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on 27 February 2014
An interesting discussion on the reasons for belief, though I was surprised he didn't touch on certain key scientific belief principles, such as parsimony - the principle that says if you have two theories which both explain a certain aspect of the physical world, the more believable one is the one that is simpler, because is leaves fewer questions unanswered.

I was also interested in what Mr Shermer believed as I'd always assumed (from reading his articles in Scientific American) that he and I were of the same mind (or should I say "brain", since he seems to think that "mind" is an illusion, though its not clear who the illusion is supposed to be acting on), which turned out not to be the case. I was quite taken aback when he dismissed what is (for me) the key question of reality, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" as "nonsensical", going on to say "Asking why there is something rather than nothing presumes 'nothing' is the natural state of things out of which 'something' needs an explanation. Maybe 'something' is the natural state of things and 'nothing' would be the mystery to be solved". I refer the author to the null hypothesis he eloquently argues for in his epilogue.

He also claims elsewhere that "mind" is just "brain", as though the question "when I feel pain, what is this 'I' that is feeling pain" is explained by such an assertion.

I'd quite like to see Mr Shermer write a book on the topic "what skeptics believe", as I suspect many people who call themselves skeptics, and are not conspiracy theorist nutters, actually have fundamental differences in the axioms on which they base their world views (assuming Mr Shermer himself is a typical skeptic)
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on 17 October 2017
Dear author: I’ve enjoyed your book and am in almost total agreement with it. My take is the same as yours and the guy with the bumper sticker, “I don’t know if God exists and neither do you.” That’s the basic position of us all; whether we know it or not. But when you said, “No brain, no mind.” I stopped nodding agreement. (If there were no brain, there would be no mind. Yes?)
I cannot shake the feeling that I am in touch with something beyond myself. Nothing spooky or religious; just my consciousness and it’s relationship with the universe. Being an atheist has allowed me to look past God, bringing the greater mystery of infinity into focus. We humans are part of it; infinity wouldn’t be infinite if we weren’t. So the mystery is not just out there, up amid the stars, down among the quarks and leptons, it’s in here. In me. In you. So….how infinite are we? Do we survive death? Is our consciousness, as mysterious as anything around, immortal? I don’t know. And neither do you. But, honestly, I cannot see why not….
I’ve given this review one star, (since nobody else has,) in the hope that more people, including you, will read it. Cheek? Yeah. Much love.
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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.
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on 13 March 2014
As a non-believer in anything religious, I have often been perplexed at the naive acceptance of a god concept by supposedly intelligent people. This book explains, scientifically and in depth, the reasons behind ‘blind faith’. It is not bedtime reading and, at times, hard going but a good read for those who are not easily duped and wish to understand the mindset of those who are easily duped.
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on 11 August 2013
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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on 30 March 2014
I really enjoyed this work, Shermer presents several studies and scientists to support his arguments. The only way I could have enjoyed it more is if Shermer had endeavoured to be less biased in his presentation of the evidence. It's interesting and maybe a little ironic that in a book about questioning beliefs and behaviours that his skepticism was never up for debate.
I also felt the cosmology section could have been briefer, interesting and insightful as it was it was a major digression from the neuroscience and psychological basis for this book.
I found it very comprehensive, having some basis in neuroscience, but I think information is presented in a way that is understandable and entertaining. This is pretty in-depth for an overview but if you have an interest in the mechanics of the brain and the evolution of human behaviours around religion and politics you will find this enlightening.
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on 11 April 2014
Its clear why he is one of the four horsemen. This was a fantastic book. Shermer wastes no words in explaining his premises to the utmost, whilst deconstructing opposing views.

Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know how people generated beliefs, even their own.
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on 15 February 2013
A fascinating explanation of why we are always unaware of our own prejudices and how the scientific method can try to eliminate bias.
Interesting links between science and philosophy, our political views and religious beliefs.
I would thoroughly recommmend this book.
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on 13 June 2013
An excellent book that showed if you can become risk intelligent like the author you can see beyond your own believing narrative. This is the next big phase for science, showing us how to climb out of our well worn paths to see all off the others that are out there.
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on 24 November 2014
My grandfather used to say "never let the facts get in the way of a good story". This is a book of facts that make a great story.

Well done Michael, you have done the human race proud.
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