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
“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)
l'enfer c'est les autres
The author gives us many anecdotes and stories which are all done better in other books I have listened to with Audible, but no one has them all in once place as this book does. Your choice than would be to listen to about a dozen other good books or listen to this one and sacrifice some quality of exposition.
He almost always gives credit for thoughts he borrowed from other authors and than summarizes them in his own words. (One exception, I don't think he gave credit to Brian Greene when he seemed to be borrowing from him).
The book does read mostly like a series of essays. The author does a workmanlike job of putting the pieces together and does have a interesting theme he is working towards, 'belief comes before understanding', and 'patternicity' and 'agentnicity' influence our beliefs.
The author is not a very good reader and I wished he had hired a professional reader. Soon after I finished this book I started listening to another book by a professional reader and I thought, 'what a difference a good reader makes'.
Shermer draws together much of the rationale of why people believe as they do. A real revelation for me in many areas. I'd recommend for any enquiring minds out there.
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.
MS does a good reading without trying to 'sell' his ideas.
It is long and I play/replay it over a matter of days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love AUDIBLE! I never get mad at traffic jams and can listen to many different books, despite of my short time.
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.
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