The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

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Macmillan, May 24, 2011 - Psychology - 400 pages

The Believing Brain is bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished.

In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, 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. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths.

Interlaced with his theory of belief, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - neurodrew - LibraryThing

I have read Shermer's columns in the Scientific American, and a previous book, and agree strongly with his stance as a skeptic, but have always thought he is a little dismissive and superficial in his ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - piersanti - LibraryThing

The author seems to think he has considered every argument for and against the existence of God (he concluded there isn't a God), but he definitely needs to consult some educated Mormons, who could ... Read full review


Want to Believe
The Biology of Belief
The Believing Neuron
Belief in Things Unseen
Belief in God
Belief in Aliens
Belief in Conspiracies
Politics of Belief
Confirmations of Belief
Geographies of Belief
Cosmologies of Belief
The Truth Is Out There

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About the author (2011)

Michael Shermer is the author of The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, The Science of Good and Evil, The Mind Of The Market, Why Darwin Matters, Science Friction, How We Believe and other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.

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