The Believing Brain3 star

 

 

How Your Brain Evolved to Lie to You

By Michael Shermer

St. Martin’s Griffin, $15.99, 385 pages

“Belief systems are powerful, pervasive,and enduring. I have devoted my career to understanding how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. This book synthesizes thirty years of research to answer the question of how and why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives. Here I am interested in more than just why people believe weird things, or why people believe this or that claim, but why people believe anything at all. Why do people believe?”

Michael Shermer is a prolific writer and promoter of skepticism. As the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a columnist for Scientific American and the author of eight books he might be the best known skeptic in the United States (Sorry Penn & Teller.) His latest book, The Believing Brain, is an investigation into the science behind how and why humans construct beliefs and then turn such beliefs into the basis for our worldviews, i.e.: truths. Shermer is a secular humanist and a firm believer in “truth,” an objective and understandable universe. How can this universe be known through science. For those readers with spiritual, supernatural, or even unfounded political beliefs Shermer, and The Believing Brain will not be kind to you. Shermer explains the neurological and evolutionary mechanisms that have crafted our brain into a “belief machine” and how that machine can and often does fail us when it comes to recognizing the truth, or reality. Shermer is erudite and his book, while technical, is well written for the lay reader. I’ve never been one for neurology but Shermer’s patient explanations had me nodding my head at multiple occasions. A fascinating look into the hows and whys of our beliefs and how we may be better thinkers, better people, but understanding our “belief engine.”

Reviewed by Jonathon Howard

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