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The Believing Brain: From Spiritual Faiths to Political Convictions – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. Paperback – 7 Jun 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Robinson (7 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780335296
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780335292
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.9 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 38,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Shermer founded 'Skeptic' magazine and website (www.skeptic.com) and is a contributing editor, and columnist, for 'Scientific American'. Michael Shermer frequently appears on television and radio as a scientific expert.

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Review

"Michael Shermer has long been one of our most committed champions of scientific thinking in the face of popular delusion. In "The Believing Brain," he has written a wonderfully lucid, accessible, and wide-ranging account of the boundary between justified and unjustified belief. We have all fallen more deeply in his debt." -Sam Harris, author of the "New York Times" bestsellers "The Moral Landscape," "Letter to a Christian Nation," and "The End of Faith.""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 pe

Book Description

The Believing Brain is a tour de force integrating neuroscience and the social sciences to explain how irrational beliefs are formed and reinforced.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER on 15 Aug 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We like to think we hold the beliefs that we do because we have come to them as a result of careful process of deliberation, carefully weighing all the different sides of a question, before we reach a definitive conclusion, But it's not quite like that - we find reasons for beliefs we already hold prior to our justification of them. The brain is the seat of this - a belief engine that constructs beliefs about the world after the fact.

Shermer devises two neologisms - `patternicity' and `agenticity' to explain how this comes about. These rather ugly terms are simply shorthand for saying that our brains look for patterns where there is just randomness, and attribute conscious properties and deliberate intent to natural phenomena. We all do this to some extent - ever cursed your computer for running slowly, as if it would actually listen? Or tried to get a recalcitrant electronic or mechanical device to comply with your demands by thumping it? Those who hold strong religious or ultra-conspiratorial worldviews are likely to exaggerate patterns and agents operating in the world - excessive and unwarranted detection of `signal to noise.' He examines the psychological and neurobiological bases of our beliefs, how these apply to beliefs in the paranormal, religion, conspiracy theories and politics. He rounds off the discussion with an examination of the history of science as it is told in the story of progress in cosmology, to demonstrate how real knowledge advances.

Shermer does not of course push his argument too far. There is such a thing as legitimate belief. The truth is out there and it does not lie in between two extremes. Between the theory of gravity and the theory of levitation there is no middle ground, only the difference between truth and falsehood.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. J. Houchin on 18 July 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read quite a few books of subject of perceptions, belief, critical thinking etc. I enjoyed this it was very comprehensive & covers a lot of stuff including some things I hadn't read about before (such as some excellent explanations for Near Death Experiences and sensed presences etc) The stuff about agency was really nicely explained, if you are new to critical thinking then its probably worth reading just for that alone. I did find it hard going at times when reading about the scientific studies (whilst they are interesting I've read about many or similar one so may times before it may just be down to me re-hashing stuff I've seen before rather than a reflection on the book itself). I would definitely recommend this if the subjects new to you, if you've read a lot about this stuff before then maybe not so much.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lachstar on 28 Oct 2011
Format: Hardcover
My very first product that I have bought from Amazon and my very first review!

Just finished the book and it was a brilliant read, very well written. I found it well structured and easy to understand. (I am a non-scientist btw). Every point was made very clearly and a little humor really helped this book though the more involved science.
If there is anyone who is unsure about this book due to it having no reviews I would definitely recommend it!
The book arrived in perfect condition and 2 days early! So thanks to Amazon!

So overall a great book about why we believe what we believe.

:)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. I. Harrison on 31 Aug 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Shermer shows how, through numerous experiments, the brain really works. It first comes up with a belief, then does all it can to shore up that belief - even when presented with compelling, empirical evidence to the contrary.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Malcolm Shearmur on 1 Jan 2013
Format: Paperback
Shermer distills a mass of evidence from the realms of psychology and neuroscience to explain what parts of the brain are associated with emotion, conflict resolution, creativity and belief. He uses the studies to illustrate his conjecture that belief comes first, and that the reasons for the beliefs we hold are developed afterwards.

The author is also keen to show that many unusual things that people experience, such as voices and visions, are simply the imagination of a tired, fearful or otherwise stressed mind. There is so much emphasis on this that the book sometimes reads like a diatribe against belief in the supernatural. It also meanders and rambles, and Shermer is overly fond of quoting himself (from his books, YouTube interviews and TV appearances).

The book redeems itself in the last few chapters, where Shermer is very good at showing how theory and observation complement each other in driving forward our understanding of the world. All in all, `The Believing Brain' is a passionate defence of the scientific method. Though Shermer is humble enough to acknowledge that science doesn't have, and may never have, all the answers, he makes a strong case for it being the best tool we have for making sense of the world.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Taylor on 11 Aug 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Shermer's central message: "People form beliefs before they form explanations for them" is a real game changer, but not an intuitive conclusion. However, this message is well justified by experiment. It has profound implications for how intelligent people can hold opposite (sometimes ridiculous) opinions.

Many great authors have given insight into belief generation and self deception, including Shermer himself. In my opinion this 406 page book now usurps the rest because I find it the most comprehensive and wonderfully compelling account of belief. It is (crucially) grounded in neuroscience experiments - Chapter 6 of 14, for which I admit command of high school biology makes easier reading.

Criticism of "The Believing Brain" would centre around the amount of material openly borrowed from other popular science publications: In this sense, many ideas are less original, but I think completely necessary to achieve a book which properly covers the subject without leaving obvious gaps. Certainly Shermer is well read - he writes competently on everything from theology to cosmology.

People who should buy this book are those who can spare a couple of weeks to read it properly and whose lives have been affected by absurd beliefs which really need concrete explanation. People who should avoid it are those who reject the scientific approach as the unrivalled way of sorting fact from fiction, as they might firmly believe the book to be falsely premised before making up an explanation as to why!
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