary past was no picnic.

Evolution, it is suggested, would have selected for adaptations to work around the Banker’s Paradox dilemmas, including selecting us to

  1. seek recognition from our fellow group members for our trustworthiness and reliability,
  2. cultivate those attributes most desired by others in our group,
  3. participate in social activities that recognize and reinforce such pro-social attributes,
  4. avoid social activities that lead to untrustworthy actions and therefore a negative reputation,
  5. notice similar attributes of trustworthiness in others, and
  6. develop the ability to discriminate between true and fair weather friends.

Thus, Tooby and Cosmides conclude, the Banker’s Paradox leads us to an evolved psychology where “if you are unusually or uniquely valuable to someone else — for whatever reason — then that person has an uncommonly strong interest in your survival during times of difficulty. The interest they have in your survival makes them, therefore, highly valuable to you. The fact that they have a stake in you means…that you have a stake in them. Moreover, to the extent they recognize this, the initial stake they have in you may be augmented.”8 Through such augmentation can the poor become rich through the evolved foundation of friendship.

If this sounds like I have reduced human relationships to nothing more than credit calculations and reciprocal relations, in my previous book, The Science of Good and Evil, I demonstrate how kin selection and reciprocal altruism led to the evolution of deep and real moral emotions that include love, friendship, and trust, because it is not enough to fake being a good and faithful spouse, friend, or partner; you actually have to believe it yourself, and actions follow beliefs. Thus it is that morality is real and transcendent, and human relations genuine and deeply ingrained in our nature.

In 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. The book was so controversial that in 1861 the British Association for the Advancement of Science devoted a special session of its annual conference to it. Talks were given, pro and con, with one critic carping that Darwin’s book was too theoretical and that he should have just “put his facts before us and let them rest.” In attendance was Darwin’s friend and colleague, the political economist and social activist Henry Fawcett, who wrote Darwin to report on the theory’s reception (Darwin did not attend such meetings, usually due to ill health and family obligations). Darwin wrote Fawcett back, explaining the proper relationship between facts and theory:

About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize, and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!9

This quote was the centerpiece of the first of my monthly columns for Scientific American, in which I elevated it to a principle I call “Darwin’s Dictum,”10 as identified in the final clause: all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service.

Darwin’s Dictum encodes the philosophy of science of this book: if observations are to be of any use they must be tested against some view — a thesis, model, hypothesis, theory, or paradigm. Since the facts never just speak for themselves, they must be interpreted through the colored lenses of ideas — percepts need concepts. Science is an exquisite blend of data and theory — percepts and concepts — that together form the bedrock for the foundation of science, the greatest tool ever devised for understanding how the world works. We can no more separate our theories and concepts from our data and percepts than we can find a truly objective Archimedean point — a god’s eye view — of ourselves and our world.

One view that I am writing against in this book, ironically, is the belief that Darwin and the theory of evolution have no place in the social sciences, especially in the study of human social and economic behavior. Whereas scientists are up in arms about attempts to teach creationism and Intelligent Design in public school biology classrooms (see my book Why Darwin Matters), and are distraught by the dismal state of science education and the lack of acceptance of Darwin’s theory (less than half of Americans believe that humans evolved)11, most scientists — especially social scientists — have resisted with the emotional intensity of a creationist any attempts to apply evolutionary thinking to psychology, sociology, and economics. The reason for this resistance — understandable at the time — was the equation of evolutionary theory with Social Darwinism and especially the extreme hereditarian views that led to enforced sterilization of the mentally retarded in America, and to the Nazi eugenics program that led to the Holocaust. As a consequence, post-World War Two social scientists steered a wide course around any attempts to employ evolutionary theory to the study of human behavior, and instead focused almost exclusively on socio-cultural explanations.

A second view that I am writing against is the theory of Homo economicus, which holds that “Economic Man” has unbounded rationality, self-interest, and free will, and that we are selfish, self-maximizing, and efficient in our decisions and choices. When evolutionary thinking and modern psychological theories and techniques are applied to the study of human behavior in the marketplace, we find that the theory of Homo economicus — which has been the bedrock of Traditional Economics — is often wrong or woefully lacking in explanatory power. It turns out that we are remarkably irrational creatures, driven as much (if not more) by deep and unconscious emotions that evolved over the eons, as we are by logic and conscious reason developed in the modern world.

