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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.
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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 (760 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Adam Sandoval Nampa, ID United States 06-28-12
    Adam Sandoval Nampa, ID United States 06-28-12
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    "Starts out strong, but ends with a detour"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Believing Brain to be better than the print version?

    The ideas explored in the book are fascinating, but I wouldn't have picked it up if there was another narrator.


    What other book might you compare The Believing Brain to and why?

    I listened to other books on the brain, psychology, and society but they didn't provide as much background as The Believing Brain. I really learned a lot more about the psychology of the brain and will likely pick up a few of the books he cited, that cover similar themes.


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

    I tend to listen to books on a congruent basis, alternating between music and other areas of interest. This was just long enough to listen to on my breaks from work, while not taking too long to complete.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S. Jepsen Denmark 05-31-12
    S. Jepsen Denmark 05-31-12 Member Since 2010

    SJepsen

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    "Good subject - poor performance"
    Would you listen to The Believing Brain again? Why?

    No - the reading performance gets on my nerves


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    Sadly, Shermer is not an actor. His pronunciation and reading performance is unskillful at best, and annoying most of the times. If you try to spice up the narrative with "old english" quotes, you should probably rehearse a bit before the take.The sassy music-bits at the beginning, and at the end of chapters are just sad.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    First time the music cued into the narrative was a "WTF moment" followed by a good, if somewhat unkind, laugh


    Any additional comments?

    Loose the music and the narrator, and you have a very interesting book

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    George Ewing, NJ, United States 05-29-12
    George Ewing, NJ, United States 05-29-12

    Thinker. Runner. Attorney. Follow your dreams kinda guy.

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    "Nice read and helpful look into our belief systems"
    Where does The Believing Brain rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    It's right up there with all the others. 4 stars from me, means its a very enjoyable book full of easy to understand information presented in a clear manner.


    What about Michael Shermer’s performance did you like?

    He reads in his own voice and I enjoyed listening to it.


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

    Nope. Too much to take in, especially if one considers the implications of the content.


    Any additional comments?

    Chapter transitions sucked.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nils heber, UT, United States 07-09-11
    Nils heber, UT, United States 07-09-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Worst book yet"

    I've listened to thousands of hours of audiobooks. Some I liked a lot, some not so much. I've never left a really bad review before.
    That being said: this is the worst audiobook I've ever tried to listen to. The author obviously enjoys hearing himself hold forth, and seems to think that if you use a lot of obscure multi-syllabic words then what you have to say is worth listening to. Worse yet, the book does not deliver on the subject as promised, but rambles on from random topic to random topic. Sorry, but this is pure drivel. Don't waste your time.

    4 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kevin Belleville, IL, United States 07-10-11
    Kevin Belleville, IL, United States 07-10-11
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    "eh, its alright"

    I found this book to be very informative. I personaly would consider myself a sceptic. I am an athiest and an anarchist, however, I find myself being open to what he calls "conspiracy theories". I personally disagree with the idea that belief in any unpopular opinion must always result from a blind faith or purely emotionally driven thought. Our history is full of "conspiracy theories" that eventually become recognized as conspiracy fact. Its a fact that the US government intentionally infected Native Americans with smallpox, experimented on African Americans without consent during the Tuskegee experiments, they gave LSD to unwilling participants during MKUltra, they imprissoned US citizens in consentration camps during WW2, they lied about the gulf of Tonken incident, and Watergate. We also know for a fact that Osama Bin Laden was a CIA operative, Norad was ordered to stand down during the 911 attacks, building 7 was never hit by a plane, and on, and on, and on. To reduce all of this factual evidence to some wierd human brain limitation is insulting. It isn't comparable to people who stubornly hold on to their "faith" despite evidence. Still, I think its important to understand that many beliefs are based on emotion and habit as opposed to actual facts and reason. I just think he over applys this realization to include people who's beliefs may be based on evidence.

    5 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jack Lunenburg, MA, United States 09-04-11
    Jack Lunenburg, MA, United States 09-04-11 Member Since 2009

    Avid listener of information that defines what a mess individuals have made of society, humanity and the planet itself.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What about the facts?"

    The author should not have read his own book - but - you do get a good idea of who he is. Not impressed. He does however offer good information for keeping more of an open mind. Choosing the events of 9/11 as an example goes against his "look at the facts" statements. Over 1,500 Architects and Engineers looked at the facts and are calling for a new investigation. Research Building 7 and nano-thermite and come to your own conclusions.

    1 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lisa San Gabriel, CA, United States 07-09-11
    Lisa San Gabriel, CA, United States 07-09-11 Member Since 2005
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    "Having a tough time getting through this one"

    The author seems to just assume that any sort of faith is irrational and false. I'm only halfway through but pretty disappointed so far.

    3 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sarah san francisco, CA, United States 11-11-11
    sarah san francisco, CA, United States 11-11-11 Member Since 2011
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    "agree with other reviewer's complaints-terrible"

    I have been on a cog-sci kick for a few months now and as I am in a grad program that incorporates spirituality and psychology, I was interested in hearing specifically some of the science and open to how belief mechanisms and superstitions work.

    This. was. terrible.

    Shermer is not just a skeptic, he is someone with a grudge against anyone that believes anything except the cold, hard facts. I have imagined him punching any child still dumb enough to believe in the tooth fairy or scornfully mocking and spitting on a child still hoping that Santa might come in the night. I mean, this guy doesn't just not believe, he wants to make an ass out of anyone who is stupid enough to have faith in anything.

    Sadly, the book is little more than a diatribe about how smart and rational he is and how shockingly stupid and naive everyone else is--- even nobel laureates are nincompoops if they hold the horrifically moronic delusion that God exists! I mean, what idiocy! The vitriol becomes tired and boring and eventually I was listening at 3x speed and then I just gave up.

    If you're looking for a good science book, I recommend The Brain that Changes Itself.

    0 of 5 people found this review helpful
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