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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

4.2 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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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: 13.4 x 3 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 151,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

The Believing Brain is a fascinating account of the origins of all manner of beliefs, replete with cutting-edge evidence from the best scientific research, packed with nuggets of truths and then for good measure, studded with real world examples to deliver to the reader, a very personable, engaging and ultimately, convincing set of explanations for why we believe. (Professor Bruce Hood, Bristol University and author of Supersense)

The Believing Brain is a tour de force integrating neuroscience and the social sciences to explain how irrational beliefs are formed and reinforced, while leaving us confident our ideas are valid. This is a must read for everyone who wonders why religious and political beliefs are so rigid and polarized-or why the other side is always wrong, but somehow doesn't see it.

(Dr Leonard Mlodinow author The Drunkard's Walk)

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. (Sam Harris, New York Times bestselling author.)

Michael Shermer has long been one of the world's deepest thinkers when it comes to explaining where our beliefs come from, and he brings it all together in this important, engaging, and ambitious book. Shermer knows all the science, he tells great stories, he is funny, and he is fearless, delving into hot-button topics like 9-11 Truthers, life after death, capitalism, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and the existence of God. This is an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of the beliefs that shape our lives.

(Paul Bloom author of How Pleasure Works)

Michael Shermer lucidly describes why and how we are hard wired to 'want to believe'. With a narrative that gently flows from the personal to the profound, Shermer shares what he has learned after spending a lifetime pondering the relationship between beliefs and reality, and how to be prepared to tell the difference between the two.

(Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University)

refreshingly sceptical. (Independent on Sunday)

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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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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By F Henwood TOP 1000 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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very interesting volume
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Very good product, as described! Highly recommended!
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thank you
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Fantastic book, couldn't put it down.
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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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Skeptics in the Pub in Leicester, which I attend every month, gets supposed iconoclasts to talk about their take on a wide variety of subjects. Entertaining, but sometimes I get the feeling that their skeptiscm is another form of conventional wisdom.
This book holds that the brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns and then infuse those patterns with meaning, intention and agency. 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. How is it that people come to believe something that apparently defies reason? The answer is that beliefs come first; reasons for belief follow in confirmation of the realism dependent upon the belief.
The vast scholarship that Michael Shermer brings to bear on the subject is impressive.
He describes the neurological process. For example, of the chemical transmitter substances sloshing around in your brain, dopamine may be the most directly related to the neural correlates of belief. Dopamine is the reward system of the brain. It is critical in associated learning. Any behaviour that is reinforced tends to be repeated.
Religion figures large. 84% of the World’s population belongs to one of the 10,000 distinct religions. America is the most religious tribe of the species. In the US 82% of people believe in God and more people believe in n angels and demons than believe in the theory of evolution. He looks at the overwhelming evidence that God is hardwired into our brains and the questions of what is God, does God actually exist, and Einstein’s God.
But we are all susceptible.
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