A third view that I am writing against is the belief, first propounded in 1849 by the British historian Thomas Carlyle, that economics is “the dismal science.” For the next century and a half most people thought of it that way, seeing only a field bogged down in mathematical models, financial analyses, and theoretical representations of people as rationally calculating and maximally selfish machines. In reality, when we examine all three of these views together, we find that economics is anything but dismal. First, it is undergoing the most dynamic revolution since Adam Smith founded the science in 1776 with his book The Wealth of Nations. Rich transdisciplinary hybrids are emerging to breath new life into an old science, such as evolutionary economics, complexity economics, behavioral economics, neuroeconomics, and what I call virtue economics. Second, and more important, people, companies, and nations care deeply and passionately about their finances, and they always have. On this level, economics has never been dismal. Put a couple of liberals and conservatives in a room together and ask them to dispassionately discuss the economics of universal health care, the privatization of social services, the cost-benefits of foreign aid, or the relative merits of a flat tax versus a progressive tax, and see just how quickly the tone of the conversation will escalate into a state that is anything but dismal.

I have spent thirty years in science dealing with such controversial topics as evolution, creationism, global warming, Holocaust denial, racial differences in I.Q., racial differences in sports, gender differences in cognitive abilities, conspiracy theories ranging from Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to the JFK, RFK, and MLK assassinations, alternative and complimentary medicine, reincarnation and the afterlife, and even God and religion. Yet, it has been my experience that as ruffled feathers go, economics is second to none in emotive volatility. If ever we need impartiality in our assessment of the facts — especially when the facts do not just speak for themselves — it is in economics. We must study the laws of human behavior in economies as the physicist, chemist, or biologist studies the laws of nature; and when we do so, because we are dealing with a subject to which most people are emotionally invested, we must make a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, bewail, or scorn human actions, but to understand them. Allow me to explain how I came to this subject.

In the mid-1970s, I was an undergraduate at Pepperdine University, a Church of Christ institution with a strong conservative bent at a time when liberals ruled academe. I matriculated there because I was an evangelical Christian who wanted to be a college professor, so theology seemed like the most appropriate field and Pepperdine had a strong theology department (it didn’t hurt that the campus is located in the majestic Malibu hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean). I soon discovered, however, that in order to earn a Ph.D. in theology one had to master four dead languages — Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Aramaic — and since I found even Spanish to be taxing, this career choice was problematic. When my advisors also warned me about the questionable university job market for theologians, and my parents began to wonder aloud what I was planning to do for a living, I switched to psychology, where I discovered the language of science, in which I flourished. Theology is based on logical inquiry, philosophical disputation, and literary deconstruction. Science is founded on empirical data, statistical analysis, and theory building. For my style of thinking the latter was a better fit.

My introduction to economics came in my senior year when many of the students in the psychology department were reading a cinderblock of a book entitled Atlas Shrugged, by the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. I had never heard of the book or the author, and the novel’s size was so intimidating that I refused to join the ranks of the enthused for months, until social pressure pushed me into taking the plunge. I trudged through the first hundred pages (patience was strongly advised) until the gripping mystery of the man who stopped the motor of the world swept me through the next thousand pages.

I found Atlas Shrugged to be a remarkable book, as many have. In fact, in 1991 the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club surveyed readers about books that “made a difference” in their lives. Atlas Shrugged was rated second only to the Bible.12 Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism was based on four fundamental principles:

  1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality;
  2. Epistemology: Reason;
  3. Ethics: Self-interest;
  4. Politics: Capitalism.13

Although I now disagree with her ethics of self-interest (science shows that in addition to being selfish, competitive, and greedy, we also harbor a great capacity for altruism, cooperation, and charity), reading Rand led me to the extensive body of literature on business, markets, and economics.

