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Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole
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Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  501 ratings  ·  53 reviews
This book identifies eight key mechanisms that can transform a set of ideas into a psychological flytrap. The author suggests that, like the black holes of outer space, from which nothing, not even light, can escape, our contemporary cultural landscape contains numerous intellectual black-holes—belief systems constructed in such a way that unwary passers-by can similarly f ...more
Paperback, 271 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Prometheus Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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3.80  · 
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 ·  501 ratings  ·  53 reviews


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Mike Puma
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english-author, 2012

Interesting in a textbook sort of way.

Law’s interests lie in ‘intellectual black holes,’ those systems of belief which defy reason and thwart discourse that challenges those beliefs; his goal with this book is to, “help immunize readers against…some key tricks of the trade by which such self-sealing bubbles of belief are made.” All well and good, however, Beyond Belief will, at times, sound more like a diatribe against some of those beliefs (especially religion) and less like the rhetoric/logic

...more
Erroll Treslan
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone interested in the pursuit of truth. The author is a former postman who went on to attain his doctorate in philosophy. He now lectures at the University of London. His interests include philosophy of religion from an atheist perspective. In this provocatively titled new work, Law examines the strategies employed by proponents of ridiculous belief systems such as homeopathy, conspiracy theorists and some (but not all) religions. These strategies include “Playing the Mystery ...more
Book
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Believing BS: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole by Stephen Law

"Believing BS" is an informative book that identifies eight key mechanisms that can lead ideas into an intellectual abyss. Philosopher, educator and accomplished author, Stephen Law provides an interesting book that will help immunize readers against the follies of poor thinking. It's an expose of popular rhetorical tricks used to defend BS belief system. The author provides many practical examples and shows us qui
...more
Tucker
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: brain
We want to be rational, says Stephen Law. We also find ourselves drawn, for whatever reason, toward Intellectual Black Holes, such as believing in supernatural beings or medicines that aren’t scientifically proven to work. To deal with the cognitive dissonance of our self-understanding, we find strategies to help ourselves believe that we “are not being nearly as irrational as reason might otherwise suggest”. (p. 19)

He outlines eight strategies. I am using one of these strategies, which I parap
...more
Tony Heyl
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was interested in this based on seeing it somewhere else. Originally I thought it would be more about what people believe and why they believe it and how those "bullshit" beliefs could be countered. Instead it was Stephen Law's personal ideas on why people believe nonsense and how that can be combated generally.

The writing is meandering and repetitive. The whole thing could be summed up in 20 pages instead of 200. It was an easy read, but it also wasn't very interesting. The author started by
...more
Anthony
Feb 19, 2015 rated it liked it
This book attempts to present a number of logical fallacies, and other shady tactics, in an accessible manner. It fails to do so. While it tries to cover concepts which can be hard to wrap your brain around, I think the biggest failing is the use of poor phrasing.

Another problem is that the author relies too heavily on shooting down religious ideas, such as Creationism. I am actually an atheist myself, but I felt that he could have easily found more examples in other areas to convey his points,
...more
Peter
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
better than I expected, i was warned it was bitmof a diatribe against religion. not true, religions merely fail under rational inquiry
Alexandru
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book that should be taught to everyone, especially in an era when we are so concerned about fake news and pseudoscience.

If you are religious - the probably is not for you though, because it is mainly dismantling religious beliefs. Thus the negative reviews - people have to distinguish between anecdotal evidence and analogies used by the author in order to simplify its contents.

The simplicity of the book can be applied to any bullshit ideas - astrology, ideas spread by public figure
...more
Paul M.
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I read this book not to win any religious debate, but as a facilitator and dialogue mapper, to be able to better understand patterns of conversation and how my capture of stakeholder rationale can be improved.

I found the book pretty fun and educational. I liked the writing style with its subtle and not-so-subtle use of sarcasm and occasional tutorials as how you two can become the next "guru". The conclusion chapter is definitely the best one of the book, and could have done with greater expansi
...more
Paul
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The material is useful, but has more padding than I needed. The book could also use some closer editing.

Whereas I found that using a parallel argument for an evil god (mimicking the stereotypical argument for a good god) to be thought provoking, I found the parallel rewriting of C.S. Lewis' _Screwtape Letters_ to be just a little embarrassing.
Paul Jones
Jun 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
I was hoping this would be a book that looked into good arguments (literal and logical) and not rely on anecdotes.

The author claims to have an open mind on most things but not on poorly constructed arguments built on anecdotes...which it backs up with anecdotes.
Judy
Aug 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
An easy to follow explanation of various "intellectual black holes" and how to craft an argument against the psuedo-thinking that creates them in the first place.
Frank
Pop philosophy, but still not bad so long as you don't expect too much.
Jason
Oct 14, 2013 added it
My favorite part was when Robert Forster beat the crap out of Maximilian Schell! Great book.
Ali Haidar
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
books like this are really empowering . it helps inoculate you from the illusory "reasonableness" of the ideas of con men, liars and cultists, and shows you how they trick even smart mostly rational people into believing irrational things . a must read for those on the quest to find the truth of reality
Darnell
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Okay for what it was, but misleading. It's more direct logic than psychology, sociology, or an exploration of how false beliefs work in a broader sense. Also far more focused on religion than the descriptions suggested.
John Fredrickson
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: cognition
This book is about 8 principle means by which we get misled in arguments that may feel 'right'. The book feels very much on target, but also feels like it could have been written in half the space.
Hind
Aug 21, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Intellectually vapid.
שרה
Mar 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
Author himself falls in his OWN black holes because when writing this book he pressuposed certain facts to be truth.
David
Sep 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Not at all what I was expecting. The author's writing style was hard for me to get through, but I believe the book accomplishes what it sets out to do: How does one identify when someone is professing baloney. And that is to arm the reader with a framework by which he or she can identify and reason with unreasonable belief systems.

