Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time Revised & enlarged Edition
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“This sparkling book romps over the range of science and anti-science.” ―Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
“Splendid.” ―Vanity Fair
About the Author
- Publisher : Holt Paperbacks; Revised & enlarged edition (September 1, 2002)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0805070893
- ISBN-13 : 978-0805070897
- Item Weight : 11.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.43 x 1.05 x 7.99 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #76,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I cannot emphasize enough what an enjoyable read this book is for anybody tired of being surrounded by people who view the world as some sort of unsolvable supernatural puzzle. Because the world isn't!
Sure, we can't explain the entire world. If we could, we wouldn't need science or reason or philosophy or psychology or logic or anything--if we could, we could just recite the same dogmas and platitudes of earlier generations and never have to bother thinking about anything beyond how things make us feel.
...Like a lot of people do.
This book systematically moves through a large number of the more persistent myths of our age--from Biblical creationism, to Holocaust denial, to psychic detectives--and while it spends quite a bit of time exploring the strangeness and the details of such ideas, it also spends quite a bit exploring why such beliefs are ultimately false, why people choose to believe such things, and how we can avoid such errors in our own thoughts.
Reading it, I constantly found myself wanting to force it onto everyone I talked with, whether they would agree with me about it or not. This book is a weapon against lazy thinking--particularly its chapter, "How Thinking Goes Wrong: Twenty-five Fallacies that Lead Us to Believe Weird Things"--a chapter that I wouldn't mind seeing expanded into an entire book of its own--and I really could not recommend it more highly.
Most of the book originally appeared as essays in "Skeptic" magazine, so it may feel a bit episodic at points--but holy cow, what great episodes! Also, there's a huge section in the middle dedicated to Holocaust denial--perhaps more than the subject warrants, as arguing down people who believe the Holocaust never happened is not all that difficult. All right, all right, all right already, the sky is blue, humans need water, you got me. (Shermer wrote an entire book about Holocaust denial, "Denying History," so it's obviously an important topic to him, and he does make it interesting.) Also, some of the slower pieces seem to have been saved for the end, and the book does feel a bit uneven at times, but overall, I just felt absolutely gleeful reading this.
The famous alien autopsy video, TV psychics, Edgar Cayce, the 1980s Satanic Panic, even the cult of writer Ayn Rand--all are not safe here, and the book is worth its cost just for the many brilliant parallels it draws between Creationism and Holocaust Denial.
There is just so much nonsense out there threatening to indoctrinate our children, dictate our lives, and make us afraid, that this is just nothing but refreshing; this exudes truth and reason; this should be read by everyone, and I do mean everyone.
Read it, read it, read it--and be enlightened.
Why People Believe Weird Things finally makes its appearance to the Kindle. In this revised and expanded edition accomplished skeptic and the Director of The Skeptics Society takes an evenhanded and fair approach to addressing why people believe weird things. He tackles a number of pseudo claims including but not limited to: out-of-body experiences, abductions, recovered memory movement, creationism, and holocaust, among others. This 384-page book is composed of seventeen chapters and broken out by the following five main parts: Part 1 - Science and Skepticism, Part 2 - Pseudoscience and Superstition, Part 3 - Evolution and Creationism, Part 4 - History and Pseudohistory, and Part 5 - Hope Springs Eternal.
1. Michael Shermer is a treat to read because of his direct and accessible prose.
2. As expected a well written, well researched book. A very pleasant tone throughout.
3. A wonderful job of defining terms and providing popular examples.
4. Great use of illustrations and diagrams.
5. Great quotes such as, "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons".
6. Why skepticism is a vital part of science.
7. A better understanding of the scientific method.
8. The Hume methodology at display.
9. The chapters on creationism are always a personal favorite.
10. Twenty-five examples of fallacies, excellent.
11. The curious phenomenon of the feedback loop.
12. In defense of science.
13. The first-cause and prime mover argument revisited.
14. The strength of evolution.
15. What exactly do holocaust deniers, deny?
16. Ayn Rand's cult...
17. UFOs...far out.
18. The difference between men and women regarding their beliefs.
19. Interesting look at how people perceive to believe things versus what how they perceive others to believe.
20. Confirmation bias.
21. Why smart people believe weird things.
22. Great bibliography.
1. The sections on the holocaust deniers were my least favorite.
2. Not enough time discussing why people believe weird things.
3. No links.
In summary, a few shortcomings aside I enjoyed the book. Mr. Shermer is an accomplished skeptic and does an excellent job of conveying his thoughts in an accessible manner. The book is an excellent book for those who are interested in critical thinking and want to know about the importance of the scientific method.
