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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

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The Believing Brain is bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form be The Believing Brain is bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths. Interlaced with his theory of belief, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.


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The Believing Brain is bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form be The Believing Brain is bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths. Interlaced with his theory of belief, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.

30 review for The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    I decided to buy this book after watching a short Ted Talk featuring Michael Shermer in which he discussed the origins of belief. A natural born skeptic with two science based degrees who often finds herself wanting to believe (a huge X-files fan), I am fascinated by how people come to hold certain beliefs that on the surface appear flawed or irrational. So that said, this book appealed to me on many levels. On a personal level, I have a special interest in religious belief. Raised a Christian, I I decided to buy this book after watching a short Ted Talk featuring Michael Shermer in which he discussed the origins of belief. A natural born skeptic with two science based degrees who often finds herself wanting to believe (a huge X-files fan), I am fascinated by how people come to hold certain beliefs that on the surface appear flawed or irrational. So that said, this book appealed to me on many levels. On a personal level, I have a special interest in religious belief. Raised a Christian, I grew up attending church and going to private, religious-based schools. In fact, I went through high school with only being aware of one "true" non-believer, a father of a friend. Back then the idea that someone would have the gall to be an atheist blew me away. Yet somewhere along the way, my belief in God simply deteriorated and I found myself grappling with the "A" word. During my journey, I have gone through many stages of belief and disbelief. First I believed everything wholeheartedly and literally, but then as a kid I also believed in Santa Claus. As I got older, I found that I could no longer accept the Bible as literal, but still hung onto the belief of God and Christ. Then over the years, it became impossible for me to accept even the most basic foundation of Christian Theology (the divinity of Christ)any longer. The religions were all too similar, not just to each other but also to past mythologies (for example: the similarities between Christ and mythological gods like Dionysus are just too many to be coincidence.) I realized that had I been born to Muslim parents, I would have a been a Muslim, born to Buddhists parents, a Buddhist. I also could not accept that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving God would need to be worshiped or would punish his imperfect creations for their imperfections. It became obvious to me that religion and gods are man-made. Quite frankly I found religious teachings rather simplistic and boring when held up against the freaking awesomeness of the universe we now know exists. That's when I started to define myself as spiritual, until I asked myself exactly what that meant. Then I got to where I am now, a skeptical, non-theist who would like to believe in things like God, and Heaven, and an Afterlife and maybe even Ghosts and ESP and the like, but feels that there is no real, rational, scientific evidence to support living a life that treats those things as real, even if possible (though unlikely). I've also found I don't need a god to give my life meaning or purpose. This puts me at odds with my family and many in my inner circle, so I wanted to understand why I don't believe when they do. What happened? That being my starting point, I found this book to be an excellent read. Shermer gives a detailed account of the neurobiology and neurophysiology of belief. Yes, even belief is nothing more than a firing of neurons in the brain. He discusses and provides evidence for the evolutionary foundation of our belief and why beliefs are often irrational and not based on fact. He claims the belief often comes first and the evidence later. Furthermore, we are creatures of bias who are hard wired to find patterns and find meaning in it all, which leads us to see patterns that don't exist and attribute meaning when there is none. We tend to attribute unexplained phenomena to magic or supernatural forces when historically we know that just because we can't explain something yet doesn't mean it doesn't have a good and rational explanation. He then goes on to discuss belief in supernatural phenomena, including things like religion and the paranormal. He even takes some time to discuss the neurobiology as it relates to political beliefs. Shermer describes himself as a skeptic and a libertarian, who lives his life as an atheist (he claims you either live as if there is a particular god or you don't - practically speaking). He shares his own personal views and acknowledges his own bias, though it should be noted he has spent much of his life investigating the claims of the supernatural. Still, much of the book is the presentation of data from many different scientific sources. The crux of his book is that we generally, but not always, believe first (whether because of indoctrination and/or societal influences) and seek confirmation for our beliefs later (often by cherry picking and employing understood biases) and that we need to start using science (that which we can systematically confirm and prove/disprove) and not beliefs (that which we know are irrational and flawed), as our litmus moving forward, understanding why we do the things we do and maybe believe the crazy stuff we believe. He points to the erroneous nature of past beliefs (even when science was employed) to support the need for continued and vigilant skepticism, but acknowledges that skepticism is often discouraged. In fact, he notes skepticism is seen as being noncommittal and wishy-washy, and instead we are encouraged to confirm and assimilate to the group and group dogma. Group-think provides cohesiveness, while skepticism challenges the status-quo and threatens perceived stability. Bottom line: There is still a lot we don't know, but not knowing is not an excuse for making stuff up. Science isn't perfect and does change, but it's the best tool in the tool box. As Einstein suggested, our Gods should only start where our science ends. If science can explain it, then we need to be able and/or willing to adapt our "gods" accordingly, whatever those "gods" are. This book might be alienating to a person of faith or someone who is a staunch believer in the paranormal as Shermer does present a strong case against the likelihood of deities and knowing what deities want, as well as paranormal phenomena. However, if you are open-minded, you will find he doesn't attack belief as much as he tries to explain it, which may seem like nothing more than semantics but I think an important distinction. Shermer's discussion of politics also resonated with me, and I found after reading his argument that I was more sensitive to the "other side". According to him, we are two sides of the same coin, or perhaps the left and right arm of the same body yet functioning from the same complicated and emotional brain. I wanted to end with a quote, which is hard in retrospect since I highlighted about a third of the book. Yeah, it spoke to me. So I will go with Shermer's closing remarks, which I feel capture the essence of the book. In the end, all of us are trying to make sense of the world, and nature has gifted us with a double-edged sword that cuts for and against. On one edge, our brains are the most complex and sophisticated information-processing machines in the universe, capable of understanding not only the universe itself but also the process of understanding. On the other edge, by the very same process of forming beliefs about the universe and ourselves, we are also more capable than any other species of self-deception and illusion, of fooling ourselves even while we are trying to avoid being fooled by nature. In the end I want to believe. I also want to know. The truth is out there, and although it may be difficult to find, science is the best tool we have for uncovering it. I would recommend this book to skeptics and/or those who are interested in brain and behavior and brain science in general, as well as anyone who is willing to challenge their own personal gods - whether those gods be religious, political, or personal - by seeking a deeper understanding of why we are who we are. ______ Extras(view spoiler)[ Here is a link about political bias that I thought was extremely interesting and relevant to topics discussed in the book. Another Partisan Divide: Mitt Romney's Looks (hide spoiler)]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert Fischer

