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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths [Kindle Edition]

Michael Shermer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.



Editorial Reviews

Review

“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 ...

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.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
333 of 356 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
In The Believing Brain, Michael Shermer has succeeded in making a serious analysis of the human brain both highly entertaining and informative.

If you are a baseball fan you will never view the curious antics of a hitter entering the batter's box in quite the same way again after reading Michael's book. You will likely be reminded of the pigeon in a Skinner's Box learning pigeon patternicity: the learning of a superstition.

If you are a Liberal and you cannot understand how those crazy Conservatives can actually believe the things they do, it will be explained to you in Michael's book. The same goes for Conservatives who think that Liberalism is some kind of mental disorder....they will understand why Liberals believe what they believe. Michael also explains why neither Liberal nor Conservative is likely to change: it's all based on the way the human brain works.

The first two sections of the book, comprising 135 pages, pretty much lay the scientific foundation for the remainder of the book. Reading it requires some attention to detail, but you will learn quite a bit, and the writing is accessible to the non-scientist, and the author is mindful of his audience and avoids scientific jargon, explaining such jargon when it is impossible to avoid, and reinforcing the explanations when jargon must be used again after the reader may have forgotten the meaning a few pages later. I found this very helpful.

Part 3 of the book is devoted to examining Belief in the Afterlife, Belief in God, Belief in Aliens, and Belief in Conspiracies, using the scientific facts from Parts I & 2 of the book. I was tempted to skip one or two of these Beliefs, but I got sucked in. They are handled quite interestingly.
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210 of 234 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
There's just something about reading Shermer that is unique, classy, inviting, and very educational. He's been plugging away against superstition for decades in his books, sharing top notch research that informs us all about the value of science and how we should use it to think about things. This is the value Shermer exemplifies and is greatly needed in our era. He doesn't berate believers. He wants to understand them better, having been one himself. He doesn't attack the Bible either, just the paranormal basis for it.

He simply talks science. We need to understand science and Shermer is our guide. Science is the antidote to superstition, agency detection, and the flimsy anecdotal evidence for beliefs that modern scientifically literate people do not accept. "70 percent of Americans still do not understand the scientific process defined in the National Science foundation study as grasping probability, the experimental method, and hypothesis testing." (p. 4) So his goal is to share how science works and what it can accomplish. He writes: "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 want to believe, but because I want to know. How can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually the case? The answer is science." (p. 2)

"Belief systems are powerful, pervasive and enduring," he rightly says. (p. 5) "The brain is a belief engine." "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.
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128 of 158 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB!! May 25, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for anyone who wish to understand human nature.
Amazing book. Nicely structured and the arguments are strong with a lot of scientific, reasonable and common sense evidence.
Published 6 days ago by khantnyar
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good reading and a psychology lesson on how the brain can be manipulated.
Published 9 days ago by Bryan Scott Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, provocative, and worth the read.
Please don't get exercised about the fact that Michael Shermer is an atheist. To begin with, he comes by it honestly, having been an evangelical christian in his youth. Read more
Published 19 days ago by Ernie
5.0 out of 5 stars Shermer is terrific. People who recoil at controversial notions should...
Shermer is terrific. People who recoil at controversial notions should go back to their dogma and leave this book alone. An open and sharp mind will love what Shermer has to say.
Published 28 days ago by Michael Kranitz
5.0 out of 5 stars Believe It Or Not, An Excellent Description of How and Why We Do--It's...
Dr. Michael Shermer is a self confessed atheist. Though he also suggests he may be an agnostic. Ultimately he would rather be known as a skeptic. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robert Y. Ellis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great book
Published 1 month ago by Tim
5.0 out of 5 stars Your brain is everything
Good read really shows you how powerful your brain is and can be. Give as you so many examples and different scenarios.
Published 1 month ago by Karim Vegas
5.0 out of 5 stars Do Neurons Believe?
Michael Shermer’s recent book, “The Believing Brain,” is a well-written attempt to explain how the human brain forms beliefs of all kinds. The basic idea is rather simple. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gernie Doetsch
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Well worth the reading
Published 2 months ago by Rick
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Too wordy; not to the point; too many examples of the same idea.
Published 2 months ago by The sissy maid critic
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More About the Author

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com) and the Director of The Skeptics Society. He is a Visiting Associate at the California Institute of Technology, and hosts the Skeptics Lecture Series at Cal Tech. He has authored several popular books on science, scientific history, and the philosophy and history of science, including Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, and Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (with Alex Grobman). Shermer is also a radio personality and the host of the Fox Family Channel's Exploring the Unknown. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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