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 The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Sun May 15, 2011 10:05 am

The physicist Richard Feynman said that the easiest person to fool is yourself.

A new book by Michael Shermer is coming out in a few weeks - THE BELIEVING BRAIN: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How we construct beliefs and reinforce them as truths.

I pre-ordered it and at the end of this post are some some advance blurbs on the book.

Some people might find what is discussed in the book relevant to their experiences with the OBC. Certainly, all religions are based on strongly-held beliefs - on their sacred scriptures, stories, dogmas, saints - and the more orthodox or cutlic the religion is, the more their beliefs are sacred cows that absolutely cannot be questioned or challenged, including the stature / myth of the guru / founder. To question, challenge or criticize is tantamount to heresy, sin, precept breaking, defaming the tradition, hell-fire awaits you or perhaps many lifetimes as a rat or cockroach, and so on. In some traditions like Islam, you can be put to death for dis-believing.

It seems to me that the main point of the Dharma - from the original teachings onward - was the extinguishing / removing of all beliefs, views, projections about "the eternal" or "emptiness" or gods, nirvana. As Nargarjuna said, "The stilling of all conceptual support and the stilling of the projection of concepts onto reality is peace."

With Kennett's "Lord of the House" belief-system, she fell into her own mental maze of concepts, constructing a Lord that she talked to, that she hoped would protect her, that would tell her precisely what to do and what not to do, and then demanded that her followers join her in this hybrid belief system / religion. Many religions create gods and monsters, deities and demons, and then you pray to them, make offerings to them, ask for their divine protection and special communications. These are all projections of the mind/ self onto reality - and just lead to more confusion, wandering. For more discussion.

Here is some info about the book:

Bestselling author Michael Shermer's comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished

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.

“Michael Shermer has long been one of our most committed champions of scientific thinking in the face of popular delusion. In The Believing Brain, he has written a wonderfully lucid, accessible, and wide-ranging account of the boundary between justified and unjustified belief. We have all fallen more deeply in his debt.” –Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith.

“The physicist Richard Feynman once said that the easiest person to fool is yourself, and as a result he argued that as a scientist one has to be especially careful to try and find out not only what is right about one's theories, but what might also be wrong with them. If we all followed this maxim of skepticism in everyday life, the world would probably be a better place. But we don't. In this book Michael Shermer lucidly describes why and how we are hard wired to 'want to believe'. With a narrative that gently flows from the personal to the profound, Shermer shares what he has learned after spending a lifetime pondering the relationship between beliefs and reality, and how to be prepared to tell the difference between the two.”—Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and author of The Physics of Star Trek, Quantum Man and A Universe from Nothing

"Michael Shermer has long been one of the world's deepest thinkers when it comes to explaining where our beliefs come from, and he brings it all together in this important, engaging, and ambitious book. Shermer knows all the science, he tells great stories, he is funny, and he is fearless, delving into hot-button topics like 9-11 Truthers, life after death, capitalism, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and the existence of God. This is an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of the beliefs that shape our lives."—Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works

"The Believing Brain is a tour de force integrating neuroscience and the social sciences to explain how irrational beliefs are formed and reinforced, while leaving us confident our ideas are valid. This is a must read for everyone who wonders why religious and political beliefs are so rigid and polarized—or why the other side is always wrong, but somehow doesn't see it."—Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, physicist and author of The Drunkard’s Walk and The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking)

"We might think that we learn how the world works, because we take the time to observe and understand it. Shermer says that's just not so. We just believe things, and then make our world fit our perceptions. Believe me; you don't have to take my word for it. Just try clearing some space in your own Believing Brain."—Bill Nye, the Science Guy ©, Executive Director of The Planetary Society

"The Believing Brain is a fascinating account of the origins of all manner of beliefs, replete with cutting edge evidence from the best scientific research, packed with nuggets of truths and then for good measure, studded with real world examples to deliver to the reader, a very personable, engaging and ultimately, convincing set of explanations for why we believe."—Professor Bruce Hood, Chair of Developmental Psychology, Bristol University and author of Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable
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Ol'ga

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PostSubject: Re: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Sun May 15, 2011 3:01 pm

Josh, a good topic.
I rather think that the Feynman's statement you quoted is a rather flippant, and, in fact, sloppy one. (At least on the face of it, since I don't have the context.) It all depends on what is meant by "fooling" oneself, vs fooling others. If I 'fool' someone deliberately, than that is called a lie. One cannot lie to oneself. One can be mistaken. One can also semi-deliberately ignore some facts, because they are painful or inconvenient. That way one can 'fool' oneself. This is the way Hitler's intentions were ignored (cf Chamberlain and others), Holocaust was and is denied, by some to this day, and the horror of Communism is, to varying degrees denied or at least minimized, by most of my western friends (particularly Americans). There is such a thing as intellectual honesty which minimizes this kind of 'fooling oneself'.