    Here's the tl;dr review: If you're looking for the ways that we tend to trick ourselves and how to deal with that reality, see Predictably Irrational or The Power of Habit. Shermer's book is definitely not the book for that. Now the full review: I was really excited about this book. I was hoping that it would update and extend Consciousness Explained with contemporary neuroscience about belief. That was, after all, exactly how the book billed itself through the marketing coverage and through the f Here's the tl;dr review: If you're looking for the ways that we tend to trick ourselves and how to deal with that reality, see Predictably Irrational or The Power of Habit. Shermer's book is definitely not the book for that. Now the full review: I was really excited about this book. I was hoping that it would update and extend Consciousness Explained with contemporary neuroscience about belief. That was, after all, exactly how the book billed itself through the marketing coverage and through the first couple of chapters. And, to be fair to the book, there is a fair bit about that going on. I know more about the neuroscience of belief than I did when I started. The science content — which is almost entirely found within the first half of the book — is why this book got two stars instead of one. It's a great book to get some general ideas and get the names of other interesting things to go research. The basic idea that Shermer is pushing is that we choose our opinions first and justify them later, which seems obvious to me. What this amounts to for Shermer is that we decide our opinions based on non-scientific evidence and then have an expectation that science should justify them, and we've got in-built biases that help construct a fitting reality. Once that clarification is in place (Shermer does not supply it), Shermer does a really nice job proving it out in Part II. The book is also very accesible without being childish. Shermer has a great writing style and his voice manages to remain friendly even when tackling highly controversial topics in a fairly confrontational way. But that's about all the positive stuff I can say about this book. Beyond that, the book is basically a tour de force of philosophical and anti-religious errors. It's the most adroit, masterful presentation of all the problems with the so-called "skeptic" culture that I am yet to see. Ripping this book a new one could easily be the final project for an undergraduate class on post-modernism or post-colonialism. Let me highlight some of the glaring failings which are still pissing me off, in roughly the order that they really bug me. First and foremost, the God Helmet, which Shermer treats at length. Seriously, people, let this one go. The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul demolished the God Helmet, revealing it as the pseudoscience that it is. Persinger is a de facto huckster selling a magic device to skeptics, and they're eating it up. Shermer falls into the trap, too, and proceeds to announce that the God Helmet "may be the first step toward demystifying a number of centuries-old puzzles." The problem is the God Helmet has never successfully been repeated. Even using Persinger's own equipment, teams other than Persinger could not get the kind of results he found. In short, the more controlled the experiment, the less the effect of the God Helmet. This is precisely Shermer's critique of the experiments around psychic phenomenon. It's a totally warranted and valid critique of psychic experiments. But it's also a totally warranted and valid critique of the God Helmet. Shermer fails to apply his own skeptic standards to a device which he is inclined to believe, instead presenting us solely with his anecdotal experience and a heaping gob of praise. If Shermer is going to call himself a skeptic, then he needs to actually be skeptical of everything evenly, including and especially those things he wants to be true. The only good thing about the God Helmet example is the irony: he fell into this trap because he wanted it to be true while writing a book about how people fall into traps by wanting to believe. So it shows Shermer is as human and fallible and self-delusional as he's casting everyone else to be, too. Second, Shermer's handling of philosophically loaded jargon and concepts is desperately in need of work. In the first chapter, he disparages philosophy in favor of science (as though they are mutually exclusive), and then proceeds to not just stumble across philosophical hornets' nests, but to actually seek out those hornets' nests and stick sensitive, squishy body parts right into the hole until he's sure he's been stung. It's insane. The most obvious example is his monism. He says that he is a monist—that all that exists is the physical activity of the brain. Fine. Unfortunately, the only defensible monist position vis a vis subjectivity is to deny it outright: for a monist, the only philosophically safe position is to say that subjectivity simply does not exist. You are not a subjective person. You have no subjective experience. Descartes was just wrong. This is Daniel Dennett's take, and Shemer cites Dennett in footnotes, but apparently Shermer missed Dennett's actual point. Instead, Shermer gives a delightful performance as a pseudo-dualist, using terms like "conscious" vs. "subconscious" (which Dennett clearly explains is an erroneous distinction for a monist), "became aware", and even "qualia". He even talks about a sense of free will! But the "qualia" example is the most glaring demonstration—Shermer asserts that qualia are purely chemical reactions (pg 116), which is a pretty astounding assertion, since neither science nor philosophy has come up with any way of accounting how one gets subjective experience (qualia) out of a chemical soup. Despite that radical assertion, Shermer gives no justification...which isn't surprising, since there is none to give. What is surprising is that Shemer makes the claim in the first place: apparently monism and promissory materialism doesn't deserve skeptical treatment by Shermer. Third, Shermer fails to even handle his own terms well. He defines two terms: agenticity and patternicity, which seem to have promise as descriptors, but then he proceeds to use them inconsistently with his own definitions. Agenticity is apparently the projection of an agent onto experience: this is sometimes warranted (e.g. other people), sometimes not (e.g. wind in grass). But then Shermer treats expecting the recently deceased person to be present in their home as a kind of agenticity. That's not agenticity: it's not the projection of an agent. That's just a disappointed expectation or altered habituation. Other examples are easy to find as you work the book: just keep his technical definition of those terms at hand, and compare that to the way he uses them. Because of this sloppiness, Shermer ends up coming across as not even really knowing what he's even talking about with his own ideas — either that, or speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Fourth, the book takes a massive turn for the worse about half way through. All the science falls out of it, and it basically falls in quality to a level below most science news blogs. It's just ranting opinion stuff without justification or warrant. The conclusion pulls things together a bit, but by that point, the damage has really been done. Fifth, the book panders to evolutionary psychology like it's science, but it's not. There's no Popperian falsifiability to evolutionary psychology — that is, there is no experiment which could prove theories in evolutionary psychology wrong. Instead, people tell narratives and try to argue that the narratives make sense. But that's not science: that's philosophy. And all you need to remind yourself that evolutionary psychology is lame is to remember that the aquatic ape hypothesis is still a viable evolutionary psychology hypothesis. Worse, Shermer demonstrates his failure to grok evolutionary psychology when he calls it a "full fledged science" (pg. 42): it's not a science at all, but insofar as it is used in science, it is as a framework, not a discipline (that's according to Tooby and Cosmides themselves in Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2007, 30:1, pg. 42-43). But Shermer, following others like Dawkins and Dennett, want to laud evolutionary psychology because of some misguided idea that it disproves something about religion or faith. Sixth, Shermer is so locked up in the modern worldview that he's busy fighting ghosts of arguments that perished two centuries ago. This is reflected in the very way he frames his core thesis: that we form beliefs first and go looking for evidence later. This is nonsense, as he well knows — the use of the ACC (the brain region, not the NCAA division) means that the brain is processing evidence. What Shermer means is that the we form beliefs without consulting science, and then we accept scientific evidence later. This, of course, is obvious: the brain doesn't have a capability for objective/intersubjective thought, even granting the existence of mirror neurons. There is no repeatable experiment performing homunculus in the brain that spends its downtime reading journals published by other repeatable experiment performing homunculus within other people's brains. Scientific evidence — like all intersubjective evidence and most rational argumentation — reaches the brain through hijacking the primal systems. So when we are forced to construct a belief, our only option is to do so through non-scientific systems. Once we construct a belief, though, that belief is a part of our reality, and so any additional evidence is forced to conform with the reality, or we're left with cognitive dissonance. (And the brain doesn't like cognitive dissonance.) Once a neural network is built, reconstructing/modifying it is difficult, and so the brain prefers to kludge in new facts and cling to existing beliefs rather than destroy existing beliefs in favor of the new facts. It's just how we're wired. But for Shermer and his modernism, "evidence" just means "scientific evidence", and so he misses this entire cognitive process because he wants to cling to the long since debunked Enlightenment idea of human cognition somehow grokking science directly. This modernism blindness also completely wrecks his treatment of dualism. That treatment is pathetically out of date: Shermer has clearly never read John R. Searle when he tries to argue that dualism is somehow hurt by evidence that the brain impacts the mind (the mind which, remember, Shermer should be denying even exists!). Finally, Shermer basically participates in all the standard Eurocentric, semi-racist, modern ideas which post-modern and post-colonial critiques have ripped to shreds. It's infuriating to see him—a thought leader in this "skeptic" community—failing to acknowledge the legitimate and valid critiques of the project which he is engaged on. And a lot of it is purely superficial stuff which could be modified without losing any kind of core motivation to the project. The most blatant single example of his modernism is when he says that current practices of hunter-gatherer societies are models for our paleolithic ancestors — as though those cultures have been doing nothing for the past 10,000 years but sitting on their thumbs and waiting to be discovered by Europeans. In another place, Shermer presents the Neadrathals possessing Europe for centuries yet not developing culture as evidence of their weak-mindedness — as though Europe itself contains some kind of magic that's not found in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. Also, there's a problem with the extensive argument that Shermer builds based on the assumed universal role of a god as judge of the good and the bad: that problem being that such an idea is pretty much unique (or at least central) to the monotheistic religions. It's so wrong that it isn't even Euro-centric, but even more limited than that: even the Greeks didn't have a concept that Zeus was going to get you if you secretly betrayed your society—unless, of course, someone in that society had an in with Zeus and tattled on you, or Zeus happened to be paying attention to you personally at the moment! So that entire way of thinking is just plain empirically erroneous. The idea that science can be the be-all, end-all of knowledge is an idea that has been roundly destroyed by pretty much everyone working post-Nietzsche, and it's especially unforgivable in a post-MacIntyre world. But, of course, Shermer doesn't notice any of these issues, because modernism doesn't deserve the same kind of skepticism that everything else does. This book was a horrid failure, and it should be an embarrassment for an author who claims to be a critical thinker. The fourth through sixth chapters have some interesting stuff, but everything else is straight up dangerous, because it's compellingly written but profoundly and painfully wrong even by its own skeptical standards. The worst part is that Shermer is a thought leader and writes in an extremely accessible and convincing style, even as he spews bad philosophy and calls it science. Because he's so charming, though, people buy it and pass it on — as evidenced by the 5-star reviews here on GoodReads.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    One of the most exciting books I have ever read. The author is a science historian, and writes monthly articles for The Scientific American. What I am going to describe here sounds cold and formal, but the book is written with spirit and vigour, with lots of the author's personal experiences and views included. It pulsates with amazing ideas - and I really relished every word. Basically, it showed that on the upside we humans are amazing thinking animals, capable of using logic and conducting ex One of the most exciting books I have ever read. The author is a science historian, and writes monthly articles for The Scientific American. What I am going to describe here sounds cold and formal, but the book is written with spirit and vigour, with lots of the author's personal experiences and views included. It pulsates with amazing ideas - and I really relished every word. Basically, it showed that on the upside we humans are amazing thinking animals, capable of using logic and conducting experiments to further our understanding of nature and the world. But on the downside our brains are also designed to veer us towards some extraordinary distortions in thinking. The very things that make us able to make wise judgements about the world, can all too easily lead us to being mildly fanciful, or even bizarrely so. Part of that is the difference in brain structure between individual people, part of it is just our natural way of thinking, which includes a host of weird and odd biases. There was so much I got from this book ....... * Descriptions of how our brains work. * The mechanics of how we think. * Descriptions of the role of religion in our lives from an evolutionary standpoint. * Descriptions of how our thinking is distorted. (Absolutely fascinating!) * Provocative scenarios given, which even made an old rationalist like myself realise how much of my thinking is irrational and emotional. * A wonderful exploration of the basic psychological building blocks of religion and politics, * An explanation of the core difference between the main political parties, and the psychology which drives people to want to be affiliated with one or the other. * The hormonal response which accompanies the sense of falling in love with someone (an experience found only in monogamous, pair-bonded species.) * The scientific ideas explaining hallucinations and conspiracy theories. * A celebration of science and the scientific method as our best way forward. Finally, a little scenario presented in the book. What would you do if asked to wear for a while a jumper that belonged to a children's TV presenter? versus What would you do if asked to wear a jumper that belonged to a sadistic, violent murderer? Many people (me included) would only feel comfortable with the TV presenter's jumper, yet rationally (and very obviously), it makes no difference whatsoever. You don't catch things from jumpers. Apparently people who have transplants feel the same. They don't want transplants from people we consider degenerates. This is just one of the descriptions in the book that helps the reader see their own thinking biases..... I am concerned that this review has been much too pedestrian, and that I have failed to do justice to this amazing book. Please, pick it up, and see for yourself what a wonderfully good read it is. P.S. By the way, I found the last few chapters of the book, detailing the history of astronomy and its discoveries, boring, (I can't get into anything to do with astronomy), and I skipped those. It did nothing to detract from the wonderfulness of the bulk of the book...

