We are currently making improvements to the Audible site. In an effort to enhance the accessibility experience for our customers, we have created a page to more easily navigate the new experience, available at the web address www.audible.com/access.
The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths | [Michael Shermer]

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

In this, his magnum opus, the world’s best known skeptic and critical thinker Dr. Michael Shermer—founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and perennial monthly columnist (“Skeptic”) for Scientific American—presents his comprehensive theory on how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished.
Regular Price:$17.47
  • Membership Details:
    • First book free with 30-day trial
    • $14.95/month thereafter for your choice of 1 new book each month
    • Cancel easily anytime
    • Exchange books you don't like
    • All selected books are yours to keep, even if you cancel
  • - or -

Your Likes make Audible better!

'Likes' are shared on Facebook and Audible.com. We use your 'likes' to improve Audible.com for all our listeners.

You can turn off Audible.com sharing from your Account Details page.

OK

Publisher's Summary

In this, his magnum opus, the world’s best known skeptic and critical thinker, Dr. Michael Shermer—founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and perennial monthly columnist (“Skeptic”) for Scientific American—presents his comprehensive theory on how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. This book synthesizes Dr. Shermer’s 30 years of research to answer the question of how and why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives, from our suspicions and superstitions to our politics, economics, and social beliefs.

In this book Dr. Shermer is interested in more than just why people believe weird things, or why people believe this or that claim, but in why people believe anything at all. His thesis is straightforward: We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.

Dr. Shermer also explains the neuroscience behind our beliefs. The brain 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. These meaningful patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them—and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation. Dr. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths and to insure that we are always right.

©2011 Michael Shermer (P)2011 Michael Shermer

What the Critics Say

“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, author of Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science)

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, author of The Drunkard’s Walk and The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (867 )
5 star
 (340)
4 star
 (315)
3 star
 (149)
2 star
 (43)
1 star
 (20)
Overall
4.1 (634 )
5 star
 (263)
4 star
 (220)
3 star
 (107)
2 star
 (35)
1 star
 (9)
Story
3.9 (640 )
5 star
 (227)
4 star
 (222)
3 star
 (130)
2 star
 (48)
1 star
 (13)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Douglas C. Bates Boston, MA 04-13-12
    Douglas C. Bates Boston, MA 04-13-12 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    327
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    289
    45
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    102
    4
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Starts Strong, Then Wanders"

    The Believing Brain starts strong, delivering on its title promise about why people believe such strange things. Then the author begins to wander. By mid-way the book starts becoming a recap of material from other books.

    The section on politics particularly wanders. For an extended section it's about the author's own political beliefs, and subtly why those beliefs are rational, implying others' beliefs are not.

    From there the book goes on to discuss cognitive biases, the history of science, and the scientific method. All of these topics are much better covered in other books specific to those subjects.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Grant NANTUCKET, MA, United States 08-24-11
    Grant NANTUCKET, MA, United States 08-24-11 Member Since 2009

    caffeinated

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1033
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    179
    108
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    284
    10
    Overall
    "Really, really interesting stuff."

    I was skeptical of this book at first. Then I really got into it. And found myself nodding along as I listened. Perhaps I was merely subdued by my innate confirmation bias... ;-) Good stuff.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew LeClaire, IA, United States 03-08-13
    Matthew LeClaire, IA, United States 03-08-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Dr. Shermer is a skeptic's hero!"
    Would you listen to The Believing Brain again? Why?

    Yes, I probably will. There's a lot of information to grasp, and listening to a second time will help me recall the information in discussions on these topics.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Non-fiction, no characters.


    What does Michael Shermer bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    A lot of science history is presented (maye a little too much, to be honest).


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I enjoyed the part on religion, which is my big personal point of interest.


    Any additional comments?

    Dr. Shermer does an excellent job of cutting through the noise and laying out the argument for skepticism. I really enjoyed this book, but here are my few thoughts as to what prevented it from getting five stars:

    1. I tend to be more liberal than Dr. Shermer, so his section on politics ruffled my feathers a bit. He didn't work overly hard to present an unbiased view, instead laying out a basic arguement for civil liberarianism. It was still a good section, but I found myself wanting to argue with some of the things that were written there.

