The Believing Brain is bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world's best-known skeptic 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. 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. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find 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 of belief confirmation. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths. Interlaced with his theory of belief, 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 a belief matches reality.
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. 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.
Bestselling author Shermer presents a comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished.
Revised and Expanded Edition. In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, with more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. In an entirely new chapter, "Why Smart People Believe in Weird Things," Michael Shermer takes on science luminaries like physicist Frank Tippler and others, who hide their spiritual beliefs behind the trappings of science. Shermer, science historian and true crusader, also reveals the more dangerous side of such illogical thinking, including Holocaust denial, the recovered-memory movement, the satanic ritual abuse scare, and other modern crazes. Why People Believe Strange Things is an eye-opening resource for the most gullible among us and those who want to protect them.
A new book about brain chemistry, neural systems, and the formation of beliefs from the scientist who brought to light serotonin's many crucial roles in human behavior. Beliefs: What are they? How have evolution and culture led to a brain that is seemingly committed to near endless belief creation? And once established, why are most beliefs so difficult to change? Believing offers answers to these questions from the perspective of a leading neuroscientist and expert in brain-behavior research. Combining personal anecdotes and the latest research, Dr. McGuire takes the novel approach of focusing on the central and critical role of brain systems and the ways in which they interact with the environment to create and maintain beliefs. This approach yields some surprising and counterintuitive conclusions: • The brain is designed for belief creation and acceptance. • It is biased in favor of its own beliefs and is highly insensitive to disconfirming evidence. • It prefers beliefs that are pleasurable and rewarding to those that are unfavorable. • Beliefs are "afterthoughts" of unperceived brain activities; they don't cause behavior. • Our consciousness has minimal influence on the neural systems that create beliefs. Based on these observations, McGuire concludes that for the foreseeable future people will continue to hold a multitude of beliefs, many of them intransigent.
The best-selling author of Why People Believe Weird Things offers a revealing study of the influence of evolutionary theory on the modern economy, as well as the evolutionary roots of human economic behavior, bringing together the latest research in neuroeconomics, psychology, biology, and other fields to analyze the economics of everyday life. Reprint. 40,000 first printing.
Collected essays from bestselling author Michael Shermer's celebrated columns in Scientific American For fifteen years, bestselling author Michael Shermer has written a column in Scientific American magazine that synthesizes scientific concepts and theory for a general audience. His trademark combination of deep scientific understanding and entertaining writing style has thrilled his huge and devoted audience for years. Now, in Skeptic, seventy-five of these columns are available together for the first time; a welcome addition for his fans and a stimulating introduction for new readers.
In this groundbreaking volume, J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., MD, with Clare Aukofer, offers a succinct yet comprehensive study of how and why the human mind generates religious belief. Dr. Thomson, a highly respected practicing psychiatrist with credentials in forensic psychiatry and evolutionary psychology, methodically investigates the components and causes of religious belief in the same way any scientist would investigate the movement of astronomical bodies or the evolution of life over time—that is, as a purely natural phenomenon. Providing compelling evidence from psychology, the cognitive neurosciences, and related fields, he, with Ms. Aukofer, presents an easily accessible and exceptionally convincing case that god(s) were created by man—not vice versa. With this slim volume, Dr. Thomson establishes himself as a must-read thinker and leading voice on the primacy of reason and science over superstition and religion.
Recent polls show that 96% of Americans believe in God. Why are people turning to religion in greater numbers than ever before? In How We Believe, Michael Shermer presents the results of an exhaustive empirical study in which he asked 10,000 Americans how and why they believe and about details of their faith. The result offers fresh and startling insights into age-old questions.
A creationist-turned-scientist demonstrates the facts of evolution and exposes Intelligent Design's real agenda Science is on the defensive. Half of Americans reject the theory of evolution and "Intelligent Design" campaigns are gaining ground. Classroom by classroom, creationism is overthrowing biology. In Why Darwin Matters, bestselling author Michael Shermer explains how the newest brand of creationism appeals to our predisposition to look for a designer behind life's complexity. Shermer decodes the scientific evidence to show that evolution is not "just a theory" and illustrates how it achieves the design of life through the bottom-up process of natural selection. Shermer, once an evangelical Christian and a creationist, argues that Intelligent Design proponents are invoking a combination of bad science, political antipathy, and flawed theology. He refutes their pseudoscientific arguments and then demonstrates why conservatives and people of faith can and should embrace evolution. He then appraises the evolutionary questions that truly need to be settled, building a powerful argument for science itself. Cutting the politics away from the facts, Why Darwin Matters is an incisive examination of what is at stake in the debate over evolution.