  4. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is an excellent, comprehensive examination of the things we believe, and why. It is a very well-written, well-organized book with a unifying theme: we form our beliefs, and then we rationalize them with explanations. We initially formulate our beliefs through two processes: patternicity and agenticity. Patternicity allows us to form all sorts of weird beliefs, including the whole gamut of superstitions. For example, if something bad happens when a black cat crosses your path, and at a later This is an excellent, comprehensive examination of the things we believe, and why. It is a very well-written, well-organized book with a unifying theme: we form our beliefs, and then we rationalize them with explanations. We initially formulate our beliefs through two processes: patternicity and agenticity. Patternicity allows us to form all sorts of weird beliefs, including the whole gamut of superstitions. For example, if something bad happens when a black cat crosses your path, and at a later time something else bad happens in the presence of a black cat, it is natural for one to see "a pattern". And, when we see a pattern--even in a series of coincidental occurrences--we often ascribe agenticity to it. We attach a special meaning, or ascribe the occurrence to an agent who has intentionally willed it to happen. Beliefs in haunted houses, lucky sweaters, seances, aliens, ghosts, and a host of other phenomena are due to agenticity. Shermer shows how the biology of the brain and chemicals that activate neurons in certain regions of the brain can play a big part in forming our beliefs. Belief in the afterlife, in God, in aliens, in conspiracies, and political beliefs are all discussed in some detail. A whole host of biases in our beliefs are described. Toward the end of the book, our scientific beliefs are described. The history of cosmology is told in some detail, offering insights into how old paradigms hold sway for years-decades-centuries-even millennia, until science has gathered overwhelming evidence for a better theory. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in how and why people formulate beliefs.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    The first half of this book is quite good. The author explains rationally how the brain operates and even gets down to neurons (but it is readable). The brain (the neurons) is always looking for patterns. We have done this for thousands of years to survive. It is a lot easier to find patterns than to be a skeptic. Some of the patterns are correct and some are not. Page 62 (my book) People believe weird things because of our evolved needs to believe non-weird things. Page 88 Humans readily find patter The first half of this book is quite good. The author explains rationally how the brain operates and even gets down to neurons (but it is readable). The brain (the neurons) is always looking for patterns. We have done this for thousands of years to survive. It is a lot easier to find patterns than to be a skeptic. Some of the patterns are correct and some are not. Page 62 (my book) People believe weird things because of our evolved needs to believe non-weird things. Page 88 Humans readily find patterns and impart agency [meaning and intention] to them. The scientific methods of testing and verification are something humans are not naturally good at – it is easier to believe. Humans are quite adept at believing when there is no proof. Page 78 Uncertainty makes people anxious, and anxiety is related to magical thinking. This trait of choosing patterns has led us to believe many dubious things – like religion, the occult, UFOs, conspiracy theories… Some people are good at finding patterns where there aren’t any – outlandish conspiracy theories come to mind. Page 80 Jennifer Whitson “Feelings of control are essential for our well-being…Lacking control is highly aversive…So we instinctively seek out patterns to regain control – even if these patterns are illusory.” One of the premises of the author is that it is a lot easier to believe than not believe. On a recent TV show a guest commented that those who believe in one conspiracy theory will easily latch onto others. They become good at juggling several! The author does make the point that social anxiety makes people more apt to believe – and that the believers are very good at group-think – religious organizations come to mind. To extend the idea of social anxiety it is interesting that in general societies that offer little in terms of social security (those lacking in health care, subsidized education, welfare, old age security…) tend to be more religious – and indeed religious groups sometimes provide the needed security net – like education and health care. European countries that do have a good security net tend to be more secular and less religious. To reinforce religious beliefs the author states that humans are natural born dualists – body and soul/brain and mind. We all like to believe in immortality. Unfortunately, scientifically there is no proof of this dualism – no brain means no mind. Spinoza (page 135) said that most of us have a low tolerance for ambiguity. The brain and society award belief. Page 165 God is the ultimate pattern that explains everything that happens. God is the ultimate intentional agent who gives the universe meaning… the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all forms of theisms and spiritualisms devised by humans. The author brings up the constant search for extra-terrestrial life forms as a type of religious quest. I was disappointed with his examination of conspiracy theories. He seemed more interested in refuting their claims such as the 9/11 truthers. I was more interested in why these outrageous conspiracy theories keep popping up and spreading. What leads people to believe these things? The lunatics are taking over – as we saw a few weeks ago at the U.S. Capital (January/2021). I found the last section (Part IV Belief in Things Seen – over one hundred pages) to be irrelevant (and this lowered my rating). I had little interest in the authors libertarian beliefs. Some of the examples he provided like the U.S. two party system were dated (this was written before the age of Trump) and American-centric. Most countries in the democratic world have more than two viable parties. This book could easily have been condensed. The author had a tendency to ramble. The topics of cosmology and explorations were of little interest to me and seemed off-topic. Nevertheless, I found his discussions of patternicity and agenticity very interesting as explanations for religion.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tariq Mahmood

    Shermar makes an impressive and convincing argument against belief. Not only religious and political beliefs but also scientific beliefs which makes this book even more special. Any believer may find this book pretty damning to his beliefs. The last chapters were specially informative on the way science was confronted by the Catholic Corporation of the Church. It took the Church around 300 years to finally withdraw their claim against Galileo. No wonder believers are a resilient bunch.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amir Tesla

