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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 (1025 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Michael United States 06-09-13
    Michael United States 06-09-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "1st Half Good...2nd Half Not So Much"
    Any additional comments?

    This audiobook was engaging and interesting for the 1st half, but went downhill from there. The first half references brain research and neuropsychology to support Shermer's positions and it was an enjoyable listen. The second half left me yearning for it to come to an end. The second half is mostly an opinion piece on politics, in which Shermer is the best example of forming a belief then filtering the evidence to support it, and a LENGTHY exposition on the history of astronomy that went way beyond what was needed to prove his point. Astronomy is interesting, but I purchased this audiobook to hear about brain science. I rated this audiobook a 3 to average a 4 for the first half and a 2 for the second half.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 02-15-13 Member Since 2015
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    "The best book so far on explaining beliefs"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    without hesitation. It allows the reader to look at different beliefs/superstitions from the outside


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 09-17-12
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 09-17-12 Member Since 2016

    l'enfer c'est les autres

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    "More filling, but less taste than a dozen books"

    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'.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Brighton, Australia 05-16-12
    William Brighton, Australia 05-16-12 Member Since 2014
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    "Certainly the best book I have listened to thusfar"
    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    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
  •  
    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
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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
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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

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