I cannot say for certain whether it was the merits of free market economics and fiscal conservatism (which are considerable) that convinced me of its veracity, or if it was my disposition that reverberated so well with its worldview. As it is for most belief systems we hold, it was probably a combination of both. I was raised by parents who could best be described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Products of the depression and motivated by the fear of falling back into abject poverty, they skipped college and worked full time well into their later years. Throughout my childhood I was inculcated with the fundamental principles of economic conservatism: hard work, personal responsibility, self-determination, financial autonomy, small government, and free markets. Even though they were not in the least religious (as so many conservatives are today), my parents were exceedingly generous to those who were less fortunate — greed is good, but charity is better.

After Pepperdine, I began a graduate program in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullerton, by which time I had abandoned my religious faith and embraced in its stead the secular values of the Enlightenment and the rigorous methods and provisional truths of science.14 But after two years of enticing rats to press bars in proportion to the frequency and intensity of the reinforcements we gave them, my enthusiasm for practicing this type of science waned while my wanderlust for the real world waxed.15 I went to the campus career development office and inquired what I might do for a living with a Master’s degree. “What are you educated to do?” they inquired. “Train rats,” I replied sardonically. “What else can you do?” they persisted. “Well,” I searched, “I can research and write.” The employment book included a job description for research and writing at a trade magazine of the bicycle industry, about which I knew nothing. My first assignment was to attend a press conference hosted by Cycles Peugeot and Michelin Tires in honor of John Marino, a professional bicycle racer who broke the transcontinental record from Los Angeles to New York. I fell in love with the sport, entering my first race that weekend, and for the next two years I learned the business of publishing, the economics of sales and marketing, and the sport of cycling. I wrote articles, sold advertisements, and rode my bike as far as I could. At the end of 1981, I left the magazine to race full time, supported by corporate sponsors and an adjunct professor’s salary from teaching psychology at Glendale College.

One day in 1981, during a long training ride, Marino told me about Andrew Galambos, a retired physicist teaching private courses through his own Free Enterprise Institute, under an umbrella field he called “Volitional Science.” The introductory course was V-50. This was Econ 101 on free market steroids, an invigoratingly muscular black-and-white world where Adam Smith is good, Karl Marx bad; individualism is good, collectivism bad; free economies are good, mixed economies are bad. The course was popular in Orange County, California (labeled by our neighbors in L.A. County as the “Orange Curtain”), and the time was right with Ronald Reagan as President and conservatives on the ascendant. Where Rand advocated for limited government, Galambos proffered a theory in which everything in society would be privatized until government simply falls into disuse and disappears. Galambos identified three types of property: primordial (one’s life), primary (one’s thoughts and ideas), and secondary (derivatives of primordial and primary property, such as the utilization of land and material goods). Thus, Galambos defined capitalism as “that societal structure whose mechanism is capable of protecting all forms of private property completely.” To realize a truly free society, then, we have merely “to discover the proper means of creating a capitalist society.” In this free society, we are all capitalists.16

Galambos’s story is not unusual in the history of the oft-fringy libertarian movement. He had a massive ego that propelled him to a successful career as a private lecturer, but led him to such ego-inflating pronouncements as his classification of all sciences into physical, biological, and his own “volitional sciences.” His towering intellect took him to great heights of interdisciplinary creativity, but often left him and his students tangled up in contradictions, as when we all had to sign a contract promising that we would not disclose his ideas to anyone, while we were also inveigled to solicit others to enroll. (“You’ve got to take this great course.” “What’s it about?” “I can’t tell you.”) And he had a remarkable ability to lecture for hours without notes in an entertainingly colloquial style, but when two hours stretched into three, and three hours dragged into four, his audiences were never left wanting for more. Most problematic, however, was any hope of translating theory into practice, which is where the rubber meets the road for any economic principle. Property definitions are all well and good, but what happens when we cannot agree on property rights infringements? The answer was inevitably something like this: “in a truly free society all such disputes will be peacefully resolved through private arbitration.” This sounds good in theory and makes for a nice just-so story, but I would like more data from real world social experiments.