    یکی از کتابهایی که خوندنش باعث می شه پرده های زیادی از جلو چشم آدمی کنار زده بشه و حداقل می تونه باعث شه با نگاهی انتقادی تر و عمیق تر به وقایع نگاه کنیم. موضوع: به طور کلی این کتاب در مورد عقاید و باور های آدمی هست و توضیح می ده این اعتقاد و باور از موضوعات الهی گرفته تا تئوری های توطئه، خرافات، موجودات فرا زمینی و ... چه طور شکل می گیرن، و شکل گیری اون ها چه پیامدهایی خواهد داشت. خلاصه نظریه اصلی نویسنده این هست که ما ابتدا عقایدمون شکل پیدا می کنن که این شکل گیری عقاید ریشه های ژنتیکی به علاوه مح یکی از کتابهایی که خوندنش باعث می شه پرده های زیادی از جلو چشم آدمی کنار زده بشه و حداقل می تونه باعث شه با نگاهی انتقادی تر و عمیق تر به وقایع نگاه کنیم. موضوع: به طور کلی این کتاب در مورد عقاید و باور های آدمی هست و توضیح می ده این اعتقاد و باور از موضوعات الهی گرفته تا تئوری های توطئه، خرافات، موجودات فرا زمینی و ... چه طور شکل می گیرن، و شکل گیری اون ها چه پیامدهایی خواهد داشت. خلاصه نظریه اصلی نویسنده این هست که ما ابتدا عقایدمون شکل پیدا می کنن که این شکل گیری عقاید ریشه های ژنتیکی به علاوه محیطی داره و بعد از این شکل گیری باورهاست که ما گشتن به دنبال اثبات درستی اون عقاید رو شروع می کنیم. گزیده هایی از کتاب 1. From sensory data flowing in through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. The first process I call patternicity: the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. The second process I call agenticity: the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency. We can’t help it. Our brains evolved to connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen. These meaningful patterns become beliefs, and these beliefs shape our understanding of reality. Once beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation. Belief dependant realism --- 2. The law of large numbers, where million-to-one odds happen three hundred times a day in America یکی دسته از مصداق هایی که جهت اثبات انرژی های ماورایی آورده می شه اتفاقای جالبی هست که روزانه برامون رخ می ده. مثلا در حال فکر کردن به دوستی هستیم که همون موقع با ما تماس می گیره. قانون اعداد بزرگ می گه اگر یک پدیده ای احتمال پیشامدش یک در ملیون باشه، 300 مرتبه در روز اون پدیده فقط در آمریکا اتفاق می افته. --- 3. یکی از پیامدهای اعتقاد و باور این هست این جمله معروف در بین عصب شناس هاست: we see what we believe یک آزمایش بسیار جالب در این خصوص آزمایش روزنبرگ به شرح زیر هست که در اون مدیر اون آزمایش چند دستیار رو به یک بیمارستان روانی می فرسته و در اونجا کلیه روانشناس ها رفتارهای عادی اون دستیارها رو نشانه هایی از روان پریشی اون ها گزارش کردند. What you believe is what you see. The label is the behavior. Theory molds data. Concepts determine percepts. Belief-dependent realism. --- 4. شرایطی که در آن عدم قطعیت و همچنین اضطراب و استرس در آن وجود داشته باشد باعث می شود مغز ما الگوهایی در محیط پیدا کنند که درواقع وجود خارجی ندارند: “Risk and control were tested in a 1977 study that found that if you show parachute jumpers about to leap out of a plane a photographic representation of noise (such as the “snow” on a television screen) they are far more likely to see a nonexistent embedded figure than if you presented it to them earlier. Uncertainty makes people anxious, and anxiety is related to magical thinking. A 1994 study, for example, showed that “anxious first-year MBA students are far more conspiratorially minded than their more secure second-year colleagues. Even such base emotions as hunger can influence your perceptual patternicity. A 1942 study found that when ambiguous images are shown to both hungry and satiated people, the former are more likely to see food. And apropos the current recession, economic environments may lead to misperceptions where, in one experiment, children from poor neighborhoods and working-class families tend to overestimate the size of coins compared to the estimates made by children from wealthy neighborhoods and families". --- 5. belief comes quickly and naturally, skepticism is slow and unnatural, and most people have a low tolerance for ambiguity. ------------------- What you believe is what you see. The label is the behavior. Theory molds data. Concepts determine percepts. Belief-dependent realism. -------------------

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    This book bills itself as "why people believe weird things," but it's really more of "why you shouldn't believe weird things." It should be noted that I don't actually believe in any of the things discussed in the book (God, heaven, hell, and other religious things; UFOs and alien abductions; conspiracy theories, esp. 9/11 conspiracy theories), so the arguments against were tedious at best, and I gained no insight into why other people do believe them. Shermer's tone comes across as defensive (an This book bills itself as "why people believe weird things," but it's really more of "why you shouldn't believe weird things." It should be noted that I don't actually believe in any of the things discussed in the book (God, heaven, hell, and other religious things; UFOs and alien abductions; conspiracy theories, esp. 9/11 conspiracy theories), so the arguments against were tedious at best, and I gained no insight into why other people do believe them. Shermer's tone comes across as defensive (and, to be honest, rather arrogant), particularly when he's recounting his own "journey" from belief to skepticism and when he's quoting from others who argue against him, then pointing out why they're wrong. This is not so much a scientific exploration of an interesting psychological topic as a manifesto about everyone the author thinks is crazy. The "Politics of Belief" chapter was particularly (and rather offensively) bizarre; the thesis of most chapters is "there's a right and a wrong, and science will tell us which is which," while the thesis of that chapter seemed to be, "there's no right and wrong, but here's why you should be a libertarian like me anyway." Shermer ought to apply his analysis to his own beliefs; he seems to be under the impression that he alone forms opinions based on rational, unemotional reasoning. ALL THAT SAID, there were some interesting bits and even whole chapters. I wish the book had been entirely about what it claims to be about and divided up by topic -- "Patternicity," "Agenticity," "Confirmation Bias," etc. -- without all the rest of the nonsense.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Selkis

    This book has been on my Kindle for ages and in December 2020 I finally got round to reading it. As it's packed with information it took me almost a month to finish it. This book is all about belief: religious faith, belief in paranormal things, aliens, political systems... You name it. Shermer explains how we form beliefs in our brains and the importance of our tendency to recognize patterns. I enjoyed his writing style. He explains complicated concepts with real-life stories. That way the book This book has been on my Kindle for ages and in December 2020 I finally got round to reading it. As it's packed with information it took me almost a month to finish it. This book is all about belief: religious faith, belief in paranormal things, aliens, political systems... You name it. Shermer explains how we form beliefs in our brains and the importance of our tendency to recognize patterns. I enjoyed his writing style. He explains complicated concepts with real-life stories. That way the book is very approachable even though it's incredibly dense. I loved reading about the neurobiology and all the science behind our beliefs. Shermer is a sceptic and with this book he makes a case for the power of science. I would definitely recommend this book to almost everybody!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    I have been following Michael Shermer's column in "Scientific American" for years. It's the first thing in the magazine that I read. This book definitely did not dissapoint. Shermer starts off with anecdotes and then goes into the very specific. Oft repeated throughout the book is that belief comes first, rationalization of the beliefs afterward. First we decide to believe, then the evidence collected tends to support what we believe. This is regardless if the subject is religion, paranormal, UF I have been following Michael Shermer's column in "Scientific American" for years. It's the first thing in the magazine that I read. This book definitely did not dissapoint. Shermer starts off with anecdotes and then goes into the very specific. Oft repeated throughout the book is that belief comes first, rationalization of the beliefs afterward. First we decide to believe, then the evidence collected tends to support what we believe. This is regardless if the subject is religion, paranormal, UFO's or politics. Shermer explains that our brains are pattern seeking and some people are disposed toward connecting dots even when there is no pattern (patternicity). Humans also "infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency", "agenticity". We want to believe things and so we do. I found chapter 11, "Politics of Belief" particularly illuminating. Apparantely I'm a liberal because out of the following five moral foundations - harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity, I am mostly in favor of the first two. Like other liberals. In a study based on 118240 people, liberals score the highest on harm/care and fairness/reciprocity and lower than conservatives on the last three. Fascinating! I found this book highly informative and quite amusing, although I'm sure some people would hate it. Your believing brains have chosen another truth and will not be swayed. I try to live my life on the basis that I might be wrong about many things, but maybe I am simply self delusional. Somethings will never change and never would I become a conservative politically. Ever. Other things I would change my mind about, if evidence was there and experiments could be repeated. I try to be open minded, but my brains shall not fall out

