The Believing Brain is 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.
As the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, author of Why People Believe Weird Things, and a columnist for Scientific American, Shermer is perhaps the country's best-known skeptic. His position is as clear as it is simple: "When I call myself a skeptic I simply mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims." But now Shermer is interested not only in why people have irrational beliefs, but "why people believe at all." Our brains, he says, have evolved to find meaningful patterns around us. But why do people believe they see patterns whether "evidence" of angels, conspiracy theories, or UFOs where none exist? Drawing on evolution, cognitive science, and neuroscience, Shermer considers not only supernatural beliefs but political and economic ones as well. He demonstrates how our brains selectively assess data in an attempt to confirm the conclusions we've already reached. Informative and difficult to put down, this book adds a compelling and comprehensive case to the growing number of arguments about the importance of scientific reasoning, marred only by Shermer's repeated citing of his own works and public appearances. B&w illus.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Really interesting information on why people believe what they believe. If you're interested in learning about the brain and how it works, I highly recommend this book.
Life-changing work, brilliant articulation
I'm impressed with the ease in which this book handles such difficult material to articulate. I haven't been this compelled to read a book in a long time.
Easy to understand with great info!
Shermer does it again with this well thought out and insightful look into the science of belief. After spending much of the book laying out the framework for a psychology of belief and informing the reader of how the mind works, Shermer ends by giving a history of cosmology which many readers will find interesting. He shows how some of the world's preeminent scientists have fallen prey to common logical fallacies and biases that were not well understood until the last century.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about why they think the way they do and how to recognize your own biases in order to make you a better person.