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Dec 09 2011

Atheists Talk: Michael Shermer on “The Believing Brain”

Michael Shermer is the founder of the Skeptics Society and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine. He is the author of several books on the topics of belief and the history of science. His latest book is The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.

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.

Join us on Sunday as we discuss why the processes that help our brains makes sense of the world also trip us up and make it easy to believe strange things.

Related Links

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

3 comments

  1. 1
    New England Bob

    A disappointing book. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com.

  2. 2
    Leo Buzalsky

    Stephanie, I haven’t been able to download a podcast since 10/20/11 when Sunsara Taylor was the guest. I use the RSS feed, but it looks like even the iTunes list hasn’t updated either. What’s up with that?

  3. 3
    Stephanie Zvan

    Hi, Leo. The Minnesota Atheists website underwent an upgrade. It’s a good thing in many ways, but it has messed with our feeds. We’re working on straightening it out. We’re on potential solution #3 at the moment, I believe.

    For the RSS, you may be able to go to the website and simply resubscribe to the new feed. I’m not sure about that, though. I will put a post up here when we get it fixed.

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