The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies%E2%80%94How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

Michael Shermer. Times, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9125-0
As the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, author of Why People Believe Weird Things, and a columnist for Scientific American, Shermer is perhaps the country's best-known skeptic. His position is as clear as it is simple: "When I call myself a skeptic I simply mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims." But now Shermer is interested not only in why people have irrational beliefs, but "why people believe at all." Our brains, he says, have evolved to find meaningful patterns around us. But why do people believe they see patterns—whether "evidence" of angels, conspiracy theories, or UFOs—where none exist? Drawing on evolution, cognitive science, and neuroscience, Shermer considers not only supernatural beliefs but political and economic ones as well. He demonstrates how our brains selectively assess data in an attempt to confirm the conclusions we've already reached. Informative and difficult to put down, this book adds a compelling and comprehensive case to the growing number of arguments about the importance of scientific reasoning, marred only by Shermer's repeated citing of his own works and public appearances. B&w illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/14/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
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