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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,931 Ratings  ·  355 Reviews
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 be
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published May 24th 2011 by Times Books (first published May 15th 2011)
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Dec 15, 2013 Shaun rated it it was amazing
I decided to buy this book after watching a short Ted Talk featuring Michael Shermer in which he discussed the origins of belief. A natural born skeptic with two science based degrees who often finds herself wanting to believe (a huge X-files fan), I am fascinated by how people come to hold certain beliefs that on the surface appear flawed or irrational. So that said, this book appealed to me on many levels.

On a personal level, I have a special interest in religious belief. Raised a Christian, I
Robert Fischer
Here's the tl;dr review: If you're looking for the ways that we tend to trick ourselves and how to deal with that reality, see Predictably Irrational or The Power of Habit. Shermer's book is definitely not the book for that.

Now the full review:

I was really excited about this book. I was hoping that it would update and extend Consciousness Explained with contemporary neuroscience about belief. That was, after all, exactly how the book billed itself through the marketing coverage and through the f
Sep 22, 2011 Christine rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Skeptics, atheists, and the like.
At first I was afraid this was just another atheist rant (like the disappointing God Delusion by Dawkins). Fortunately, it shaped up to be much more interesting than that. yes, it preaches to the choir, and unless you are an absolute skeptic about everything, you will find yourself offended at some point when reading this. I am pretty skeptical myself, but there were a couple of passages that got to me in an unpleasant way anyway. What really won me over? Sheerer spends a few pages bashing Depak ...more
May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most exciting books I have ever read.

The author is a science historian, and writes monthly articles for The Scientific American. What I am going to describe here sounds cold and formal, but the book is written with spirit and vigour, with lots of the author's personal experiences and views included. It pulsates with amazing ideas - and I really relished every word.

Basically, it showed that on the upside we humans are amazing thinking animals, capable of using logic and conducting ex
May 04, 2012 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, psychology
This is an excellent, comprehensive examination of the things we believe, and why. It is a very well-written, well-organized book with a unifying theme: we form our beliefs, and then we rationalize them with explanations. We initially formulate our beliefs through two processes: patternicity and agenticity. Patternicity allows us to form all sorts of weird beliefs, including the whole gamut of superstitions. For example, if something bad happens when a black cat crosses your path, and at a later ...more
May 17, 2011 Ellen rated it it was ok
This book bills itself as "why people believe weird things," but it's really more of "why you shouldn't believe weird things." It should be noted that I don't actually believe in any of the things discussed in the book (God, heaven, hell, and other religious things; UFOs and alien abductions; conspiracy theories, esp. 9/11 conspiracy theories), so the arguments against were tedious at best, and I gained no insight into why other people do believe them.

Shermer's tone comes across as defensive (an
Heather Denkmire
Jul 01, 2011 Heather Denkmire rated it it was ok
There were a few books in this book and I only enjoyed one of them. Unfortunately for me, most of the content was repeat information from things I've read/heard before. The first sections dealing with the biology of the brain were interesting.

So much of the book (a book in itself) was spent refuting things that don't exist (UFOs, ghosts, god, 9/11 conspiracies, etc.) it was tiresome. I know they don't, I don't need it explained why. This continued on for a long, long time. I almost gave up on th
Tanja Berg
Sep 11, 2011 Tanja Berg rated it really liked it
I have been following Michael Shermer's column in "Scientific American" for years. It's the first thing in the magazine that I read. This book definitely did not dissapoint. Shermer starts off with anecdotes and then goes into the very specific. Oft repeated throughout the book is that belief comes first, rationalization of the beliefs afterward. First we decide to believe, then the evidence collected tends to support what we believe. This is regardless if the subject is religion, paranormal, UF ...more
Feb 16, 2012 Stephanie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially conspiracy theorists
Shelves: nonfiction
I really liked this book and I agreed with most everything in it, and that made me rather uncomfortable just because of what the book is about. Michael Shermer covered a wide range of topics that interest me, from politics to psychology to religion, and i believed every word of what he argued. But... I don't think it's that he convinced me, i think it's that i already held those beliefs going into it, and as the book proclaims repeatedly, i as a human being pay special attention to arguments tha ...more
Nov 19, 2012 Socraticgadfly rated it did not like it
This review should prove that I don't always "high-side" my reviewing stars. In fact, let me be blunt — now that I've read one Shermer book, I have no more desire to read further writings of his than I do of Sam Harris, and for somewhat similar reasons. In Shermer's case, here's why.

