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Customer Review

331 of 415 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Simplistic, Disappointing, June 23, 2011
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This review is from: The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (Kindle Edition)
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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Showing 1-10 of 41 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 24, 2011 7:53:12 AM PDT
J.W.K says:
Can you suggest any alternative reading for the general public?

Posted on Jul 12, 2011 12:12:11 PM PDT
Shaun Swain says:
Please do. I am very interested in hearing some of you not-so-technical, yet not-so-pseudoscientific alternatives. Would be greatly appreciated.

Posted on Jul 13, 2011 10:21:20 AM PDT
Craig says:

Thanks for your sober review of this book. I'm afraid I will also find it too elementry, based on your observations. I was hoping for a real "meat and potatos" cognitive-neuroscience text with lots of research citations. It sound like I should keep looking.

Posted on Jul 13, 2011 7:25:19 PM PDT
TCinDC says:
I feel that too many believing brains have embraced thus book for the same reasons of the author's thesis. You have put things in a healthy perspective, in the very spirit if the book. I saw the author on TV, and while I applaud his viewpoint and agree with him -- because I, too, am a believing brain -- I saw more passion than science.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 13, 2011 10:06:45 PM PDT
Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World is what I think this book is trying to replicate. A very tough act to follow.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 16, 2011 6:49:39 PM PDT
JD says:
Check out "The Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. It was written over a decade ago, but it hits on the same subjects with less emphasis on neuroscience.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 21, 2011 3:58:08 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 21, 2011 4:02:18 PM PDT
The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life

Science and Nonbelief

Posted on Aug 12, 2011 5:44:26 PM PDT
Gary S says:
The problem with science is that if something fails to happen repeatedly it is not valid. Repetition is its proof. As far as things that have happened mystically or metaphysically to individuals, the cry seems to be "if it didn't happen to you as well, it didn't actually happen at all". And that is very very narrow and self-centered thinking.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 12, 2011 5:49:15 PM PDT
It is narrow, but not self-centered. Its not about whether the scientist experiences something, but whether the experience can be replicated in controlled conditions. It is narrow, but necessarily so.

Posted on Sep 16, 2011 2:32:53 PM PDT
Jenna Black says:
I agree with your assessment. Undoubtedly, Shermer did a lot of research & put a lot of effort into this book, but it is really rather trite & weak arguments for atheism placed in a "scientific" framework to give them an air of legitimacy. I quickly tired of his end-of-chapter sermons about the absolute virtues of science, especially in light of the incredible selectivity with which he choose which "scientific" studies to make his case. An example is the much discredited "God Helmet" study by Michael Persinger, which Shermer claims is a "first step" in discrediting research of the "paranormal." I found no attempt to answer the many critics of such studies, either from a scientific or theological perspective. On p. 178 Shermer declares that " date theists have failed to prove God's existence, at least by the high evidentiary standards of science and reason" yet he claims that science is "best tool ever devised for explaining how the world works", except for how the supernatural, metaphysical and spiritual world, of course.
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