Premodern Buddhists are sometimes characterized as veritable "mind scientists" whose insights anticipate modern research on the brain and mind. Aiming to complicate this story, Dan Arnold confronts a significant obstacle to popular attempts at harmonizing classical Buddhist and modern scientific thought: since most Indian Buddhists held that the mental continuum is uninterrupted by death (its continuity is what Buddhists mean by "rebirth"), they would have no truck with the idea that everything about the mental can be explained in terms of brain events. Nevertheless, a predominant stream of Indian Buddhist thought, associated with the seventh-century thinker Dharmakirti, turns out to be vulnerable to arguments modern philosophers have leveled against physicalism. By characterizing the philosophical problems commonly faced by Dharmakirti and contemporary philosophers such as Jerry Fodor and Daniel Dennett, Arnold seeks to advance an understanding of both first-millennium Indian arguments and contemporary debates on the philosophy of mind. The issues center on what modern philosophers have called intentionality—the fact that the mind can be about (or represent or mean) other things. Tracing an account of intentionality through Kant, Wilfrid Sellars, and John McDowell, Arnold argues that intentionality cannot, in principle, be explained in causal terms. Elaborating some of Dharmakirti's central commitments (chiefly his apoha theory of meaning and his account of self-awareness), Arnold shows that despite his concern to refute physicalism, Dharmakirti's causal explanations of the mental mean that modern arguments from intentionality cut as much against his project as they do against physicalist philosophies of mind. This is evident in the arguments of some of Dharmakirti's contemporaneous Indian critics (proponents of the orthodox Brahmanical Mimasa school as well as fellow Buddhists from the Madhyamaka school of thought), whose critiques exemplify the same logic as modern arguments from intentionality. Elaborating these various strands of thought, Arnold shows that seemingly arcane arguments among first-millennium Indian thinkers can illuminate matters still very much at the heart of contemporary philosophy.
A scientific exploration into humanity’s obsession with the afterlife and quest for immortality from the bestselling author and skeptic Michael Shermer In his most ambitious work yet, Shermer sets out to discover what drives humans’ belief in life after death, focusing on recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality along with utopian attempts to create heaven on earth. For millennia, religions have concocted numerous manifestations of heaven and the afterlife, and though no one has ever returned from such a place to report what it is really like—or that it even exists—today science and technology are being used to try to make it happen in our lifetime. From radical life extension to cryonic suspension to mind uploading, Shermer considers how realistic these attempts are from a proper skeptical perspective. Heavens on Earth concludes with an uplifting paean to purpose and progress and how we can live well in the here-and-now, whether or not there is a hereafter.
J. J. Connolly the favorite voice of London gangster fiction returns with a tour de force: the Get Carter of the noughties, Layer Cake has also been made into a highly-praised film by Matthew Vaughn, starring Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller (it's also the most shoplifted book in England). Now Connolly is back with a sequel that sees him on the same stunning form, with his trademark razor-sharp dialogue and quick-fire violence, but also finding dark humor and pathos in the lives of violent men. From the London underworld, Viva la Madness moves to international crime with trans-Atlantic drug deals, money laundering, and high-tech electronic fraud, portrayed with the same uncanny believability. The anonymous hero of Layer Cake is pulled back into the drug game before he can escape to a sunny retirement. In a dazzling combination of London low-life, Caribbean high-life, and Venezuelan drug cartels toting machine-guns in Mayfair, our hero's voice and mission are authentic, thrilling, and whiplash-inducing in equal shares.
Bestselling author Michael Shermer's exploration of science and morality that demonstrates how the scientific way of thinking has made people, and society as a whole, more moral From Galileo and Newton to Thomas Hobbes and Martin Luther King, Jr., thinkers throughout history have consciously employed scientific techniques to better understand the non-physical world. The Age of Reason and the Enlightenment led theorists to apply scientific reasoning to the non-scientific disciplines of politics, economics, and moral philosophy. Instead of relying on the woodcuts of dissected bodies in old medical texts, physicians opened bodies themselves to see what was there; instead of divining truth through the authority of an ancient holy book or philosophical treatise, people began to explore the book of nature for themselves through travel and exploration; instead of the supernatural belief in the divine right of kings, people employed a natural belief in the right of democracy. In The Moral Arc, Shermer will explain how abstract reasoning, rationality, empiricism, skepticism--scientific ways of thinking--have profoundly changed the way we perceive morality and, indeed, move us ever closer to a more just world.
“In an account chock full of real-world examples reinforced by experimental research, Hood’s marvelous book is an important contribution to the psychological literature that is revealing the actuality of our very irrational human nature.” — Science In the vein of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, Mary Roach’s Spook, and Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, The Science of Superstition uses hard science to explain pervasive irrational beliefs and behaviors: from the superstitious rituals of sports stars, to the depreciated value of houses where murders were committed, to the adoration of Elvis.