Here's derivative and blind spots intersecting -- Shermer briefly, but briefly talks about Kahneman's and Tversky's study in behavioral economics (without also citing Dan Ariely, among others). One will learn much mo
Oct 14, 2011 Bill rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
In this book, Shermer argues that humans form beliefs from genetic predispositions and social experiences. We then selectively filter data and experience to support those pre-existing beliefs. We see "patterns" of meaning in our experience, and we tend to project "agenticity" when causal factors are not known. I respect Shermer for admitting up front that he is subject to the same process, in which emotion trumps reason in matters of belief. So, I read with great interest how he attempts in this ...more
Kim Wombles
Jul 09, 2011 Kim Wombles rated it it was amazing
Taken from

It took me awhile to find this photo (see the link above) in my stream of thousands of photos because it's more than a month old. I've been reading Michael Shermer's latest book The Believing Brain for over a month now to review it for here and Science 2.0. I spent more than a month with Baron-Cohen's The Science of Evil. I try to be thorough and careful in my reading of books I review; I don't want to gloss over it and throw out a review that i
Apr 02, 2012 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
I have to admit at the beginning that I have a significantly pro-skeptic bias. I love skeptics, so it is hard for me not to like the book. An interesting book that belongs on my shelf between my books on psychology and science (The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions) and my books on agnosticism, skepticism, neo-atheism and the evolution of relig ...more
Apr 02, 2013 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I really enjoyed this book as it offers evidenced based reasons for why we humans are programmed to believe in external agents (when the evidence proves such things are internal in the brain) and why we find patterns where there are none. I find knowing such things comforting and I think I got a little dopamine reward when Shermer confirmed that we experience these things because we share the same brain biology (something I've argued often with regard to religion and other common belief systems) ...more
Richard Palmer
Jun 29, 2011 Richard Palmer rated it it was ok
I was hoping that this book would explain the biology and evolution of what makes us believe things. It does do that, but does not stick to that theme. Shermer digresses often and spends a good deal of time debunking beliefs in extraterrestrial visits, ESP, and a lot of pseudoscience. His discussions on religion were thought provoking, and I appreciated that. However, instead of coming back to the idea of why the human race believes things, he concludes with a long discussion of the history of s ...more
Jun 19, 2011 Rpmcestmoi rated it liked it
He knows his science and his brain as mind thesis has always been a view I have held, which, as we all know, makes him brilliant. But Shermer also describes for me the true believer in the Eric Hoffer sense. He insists on science when we talk of god but embraces the teat of libertarian capitalism because it warms him, I guess. He offers no evidence for his view in this sphere, so I guess he has a belief and the dopamine hit he gets from that cold capitalist teat works for him.
Not a bad book, ra
Jul 16, 2014 Louise rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
Up until page 140 this is a 5 star book. These are the pages where the author describes belief as stemming from what he calls patternicity and agenticity. Our minds have evolved to spot patterns. Agenticity is the story we overlay on the patterns. The patterns may be random, yet, if they explain a something very good (a ritual before placing a bet correlates with a few wins) or negative (unlucky clothing or actions) we may ascribe significance to them and they become beliefs. We often have the b ...more
Jan 07, 2012 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-psychology
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson once formed an alliance with a erstwhile political enemy. When someone asked him why, Johnson remarked that he would rather have the enemy inside the tent urinating out than outside the tent urinating in.

So it is with Shermer. His thesis, that the human brain through the process of natural selection has evolved to see patterns, even when none exists, gives him a platform from which he may assault the many, many popular beliefs with which he disagrees. It is enjoyab
Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside)
Based on the title, I was expecting a lot more, you know, brain science. Instead I got a good overview of logical fallacies, some interesting anecdotes about people who believed in various interesting things, coverage of popular conspiracy theories, and a very out-of-place political diatribe.

I've read better books by Michael Shermer. In fact, I liked all his books better than this one. That's not to say this is a poorly written book. It was simply not what I was expecting. I was hoping to learn
Jun 29, 2011 Dan rated it it was ok
I was probably the most excited about this book before cracking it's cover... The premise is alluring and it is very timely (it seems that we are having a media renaissance in the recognition of human limitations of rationality) yet, once opened, the book just falls into too many traps to be exciting to me.

