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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

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Performance
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  •  
    James E. Barr Asheville, NC & NYC 04-30-12
    James E. Barr Asheville, NC & NYC 04-30-12
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    "Great narrative and objective analysis"
    What made the experience of listening to The Believing Brain the most enjoyable?

    The content, construction and flow of this book make it, to me, a 'must read' for anyone interested in belief systems, psychology, ethics, brain functioning, mysticism, religion, spirituality and human motivation.


    What about Michael Shermer’s performance did you like?

    MS does a good reading without trying to 'sell' his ideas.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It is long and I play/replay it over a matter of days.


    Any additional comments?

    The only trite aspect of the production is the addition of melodramatic music at the end of some chapters. It is unnecessary, cheapens the reading, and is totally out of style with the content of the book and production.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Michael Cary, NC, United States 12-26-11
    Michael Cary, NC, United States 12-26-11
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    "Just what I was looking for."
    Any additional comments?

    I just about missed listening to this book due to some of the other comments about the narration. Please don't let that dissuade you. Every book has a slightly different feel due to the narration. Once I started listening, Mr. Shermer's voice was candid and natural. The content is great and he does a great job of covering a skeptic's conclusions without resorting to bashing proponents of religion and the paranormal. He addresses many facets of the subject that I have always been curious about.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott Farmington, NY, United States 12-18-11
    Scott Farmington, NY, United States 12-18-11 Member Since 2013
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    "Must read of anyone who wants to understand belief"

    This was a very enlightening book. It is a must read for anyone interested in sociobiology or evolutionary psychology. Shermer explains belief in great detail. It is a book that everyone should read as it covers many topics most people have never stopped to contemplate. Shermer does a good job narrating.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sky Alto, MI, United States 11-09-11
    Sky Alto, MI, United States 11-09-11 Member Since 2011
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    "Excellent"

    Increadable new persprective about how and what we perceive, and interpret it.
    Listened to it twice.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    tonio Vermont 09-09-11
    tonio Vermont 09-09-11 Member Since 2007
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    "Best audio book I've listened to!"

    Wonderful book, rich and complex, reasoned and reasonable. I enjoyed the whole thing -- the last chapter somewhat less than the others. I wasn't sure it fit in all that well. And I loved the performance. This is my favorite of all the audiobooks I've listened to. I'm surprised that some people didn't like Shermer's reading. I always PREFER books read by their authors. And this one is among the best, in my opinion. I felt as though Shermer were right here, just talking with me (I listen with earbuds). I did notice a few mispronounced words, which always surprised me and gave e a chuckle. Shermer's very smart and has put together an excellent book. His biases are obvious but he's fair to those whose opinions he doesn't share. The point is that we ALL have cognitive biasses. We all choose our beliefs first, then assemble the facts and rationales to support our beliefs. Everyone should read (listen to!) this book. I would consider also buying the physical book because there are so many parts I'd like to go back to. I will probably listen to the whole thing again.

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tyler St. Louis Park, MN, United States 09-09-11
    Tyler St. Louis Park, MN, United States 09-09-11 Member Since 2008
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    "Great book"

    As the other reviews say, Michael is a better speaker than reader. He's also really bad at pronunciation. If you can get beyond that (I certainly did), this really is a fantastic book. I certainly hope that this will inspire more people to adopt a skeptical philosophy. Yet, I'm sure there are many who would have a hard time with the book. Namely those who fell asleep in science class and stayed awake in Sunday school. But really, EVERYONE needs to read/listen to this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kel S Canberra, Australia 09-04-11
    Kel S Canberra, Australia 09-04-11

    Kel

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    "Familiar Territory In A Succinct Presentation"

    If you've read some of Michael Shermer's other books, mainly How People Believe, then a lot of this book will seem like familiar territory. It even has the same hypothetical thought experiment for patternicity (it's a good thought experiment, so it's well worth repeating). Likewise, if you've read other works on the psychology of belief, again there's familiar territory covered. There's nothing quite revolutionary or revelatory highlighted, just a solid case told in a very enticing way.

    It's in its personal approach that I feel the book is successful. While treading dangerously close to the anecdotal, the whole narrative is rife with examples highlighting the theory in action; akin to the approach in the sublime Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). And by subjecting his own beliefs to the model, it was a nice way of putting his own biases under the spotlight. The result is that the theory put forward is memorable and applicable in real-world cases. The chapter on political beliefs, for example, should serve as a sobering reminder of just how arbitrary much of the political discourse truly is. And the account of Francis Collins will hopefully serve to remind us in the sceptical community that the difference between believer and non-believer has nothing to do with stupidity.