Further suggestions: " The Believing Brain " is excellent by the same author, " Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior " by Leonard Mlodinow, " Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there " by Richard Wiseman, " Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science " by Robert L. Park, " Science and Nonbelief " by Taner Edis, " The Demon-haunted World " by Carl Sagan, " Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Popular Science) " by Martin Gardner, " Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience " edited by Kendrick Frazier, " Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) " by Carol Tavris, and " Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries " by Benjamin Radford.
Top reviews from other countries
The United States epitomises these three cultures: it publishes the largest number of cited scientific papers on the planet, its liberal arts colleges are world-class but vast numbers of Americans still believe in creationism, as many as 40 per cent according to one Gallup poll in December 2010.
Michael Shermer, a well-known American sceptic, has his work cut out for him. He surveys a range of bizarre beliefs, such as alien abductions and near-death experiences, to creationism and Holocaust denial.
In dealing with accounts of the fantastic and paranormal, Shermer holds David Hume's foolproof maxim foremost in mind:
`[N]o testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish ... `
Thus you cannot disprove a claim such as a man rose from the dead 2000 years ago or that aliens have abducted millions of Americans. But given what we know about the world - i.e. that when a man dies, he stays dead, and that faster-than-light space travel is ruled out by the laws of physics - it would be unwise to accept either belief. Therefore it's reasonable to surmise that the person making such a claim seeks to deceive, or has been deceived.
The demand to disprove an extraordinary claim is an example of an ad ignorantium fallacy, i.e. if you cannot disprove a claim then it must be true. This is one fallacy among 25 others that Shermer describes that underpin belief in weird things. There are others: the fallacy that the minority view must necessarily be the right one, the fallacy that a coincidence proves a cause, and such like that underpin those who accept weird beliefs.
Shermer's tone is informed by Spinoza's admonishment, not to ridicule but to understand why people hold strange beliefs. He gives his subjects their due, setting out the arguments of creationists and Holocaust deniers before turning to refute them. His style is a lot less showy than Hitchens or Dawkins but loses nothing on account of that.
I found Shermer's chapters on pseudoscience (i.e. creationism) and pseudohistory (Holocaust denial) especially penetrating critiques of both movements. But what is the difference between pseudoscience and real science? Science is dedicated to formulating hypotheses that can be tested against data. Even the most robust theory is tentative. It could be invalidated by fresh data. Compare that with creationism, which anchors its authority in the inerrancy of scripture. Its foundational premise is therefore beyond argument or dispute.
Science looks for naturalistic explanations behind phenomena but by definition supernatural explanations, posited from outside nature, cannot be assessed, tested or measured. So for instance it is averred that the `irreducible complexity' of the eye can only be `explained' by positing the existence of a supernatural designer. Not only can this not be demonstrated (it relies ultimately on the ad ignorantium fallacy as its foundation) but science can demonstrate, with real world examples, the evolution of the eye, in part by the existence of a plethora of eyes at various stages of developments among various species.
Shermer is right to bracket Holocaust denial with creationist science. Just as evolution is proved by the convergence of evidence from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology and other scientific disciplines, the fact of the Holocaust is proved by the convergence of various strands of evidence. Deniers tend to concentrate on weaknesses in their opponents' explanations, seize on disagreements among scholars and quote these out of context, focussing on what we do not know rather than what we do. Falsifying one detail (such as soap being made out of human fat) is held to falsify all other details. But the fact of the Holocaust does not rely on the veracity of a single claim - it relies on over a dozen strands of evidence converging on one conclusion: it happened.
The laws of science do not rule out a claim that the Holocaust never happened. But the evidence as it stands supports the claim and makes it a strongly credible one, stronger than the claims of those who seek to deny it. The question is not whether you can disprove or prove beyond all reasonable doubt, but whether the quality of evidence adduced stacks up for or against a claim. History cannot be described as a hard science per se but it involves formulating hypotheses that are then tested against the data.