Perhaps the largest flaw for me was that the work is 'too current' - insofar as much of the book seems to be just a parroting of factoids that have been floating around in many other places re
Sep 13, 2011 Gendou rated it it was amazing
A heart-felt and personal journey from superstitious pigeons to speculative cosmology.
Each chapter has a poetic and emotionally accessible summary, which is a nice touch.
I must say how well written and organized the book is; a rare thing these days!

While this book is weak on atheism (compared to, say, Dawkins), it gives a very genial reflection on the fragile nature of belief through examples of thinking gone awry.
For example, a link between anxiety and magical thinking is discussed.
Also discuss
Oct 11, 2011 John rated it really liked it
Michael Shermer is a prolific writer, best known for The Science of Good & Evil, Why People Believe Weird Things, and, publisher of Skeptic Magazine. I have been a huge fan of Shermer for some years and traveled cross-country twice this year to attend his conferences on the west coast.

The early chapters of The Believing Brain have some redundancy from Shermer's earlier work but the last 60 percent is a wealth of new information that I found enlightening, and partially disturbing. Unlike the
Според статистиките, живеем в свят, в който повече хора вярват в Бог, чудеса, Рай, ангели, душа, Ад, дявол, отколкото в Дарвиновата теория на еволюцията, която трябва да стои в съседство с призраци, креационизъм, НЛО, астрология, вещици и прераждане. Има си причина в училищата да се преподават определени неща, те не са произволно избрани от разни гуру-та (както някои са свикнали да мислят). Има научен метод, който се базира на емпирични доказателства, който много лесно прецежда истината (тук гов ...more
Apr 05, 2013 Sebouh rated it it was amazing
I expected to find a book about (Shermer`s skepticism) but I found much more, it is an excellent overview on BELIEF, the major points are
- The mechanism of belief formation (the human brain is a specialized belief forming machine that constantly picks up patterns in nature)
- Believe comes first (without rationalization) and then confirmed often in biased ways
- This belief mechanism covers all beliefs including political, religious, about ourselves and our entourage
- Understanding the mechan
Juan Manuel
Aug 03, 2012 Juan Manuel rated it it was amazing
“Imagine que usted es un homínido que está caminando por una sabana africana hace tres millones de años. Escucha un crujido en la hierba. ¿Es acaso el viento o un peligroso depredador? De su respuesta puede depender la vida o la muerte.”

Aquel que asume que el crujido de la hierba es causado por el viento se lleva muchas veces la desagradable fortuna de ser devorado por un depredador; en cambio, quien cree que el crujido se debe a un depredador y se aleja, puede siempre salvarse de ser devorado.

Петър Стойков
Шефът на списание Reason е написал няколко книги и те, както списанието, не са особено интересни.

Sep 07, 2014 Sviatoslav rated it really liked it
"The Believing Brain" is one of the most deliberate and thoughtfully written books I had a chance to read in years. The author goes into a great deal of detail to backup his statements and then follows up with complex examples, which are standalone stories on their own.

The core question that Michael Shermer tries to find an answer to is in "Why do some people believe certain things and others don't?". So he digs into the most popular subjects of believes(religion, supernatural, politics, choice
Kiril Todorov
Jul 24, 2011 Kiril Todorov rated it it was amazing
The sad thing about this book is that the people that really need to read it, will never go around the possibility they might be wrong, and will probably never open it.
Толкова хубава и полезна книга, написана разбираемо и с точната доза информация, без да дотежава и доскучава! Би трябвало да присъства във всяка домашна библиотека и да се изучава в училище вместо Библията по литература и риалити форматите по психология.
Не съм сигурна чия работа е да следи за правилността на имената - на преводач, коректор или редактор, но те трябва да бъдат верни: Мишел Бесо (не Бресо), Бил Мар (не Махер).
Книгата е очевадно недогледана за грешки! Коректорката вероятно не се въл
Cora Judd
Jun 02, 2011 Cora Judd rated it it was amazing
The benefits of The Believing Brain may be best realized by readers who are like the author. He states, "I am a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know." Michael Shermer writes lucidly about how the brain is wired for belief and pattern recognition and what that process looks like.

Shermer classes all belief into a category of 1. He then lays out the sequence of neural events that culminates in a new belief. This model is applied to many beliefs to demonstrate how
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Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.

Shermer is also the producer and co-host of t
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“I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe, but because I want to know.” 8 likes
“An uncertain and doubting mind leads to fresh world visions and the possibility of new and ever-changing realities.” 8 likes
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