The Believing Brain

  • by Michael Shermer
  • Narrated by Michael Shermer
  • 13 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In this, his magnum opus, the world’s best known skeptic and critical thinker, Dr. Michael Shermer—founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and perennial monthly columnist (“Skeptic”) for Scientific American—presents his comprehensive theory on how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. This book synthesizes Dr. Shermer’s 30 years of research to answer the question of how and why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives, from our suspicions and superstitions to our politics, economics, and social beliefs.
In this book Dr. Shermer is interested in more than just why people believe weird things, or why people believe this or that claim, but in why people believe anything at all. His thesis is straightforward: We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.
Dr. Shermer also explains the neuroscience behind our beliefs. The brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. These meaningful patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them—and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation. Dr. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths and to insure that we are always right.


What the Critics Say

“The physicist Richard Feynman once said that the easiest person to fool is yourself, and as a result he argued that as a scientist one has to be especially careful to try and find out not only what is right about one's theories, but what might also be wrong with them. If we all followed this maxim of skepticism in everyday life, the world would probably be a better place. But we don't. In this book Michael Shermer lucidly describes why and how we are hard wired to 'want to believe'. With a narrative that gently flows from the personal to the profound, Shermer shares what he has learned after spending a lifetime pondering the relationship between beliefs and reality, and how to be prepared to tell the difference between the two.” (Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, author of Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science)
The Believing Brain is a tour de force integrating neuroscience and the social sciences to explain how irrational beliefs are formed and reinforced, while leaving us confident our ideas are valid. This is a must read for everyone who wonders why religious and political beliefs are so rigid and polarized—or why the other side is always wrong, but somehow doesn't see it.” (Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard’s Walk and The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great material. Not-so-great narration.

Michael Shermer is a very smart man. He gives great interviews and speeches --but that doesn't mean he should have narrated his own book. (Just because you CAN read doesn't mean you should do it aloud.)

The production is kind of shoddy too --you can hear pages being turned; he mispronounces a few words and slightly stumbles over others; and then there's the obnoxious use of music that is used to introduce and end chapters.

Aside from those flaws, it's a very informative book. Like I said: Shermer is a VERY smart man and he does a very thorough job of presenting his research and material. I would recommend it.
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- Leigh Bartley

A reader's digest version of many other good books

If you've not read anything by Dawkins or not a listner to NPR's Radio Lab, and haven't read books like "The Drunkard's Walk", or "Blink", or "The Disappearing Spoon", then this book might be alright for you. It's really nothing original, just citing many other stories from other very good authors. I would recommend this book to someone who has just started embarking on a journey of skeptical view points. But I would also HIGHLY recommend that they read each of the stories in the books mentioned by the author as the condensed versions do leave out quite a bit.

For me it was mostly a rehash of things I've already read. As there was no new material I really can't give this book more than two stars.
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- K. S.

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-24-2011
  • Publisher: Michael Shermer-John Wagner Studios