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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to…

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and… (2011)

by Michael Shermer

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Comes across as a bit of a whitewash of believing dumb things.

A lot of excellent information, but all _condoning_ belief. Yes, some of the information adds valuably to what I knew about science, but he seems to think that science only started with Galileo and his telescope. This despite the fact that he quotes from Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World". Maybe he simply forgot some of the things Sagan wrote.

There's no acknowledgement of the social aspect of believing dumb things.

"I don't think science is hard to teach because humans aren't ready for it, or because it arose only through a fluke, or because, by and large, we don't have the brainpower to grapple with it. Instead, the enormous zest for science that I see in first-graders and the lesson from the remnant hunter-gatherers both speak eloquently: A proclivity for science is embedded deeply within us, in all times, places and cultures. It has been the means for our survival. It is our birthright. When, through indifference, inattention, incompetence, or fear of skepticism, we discourage children from science, we are disenfranchising them, taking from them the tools needed to manage their future." - Carl Sagan, "The Demon-Haunted World"

Without the lop-sidedness, I'd probably rate the book quite high, but as it is, I'll abstain from rating it at all.

Shermer doesn't even know that you CAN prove a negative.
  zangasta | Oct 4, 2015 |
The author seems to think he has considered every argument for and against the existence of God (he concluded there isn't a God), but he definitely needs to consult some educated Mormons, who could tell him things he obviously has never considered. However, he did do a fairly good job of not being too overbearing/annoying in telling his own opinions. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
This book is a quick read and a nice intro into how we can trick ourselves into believing what we want to believe. However, if you have read any of Shermer's books, you have pretty much read them all. I didn't find much of anything new here. ( )
  bke | Mar 30, 2014 |
This is a truly ambitious work that attempts to bring an understanding to why and how we form our beliefs and rationalize them. The book goes through the ways in which we form beliefs and then find ways to justify those beliefs. Mr. Shermer's theory attempt to persuade us that this is in fact the default human behavior, that rational scientific thought is actually harder for us. And looking at the range of science denialism I see in the world today this seems to make some sense. Several different types of belief systems are covered, from the typical religious belief to conspiracy theories and aliens, with a focus within each type of belief on how our brain seeks patterns and gives agent to those patterns.

I feel that the book presents a significant argument that we do indeed form our beliefs first, and rationalize them after the fact, even the most dedicated scientist. And this is why the use of the scientific method and constant peer review is essential to the process of revealing the real facts and truths about the universe in which we live. It's just too easy as individuals to get caught up in what we want to be true instead of what is.

The end of the book goes through a review of our current scientific beliefs and how we got to the point we are now. Here Mr. Shermer uses what was discussed previously in the book to show how old beliefs continue to hold sway and are difficult to overcome even in the light of new evidence.

I found this book to be a fascinating must read for anyone who ponders the questions of how we think and believe within our minds. ( )
  speljamr | Mar 19, 2014 |
It's a decent book, but I am very happy this was just a kindle book, and not one on my bookshelf. I ended up skimming through parts of the book, because it just didn't hold my attention. It's a bit repetitive, and I'd probably have liked it more if I knew less about the field. He knows his stuff, and he makes good points, but I'd have rather had less of it. ( )
  Lyndatrue | Nov 27, 2013 |
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For the mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence; nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced.  —Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620
To Devin Ziel Shermer

For our small contribution—6,895 days or 18.9 years from birth to independence—to the metaphorically miraculous 3.5-billion-year continuity of life on Earth from one generation to the next, unbroken over the eons, glorious in its continguity, spiritual in its contemplation.  The mantle is now yours.
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I Want to Believe

The 1990s' uber conspiracy-theory television series The X-Files was a decade-defining and culture-reflecting mosh pit of UFOs, extraterrestrials, psychics, demons, monsters, mutants, shape-shifters, serial killers, paranormal phenomena, urban legends turned real, corporate cabals and government cover-ups, and leakages that included a Deep Throat-like "cigarette smoking man" character played, ironically, by real-life skeptic William B. Davis.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805091254, Hardcover)

Bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished.

In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths.

Interlaced with his theory of belief, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:43 -0400)

Shermer demonstrates how our brains selectively assess data in an attempt to confirm the conclusions (beliefs) we've already reached. Drawing on evolution, cognitive science, and neuroscience, he considers not only supernatural beliefs but political and economic ones as well.… (more)

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