Where perhaps the book is weaker is the modest attention given to answering the question why people believe weird things. It's more than a `how' than a `why' people at arrive at bizarre beliefs. For Shermer it's a combination of confirmation bias (the tendency of human beings to look for evidence to confirm a view they have already accepted independently of any evidence to support it) and attribution bias (the tendency to attribute the basis of your beliefs to reason, and hence rational, but the beliefs of others to emotion, hence irrational). But can't this be said of all beliefs? Certainly not in the case of science or history properly practised, whereby the process of peer review minimises bias even if it cannot eliminate it altogether.
Scepticism is not nihilism. It is about assessing the degree to which claims can be supported by evidence. It is a positive exercise in helping us make well-founded statements of truth about the world in which we live. I thoroughly commend this book to anyone who takes this exercise seriously.
Wiseman ist Brite. Die Briten interessieren sich traditionell sehr für Geistererscheinungen, übersinnliche Wahrnehmungen und allgemein mystische Vorfälle. Weniger Interesse bis gar keins besteht an Kreationismus (Hallo, Darwin war Brite!), Entführung durch Außerirdische und einer mystischen Variante der Bedrohung durch den Kommunismus.
Das alles scheint wiederum den Durchschnitt der US-Amerikaner sehr zu beschäftigen.
Auf den Alien-Glauben geht Shermer in diesem Buch jedoch nur sehr kurz ein und drückt sich auch um eine abschließende persönliche Stellungnahme zu den (angebliche) Entführungsfällen. Das Thema wird sehr ausführlich und psychologisch versiert von Carl Sagan in Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (dt:: Der Drache in meiner Garage oder Die Kunst der Wissenschaft, Unsinn zu entlarven ) behandelt.
Shermers absolutes "Reibungsthema" ist der Konflikt zwischen Kreationisten und Darwinisten in den USA. In Europa bekommt man davon weniger mit, ab und zu halt mal einen Medienbericht, über den man vielleicht sogar schmunzelt, weil man sich hier gar nicht vorstellen kann, dass klar denkende Menschen ernsthaft fordern können, dass die Genesis im Biounterricht behandelt werden sollte. Zumal auch die Evolotionstheorie hier nur einen kleinen Teil des Stoffkanons einnimmt und - eben - als Theorie dargestellt wird.
Wer aber besser verstehen möchte, warum ein Buch wie Richard Dawkins Der Gotteswahn in den USA viel wichtiger ist, als hierzulande, der wird bei Shermer in mehreren langen Kapiteln Antworten finden. Es geht letztlich nicht darum, ob man an Gott glauben "darf" oder nicht, sondern darum, ob es legitim ist, die Existenz eine Gottes im Schulunterricht als Tatsache hinzustellen und ob sich einzelne Gruppen herausnehmen dürfen, ihre Bibelauslegung auf die gesamte Menschheit zu übertragen. (Gleiches gilt natürlich für die Auslegung anderer religiöser Schriften).
Shermer plädiert für eine Trennung von "Wissenschaft" und "Glauben", bzw. Rationalismus versus Ideologie. (Und begründet auch, warum Rationalismus keine Ideologie ist)
Ungewöhnlich in diesem Buch zu finden ist das Thema der Holocaust-Leugnung. Die drei Kapitel dazu sind sehr lesenswert, da sie eine sehr gute Zusammenfassung der Behauptungen der "Leugner" geben und sich nicht, wie es leider oft passiert, in dem Versuch, diese zu widerlegen, in Zahlenspielereien ergehen, sondern die Methoden und tieferen Beweggründe der "Leugner" durchleuchten.
So stellt Shermer z.B. fest, dass nicht alles, was die "Leugner" behaupten, falsch ist. Das Problem ist vielmehr, dass sie Fakten, Behauptungen und bewusste Falschdarstellungen vermischen, so dass eine sachliche Auseinandersetzung unmöglich gemacht wird, da man erst einmal mühsam alles wieder auseinander sortieren müsste. (Ein Phänomen, dass wohl auch typisch für Verschwörungstheorien ist).
Sehr kurz geht Shermer noch auf Nahtodeserfahrungen, Hellsehen und Versuche, dass menschliche Leben künstlich zu verlängern ein. Ein besonderes Kapitel beschäftigt sich noch mit Ayn Rand und ihrer Organisation, hier findet man zusammengefasst sehr viel Informationen über die "Objektivismus"-Bewegung.