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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths Hardcover – May 24, 2011


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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths + Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time + The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091250
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 and thoughtful exploration of the beliefs that shape our lives."—Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works

"The Believing Brain is a tour de force integrating neuroscience and the social sciences to explain how irrational beliefs are formed and reinforced, while leaving us confident our ideas are valid. This is a must read for everyone who wonders why religious and political beliefs are so rigid and polarized—or why the other side is always wrong, but somehow doesn't see it."—Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, physicist and author of The Drunkard’s Walk and The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking)

"We might think that we learn how the world works, because we take the time to observe and understand it. Shermer says that's just not so. We just believe things, and then make our world fit our perceptions. Believe me; you don't have to take my word for it. Just try clearing some space in your own Believing Brain."—Bill Nye, the Science Guy ©, Executive Director of The Planetary Society

"The Believing Brain is a fascinating account of the origins of all manner of beliefs, replete with cutting edge evidence from the best scientific research, packed with nuggets of truths and then for good measure, studded with real world examples to deliver to the reader, a very personable, engaging and ultimately, convincing set of explanations for why we believe."—Professor Bruce Hood, Chair of Developmental Psychology, Bristol University and author of Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable

About the Author

Michael Shermer is the author of The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, The Science of Good and Evil, The Mind Of The Market, Why Darwin Matters, Science Friction, How We Believe and other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.


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.

Customer Reviews

It is well written and interesting, and it motivated me to read some of Professor Shermer's other books.
Ronald
I liked this book more then the "Demon Haunted World" because it builds up the argument for why anyone would believe any one of these things.
SkepticalSkeptic
In his new book, Shermer lays out a theory of "belief based reality" that he argues is a human being's 'basic operating mode.'
Montague Whitsel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

323 of 343 people found the following review helpful By Mike Byrne VINE VOICE on May 24, 2011
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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203 of 225 people found the following review helpful By John W. Loftus VINE VOICE on May 26, 2011
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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311 of 392 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 23, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm a high school psychology teacher, so I'm always looking for books that will expand my knowledge base but not be so technical as to be over my head. This book was really disappointing in almost every respect. It was probably my fault for assuming that a book titled "The Believing Brain" would actually go in some depth discussing the neuroscience behind our brain's construction of beliefs. The actual neuroscience in the book could be summarized in about five pages. In fact, the neuroscience covered in this book is covered in the survey text used in my high school class. Very simplistic, not very original science. The rest of the book is more information about the author's personal beliefs, pet peeves, etc. Interestingly, when discussing theories he is critical of, the author holds studies to a very high standard, but when discussing his own theory, he references studies and concepts that often do not reach the same level of rigor. In fact, some of his discussions about certain regions of the brain being responsible for highly complex thought patterns is the exact type of modern phrenology that makes most modern neuroscientists cringe.

I actually agree with the author's general premise about beliefs. I am equally skeptical of the existence of god, likelihood of discovering extraterrestrial life, and the various pop conspiracy theories that are out there. I just think the book could have been written in 50 pages. Or better yet, it could have been shortened to a magazine article and not lost any of its basic premise.
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