    In terms of narration, it was generally good though there are a few moments where Shermer seems to get tongue-twisted and the flow breaks, and a few words are mispronounced. But aside from that, I have no complaints.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    ANDRÉ ORLANDO, FL, United States 01-30-14
    ANDRÉ ORLANDO, FL, United States 01-30-14 Member Since 2011

    I love AUDIBLE! I never get mad at traffic jams and can listen to many different books, despite of my short time.

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    "Should be common sense"

    In Michael Shermer's point of view, humans form beliefs (from experiences, genetics...) and then selectively filter the data that to support the pre-existing beliefs. He divides the book in 4 parts Part 1- Journeys of Belief; Part 2. The Biology of Belief; Part III. Belief in Things Unseen; and Part IV- Belief in Things Seen.
    A good book, but I think it is not for everyone. If you are a believer (in God, ET, conspiracies...) you will get upset.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 01-22-14
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 01-22-14

    Acteon

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    "Must read for skeptics of skeptics"
    Would you listen to The Believing Brain again? Why?

    Yes. It is a good book to have solidly present in one's head at all times.


    Any additional comments?

    I (for complex reasons — I suppose they are always complex) had a penchant for being gullible which got worn down through education, but after a crisis in my mid-thrities, I decided to become "open" (thereby casting away deliberately many mental restraints). I decided it was simply better strategy, even if that meant being gullible. However, in time I shifted back to a more critical, intellectually rigorous position. For someone like myself, Schermer's book is just the thing to steady a sometimes vacillating mind.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    Tisa Garrison 11-11-13 Member Since 2016

    Tisa Garrison

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    "I Can See Clearly Now...."

    Great listen. Clear, concise, contemporary and relevant, but doesn't take itself too seriously. It's informative without being preachy. I am changing my list of who I would MOST LIKE TO HAVE LUNCH WITH...Michael Shermer is now on my A-lst.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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  • Jeremy
    Malvern Wells, United Kingdom
    12/20/11
    Overall
    "Brilliantly evidenced reasons to doubt yourself!"

    Brilliantly researched, and argued, the message of the book is "the easiest person to fool is yourself"! None of us are immune from the various confirmation biases that mean we adopt many of our beliefs first, and then gather supporting evidence to prove ourselves right. This is just part of our evolutionary baggage of biases and of patternicity and agenticity it seems.

    This is no neo-atheist rant, Michael Shermer gives a very fair account by two believers who found God through unusual experiences. I enjoyed his own account of losing his own faith, when for the first time, he sees himself as others saw him in his tiresome obsession about God as a fundamentalist Christian.

    Most of all I found the neuroscience and numerous research experiments fascinating. We are all wired to take on trust it seems, and also to seek out patterns. It is individual differences in the activity of areas like the ACC, that enables us to discern useful from imaginary patterns, with many non-skeptics showing higher levels of patternicity.

    Finally, in part 2, there are some excellent chapters on specific beliefs such as God, conspiracy theories, alien abduction etc. one of the most interesting is on our political biases (which seem to be 40-50% genetic), the strong confirmation biases and the 5 moral dimensions that lead to predictable clustering as liberal or conservative.

    There is just loads in this book, and I liked that Prof. Shermer reads it himself in a strong clear delivery. I had to listen through twice, so much research is quoted as supporting evidence. In the end, it is whether you believe the naturalistic explanation is not just necessary, but also a sufficient cause. Above all however, I was left with a wariness in believing my own opinions, and a new awareness of the miriad ways we can deceive ourselves, let alone others!

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Gavin
    Addlesetone, United Kingdom
    6/17/13
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    "How to kill an interesting topic"

    Michael Shermer manages to turn what should be a fascinating topic into a dull dirge. He has a propensity to ramble off topic for hours. This is one book that really should have been abridged - one to two hours should have been ample to cover the information relevant to the title. To compound the problem, his reading voice is so annoying. And what is the point of the cheesy music that starts each chapter and heralds its ending?

    I enjoyed reading Shemer's "Why Darwin Matters" and hoped "The Believing Brain" would be a interesting foray into a broader area. But interesting it was not.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Tim
    Sheffiled, United Kingdom
    4/7/13
    Overall
    "Fascinating, well argued and well researched"

    Along with some autobiographical anecdotes there is a good deal of research and a clear well structured argument in this work.



    Michael Shermer does not hide from his own bias and is unafraid to describe his own political and moral views throughout. I can't say I share all his views but I enjoyed his exposition of them.



    I would have liked a little more work on the evolutionary biology of belief and a little less personal anecdote but that may be just my preference. Overall he is cogent and respectful of others views which places him ahead of Dawkins in my opinion.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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