The Believing Brain
- From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths
- Narrated by: Michael Shermer
- Length: 13 hrs and 34 mins
- Unabridged Audiobook
- Release date: 24-05-11
- Language: English
- Publisher: Michael Shermer-John Wagner Studios
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.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jeremy on 20-12-11
Brilliantly evidenced reasons to doubt yourself!
Brilliantly researched, and argued, the message of the book is "the easiest person to fool is yourself"! None of us are immune from the various confirmation biases that mean we adopt many of our beliefs first, and then gather supporting evidence to prove ourselves right. This is just part of our evolutionary baggage of biases and of patternicity and agenticity it seems.
This is no neo-atheist rant, Michael Shermer gives a very fair account by two believers who found God through unusual experiences. I enjoyed his own account of losing his own faith, when for the first time, he sees himself as others saw him in his tiresome obsession about God as a fundamentalist Christian.
Most of all I found the neuroscience and numerous research experiments fascinating. We are all wired to take on trust it seems, and also to seek out patterns. It is individual differences in the activity of areas like the ACC, that enables us to discern useful from imaginary patterns, with many non-skeptics showing higher levels of patternicity.
Finally, in part 2, there are some excellent chapters on specific beliefs such as God, conspiracy theories, alien abduction etc. one of the most interesting is on our political biases (which seem to be 40-50% genetic), the strong confirmation biases and the 5 moral dimensions that lead to predictable clustering as liberal or conservative.
There is just loads in this book, and I liked that Prof. Shermer reads it himself in a strong clear delivery. I had to listen through twice, so much research is quoted as supporting evidence. In the end, it is whether you believe the naturalistic explanation is not just necessary, but also a sufficient cause. Above all however, I was left with a wariness in believing my own opinions, and a new awareness of the miriad ways we can deceive ourselves, let alone others!
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
By Gavin on 17-06-13
How to kill an interesting topic
Michael Shermer manages to turn what should be a fascinating topic into a dull dirge. He has a propensity to ramble off topic for hours. This is one book that really should have been abridged - one to two hours should have been ample to cover the information relevant to the title. To compound the problem, his reading voice is so annoying. And what is the point of the cheesy music that starts each chapter and heralds its ending?
I enjoyed reading Shemer's "Why Darwin Matters" and hoped "The Believing Brain" would be a interesting foray into a broader area. But interesting it was not.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Leigh Bartley on 17-06-11
Great material. Not-so-great narration.
Michael Shermer is a very smart man. He gives great interviews and speeches --but that doesn't mean he should have narrated his own book. (Just because you CAN read doesn't mean you should do it aloud.)
The production is kind of shoddy too --you can hear pages being turned; he mispronounces a few words and slightly stumbles over others; and then there's the obnoxious use of music that is used to introduce and end chapters.
Aside from those flaws, it's a very informative book. Like I said: Shermer is a VERY smart man and he does a very thorough job of presenting his research and material. I would recommend it.
26 of 27 people found this review helpful
By K. S. on 29-06-11
A reader's digest version of many other good books
If you've not read anything by Dawkins or not a listner to NPR's Radio Lab, and haven't read books like "The Drunkard's Walk", or "Blink", or "The Disappearing Spoon", then this book might be alright for you. It's really nothing original, just citing many other stories from other very good authors. I would recommend this book to someone who has just started embarking on a journey of skeptical view points. But I would also HIGHLY recommend that they read each of the stories in the books mentioned by the author as the condensed versions do leave out quite a bit.
For me it was mostly a rehash of things I've already read. As there was no new material I really can't give this book more than two stars.
34 of 40 people found this review helpful