The Believing Brain

The Believing Brain

From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--how We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

Book - 2011
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Baker & Taylor
Draws on three decades of research to outline a provocative theory about how humans form beliefs about the world, tracing the ways in which the brain finds patterns in sensory data that are then reinforced with meaning, in a report that explains how the author's findings apply to politics, economics and religion. 50,000 first printing.

McMillan Palgrave

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.

& Taylor

Draws on three decades of research to outline a provocative theory about how humans form beliefs about the world, tracing the ways in which the brain finds patterns in sensory data that are then reinforced with meaning.
Shermer demonstrates how our brains selectively assess data in an attempt to confirm the conclusions (beliefs) we've already reached. Drawing on evolution, cognitive science, and neuroscience, he considers not only supernatural beliefs but political and economic ones as well.

Publisher: New York : Times Books, c2011
ISBN: 9780805091250
Branch Call Number: 153.4 SHE
Characteristics: xii, 385 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm.


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Jun 28, 2017

Clearly written, with a little wit, and open about his own commitments. Ought to be read by all thinking people, especially those thinking about UFOs, miracles, and other weird things.

Mar 05, 2014

My over all assessment is that this is a well written, interesting and worthwhile read. Part 1 Journey of Beliefs covers two people he respects and why they believe in the supernatural and his own personal story on how he came to not believe in the supernatural. I found Dr. Collins move from non-belief to belief to be surprising. I guess until you have the experience yourself it is easy to deny it could happen to you. Part II Biology of belief was probably the strongest part of the whole book. I was particularly fascinated by how we can feel other people as being present (like the mountain climbers) and how we can even do this in our own heads. Part IV Belief in Things Seen was probably the weakest section of the book. The list of biases in confirmation of beliefs was very good, but the rest was not quite up to the quality of the rest of the book. Mainly I think he fails to see his own political beliefs as being more unbiased and correct than others, when alas we are all fooled by our on beliefs, even when we know they are swaying us. Nobody escapes confirmation bias, myself and the author included. The history of astronomy was kind of dull too (at least how he wrote it, and I didn't think added a lot of value).

Jun 01, 2013

An EXCELLENT treatment of the how and why of Belief, Faith and Religion. Dr. Shermer goes many steps beyond Dr. Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion" ( A tough read but worth the effort) to explain the mechanisms in our brain that allow and require belief.
Dr. Shermer has written the antidote for religion and spiritual belief.

frosty73 Jul 17, 2011

If you can get past Shermer's writing style, which is a bit like a boring psychology professor, the content of this book is incredible. You won't ever be able to look at the world the same way again.

roaddogg09 Jun 18, 2011

'The Believing Brain' is fantastic!! Michael Shermer does an excellent job of explaining how we form beliefs and then reinforce them. He bases this off of what he calls 'belief-dependent realism,' or you believe something first then try and give reasons.

My favorite part of the book had to be Part II: The Biology of Belief. In that section, Shermer explains patternicity (how we find patterns in meaningful and meaningless things), agenticity (how we attribute agency to patterns), and how neurons can believe anything. I also appreciated his discussion of conspiracies and politics.

Overall, the book was very well-written, and Shermer made sure to cite everything so you can read the original research. There were a few astounding things I learned, and my Amazon wishlist has grown because of it. Some people have commented that the book doesn't follow a rigid pattern, and at some parts, sure, but it all makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

I also highly recommend Jesse Bering's, "The Belief Instinct"

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