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on August 20, 2011
I've got to say, this book is fascinating. Not because it appeals to agnostics/atheist and even to religeous people... because it brings to light a very interesting tale of how our brain works, how a belief is formed (religeous OR any other), and what are the biological/psychological foundation of a belief, and of an "other-worldy" experience. Shermer doesn't pretend holding one truth beyond any other ; he basically shows how science today can explain the human capacity of taking in a belief. He doesn't go where he shouldn't ; trying to explain the sociological or anthropologic formation of belief with natural science. He stays sharp on knowledge already developped, and gives plenty of examples/further explanations.

A very big thumbs up to this author. The only downside is when he tries to explain how a neuron works, he lost me a bit... but then again, my background is in sociology, not bio-psychology.
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on May 14, 2016
- This book reads like a puffed up article. (Not much substance)
- There was more speculation and commentary than facts substantiated by research. (High fat content, little lean meat)
- Too much story telling (Drawn out, and not very interesting. WHERE"S THE BEEF>??)

I personally did not enjoy it.
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on September 26, 2011
Well documented with good researche referenced, not just "his" opinion.

He conveys the message very well for the every day reader.
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on June 16, 2013
I am interested in the subjects of religion and civilization, how the two came together and then drifted apart. If you are like me you will enjoy this book. It truly covers subjects as vast apart and varied as our belief in ghosts and conspiracy theories, and the most recent (2010) theories related to the origins and structure of the universe. Obviously, as the subject matter is immense, some of it is covered only briefly but with ample library references for those interested in expanding any topic.

The book consists of four parts. Part I - Journeys of belief - two examples of people becoming believers due to personal experience; then the author's road from being a born-again Christian to becoming a skeptic; Part II - The Biology of belief - introduction of the two concepts developed by author: patternicity and agenticity - the moda operandi of human brain, evolutionary character of our natural preference for Type I error (false positive) vs Type II error (false negative); the author shows how the tendency to infuse patterns (true or imaginary) with meaning becomes a source of superstition and magical thinking. The last two parts divide our beliefs between "things unseen" (part III) and "things seen" (part IV). Part III deals with matters where science does not apply or has been unsuccessful so far: our belief in afterlife, belief in god(s), belief in aliens. All these are considered in light of our search for meaning/patterns/agents. The material in this part also shows how the way our thinking processes developed can make us susceptible to a variety of conspiracy theories. Part IV deals with modern day issues, starting from politics of belief, where the author provides examples where bad politics was responsible for bad beliefs, to the brief history of our understanding of the universe (most recent references include a very short summary of the "Grand Design" by Hawking and Mlodinov).

It is an enjoyable read because it is packed with stories and anecdotes which you would not find in a purely scientific publication. Yet, the scientific detail is in most cases more than satisfying from a lay reader point of view. The structure and the information processing of our brain are described in detail. The chemical character of neural communication and how it leads to positive reinforcement of our beliefs (be they right or wrong) and certain behavioral patterns (through self-deception or praise), and to the propensity of our brain towards confirming that we are always right, are very illuminating reads. You can find here information on whether the Neanderthals were on their way to forming a civilization, and a scientific answer to such a puzzling question as "why we love?"

The breadth of the material is so enormous that at times you may find yourself wishing for more. But then you realize that probably every chapter would deserve a separate book. Personally, I find that the material points to the indisputable conclusion that science should enter the areas so far reserved exclusively to philosophers, poets, or charlatans. Also, the author's personal experiences prove quite decisively that the source of human "out-of-body experiences", "alien abduction stories" or "religious visions" is nothing else but our brain, intentionally stimulated by subjecting people to the extremes of hunger, thirst and exhaustion, if not simply to drugs and/or alcohol. It is time to give the scientific method and the human reason the respect they deserve.The success of our civilization may be at stake.

Warmly recommended.
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on May 18, 2014
Shermer is concerned with the truth and calls it as he sees it. A cornerstone of the skeptic philosophy and a regular contributor to Sci American, he has written a number of books which theorize why we are the humans we are. I, for one, think the Believing Brain has nailed it. It is why we believe what we believe. Ever wonder? For many it will perhaps start a dialogue in ourselves which we often stuff or dismiss. But we shouldn't be afraid to do that. This is the underlying message from Shermer. As individuals we need to question why we do what we do and think what we think and believe what we believe. The answers may not be what we had thought and they may upset us, but in the end we become the owners of who we are. Recommended to the fearless thinkers inside you.
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on January 19, 2014
While I read Skeptic magazine regularly (Michael Shermer is the publisher and editor-in-chief) I couldn't finish this book. I'll have to give it a second try.
It's not the research or the prose that fails, in fact it's this anecdote that will forever stick in my head: the story of a little girl who was hyperactive and unruly and some psuedo-scientist/psychologist who used the discredited method of "re-birthing." They smothered the little girl in a makeshift womb of couch cushions, and despite her protests they continued with the "therapy."
I had to set the book down and cry after that. I couldn't continue on.

I'll try again, but that real-world example was
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on November 29, 2014
I'm slowly reading it. I enjoy every page. It provides a more in depth rationale as to why we humans developed this pattern-making behaviour and how useful has been for survival. As everything in our evolved species, it has also a dark side because it leads into a comfy zone of perceived patterns that aren't real or necesary with the superstition/religion consequence. Sorry, this isn't a scholarly review, just my personal impressions of this excellent book. Strongly recommended.
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on March 25, 2015
I had a few reservations after the first two chapters that spent some time describing and defending the coinages of "agenticity" and "patternicity", but soon I was convinced that any flirtation with jargon was excused, because the arguments and discussion made abundantly clear why these terms were needed. I found the book very interesting and have added agenticity and patternicity as welcome termsto my technical vocabulary.
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on September 1, 2013
Shermer explores the mechanisms of human belief from a scientific, skeptical point of view. At times the book becomes a little convoluted with scientific explanation and terminology, but beyond that, it is a an interesting read
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on March 4, 2016
Excellent book explaining why we believe and how the physiology of our brain predispose ourselves to try to identify patterns and agency. Well worth reading
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