Top critical review
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Accessible but not always lucid
on 1 January 2013
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.