    2. Dr. Shermer does the *funniest* voices sometimes when he is quoting people, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't realize it. Even when quoting someone he really respects, he does this funny mock impersonation that sounds like he is making fun of them. I actually really enjoyed that, so it didn't ding my rating at all.

    3. The book ran a little unneccessarily long at points, especially at the end. I feel like Dr. Shermer could've said everything he wanted to say in half the words, but then some editor came and prodded him into making it longer to maximize profits. I think this book could've almost succeeded better in the micro book format used by Sam Harris.

    Overall, still well worth the read! I intend to get more books by Dr. Shermer soon.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Johnny Davis 07-29-11 Listener Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Hello... this is kermit the frog here."

    Good book but the Narrator sounds to much like Kermit the frog. Extremely distracting. I will be watching out for books read by him.

    11 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stan Francisco 05-14-15 Member Since 2014
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    23
    2
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Balanced & comprehensive within its scope"

    I expected this to be somewhat of a diatribe against having a belief in God.

    I was impressed by the high degree of professional integrity. He constrained his personal biases primarily to anecdotal and incidental comments. Instead, he employed an abundance of scientific studies regarding how our brains function to deceive us and then deceive us about much we have been deceived.

    This book is a worthy read regardless of your personal beliefs about God. If you actually use your brain to think about anything, then you would benefit from this material.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Illyria 03-12-15
    Illyria 03-12-15 Member Since 2015

    Luna

    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    3
    Overall
    "Enjoyable and Educational"

    I really enjoyed listening and plan to now read the actual printed book. Very enlightening made me want to learn more.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard MONTICELLO, MN, United States 01-30-15
    Richard MONTICELLO, MN, United States 01-30-15 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    4
    3
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "The ending was best"

    Unlike The Moral Arc, Shermer gave this a strong ending. Arc went into his "feelings" and "beliefs" about libertarianism at the end, rather than a "purely" scientific realm. Trying to "prove" libertarianism is somewhat farfetched after all the books I've read on both sides. It's not like there is any consensus as there is in the scientific community for Global Warming... I was more excited about science in Believing Brain at the end. Overall it was a good learning experience. RTC

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Olivia Page 01-09-15
    Olivia Page 01-09-15 Member Since 2014

    Underhand's chief engineer

    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    14
    7
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Mostly fair look at why we want to believe"

    It's a good listen. Shermer has a great rhythm that keeps almost the entire narration from feeling tedious. The arguments he presents are compelling and based on his decades of research. However, the one chapter he dedicates to political ideology seems a bit too biased. He plainly states his views and after discouraging stereotypes, seems to imply that political leanings are one area where reason can't trump impulse. Indeed, the chapter almost feels like a justification for his own political beliefs.

    The main detractor... Despite all of his evidence, he never addressed whether behavioral traits are really inherent or encouraged through social norms.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tammi Soileau 12-20-14 Member Since 2013
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Very good...but a few weird mistakes..."

    I very much enjoyed this audiobook! There were some odd mistakes and mispronunciations, but it didn't detract from the content too much. Even if one disagrees with Shermer's beliefs or messages, which even I do on occasion, there is plenty to be garnered from this book, and that is due in large part to how accessible Shermer wrote this book to be. I highly recommend it!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Donald E. Campbell Pearl, MS USA 10-11-14
    Donald E. Campbell Pearl, MS USA 10-11-14 Member Since 2012

    reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
    16
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    54
    38
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I didn't enjoy it"
    Any additional comments?

    I really did not enjoy this book. I have a rule that I listen all the way through every book that I get -- and I was glad this one was over. His ultimate premise -- that science is great and everything that cannot be proven by the scientific method is a trick of the mind and cannot be trusted -- is all well and good, but the book could have been half as long and make the same point. There was a whole section on the history of science that seemed forced in toward the end of the book and didn't seem to contribute at all to the thesis. In fact, there was a number of times throughout the book that I was left thinking: so what's the point? Why is this discussion here? In short, it may just be my "believing brain" --- but I believe that I should have passed on this one.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Report Inappropriate Content

If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.

Cancel

Thank You

Your report has been received. It will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.