Ellen's Reviews > The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer
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's review
May 12, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: nonfiction, read-2011, reviewed
Read from May 12 to 17, 2011

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 (and, to be honest, rather arrogant), particularly when he's recounting his own "journey" from belief to skepticism and when he's quoting from others who argue against him, then pointing out why they're wrong. This is not so much a scientific exploration of an interesting psychological topic as a manifesto about everyone the author thinks is crazy. The "Politics of Belief" chapter was particularly (and rather offensively) bizarre; the thesis of most chapters is "there's a right and a wrong, and science will tell us which is which," while the thesis of that chapter seemed to be, "there's no right and wrong, but here's why you should be a libertarian like me anyway." Shermer ought to apply his analysis to his own beliefs; he seems to be under the impression that he alone forms opinions based on rational, unemotional reasoning.

ALL THAT SAID, there were some interesting bits and even whole chapters. I wish the book had been entirely about what it claims to be about and divided up by topic -- "Patternicity," "Agenticity," "Confirmation Bias," etc. -- without all the rest of the nonsense.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new) - rated it 2 stars

Dan dead on!

Stephanie Yeah, exactly. I didn't find this review until after i wrote mine (i promise!) and i had a lot of the same thoughts.

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