The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies--How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths (Anglais) Relié – 15 juillet 2011
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However; he explains it very well, and has made me more curious about the universe!
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If you are a baseball fan you will never view the curious antics of a hitter entering the batter's box in quite the same way again after reading Michael's book. You will likely be reminded of the pigeon in a Skinner's Box learning pigeon patternicity: the learning of a superstition.
If you are a Liberal and you cannot understand how those crazy Conservatives can actually believe the things they do, it will be explained to you in Michael's book. The same goes for Conservatives who think that Liberalism is some kind of mental disorder....they will understand why Liberals believe what they believe. Michael also explains why neither Liberal nor Conservative is likely to change: it's all based on the way the human brain works.
The first two sections of the book, comprising 135 pages, pretty much lay the scientific foundation for the remainder of the book. Reading it requires some attention to detail, but you will learn quite a bit, and the writing is accessible to the non-scientist, and the author is mindful of his audience and avoids scientific jargon, explaining such jargon when it is impossible to avoid, and reinforcing the explanations when jargon must be used again after the reader may have forgotten the meaning a few pages later. I found this very helpful.
Part 3 of the book is devoted to examining Belief in the Afterlife, Belief in God, Belief in Aliens, and Belief in Conspiracies, using the scientific facts from Parts I & 2 of the book. I was tempted to skip one or two of these Beliefs, but I got sucked in. They are handled quite interestingly. I learned, for instance, that Albert Einstein carried on a correspondence with a lowly ensign named Guy H. Raner aboard the USS Bougainville in the Pacific during World War II regarding the existence of God. I thought I knew a good deal about Einstein, but I hadn't known this! It blew my mind. And the correspondence is included for your reading pleasure.
Even the Alien stuff and the Conspiracy stuff sucked me in. I couldn't put it down.
The final parts of the book bring us back once more to the science behind it all, but more to the history of the science. It is all quite fascinating. There were issues I wish that Michael had examined further: for instance, on p. 274 Michael mentions "The Consistency Bias"...the tendency to recall one's past beliefs as resembling present beliefs, more than they actually do. There is the implication here that we DO change our beliefs over time despite the primary idea behind the book being that we first construct beliefs and then reinforce them as time goes by. I would have liked an explanation of how this sometimes changes. I can see that as children we may have believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy etc., and have learned to discard these beliefs along the way, but I would have appreciated an examination of the mechanisms involved. If Michael happens to read my review I would like him to know that I too missed the gorilla. (this won't make sense to anyone who hasn't read the book...sorry.)
I want to thank Michael Shermer for his work. I shall be returning to his book again when I've finished reading some other books on my must read list. Five Stars...Easy.
He simply talks science. We need to understand science and Shermer is our guide. Science is the antidote to superstition, agency detection, and the flimsy anecdotal evidence for beliefs that modern scientifically literate people do not accept. "70 percent of Americans still do not understand the scientific process defined in the National Science foundation study as grasping probability, the experimental method, and hypothesis testing." (p. 4) So his goal is to share how science works and what it can accomplish. He writes: "What I want to believe based on emotions and what I should believe based on evidence do not always coincide. I'm a skeptic not because I want to believe, but because I want to know. How can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually the case? The answer is science." (p. 2)
"Belief systems are powerful, pervasive and enduring," he rightly says. (p. 5) "The brain is a belief engine." "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." (p. 5) Full stop. Think about the implications of this. Again: "Once beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs...."
He's not just interested in why people believe weird things, but why people believe anything at all. His answer:
"We form our beliefs for a wide 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. I call this process belief dependent realism, where our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold at any given moment." (p. 5)
Shermer simply talks science to the non-scientific mind and does this very well. You cannot be an informed believer if you have not read this book. This book is the culmination of 30 years of his research and we are all in his debt. It is timely and well written. He makes his points well. I just don't see how anyone can disagree. Shermer is clearly one of the best voices for reason in our world today.
This is Shermer at his best.
"The Believing Brain" is a fantastic and ambitious book that explains the nature of beliefs. Mr. Shermer provides his theory of belief and with great expertise and skill provides compelling arguments and practical examples in explaining how the process of belief works. He applies his theory to a wide range of types of beliefs and does so with mastery. This excellent 400 page-book is composed of the following four parts: Part I. Journeys of Belief, Part II. The Biology of Belief, Part III. Belief in Things Unseen, and Part IV. Belief in Things Seen.
1. A fascinating topic in the hands of a master of his craft.
2. Well-written, well-researched, engaging and accessible book. Bravo!
3. Great, logical format. Good use of illustrations.
4. Great use of popular culture to convey sophisticated concepts in an accessible manner.
5. Establishes his theory early on and then proceeds like a great architect building his masterpiece.
6. Great quotes from many great minds, including some of his own, "What I want to believe based on emotions and what I should believe based on evidence do not always coincide. I'm a skeptic not because I do not want to believe but because I want to know".
7. Answers the question of "Why we believe" to complete satisfaction.
8. A thorough explanation on what the brain is.
9. The first of four parts of this book starts off with three distinctly different routes to belief, including his own revealing journey to beliefs.
10. The concept of patternicity defined. A great take at why our brains evolved to assume that all patterns are real.
11. Insightful and thought-provoking, consider the following "The problem we face is that superstition and belief in magic are millions of years old, whereas science, with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives, is only a few hundred years old".
