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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.
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There is a chapter on alien abductions and ghosts are in there somewhere. This like other similar supernatural things did not interest me, so I only skimmed through it. The usual stuff.
The chapter on politics trashes both liberals and conservatives. The author thinks you somehow get hooked into this type of belief system and only later start sorting out what the beliefs of the group are. Liberals are spineless namby bambies lacking leader skills. This may be due to their inability to see things in black and white. I'm not going to support sending anyone to jail for getting caught with a couple of joints. The three strikes law is unpractical and even costly. I'm not here to support a prison industry.
The morals of liberals are questioned. Individual liberals may be very law abiding. But we don't want to set rules that most of the population will break at least once.
He is kind of missing the point of politics, being a libertarian. He may not want it to work. We liberals want a system that is practical. Sure there will be corruption. That needs an appropriate punishment. Ban politicians that are caught from further public posts! Politics has no right or wrong solution (conservatives will never admit to that). There is only success or failure in politics. Small failures can be fixed. We liberals are fully aware that some people abuse government benefits. We will fix it as much as we can. Use the system!
The biology of our learning patterns and the biology of neurons are given two chapters. The chemicals involved are briefly discussed. Areas of the brain and their functioning are discussed.
Religion is covered in a sensible way, but I don't think this book gets any closer to the believer's brain than Dawkins does. Maybe his other books have further detail. It has the usual items. Agency gets a few pages. (agents are the doers of things, primitive man saw agents or their acts everywhere). I think if religion is you thing, you are better off with a book on that subject alone.The best bits on religion were quotes on Collins and CS Lewis near the beginning of the book. His own deconversion from born again Christian comes out almost boring.
Bob Greaves, the unconventional pastor
I found this book to be wonderful. It supported, challenged and informed many of my thoughts on how and why we think the way we do.
For me the path taken as consciousness emerges from the pressures of natural selection is one of the most important points that Shermer makes.
Another point; that the scientific method, a naturally deliberative process, is selected against by natural selection and instead snap judgements based on incomplete data is selected in favor of by natural selection is a very key.
That humas have the extra time on their hands to develop and use the scientific method is a by product of the emergence of civilization. Shermer points out that this luxury was certainly not an option for early humans.
That the mind is an organizational engine who's purpose is to take its sensory inputs and do short term predictions of the future so the organism can persist is one of my basic beliefs that this book supports.
All the discussions of belief biases that Shermer lists are really well done. I have to say I was uncomfortable when Shermer pointed out that both the way Progressive people think and the way Conservative people think are equally valid. This was a hard thing for me to read. But, in the context of everything else he had to say I did have to accept it. It is certain that If we, as political animals, can embrace the other side's belief systems as natural even though we do not agree with them would result in a great step forward, in raising the level of political discourse.
As a larger question; How all the things that make the human mind different from the minds of other species is an issue that is not extensively addressed by Shermer. I think the human species ability with language is the key to that difference.
This book makes you think; it challenges your current belief system, and it informs. Add to that the fact that it successfully addresses one of the most fundamental questions that we all ask makes it very worthy of reading.