Galambos had a protégé named Jay Stuart Snelson, whom I met shortly after taking V-50. Snelson taught courses at the Free Enterprise Institute, but after a falling out with Galambos (a common occurrence in Galambos’ social sphere that also plagued Ayn Rand and other libertarian leaders), Snelson founded his own Institute for Human Progress. To distance himself from Galambos and bring his ideas more into line with mainstream economic theory, Snelson built on the shoulders of what is known as the Austrian School of Economics, most notably the work of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. Snelson demonstrated through a series of economic principles and historical examples that free market capitalism is unquestionably the most effective means of optimizing peace, prosperity, and freedom, and that the privatization of education, transportation, communications, health services, environmental protection, crime prevention, and countless other areas would produce the greatest good for the greatest number.

During this time Marino and I (and our cycling partner Lon Haldeman) turned our cycling passion into a business called the Race Across America — a 3,000-mile nonstop transcontinental bicycle race — with corporate sponsors and a contract from ABC Sports. Several appearances on Wide World of Sports gave me the recognition and confidence to open Shermer Cycles, a bicycle shop in Arcadia, California. Meanwhile, I expanded my teaching duties by creating new courses in evolutionary theory and the history of ideas at Glendale College.17 I also developed a monthly seminar reading group called the “Lunar Society” — after the famous eighteenth-century Lunar Society of Birmingham — centered on discussing such books as Human Action, which inspired me toward the lofty goal set by its author, Ludwig von Mises: “One must study the laws of human action and social cooperation as the physicist studies the laws of nature.” I call this Mises’ Maxim, and it is one of two principles that guide my thinking in this book.18

In 1987, I decided that if I wanted to make an impact on the world through ideas I was going to have to give up my competitive cycling career and complete my graduate studies. I switched fields from psychology to history, and in 1991 I graduated from Claremont Graduate University with a Ph.D. in the history of science. I began teaching at Occidental College, a prestigious four-year liberal arts college in Los Angeles, and since I was interested in broader issues in science, particularly the growing threat of pseudoscience and irrationality in our culture, in 1992 I co-founded (along with my wife Kim and the artist Pat Linse), the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and our public science lecture series at the California Institute of Technology.

The motto of the Skeptics Society is the second guiding principle of this book, and it comes from the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s 1667 treatise on politics penned just before his death, Tractatus Politicus, in which he explained his methodology for studying such emotionally-charged subjects as politics and economics:

That I might investigate the subject matter of this science with the same freedom of spirit as we generally use in mathematics, I have labored carefully not to mock, lament, or denounce human actions, but to understand them; and to this end I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties just as pertinent to it as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature of the atmosphere.19

A pithier translation of the key phrase reads: “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” I elevated it to Spinoza’s Proverb, a standard toward which to reach when dealing with such emotionally-laden topics as science, religion, and morality, which encompass my belief trilogy: Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and The Science of Good and Evil20. It is no less so with this, the product of an intellectual journey whose purpose is to improve our understanding of the mental, moral, and material nature of humanity. To that end, economics is for everyone.