The first two chapters were intellectually complex with philosophical and logical reasoning. This was a partial turn off, but I found it very interesting for this and
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Andrew Skretvedt
Feb 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: seen-at-library
"The Tapescrew Letters," Stephen Law's short tongue-in-cheek parody of C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters," should be moved from the back end of this book to the very front, as a new introduction. "Tapescrew" really is "Screwtape" with a perspective shift. The question any thoughtful person, religious or otherwise, amenable to the message in Lewis' "Screwtape" should take to heart, after walking through Law's glass door into "Tapescrew" would be: If it should be the case that I am the unwitting ...more
Kevin
Dec 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
Law's book isn't bullshit itself but it does smell a little. not because it's dishonest or trying to sell something cheap but because it's just a laundry list of logical fallacies that preaches to the skeptical choir. it's very title will put off those that might be the most "in need" of learning about these concepts and practices.

Law attempts to speak to an audience unversed in philosophy or critical thinking methods, he just comes across as pedestrian, pedantic, and authoritarian in its argume
...more
Silvio
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very precise manual on the techniques used to obscure meaning

What is it an intellectual black hole? Which are the usual techniques to lure you into one?

One by one Stephen Law dissects each tool of the snake oil sales people of emotions and woo: priests, gurus and all of the same sort. With clear definitions and examples the author explains what you have to look around and listen when the alarms sound off: you are approaching an intellectual black hole. From religion to homeopathy , and from ne
...more
Charles Lindsey
Feb 15, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is a lively excursion into the philosophical arguments people use for their beliefs. It reads like a primer for late-night dorm room bull sessions (hence the title?). You'd like it if you relish the thought of demolishing an opponent and getting the last word on him. I suppose it would be a good curative if you've been afflicted with "the wit of the staircase," as the French say -- wishing you'd known how to counter some glib confounder. If you think philosophy itself is more or less * ...more
Jim Razinha
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Well composed, excellent coverage of critical knowledge, this will go on the "to re-read" shelf. I'm also adding to to the Must read homeschool list. Law does a very good job illustrating the traps and describing how to avoid, dismantle and negate them. The composition is dense, and I set it aside several times in order to digest the text (do note that nothing here is new, but it is presented in a rich narrative that can be off-putting for those who don't play in the debate sandbox every day). L ...more
Gordon
Mar 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-my-kindle
I liked the basic premise of the book and indeed it reminded me a lot of theories/practices etc that I had encountered before so in that regard it was a good refresher course. Of course this book is aimed at those that perhaps haven't been in the debating team, studied psychologu/sociology etc and I think it does a pretty decent job of aiming at that market. That being said it kind of flogs the same basic theme over and over again and I almost stoped reading it at a few points so it could benefi ...more
K
Aug 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Stephen Law examines the methodology by which someone can be drawn into an intellectual black hole. Intellectual black holes are the kind of situations where our critical capacities take a step back, and 'bullshit' replaces them. Homeotherapy, religious cults, and totallitarian regimes are prime examples of intellectual black holes. Don't be fooled by the polemic title. Stepben Law is rarely confrontational and his tone remains friendly and modest throughout the book.

The tactics employed in orde
...more
Bruce Johnson
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thinking critically is an incredibly important skill, one that is completely glossed over in today's education system. When we are constantly inundated with advertisements and news stories that have an agenda, the ability to discern 'likely true' from 'likely false' is a valued one. In Believing Bullshit, Law talks about the different logical fallacies and psychological tactics that are applied by the media (and this is not a left/right thing...both sides of the ideological spectrum are guilty). ...more
Jari Pirhonen
The author introduces eight mechanisms which can be used to suck people in "Intellectual Black Holes". These mechanisms are used by cults, conspiracy theorists, self help industry, religions, politicians, etc.

Mechanisms are: "playing the mystery card", "but it fits", "going nuclear", "moving the semantic goalposts", "I just know", "pseudoprofundity", piling up the anecdotes" and "pressing your buttons".

Understanding these mechanisms helps to immunize you against intellectual snake oil.
Marc
I liked this book; Law summarizes the various slippery ways that pseudo/non-scientists use to evade critical questions about their "theories".

It is a book of philosophy for D-- ... beginners. Some might consider it condescending and in some places it could be considered such. But philosophical arguments tend to be very abstract and logic laden. The language tends to be difficult at times and Law clearly tries to make some of the essential arguments more accessible. I think he gets the right ton
...more
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Stephen Law is a philosopher who teaches at Heythrop College in the University of London. He also edits the journal THINK, a source of philosophy aimed at the general public, affiliated with The Royal Institute of Philosophy.
“The idea that it is, at the very least, unwise to accept claims for which we possess little or no supporting evidence is certainly widespread. Richard Dawkins, for example, writes: Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: “Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?” And next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: “What kind of evidence is there for that?” And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.5” 0 likes
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