  11. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    I have to admit at the beginning that I have a significantly pro-skeptic bias. I love skeptics, so it is hard for me not to like the book. An interesting book that belongs on my shelf between my books on psychology and science (The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions) and my books on agnosticism, skepticism, neo-atheism and the evolution of relig I have to admit at the beginning that I have a significantly pro-skeptic bias. I love skeptics, so it is hard for me not to like the book. An interesting book that belongs on my shelf between my books on psychology and science (The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions) and my books on agnosticism, skepticism, neo-atheism and the evolution of religion (The Evolution of God, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, The God Delusion). Anyway, 'Believing Brain' was worth my time and was a nice homage to science, and the scientific method.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Terence M

    Audio book - 2:30 hours approx. from 13:35 hours total - Read by Michael Shermer 2 stars (provisional) I have read previous works by Michael Shermer, but these days I have to listen to audio books to satisfy my "reading" needs. Generally, authors do not make good narrators and Shermer is no exception. His delivery is stilted and where he thinks he has written something amusing, he uses a strange vocal characterisation which does not sound funny, but does sound most annoying. Some time in the futur Audio book - 2:30 hours approx. from 13:35 hours total - Read by Michael Shermer 2 stars (provisional) I have read previous works by Michael Shermer, but these days I have to listen to audio books to satisfy my "reading" needs. Generally, authors do not make good narrators and Shermer is no exception. His delivery is stilted and where he thinks he has written something amusing, he uses a strange vocal characterisation which does not sound funny, but does sound most annoying. Some time in the future, when my vision improves (we can but hope!), I know I will enjoy this book, in the meantime I will move on to the next audio book in my collection.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    This review should prove that I don't always "high-side" my reviewing stars. In fact, let me be blunt — now that I've read one Shermer book, I have no more desire to read further writings of his than I do of Sam Harris, and for somewhat similar reasons. In Shermer's case, here's why. Here's derivative and blind spots intersecting -- Shermer briefly, but briefly talks about Kahneman's and Tversky's study in behavioral economics (without also citing Dan Ariely, among others). One will learn much mo This review should prove that I don't always "high-side" my reviewing stars. In fact, let me be blunt — now that I've read one Shermer book, I have no more desire to read further writings of his than I do of Sam Harris, and for somewhat similar reasons. In Shermer's case, here's why. Here's derivative and blind spots intersecting -- Shermer briefly, but briefly talks about Kahneman's and Tversky's study in behavioral economics (without also citing Dan Ariely, among others). One will learn much more about how irrational human behavior is in matters of economics, and related psychology, by going to the source. Shermer could have had a better book with a whole chapter just on this field. So, why didn't he? I suspect because he knows how totally behavioral economics chops into little bitty pieces the claims of his beloved Ayn Rand and the Austrian School of Economics. === Somewhat shallow: His discussion of neurotransmitters/neuroscience is not that deep, and not too far beyond the level of "depression is a chemical imbalance" level of understanding. === Somewhat derivative, and possibly somewhat incorrect: His thoughts on the evolution of religious belief owe much to people like Scott Atran or Pascal Boyer. Go to the source; both of them are great authors and should be read without the filter of Shermer. And, given cave paintings of 20,000-30,000 years of age, his claim that religion "evolved" about 7,000 years ago is quite likely wrong. === Blind-spotted: His belief in the coming "Singularity," claiming by 2030 there will be a fifth-dimension-like explosion in computing power. Reality? By 2015, many computer engineers and scientists think we'll be bumping against some quantum limits. "Quantum computing" has been a buzz word for a decade now; "peaceful nuclear fusion" has been even longer, and we don't have that, either. === Blind-spotted, perhaps deliberately: Claiming that "peak oil" theories are a conspiracy theory. I suspect this is deliberate self-blinding because it's a threat to his libertarian economics and his cornucopian futurism. === Shallow and willfully blind-spotted: Mentioning libertarianism/Libertarian Party as outside the two-party duopoly without talking about Greens or Socialists. === Just plain wrong: Claiming that the Challenger commission faulting NASA on the O-rings issue is "hindsight bias." Au contraire, Mr. Shermer, NASA had had multiple warnings, both from Morton Thiokol and from internal engineers, about possible cold-weather launch dangers before sending Challenger up. This last one isn't even political. It's simply wrong, as a matter of elemental logic and its garbling or misuse by Shermer. Result? I have to question not just how political bias informs Shermer's thinking, but whether he's really that good of a thinker, or instead, a John Loftus who got luckier earlier.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Heather Denkmire

    There were a few books in this book and I only enjoyed one of them. Unfortunately for me, most of the content was repeat information from things I've read/heard before. The first sections dealing with the biology of the brain were interesting. So much of the book (a book in itself) was spent refuting things that don't exist (UFOs, ghosts, god, 9/11 conspiracies, etc.) it was tiresome. I know they don't, I don't need it explained why. This continued on for a long, long time. I almost gave up on th There were a few books in this book and I only enjoyed one of them. Unfortunately for me, most of the content was repeat information from things I've read/heard before. The first sections dealing with the biology of the brain were interesting. So much of the book (a book in itself) was spent refuting things that don't exist (UFOs, ghosts, god, 9/11 conspiracies, etc.) it was tiresome. I know they don't, I don't need it explained why. This continued on for a long, long time. I almost gave up on the book. I appreciated his honesty, his disclosure of his own background since part of the premise of the book is that belief is formed through brain chemistry that is affected and effected by many variables. There were a few points that were frustrating, like when he obviously misunderstood the Lakoff/Westin books that in my mind agree entirely with his position that belief comes from chemical reactions in the brain and that feelings are integral to forming beliefs (Shermer probably wouldn't like the "fuzzy" term "feelings," I suppose). Anyway, it got long-winded as it was so full of disputing theories and disputing false notions. The section on ways we delude ourselves (delude is my word choice) was also too long. He gave labels to about 20 different kinds of reasons people hold faulty beliefs. The labels seemed unnecessary to me, though the anecdotal descriptions were interesting (too many repeated from earlier books, as I mentioned). So, it was so-so.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eugenio