From bestselling author Michael Shermer, an investigation of the evolution of morality that is "a paragon of popularized science and philosophy" The Sun (Baltimore) A century and a half after Darwin first proposed an "evolutionary ethics," science has begun to tackle the roots of morality. Just as evolutionary biologists study why we are hungry (to motivate us to eat) or why sex is enjoyable (to motivate us to procreate), they are now searching for the very nature of humanity. In The Science of Good and Evil, science historian Michael Shermer explores how humans evolved from social primates to moral primates; how and why morality motivates the human animal; and how the foundation of moral principles can be built upon empirical evidence. Along the way he explains the implications of scientific findings for fate and free will, the existence of pure good and pure evil, and the development of early moral sentiments among the first humans. As he closes the divide between science and morality, Shermer draws on stories from the Yanamamö, infamously known as the "fierce people" of the tropical rain forest, to the Stanford studies on jailers' behavior in prisons. The Science of Good and Evil is ultimately a profound look at the moral animal, belief, and the scientific pursuit of truth.
Bestselling author Michael Shermer delves into the unknown, from heretical ideas about the boundaries of the universe to Star Trek's lessons about chance and time A scientist pretends to be a psychic for a day-and fools everyone. An athlete discovers that good-luck rituals and getting into "the zone" may, or may not, improve his performance. A historian decides to analyze the data to see who was truly responsible for the Bounty mutiny. A son explores the possiblities of alternative and experimental medicine for his cancer-ravaged mother. And a skeptic realizes that it is time to turn the skeptical lens onto science itself. In each of the fourteen essays in Science Friction, psychologist and science historian Michael Shermer explores the very personal barriers and biases that plague and propel science, especially when scientists push against the unknown. What do we know and what do we not know? How does science respond to controversy, attack, and uncertainty? When does theory become accepted fact? As always, Shermer delivers a thought-provoking, fascinating, and entertaining view of life in the scientific age.
'Entertaining and enlightening ... offers ways to temper our anti-social tendencies.' Dr Michael Mosley, science journalist and TV presenter It can often seem that we are utterly surrounded by temptation, from the ease of online shopping and the stream of targeted advertising encouraging us to greedily acquire yet more stuff, to the coffee, cake and fast-food shops that line our streets, beckoning us in to over-indulge on all the wrong things. It can feel like a constant battle to stay away from the temptations we know we shouldn't give in to. Where exactly do these urges come from? If we know we shouldn't do something, for the sake of our health, our pockets or our reputation, why is it often so very hard to do the right thing? Anyone who has ever wondered why they never seem to be able to stick to their diet, anyone to whom the world seems more vain and self-obsessed than ever, anyone who can't understand why love-cheats pursue their extra-marital affairs, anyone who struggles to resist the lure of the comfy sofa, or anyone who makes themselves bitter through endless comparison with other people, anyone who is addicted to their smartphone – this book is for you. The Science of Sin brings together the latest findings from neuroscience research to shed light on the universally fascinating subject of temptation – where it comes from, how to resist it and why we all tend to succumb from time to time. With each chapter inspired by one of the seven deadly sins, neurobiologist Jack Lewis illuminates the neural battles between temptation and restraint that take place within our brains, suggesting strategies to help us better manage our most troublesome impulses with the explicit goal of improving our health, our happiness and our productivity – helping us to say 'no!' more often, especially when it really counts.
The God Instinct explores how people’s everyday thoughts, behaviours and emotions betray an innate tendency to reason as though God were deeply invested in their public lives and secret affairs.
Science has never been more crucial to deciding the political issues facing the country. Yet science and scientists have less influence with the federal government than at any time since Richard Nixon fired his science advisors. In the White House and Congress today, findings are reported in a politicized manner; spun or distorted to fit the speaker's agenda; or, when they're too inconvenient, ignored entirely. On a broad array of issues-stem cell research, climate change, evolution, sex education, product safety, environmental regulation, and many others-the Bush administration's positions fly in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus. Federal science agencies-once fiercely independent under both Republican and Democratic presidents-are increasingly staffed by political appointees who know industry lobbyists and evangelical activists far better than they know the science. This is not unique to the Bush administration, but it is largely a Republican phenomenon, born of a conservative dislike of environmental, health, and safety regulation, and at the extremes, of evolution and legalized abortion. In The Republican War on Science, Chris Mooney ties together the disparate strands of the attack on science into a compelling and frightening account of our government's increasing unwillingness to distinguish between legitimate research and ideologically driven pseudoscience.