Author Topic: How the human brain establishes and reinforces beliefs as truths  (Read 11166 times)

Joe Carillo

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Although we may fancy ourselves to be rational beings, each of us has a brain that’s nothing less than a belief machine, one that makes us more capable of self-deception and illusion than any other species. This is the central thesis of Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies (Times Books, 400 pages), a book that integrates the findings of neuroscience and the social sciences to explain how people form and reinforce both their rational and irrational beliefs in an unceasing positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation.

Shermer, a psychologist and science historian, explains that from sensory data obtained through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning until they become strongly held beliefs. He provides a wealth of examples of how this process operates in politics, economics, and religion as well as in conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal.

From his 30 years of research into the subject, Shermer has come to the conclusion that belief is largely immune to attack by direct educational tools, at least for those who are not ready to hear it. He persuasively argues that science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality, and that the key to attenuating superstition and belief in the supernatural is in teaching how science works, not just what science has discovered.

“Belief change,” Shermer explains, “comes from a combination of personal psychological readiness and a deeper social and cultural shift in the underlying zeitgeist of the times, which is affected in part by education, but is more the product of larger and harder-to-define political, economic, religious, and social changes.”

Read an excerpt from Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain now!

Michael Shermer is an American science writer and historian of science who founded The Skeptics Society, which currently has over 55,000 members. He is the editor in chief of Skeptic, the society’s magazine that is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. Since April 2001, Shermer has been a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine. He is also the producer and co-host of Exploring the Unknown, the 13-hour television series on Fox Family (now ABC Family).

In his book The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good (Viking Adult, 240 pages), David J. Linden, neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, makes a provocative exploration of the relationship between pleasure and addiction. “Understanding the biological basis of pleasure leads us to fundamentally rethink the moral and legal aspects of addiction to drugs, food, sex, and gambling and the industries that manipulate these pleasures,” he says.

Read an excerpt from David J. Linden’s The Compass of Pleasure in the website now!

« Last Edit: September 09, 2022, 06:07:49 AM by Joe Carillo »


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Re: How the human brain establishes and reinforces beliefs as truths
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2012, 02:33:14 PM »
In The Believing Brain, Michael Shermer has succeeded in making a serious analysis of the human brain both highly entertaining and informative.

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.