    In the end I want to believe. I also want to know. The truth is out there, and although it may be difficult to find, science is the best tool we have for uncovering it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    Up until page 140 this is a 5 star book. These are the pages where the author describes belief as stemming from what he calls patternicity and agenticity. Our minds have evolved to spot patterns. Agenticity is the story we overlay on the patterns. The patterns may be random, yet, if they explain a something very good (a ritual before placing a bet correlates with a few wins) or negative (unlucky clothing or actions) we may ascribe significance to them and they become beliefs. We often have the b Up until page 140 this is a 5 star book. These are the pages where the author describes belief as stemming from what he calls patternicity and agenticity. Our minds have evolved to spot patterns. Agenticity is the story we overlay on the patterns. The patterns may be random, yet, if they explain a something very good (a ritual before placing a bet correlates with a few wins) or negative (unlucky clothing or actions) we may ascribe significance to them and they become beliefs. We often have the beliefs first and interpret incoming information in way that confirms them. This holds true for beliefs be they in ESP, ghosts or the teachings of main stream religions. In these first pages, author Michael Shermer also describes the physiology of the brain to demonstrate how patterns are recognized. He cites research on "locus of control" that demonstrates basic response differences in brains of believers and non-believers. The middle part of the book is not worthy of the first. The author describes how he, in seminars and on talk shows, "won" arguments against believers in god, the afterlife, aliens, and conspiracies, etc. The attitude here is a turn off, and the "science" is weak. For instance, for conspiracies he cites an obscure (I had never heard of it) and extreme example of JFK assassination conspiracy (the shooter was a man in a sewer pipe) and there is a point by point refutation of selected claims of 9/11 "Truthers". The chapter on the "Politics of Belief" reads like a justification of libertarianism as he tries to establish himself as a neutral broker between liberals and conservatives. For this topic, I recommend John Dean's Conservatives without Conscience which lays out a research on the different thinking and personality patterns of liberals and conservatives and stays on topic. There is wordy chapter with a few good insights on "Confirmation of Belief", followed by some meandering material on the scientific method that goes into the history of astronomy (the persecution of Galileo, etc.) and other topics. I'm giving this 3 stars on the strength of the book's opening which for a lay person with interest in this topic is a must read. The other 2/3 of the book really brings it down.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    I really enjoyed this book as it offers evidenced based reasons for why we humans are programmed to believe in external agents (when the evidence proves such things are internal in the brain) and why we find patterns where there are none. I find knowing such things comforting and I think I got a little dopamine reward when Shermer confirmed that we experience these things because we share the same brain biology (something I've argued often with regard to religion and other common belief systems) I really enjoyed this book as it offers evidenced based reasons for why we humans are programmed to believe in external agents (when the evidence proves such things are internal in the brain) and why we find patterns where there are none. I find knowing such things comforting and I think I got a little dopamine reward when Shermer confirmed that we experience these things because we share the same brain biology (something I've argued often with regard to religion and other common belief systems). The central thesis is that we believe things first (it's evolutionarily a good idea to make snap decisions) and then look for confirmation to enforce the belief (confirmation bias)....I've caught myself doing this - I always have to questions ideas and try to reduce the bias when I'm solving a problem. The best defence against our many cognitive biases (including the confirmation bias) is the scientific method (I was all excited to see mention of the null hypothesis and type I and II errors because I'm geeky that way). For some odd reason, I've seen people get angry about this & attack the scientific method....I think it's the best one we have for eliminating bias. We need more books like this that inspire critical thinking because a lot of general lazy thinking has resulted in the belief in a lot of harmful pseudo science. Anyway, I think this book is a good, concise way of introducing the above fundamental principles and backs up the assertions with interesting anecdotes. It was a great read and has made me want to read more!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Richard Palmer

    I was hoping that this book would explain the biology and evolution of what makes us believe things. It does do that, but does not stick to that theme. Shermer digresses often and spends a good deal of time debunking beliefs in extraterrestrial visits, ESP, and a lot of pseudoscience. His discussions on religion were thought provoking, and I appreciated that. However, instead of coming back to the idea of why the human race believes things, he concludes with a long discussion of the history of s I was hoping that this book would explain the biology and evolution of what makes us believe things. It does do that, but does not stick to that theme. Shermer digresses often and spends a good deal of time debunking beliefs in extraterrestrial visits, ESP, and a lot of pseudoscience. His discussions on religion were thought provoking, and I appreciated that. However, instead of coming back to the idea of why the human race believes things, he concludes with a long discussion of the history of science and illustrations of the scientific method. Though Shermer is entertaining, lucid, and documents his points well, I give the book a low rating in my review because the book did not stick to what I expected its main theme to be.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Msomba

    What an amazing book...... If you ever want to understand,the psychology of why we Believe,grab this one,very well written,so informative........It will help you understand why many of us are not immune to logic fallacies, conspiracy theories,why genius and madness are living on the same street but just couple of blocks away from each other,why we believe in weird things like god(s),angels, prayers,superstition rituals,alien abduction and How is even possible for one person to hold different conf What an amazing book...... If you ever want to understand,the psychology of why we Believe,grab this one,very well written,so informative........It will help you understand why many of us are not immune to logic fallacies, conspiracy theories,why genius and madness are living on the same street but just couple of blocks away from each other,why we believe in weird things like god(s),angels, prayers,superstition rituals,alien abduction and How is even possible for one person to hold different conflicting beliefs and still entertaining them both. and lastly how we arrive on our moral and political beliefs. Highly recommend......

  20. 5 out of 5

    Garma M

    I'll give it 5 stars just because of the sheer amount of new knowledge I got out of it. It answered a lot of the questions I had been wondering about for years. On the other hand, it took me much longer to read this one book because of information overload problems. When I took breaks of just 1 or 2 weeks, I had to start all over again because I couldn't really retain all that information for too long. Might be just me, though. If you want to read a comprehensive, all-in one book on theories of I'll give it 5 stars just because of the sheer amount of new knowledge I got out of it. It answered a lot of the questions I had been wondering about for years. On the other hand, it took me much longer to read this one book because of information overload problems. When I took breaks of just 1 or 2 weeks, I had to start all over again because I couldn't really retain all that information for too long. Might be just me, though. If you want to read a comprehensive, all-in one book on theories of belief, then this is the book to read :).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Book

    The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies by Michael Shermer "The Believing Brain" is a fantastic and ambitious book that explains the nature of beliefs. Mr. Shermer provides his theory of belief and with great expertise and skill provides compelling arguments and practical examples in explaining how the process of belief works. He applies his theory to a wide range of types of beliefs and does so with mastery. This excellent 400 page-book is composed of the followin The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies by Michael Shermer "The Believing Brain" is a fantastic and ambitious book that explains the nature of beliefs. Mr. Shermer provides his theory of belief and with great expertise and skill provides compelling arguments and practical examples in explaining how the process of belief works. He applies his theory to a wide range of types of beliefs and does so with mastery. This excellent 400 page-book is composed of the following four parts: Part I. Journeys of Belief, Part II. The Biology of Belief, Part III. Belief in Things Unseen, and Part IV. Belief in Things Seen. Positives: 1. A fascinating topic in the hands of a master of his craft. 2. Well-written, well-researched, engaging and accessible book. Bravo! 3. Great, logical format. Good use of illustrations. 4. Great use of popular culture to convey sophisticated concepts in an accessible manner. 5. Establishes his theory early on and then proceeds like a great architect building his masterpiece. 6. Great quotes from many great minds, including some of his own, "What I want to believe based on emotions and what I should believe based on evidence do not always coincide. I'm a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know". 7. Answers the question of "Why we believe" to complete satisfaction. 8. A thorough explanation on what the brain is. 9. The first of four parts of this book starts off with three distinctly different routes to belief, including his own revealing journey to beliefs. 10. The concept of patternicity defined. A great take at why our brains evolved to assume that all patterns are real. 11. Insightful and thought-provoking, consider the following "The problem we face is that superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old, whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old". 12. Where would we be without evolution? Great use of science from the best scientific minds. 13. The concept of agenticity defined and how patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis for various "spiritualisms". 14. The evidence that brain and mind are one is now overwhelming. Great examples in support of the aforementioned assertion. 15. Great tidbits of knowledge throughout, "what people remember happening rarely corresponds to what actually happened". 16. Provides four great explanations for the sensed-presence effect found in the brain. With plenty of fascinating examples. 17. The mind in its proper context. 18. In order to understand beliefs you must understand neurons. 19. Dopamine...the belief drug. A lot of interesting facts. 20. Great explanation on why dualism is intuitive and monism counterintuitive. 21. The theory of mind and agenticity. 22. Enlightening look at why belief comes quickly and naturally while skepticism is slow and unnatural. 23. The afterlife chapter is one of my favorite chapters of this book...worth the price of admission. 24. Six solid reasons why people believe there is life after death. 25. The case for the existence of the afterlife around four lines of evidence and the thorough debunking that follows. 26. Compelling explanations for Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). 27. Ditto for Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs). 28. A compelling explanation of, why do so many people believe in God? 29. Three lines of evidence that supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains. Great stuff. 30. The compelling evidence that humans created gods and not vice versa. 31. Great explanation on the difference between agnosticism versus atheism. 32. Mr. Shermer's last law, an interesting take. I will not spoil it here. 33. Interesting tidbits on Einstein who is always fascinating. 34. The supernatural in proper context. 35. Science as the best tool ever in devising how the world works. 36. Interesting chapter on aliens. 37. Conspiracy theories and what characteristics indicate they are likely untrue. 38. Fascinating look at the 9/11 "conspiracy". 39. How conspiracies actually work. 40. Mr. Shermer even delves in the world of politics. Liberals versus conservatives. 41. A realistic visions of human nature and why it would help understand one another. 42. A dozen essentials to liberty and freedom. Democracy a different perspective. 43. Interesting look at how our brains convince us that we are always right. 44. Explanation of a series of biases: confirmation bias, hindsight bias, self-justification bias, attribution bias, sunk-coast bias, status-quo bias, anchoring bias, representative bias, inattentional blindness bias, and more... 45. Why science is the ultimate bias-detection machine. 46. Awesome belief history on exploration: Columbus, Galileo, Bacon... 47. Astronomy...beliefs and historical debates. 48. Good use of previous knowledge of biases to help understand data. 49. Red shifts and other astronomical hypotheses explained, and the photograph that changed the universe. 50. The greatest unsolved mystery. 51. Links worked great! 52. An intellectual treat from cover to cover! Negatives: 1. Having to buy extra copies to share with close friends. 2. Having to wait for Mr. Shermer's next book. In summary, this may be Michael Shermer's greatest book. This book feels like a labor of love in which Mr. Shermer is able to match his accumulation of prodigious knowledge and his lucid thoughts in total harmony. This book not only met my high expectations it exceeded it, I couldn't put it down. Thought-provoking, enlightening and a joy to read. I can't recommend this book enough, kudos to Mr. Shermer for a great accomplishment. Further suggestions: "Physics of the Future" by Michio Kaku, "SuperSense" by Bruce M. Hood, "Human" by Michael Gazzaniga, "Hardwired Behavior" by Laurence Tancredi, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia S. Churchland, "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker and "The Brain and the Meaning of Life" by Paul Thagard.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Haider Ziyadi

