The Believing Brain

The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer has jumped to the front of the reading queue.  It’s about how and why we believe.  This seems to me to be central, not just to discussions of religion, but also to politics, and, well, just about everything.  I’m convinced that conservatives (for example) simply see the world differently from the way I see it.

Shermer was deeply religious for a while but became a skeptic; his book doesn’t appear to be a mere debunking of faith, though (I’m 60 pages in).  In fact, he begins with a sympathetic interview with Francis Collins, the head of the NIH whose beliefs went in exactly the opposite direction.  But Shermer’s point of view can’t be comforting to believers: he believes that evolution didn’t develop our brains to be rational, but to find patterns.  And it’s better to find patterns that aren’t there than to miss one and end up being eaten.  So we extrapolate from coincidences to a belief in ESP; we generalize from an inexplicable experience to a belief in God.

Science is the answer–discovering if the patterns we see match reality.  But it’s a hard slog to get people to accept science when it contradicts their beliefs.  A hundred and fifty years on, a majority of Americans still don’t believe in evolution.

Anyway, this is all an excuse to embed a U2 video.

I can’t see what you see when I look at the world.

2 thoughts on “The Believing Brain

  1. Pingback: Worship | richard bowker

  2. Pingback: The Believing Brain (again) | richard bowker

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