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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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“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.
Top customer reviews
Having read several books on the topic, this is at the height of one of the betters, which is "The trascendental temptation" by Paul Kurtz. Like Shermer, Kurtz was a secular humanist and a sceptic. In this vein, Shermer reinforces and complement also what Kurtz explains in his excellent work. This is not easy if you take into account the variety of topics that a challenge like this imposes: you have to cover from biology to history to politcs to economics. And Shermer not only is good in analyzing different perspectives but also in discussing them and giving you his own ideas.
Not an easy task, I repeat. It's easy to cover different topics without adding nothing new at all as it happens with a dictionary or a catalog. In this case you have an essay that includes, and even more, compromise the author with his ideas. Is he who is saying "this is what I think," and that demands courage and -on the same level- a deep understanding about what is said.
In sum: a perfect balance between extension and depth. Well suited for agnostics and believers who want to know what they have when they feel tempted to say "this is what I believe."
I feel better equipped to handle the things which annoy me every day since delving into this book. I strongly suggest that you read it with an open mind and leave the one you normally use on the bedstand for the time it takes to finish this book.
Regardless, here is the thesis of the book: "We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow. I call this process belief-dependent realism, where our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold at any given time."
In sum, I don't think many people looking for a hard hitting skeptical attack on pseudoscience will find what they are looking for here. It is essentially a bare-bones explanation of what science is and how it is used to dispel unfounded beliefs. Consequently I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending this book to everyone, especially those like myself who love Shermer's previous books. Yet, I am still giving this book a 5-star review because I don't think there is a book like it, or as good, out there - a great introduction to Skepticism for the younger crowd.