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The Believing Brain Audiobook

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

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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 (975 )
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  •  
    Douglas C. Bates Boston, MA 04-13-12
    Douglas C. Bates Boston, MA 04-13-12 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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
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    "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
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    "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 Member Since 2016
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    "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
  •  
    Josef B. 09-27-16
    Josef B. 09-27-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Insightful and informative"

    Michael Shermer provides a detailed look at why the brain believes and how we rationalize those beliefs. He articulates the evolutionary causes and provides a compelling argument for why religious beliefs, conspiracy theories, alien encounters, and any percieved paranormal or supernatural event are likely the ramifications of our brain's superior pattern processing ability, cognitive biases, and its lack of error detection. Thumbs Up!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    scott may here 09-23-16
    scott may here 09-23-16 Member Since 2016

    just me

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    "Kinda slow"

    If you believe or enjoy the paranormal like I do. You will be disappointed. The author gives random facts about the paranormal and pompously pokes fun of you if your a believer. I have an open mind or I think I do, so some of the info was fine, I think it's his delivery that troubled me. I laughed out loud several time during the book, a good thing. But in general.....the book was boring.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Khaled J. Abu Elsamid 06-06-16 Member Since 2016
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    "bummer mc. buzz kill...."

    so insightful that it makes this world a little less magical... I'm at a loss...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    TDW san jose, ca 04-28-16
    TDW san jose, ca 04-28-16 Member Since 2015
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    "A great experience on every level"

    Educational, thought provoking, mind boggling, enjoyable. Check.

    But this lecturer is as great in his delivery as the information he shares about our universe (universes?) and the history of mankind's struggle to comprehend and even predict its behavior.

    To say he is amazingly articulate is an understatement. But he is also engaging, lively and entertaining due to the obvious depth of understand, enthusiasm and passion he has for this field of study.

    I am no rocket scientist but I am considered fairly intelligent. Still - and with pleasure I must add - I probably listened to some chapters of this book several times in my effort to really absorb the information. But I enjoyed it as much or more the last hearing as the first.

    And I'll probably continue to revisit and enjoy this book for years to come. It's that great.

    You will come away from this experience with a good basic knowledge (at the survey course level) of cosmology, relativity, the real (and fascinating) meaning and significance of Einstein and E=MC2, quantum physics, black holes, quarks, atoms, string theory, and the continuing quest for the 'Theory of Everything'.

    One of if not my best ever Audiobook experiences.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deb Hatch 04-19-16
    Deb Hatch 04-19-16 Member Since 2013
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    "Fascinating"

    The book was much better than I had expected it to be. Fascinating to hear how our brain normally reacts within a variety of situations.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Trevor 04-03-16
    Trevor 04-03-16 Member Since 2015
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    "Interesting sometimes, but mostly tedious"

    Shermer discusses some intriguing psychological concepts regarding belief as a behavior, but I felt he spent far more time describing general ideas than necessary, often due to the book's underdefined scope. Combined with his bland presentation style, I had a difficult time staying engaged with the book for any extended period of time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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