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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

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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
  •  
    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
  •  
    Tisa Garrison 11-11-13 Member Since 2014

    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
  •  
    Dennis 11-22-12
    Dennis 11-22-12

    steenbergend

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    "I have to get this book in print now."
    Where does The Believing Brain rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This book ranks in the top 5. I learned just how much we base beliefs on emotions and how reasons to support those beliefs come second. I think people have to be willing to be open to evidence. If you don't believe Dr. Shermer, by all means chase down his references and make sure he's telling the truth.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rachel COLUMBUS, OH, United States 09-14-12
    Rachel COLUMBUS, OH, United States 09-14-12 Member Since 2015
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    "Interesting, but not outstanding"

    In The Believing Brain Michael Shermer, the founder and editor of Skeptic Magazine, shows the reader how and why we believe. He begins the book with a discussion of religious beliefs, providing a few examples of life-altering religious (or irreligious) experiences, including his own. I found these stories engaging and enjoyed Shermer's philosophical discussion. Then Shermer defines "agenticity"--the tendency to assume patterns have meaning and intention (an outside agent) instead of seeing them as non-intentional or even random events. He describes the cellular mechanics of our brains and why we would have evolved "agenticity," and then provides many examples of how we see patterns even when they don't exist. This part was pretty funny. I enjoyed his examples. Shermer describes how we can become convinced that our own beliefs are accurate and unbiased, how confirmation bias leads to unconsciously ignoring data that contradict our ideas while noticing in minute detail all the examples in which the data confirm our ideas. This leads to a political discussion of liberals versus conservatives versus libertarianism (because, after all, we simply MUST hear about Shermer's libertarian beliefs!). The final third of the book describes the progress of scientific beliefs from world-is-flat to the multi-verse (again, Shermer inserts a commentary about what HE believes, which seemed a small digression from his main point). This third of the book also describes how the scientific method works. I found the final third of the book less interesting than the first two thirds. It seemed a little less organized than the first two parts, but that may have been because my mind was wandering since I was already familiar with the material he covered. In the end, this was a fun and interesting read, but nothing I'm going to read again.

    Shermer is well-spoken and therefore did a good job reading his own work. There were a few words that he hesitated on EVERY time (like spectroscopy), but he was mainly a pretty smooth reader.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    norman 08-15-12
    norman 08-15-12 Listener Since 2010
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    "Great !!!!!! Will listen again. So far, Shermers"
    What does Michael Shermer bring to the story that you wouldn???t experience if you just read the book?

    It is a great story itself.


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

    The first story he told.


    Any additional comments?

    One of the better audible books I've listened to. I was really into the stories. Very good.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    brett 08-09-12
    brett 08-09-12 Member Since 2012

    Homemaker Dad

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    "Informative , Enjoyable , Thoughtful , Believing"

    Informative , Enjoyable , Thoughtful , Believing lol
    Mr Shermer takes us on a journey .
    enjoyably self narrated .

    Credit well spent .

    Though .... music between chapters would be distracted ,
    I'd see if Audible would remove it .
    sort of like the doorbell ringing in the final scene in a film ,
    you ride it out but you know its distracted you ,
    Otherwise it was great .

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adam Sandoval 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 05-31-12
    S. Jepsen 05-31-12

    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

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