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
17 Reviews

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  - 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

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bke - LibraryThing

This book is a quick read and a nice intro into how we can trick ourselves into believing what we want to believe. However, if you have read any of Shermer's books, you have pretty much read them all. I didn't find much of anything new here. Read full review

Contents

Want to Believe
1
The Biology of Belief
57
Agenticity
87
The Believing Neuron
111
Belief in Things Unseen
139
Belief in God
164
Belief in Aliens
188
Belief in Conspiracies
207
Politics of Belief
231
Confirmations of Belief
256
Geographies of Belief
280
Cosmologies of Belief
304
The Truth Is Out There
334
Notes
345
Acknowledgments
369
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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 Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.

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