12. Where would we be without evolution? Great use of science from the best scientific minds.
13. The concept of agenticity defined and how patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis for various "spiritualisms".
14. The evidence that brain and mind are one is now overwhelming. Great examples in support of the aforementioned assertion.
15. Great tidbits of knowledge throughout, "what people remember happening rarely corresponds to what actually happened".
16. Provides four great explanations for the sensed-presence effect found in the brain. With plenty of fascinating examples.
17. The mind in its proper context.
18. In order to understand beliefs you must understand neurons.
19. Dopamine...the belief drug. A lot of interesting facts.
20. Great explanation on why dualism is intuitive and monism counterintuitive.
21. The theory of mind and agenticity.
22. Enlightening look at why belief comes quickly and naturally while skepticism is slow and unnatural.
23. The afterlife chapter is one of my favorite chapters of this book...worth the price of admission.
24. Six solid reasons why people believe there is life after death.
25. The case for the existence of the afterlife around four lines of evidence and the thorough debunking that follows.
26. Compelling explanations for Near-Death Experiences (NDEs).
27. Ditto for Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs).
28. A compelling explanation of, why do so many people believe in God?
29. Three lines of evidence that supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains. Great stuff.
30. The compelling evidence that humans created gods and not vice versa.
31. Great explanation on the difference between agnosticism versus atheism.
32. Mr. Shermer's last law, an interesting take. I will not spoil it here.
33. Interesting tidbits on Einstein who is always fascinating.
34. The supernatural in proper context.
35. Science as the best tool ever in devising how the world works.
36. Interesting chapter on aliens.
37. Conspiracy theories and what characteristics indicate they are likely untrue.
38. Fascinating look at the 9/11 "conspiracy".
39. How conspiracies actually work.
40. Mr. Shermer even delves in the world of politics. Liberals versus conservatives.
41. A realistic visions of human nature and why it would help understand one another.
42. A dozen essentials to liberty and freedom. Democracy a different perspective.
43. Interesting look at how our brains convince us that we are always right.
44. Explanation of a series of biases: confirmation bias, hindsight bias, self-justification bias, attribution bias, sunk-coast bias, status-quo bias, anchoring bias, representative bias, inattentional blindness bias, and more...
45. Why science is the ultimate bias-detection machine.
46. Awesome belief history on exploration: Columbus, Galileo, Bacon...
47. Astronomy...beliefs and historical debates.
48. Good use of previous knowledge of biases to help understand data.
49. Red shifts and other astronomical hypotheses explained, and the photograph that changed the universe.
50. The greatest unsolved mystery.
51. Links worked great!
52. An intellectual treat from cover to cover!
1. Having to buy extra copies to share with close friends.
2. Having to wait for Mr. Shermer's next book.
In summary, this may be Michael Shermer's greatest book. This book feels like a labor of love in which Mr. Shermer is able to match his accumulation of prodigious knowledge and his lucid thoughts in total harmony. This book not only met my high expectations it exceeded it, I couldn't put it down. Thought-provoking, enlightening and a joy to read. I can't recommend this book enough, kudos to Mr. Shermer for a great accomplishment.
Further suggestions: "Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100" by Michio Kaku, "SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable" by Bruce M. Hood, "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique" by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality" by Laurence Tancredi, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia S. Churchland, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker and "The Brain and the Meaning of Life" by Paul Thagard.
I actually agree with the author's general premise about beliefs. I am equally skeptical of the existence of god, likelihood of discovering extraterrestrial life, and the various pop conspiracy theories that are out there. I just think the book could have been written in 50 pages. Or better yet, it could have been shortened to a magazine article and not lost any of its basic premise.
Of course, it doesn't really matter, since this is not a book about the brain. It is really a book about Michael Shermer - e.g. what he believes and doesn't, what television shows he's been on, how much hate mail he has received, how many times he has biked across the country. He evidently has a very high opinion of himself, constantly referring to common hypotheses as 'my theory', 'my thesis' and citing his prior books as though they were major scientific treatises. A trivial corollary of Clark's Law is even referred to as "Shermer's last law" (any sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God). For what does he hold himself in such esteem? For simple smackdowns of alien abductees and 9/11 truthers? For his "realistic vision" of human society that "acknowledges that people vary widely both physically and intellectually... Therefore governmental redistribution programs are not only unfair to those from whom the wealth is confiscated and redistributed, but the allocation of the wealth to those who did not earn it cannot and will not work to equalize these natural inequalities." But don't worry, Shermer assures you that he is fair and balanced - after all, he "doesn't even listen to Rush Limbaugh anymore." Shermer cites Stephen Pinker's 'The Blank Slate' as brilliant, but given his simplistic links between human nature and politics one has to wonder if he even read the book. Since his thesis concerns how humans believe irrationally, it would be nice if Shermer held his own naive libertarianism up to some scrutiny.
Neuroscience, self-promotion, and politics aside, this book misses a fundamental point. Many people continue to believe in God and the afterlife because of the unexplained mystery of inner existence. The term 'hard problem of consciousness' may be unfamiliar to most, but many are intimately familiar with it intuitively. Why do "I" exist as a conscious experiential entity apart from my neurons? People are wired to search for explanations of their observations, and here we have the most intimate of all observations completely unexplained by modern science. It is no wonder that people confabulate non-scientific answers to this most important of questions.