References for Prologue
  1. Merton, Robert K. 1968. “The Matthew Effect in Science.” Science, 159(38), 56–63.
  2. For example, a relatively unknown sociologist named Marcello Truzzi wrote in an obscure academic journal article about the paranormal that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” When Carl Sagan repeated the line in his documentary series Cosmos, it was thereafter credited to him, and one routinely hears and sees the quote prefaced with “As Carl Sagan said…”
  3. As an example of the bestseller effect in publishing, I organize and sponsor a well-attended public science lecture series at Caltech in Pasadena, where we routinely host the biggest names in science, usually when they are in the Los Angeles area on a book tour. We usually order and sell their books for them, but occasionally publishers will request that we arrange to have a bookstore that reports sales to the New York Times Book Review editors come and sell books.
  5. Salganik, Matthew, Peter S. Dodds, and Duncan J. Watts. 2006. “Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market.” Science, 311, 854–856. See also: Watts, Duncan J. 2007. “Is Justin Timberlake a Product of Cumulative Advantage?” The New York Times Magazine, April 15, 22–25.
  6. Tooby, John and Leda Cosmides. 1996. “Friendship and the Banker’s Paradox: Other Pathways to the Evolution of Adaptations for Altruism.” Proceedings of the British Academy, 88, 119–143.
  7. Ibid., 134–135.
  8. Ibid., 133–134.
  9. Letter dated September 18, 1861. In: Darwin, Francis. 1887. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, II, 121. London: John Murray.
  10. Shermer, Michael. 2001. “Colorful Pebbles and Darwin’s Dictum.” Scientific American, April, 38.
  11. Shermer, Michael. 2006. Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design. New York: Henry Holt/Times Books.
  12. After the Bible and Atlas Shrugged were The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Book of Mormon, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, Passages by Gail Sheehy, and When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner.
  13. In my 1997 book, Why People Believe Weird Things, I devoted a chapter to the cult-like following that developed around Rand and her philosophy (“The Unlikeliest Cult in History”), in an attempt to show that extremism of any kind, even the sort that the eschews cultish behavior, can become irrational. I cited the description of Rand’s inner circle by Nathaniel Branden, Rand’s chosen intellectual heir, where he listed the central tenets to which followers were to adhere, including: “Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived. Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world. Ayn Rand, by virtue of her philosophical genius, is the supreme arbiter in any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral, or appropriate to man’s life on earth. No one can be a good Objectivist who does not admire what Ayn Rand admires and condemn what Ayn Rand condemns. No one can be a fully consistent individualist who disagrees with Ayn Rand on any fundamental issue.” In: Branden, Nathaniel. 1989. Judgment Day: My Years With Ayn Rand. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 255–256. Many of the characteristics of a cult, in fact, seemed to fit what the followers of Objectivism believed, most notably veneration of the leader, belief in the inerrancy and omniscience of the leader, and commitment to the absolute truth and absolute morality as defined by the belief system.
  14. My religious conversion and deconversion are recounted in Shermer, Michael. 2000. How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God. New York: Henry Holt/Times Books.
  15. Shermer, Michael. 1978. Choice in Rats as a Function of Reinforcer Intensity and Quality. “A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of California State University, Fullerton, in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts in Psychology.”
  16. Galambos defined freedom as “the societal condition that exists when every individual has full (i.e. 100%) control over his own property,” and a free society as one where “anyone may do anything that he pleases — with no exceptions — so long as his actions affect only his own property; he may do nothing which affects the property of another without obtaining consent of its owner.” Galambos never published his long-promised book in his lifetime, so my summary of his theory comes from my own extensive notes from the V-50 class, and a series of three-by-five leaflets he printed called “Thrust for Freedom,” numbered sequentially and presenting the definitions quoted here. In 1999, Galambos’ estate issued Vol. 1 of Sic Itur Ad Astra (The Way to the Stars), a 942-page tome published by The Universal Scientific Publications Company, Inc. Galambos’ dream was to be a space entrepreneur and fly customers to the moon. In his logic, in order to realize this dream he believed that space exploration had to be privatized, which meant that society itself, in its entirety, would have to be privatized. Too bad Galambos did not live long enough to witness the space entrepreneur and libertarian Burt Rutan succeed in being the first to build a private rocket that reached space — it is a lesson libertarians should take to heart.
  17. I recount my cycling experiences and the founding of the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association and the Race Across America in: Shermer, Michael. 1985. Sport Cycling. Chicago: Contemporary Books; and in Shermer, Michael. 1989. Race Across America: the Agonies and Glories of the World’s Longest and Cruelest Bicycle Race. Waco, TX: WRS Publishing.
  18. Mises, Ludwig von. 1949 (1966). Human Action, 3rd ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
  19. Spinoza, Baruch. 1667 (1883). Tractatus Politicus. Edited with an Introduction by R. H. M. Elwes. Translated by A. H. Gosset. London: G. Bell & Son. Emphasis added.
  20. Shermer, Michael. 1997. Why People Believe Weird Things. New York: W. H. Freeman. Shermer, Michael. 2000. How We Believe. New York: Henry Holt/Times Books. Shermer, Michael. 2004. The Science of Good and Evil. New York: Henry Holt/Times Books.
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