    This book has changed so much in me. I was scared to start reading it because I knew it would challenge so many of my thoughts and ideas. As it says on the cover, it's a book about how our brains works in terms of building beliefs whether they were religious, political, or supernatural. But, to be honest, some parts of it were so mundane and I couldn't understand them very well and, hence, the 4 stars rating. This book has changed so much in me. I was scared to start reading it because I knew it would challenge so many of my thoughts and ideas. As it says on the cover, it's a book about how our brains works in terms of building beliefs whether they were religious, political, or supernatural. But, to be honest, some parts of it were so mundane and I couldn't understand them very well and, hence, the 4 stars rating.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I really liked this book and I agreed with most everything in it, and that made me rather uncomfortable just because of what the book is about. Michael Shermer covered a wide range of topics that interest me, from politics to psychology to religion, and i believed every word of what he argued. But... I don't think it's that he convinced me, i think it's that i already held those beliefs going into it, and as the book proclaims repeatedly, i as a human being pay special attention to arguments tha I really liked this book and I agreed with most everything in it, and that made me rather uncomfortable just because of what the book is about. Michael Shermer covered a wide range of topics that interest me, from politics to psychology to religion, and i believed every word of what he argued. But... I don't think it's that he convinced me, i think it's that i already held those beliefs going into it, and as the book proclaims repeatedly, i as a human being pay special attention to arguments that support what i already believe. When i was about halfway through the book, i read a review here on Goodreads that warned me not to fall victim while reading it to the very trap that the book warns against; believing so-called "facts" just because i want to believe them. So, i tried and failed to see fault with Shermer's logic, and it made me feel like i'm obviously no different form people who hold the opposite views. I wish this book had been shorter and more focused, even though i loved everything in it. Shermer couldn't resist the temptation to single out specific popularly held beliefs—such as the 9/11 conspiracy theory, the idea that extra terrestrials have visited Earth, and the existence of God—and argue their invalidity. And before he does this he admits that it's possible that he sees things the way he does because he, too, is only human and believes what he wants to believe, but he goes ahead and knocks other people's beliefs anyway. Science reveals the truth in any situation, he says, but then he also shows that scientists' findings are sometimes colored by their beliefs, too. So what's a girl to believe? Well, whatever she wants to, it seems. It would've been interesting to learn even more about the believing brain, specifically, rather than what the believing brain tends to believe. Maybe if the tone of the book had just been a little more humble, i would've been able to read it with more confidence. Shermer introduced the book by saying that what was to follow was going to be more "huh, isn't that interesting?" and less "these are the facts and this is how it is," but i think the latter is a better representation of the book's attitude. Shermer doesn't just talk about how people form and reinforce their belief in God, for example, but he also essentially declares that God does not in fact exist, and gives his reasons. And as an atheist i'm normally more than fine with that, just not in this particular context. Shermer also apparently likes to take the ideas of actual scientists and coin catchy new terms for them, and it makes him come across as a little overconfident about his stature in the scientific community. I would've liked to have seen Shermer deal with more concrete stuff, like the political topics. I felt like he only touched on politics, and it was mostly to tell me why i should be a libertarian. And i didn't mind that, but i thought that section of the book could've been more in-depth. And while i'm criticizing, i must say that i found the anecdotes at the beginning of the book to be quite unnecessary. Having said all of that, i do think people should read this book. It will shake your belief in whatever you believe in, even if it's nothing. And if it doesn't, well, it should still make you wonder what that says about you and your beautiful brain. I'm sticking a big quote here that i want to save: p. 185 This was the argument i made in a Templeton Foundation-sponsored print debate with theist and Harvard professor of medicine Jerome Groopman, who in his comments argued that God is "without form, immeasurable," that he exists "in a dimension that cannot be quantitated or depicted by science," that "we are unable to grasp fully God's nature and dimensions," and that "God esists outside of time and cannot be bound by space." How then, I asked, do you know this God exists? As corporeal beings who form beliefs about the wold based on percepts (from our senses) and concepts (from our minds), how can we possibly know a being who by definition lies outside of both our percepts and our concepts? At some point doesn't God need to step into our space-time to make himself known in some manner—say through prayer, providence, or miracles? And if so, why can't science measure such divine action? If there is some other way of knowing, say that of the mystics or the faithful through deep meditation or prayer, why couldn't neuroscience say something meaningful about that process of knowing? If we came to understand—as studies with meditating monks and praying priests have shown—that a part of the parietal lobe of the brain associated with the orientation of the body in space is quiescent during such meditative states (breaking down the normal distinction one feels between self and nonself and thus making one feel "at one" with the environment), wouldn't this imply that rather than being in touch with a being outside of space and time, it is actually just a change in neurochemistry?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nyamka Ganni

    This is an extensive survey on the research on human psychology & scientific thinking done by many researchers around the world starting from thousands of years ago. - How we think. - How we believe some particular things and not something else.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kiril Todorov

    The sad thing about this book is that the people that really need to read it, will never go around the possibility they might be wrong, and will probably never open it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim Wombles

