The Believing Brain started off strong for me, and included an unexpected narrative of author Michael Shermer’s own journey from belief to skepticism. But in that narrative the seeds of the books later flaws were sown.
For though this book is a thorough guide to what we know about how the brain works in regard to belief, the skepticism of the author seems to stop at his own door, and the reader is “treated” to several lengthy passages that essentially make the case for why Democrats and Republicans believe silly stuff, but that the author’s own Rayndian-influenced Libertarianism is above the belief-dependent fray.
In this I was reminded of Sam Harris book “The End of Faith” where, after elegantly critiquing the irrational belief that is the basis of all human religion, takes a side-tour into the wonders of Transcendental Meditation!
Make no mistake: there is good, solid information in The Believing Brain, and it contains a useful catalog of the many biases we humans are given to. But I think there are better sources for this information, and I would send a curious reader to two other books I’ve reviewed on this site (that are both free from the intellectual side-trips on offer here). The books I’d recommend are:
Although I have to credit this book with bringing to my awareness the useful concept of “Belief-dependant-realism”, I found the book, overall, to be an odd amalgam of subjects where, in addition to the aforementioned foray into Libertarianism, the final two chapters are devoted to cosmology, and the various “multiverse” theories. Interesting, sure, but…
One thing I did derive from this book was an enlarged awareness that none of us is truly capable of living outside of the biases of our own brains. That is sobering and a bit discouraging. But, then again, it might free up a bit of our analytical energy to use in more fruitful pursuits.