The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths Hardcover – May 24 2011
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“Michael Shermer has long been one of our most committed champions of scientific thinking in the face of popular delusion. In The Believing Brain, he has written a wonderfully lucid, accessible, and wide-ranging account of the boundary between justified and unjustified belief. We have all fallen more deeply in his debt.” ―Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith.
“The physicist Richard Feynman once said that the easiest person to fool is yourself, and as a result he argued that as a scientist one has to be especially careful to try and find out not only what is right about one's theories, but what might also be wrong with them. If we all followed this maxim of skepticism in everyday life, the world would probably be a better place. But we don't. In this book Michael Shermer lucidly describes why and how we are hard wired to 'want to believe'. With a narrative that gently flows from the personal to the profound, Shermer shares what he has learned after spending a lifetime pondering the relationship between beliefs and reality, and how to be prepared to tell the difference between the two.” ―Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and author of The Physics of Star Trek, Quantum Man and A Universe from Nothing
“Michael Shermer has long been one of the world's deepest thinkers when it comes to explaining where our beliefs come from, and he brings it all together in this important, engaging, and ambitious book. Shermer knows all the science, he tells great stories, he is funny, and he is fearless, delving into hot-button topics like 9-11 Truthers, life after death, capitalism, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and the existence of God. This is an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of the beliefs that shape our lives.” ―Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works
“The Believing Brain is a tour de force integrating neuroscience and the social sciences to explain how irrational beliefs are formed and reinforced, while leaving us confident our ideas are valid. This is a must read for everyone who wonders why religious and political beliefs are so rigid and polarized--or why the other side is always wrong, but somehow doesn't see it.” ―Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, physicist and author of The Drunkard's Walk and The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking)
“We might think that we learn how the world works, because we take the time to observe and understand it. Shermer says that's just not so. We just believe things, and then make our world fit our perceptions. Believe me; you don't have to take my word for it. Just try clearing some space in your own Believing Brain.” ―Bill Nye, the Science Guy ©, Executive Director of The Planetary Society
“The Believing Brain is a fascinating account of the origins of all manner of beliefs, replete with cutting edge evidence from the best scientific research, packed with nuggets of truths and then for good measure, studded with real world examples to deliver to the reader, a very personable, engaging and ultimately, convincing set of explanations for why we believe.” ―Professor Bruce Hood, Chair of Developmental Psychology, Bristol University and author of Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable
About the Author
Michael Shermer is the author of The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, The Science of Good and Evil, The Mind Of The Market, Why Darwin Matters, Science Friction, How We Believe and other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
- 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.
He conveys the message very well for the every day reader.
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.Read more ›
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
Most recent customer reviews
Excellent book explaining why we believe and how the physiology of our brain predispose ourselves to try to identify patterns and agency. Well worth readingPublished 4 months ago by Oliver
All I have to say is WOW, except for the chapter on politics. i was totally lost.Published 6 months ago by shazad m
A great book every one should read. There is a distinct lack of critical thinking in the world.Published 12 months ago by James Trudel
It's an OK book, not exactly what I was expecting. I would have preferred more scientific evidence and less anecdotes/stories.Published 17 months ago by Val
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... Read morePublished on Sept. 1 2013 by Thom Kennedy
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