    Taken from http://kwomblescountering.blogspot.co... It took me awhile to find this photo (see the link above) in my stream of thousands of photos because it's more than a month old. I've been reading Michael Shermer's latest book The Believing Brain for over a month now to review it for here and Science 2.0. I spent more than a month with Baron-Cohen's The Science of Evil. I try to be thorough and careful in my reading of books I review; I don't want to gloss over it and throw out a review that i Taken from http://kwomblescountering.blogspot.co... It took me awhile to find this photo (see the link above) in my stream of thousands of photos because it's more than a month old. I've been reading Michael Shermer's latest book The Believing Brain for over a month now to review it for here and Science 2.0. I spent more than a month with Baron-Cohen's The Science of Evil. I try to be thorough and careful in my reading of books I review; I don't want to gloss over it and throw out a review that is, well, a throw-away. This means that their work tends to stay with me and percolate in additional posts. Michael Shermer and Robert Sapolsky have much in common; I suspect that people who specialize in one area, spend their time teaching it, giving talks about it, and writing it end up having a well-honed spiel that makes the audience familiar with the person immediately in recognizable territory. I use the works of both these compelling and charismatic scholars in my classes; Shermer and Brian Dunning's work ground my composition courses and set the stage for the semester, while Sapolsky is used in my psychology classes (although I don't teach psychology much any more). Listening to them give talks is never boring, no matter how many times I've watched a particular talk with students. As an instructor, my hope is to be that thorough, that polished, and that easy a speaker. Reading Shermer's newest book was like dropping in on an old friend. I could hear his voice as I read, his inflections, and a lot of the material is familiar to long-time readers. Whether Shermer's new to a reader or an old friend, this new book is worth the investment of time; it's well written, charmingly presented, and full of passages that time and again I wanted to run to the computer and type in to share with readers. It builds on his ideas about patternicity and agenticity, updating them with the latest research that bolster his ideas. It's an excellent read and at this point, after a month of careful reading and rereading, so well dog-eared by me that each time I pick it up to continue reading it, I have to look for the latest dog-ear. This should be required reading for all college students; it really should. Understanding how we form our beliefs about the world around us and then rationalize those beliefs is important and a warning that however strongly convinced we are of something, we need to take into consideration that our belief came first and the support came afterwards. It means a certain sense of discomfort always being endured, to tread lightly, to balance carefully, and to hopefully remain open to new, contradictory evidence. What Shermer does here, and does well, is to take hundreds of scientists' work and to weave a tapestry of it, so that we have a convincing narrative (if we roll that way, anyway) that the mind and the brain are one, that without the brain the mind ceases to be, and that we are hard-wired to seek out patterns and make sense of them and to see an underlying agent for those patterns. Much of this will be familiar to those in the psychology even if for some reason they were unfamiliar with Shermer, but it might be shocking information to those who aren't versed in the research, and his section on belief in God is bound to get, oh, 70% of readers irritated as it will go against their belief systems. Ideally, readers who believe in a creator will be able to rise above their belief systems and read this section, as the ideas and the science behind them are important and ought to be considered, although I would not for a moment suggest it will cause people to set aside their belief systems. Shermer doesn't dance around his beliefs, and he's mindful of the reality that skeptics (his personal preference to the terms agnostic and atheist) are still the minority. Shermer closes his book with an epilogue entitled "The Truth is Out There." Shermer writes: "When I call myself a skeptic I simply mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims. Science is skepticism and scientists are naturally skeptical. Scientists have to be skeptical because most claims turn out to be false." I would, based on the evidence Shermer's provided in this book, argue that scientists and scientifically-based individuals are not naturally skeptical at all, although they may be more inclined towards it. Instead, they mindfully cultivate an intentional skepticism, working hard to get around their own belief-dependent realism so that they can get as close to objective reality as possible, knowing that they must remain vigilant, and knowing that they will, at times, fail to achieve this vigilance and to maintain this skepticism, that their own blinders will lead them down stray paths and occasionally make them look like fools. It's still the best chance we have, though. And it's one I hope more and more people will choose to cultivate.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melba

    I rated this book a five not because it was easy to read but because it was necessary to read given a world in which deep and contentious divisions exists between people based on their core beliefs. It is not the difference in beliefs that is problematic….it is the fact that we retreat into our corners and then rarely look back. Michael Shermer provides evidence for a biological basis for why and how we develop beliefs and then bury our heads in the sand when their truth is challenged. He makes I rated this book a five not because it was easy to read but because it was necessary to read given a world in which deep and contentious divisions exists between people based on their core beliefs. It is not the difference in beliefs that is problematic….it is the fact that we retreat into our corners and then rarely look back. Michael Shermer provides evidence for a biological basis for why and how we develop beliefs and then bury our heads in the sand when their truth is challenged. He makes the argument that evolution favored a human brain that sought to find patterns in the world around us without regard to whether they were necessarily right or wrong. He theorizes that “belief comes first, the explanations for the beliefs follow”. In other words, once we come to believe something our brain is wired to work hard to confirm that belief. He describes in detail a number of cognitive biases that we all fall prey to that “work to ensure that we are always right!”. Shermers underlying message throughout the book is that science is the answer to the question, “how can we avoid the cognitive bias pitfalls that so burden our rationality.” He labels “those willing to change their mind in the teeth of new evidence” our champions. The last two chapters in the book (not counting the must-read Epilogue) are the Geographies of Belief and Cosmologies of Belief. They both simply fascinated me (while also containing some information that was beyond my capacity to understand.) He uses these final chapters to demonstrate “how science works in practice: not only how it requires an elegant blend of data, theory, and presentation…..but also how scientific disputes are resolved and what happens to previously accepted theories tended obsolete by new observations”. In the Epilogue, Shermer summarizes, “in the end all of us are trying to make sense of the world, and nature has gifted us with a double-edged sword that cuts for and against. On one edge, our brains are the most complex and sophisticated information-processing machines in the universe, capable of understanding not only the universe itself but also the process of understanding. On the other edge, by the very same process of forming beliefs about the universe and ourselves, we are also more capable than any other species of self-deception and illusion, of fooling ourselves even while we are trying to avoid being fooled by nature.” Only an ever present awareness of our own susceptibility for self deception and illusion will save us from them.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Son Tung

    If you have read Shermer's book or topics such as: scientific skepticism, cosmology, neuroscience, cognitive biases... a large part of this one certainly feels familiar. However, compared to other books of the same author, The Believing Brain is much better at coding ideas into smoothy proses. (I sucked up every words in certain parts) One big, central concept Shermer presents here is of "Believe dependant realism": we believe and then reason follows. Shermer's term has a clear connection to "Mo If you have read Shermer's book or topics such as: scientific skepticism, cosmology, neuroscience, cognitive biases... a large part of this one certainly feels familiar. However, compared to other books of the same author, The Believing Brain is much better at coding ideas into smoothy proses. (I sucked up every words in certain parts) One big, central concept Shermer presents here is of "Believe dependant realism": we believe and then reason follows. Shermer's term has a clear connection to "Model-dependent realism" which was coined by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their 2010 book, The Grand Design. This concept along with cognitive bias, limitations in sensory organs and perceptions explain pretty much many domains in the science of believe. A beautifully written foreword, a brief philosophical discussion about politics, conspiracy theories in the middle, a concise summary of multiverse near the end are what i like most. Here Shermer's word for his wife (like Carl Sagan's for his, i want these words for future mine): "To Devin Ziel Shermer For our small contribution — 6,895 days or 18.9 years from birth to independence — to the metaphorically miraculous 3. 5 -billion-year continuity of life on Earth from one generation to the next, unbroken over the eons, glorious in its contiguity, spiritual in its contemplation. The mantle is now yours."

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    The Believing Brain pub 2011 autumn 2011 non-fiction psychology fraudio sciences The Springfield Files in One Minute *Trust No One - The Truth Is Out There.* The whole idea that there are corps of CRYING scientists proving this and that for the further enlightement of mankind only to have said mankind endorse tarot, ouija, seance, ju-ju etc etc made for funitudinal skit-time in our household. We want a Hug a Scientist Day - when do we want it, NOW! So much of Shermer's work is recycled - the subject The Believing Brain pub 2011 autumn 2011 non-fiction psychology fraudio sciences The Springfield Files in One Minute *Trust No One - The Truth Is Out There.* The whole idea that there are corps of CRYING scientists proving this and that for the further enlightement of mankind only to have said mankind endorse tarot, ouija, seance, ju-ju etc etc made for funitudinal skit-time in our household. We want a Hug a Scientist Day - when do we want it, NOW! So much of Shermer's work is recycled - the subject matter of his oeuvre is 75% revamp coupled with 25% spin. So whilst the initial impact of each book is a high, it takes no time at all before that dirty mark on the wall that needs a warm soapy sponge far outweighs in importance Shermer's diatribe. Advice - skim for the fun, it is in there if you are in the mood to track it down. 2'

  30. 4 out of 5

    Richard McDonough

    He knows his science and his brain as mind thesis has always been a view I have held, which, as we all know, makes him brilliant. But Shermer also describes for me the true believer in the Eric Hoffer sense. He insists on science when we talk of god but embraces the teat of libertarian capitalism because it warms him, I guess. He offers no evidence for his view in this sphere, so I guess he has a belief and the dopamine hit he gets from that cold capitalist teat works for him. Not a bad book, ra He knows his science and his brain as mind thesis has always been a view I have held, which, as we all know, makes him brilliant. But Shermer also describes for me the true believer in the Eric Hoffer sense. He insists on science when we talk of god but embraces the teat of libertarian capitalism because it warms him, I guess. He offers no evidence for his view in this sphere, so I guess he has a belief and the dopamine hit he gets from that cold capitalist teat works for him. Not a bad book, rather ranging and filled with ego, poorly edited. A bit of filler in this pie.

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