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November 30 , 2007

The Believing Brain

From Spiritual Faiths to Political Convictions – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.


Synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist and science historian, Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. Using sensory data that flow in through the senses, the brain naturally looks for and finds patterns - and then infuses those patterns with meaning, forming beliefs. Once beliefs are formed, our brains subconsciously seek out confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop.

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For thousands of years, the faithful have honed proselytizing strategies and talked people into believing the truth of one holy book or another. Indeed, the faithful often view converting others as an obligation of their faith—and are trained from an early age to spread their unique brand of religion. The result is a world broken in large part by…

In The Believing Brain, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not our belief matches reality.

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