To avoid error is impossible.
Likewise, to have beliefs, make conclusions about the world, is natural, necessary, and perfectly OK.
A belief gets in the way when it is wrong. It is worse if one does not examine one's beliefs. We make conclusions about the world myriads of times a day. We also correct them. Were it not so, we could not stay alive for very long.
I encounter among some of my Buddhist friends a notion that having beliefs somehow obscures the reality; that duality obscures reality; that opposites obscure reality. None of it is, to my knowledge, true.
A wave does not obscure water. It is nothing but water, through and through. You don't have to somehow 'iron it out' to see water. (In fact, a smooth surface of the ocean, (obviously only in theory), is but a zero wave.)
The point, the question is: is there 'one' through it all. We all look for it, even yearn for it. Even the physicists are trying hard to discover the 'theory of everything'.
We - you and I - don't want a theory. We want, and need, the truth of everything. I believe, and perhaps know, that there indeed is such a thing. No duality can touch it. No ego can touch it. It doesn't somehow pop up when the ego 'disolves'. It doesn't come and go, and is not dependant on anything. Rather, everything depends on it, without affecting it. Why multiplicity exists at all, when all is in reality one, is a wonder. Fortunately, it doesn't matter.
The happy thing is that we do not have to become perfect (and we can't, anyway, not really), and we do not have to 'drop' the mind, reject opposites, to see the truth. Yes, trying one's best is necessary. Recognizing that there are limits to one's success in that endeavour is useful. Beyond that, all those things are a waste of time. There is nothing awful about wasting one's time - we are all good at it. The only problem is that it doesn't accomplish much.
I would also like to say one more thing. It is because we love ourselves that we look for truth, for peace, for solution that fixes it all. To pretend that we somehow transcend this self-love, is, indeed, 'fooling oneself'. Why do we pretend, then? Oh, I would say, we do it because we were brainwashed. We were taught, not only in Christianity, that the ego is a despicable thing somehow. It was such a tremendous relief when I was shown that to love oneself is not only OK; it is simply a true expression of our nature - and that nature is reality itself, indivisible. You know?
Luv to yevribodi,
Ol'ga
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Fri May 27, 2011 12:06 am

Michael Shermer's TED Talk:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_6-iVz1R0o
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Fri May 27, 2011 4:46 pm

I am well impressed that you can both read and comment on the book,as it seems hard going ,maybe that is me. However what I gleamed brings me back to the Heart Sutra.In some ways all of our critisism seems to come back to the Heart Sutra.
We used to chant no eye, ear nose tomgue body mine, there are different translations, of this, and of course different interpretations. But I am interested that shermer talks about hoe beliefs are born. Thinking simply about the Lord of the House idea, in context of the Heart Sutra, highlights that allowing beliefs to arise and form into teachings , is always leading away from zazen,and the core of Buddhism,being the Heart Sutra
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PostSubject: Re: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Sun May 29, 2011 2:00 pm

"The physicist Richard Feynman said that the easiest person to fool is yourself. "

Interesting person, Richard Feynman. Wasn't he also an amateur stage magician? And somehow he talked his way as a performer with a samba orchestra in a very tough neighborhood in Rio.

An interesting to "fooling ones self" came up in a course I took in grad school. The professor spoke of The Barnum Effect. That is, get a gullible person and tell him / her that something miraculous was about to occur. Then give that person an ambiguous stimulus. The subject will think that a miracle has occurred.

As a teenager, I experienced the Barnum Effect firsthand at the Seattle Worlds Fair. I had gone with a group to the science hall to see an exhibit called "the wild and wonderful world of perceptual illusions." We all filed into a specially - prepared room, and took seats on this odd looking bench. The guide told us that the room was constructed in such a way that the laws of gravity didn't apply in that space. (the set-up.) Then the lights flickered, and the bench bumped. (the ambiguous stimulus.) And the bench with we the sitters began to turn upside down. We made several loops of the room before coming to rest. (The Effect.) Then the shocked group of folks filed out of the room. As I recall several folks in the group got nauseous.

In fact, the room was turning around us. (No, I'm not being a narcissist here. The room was actually turning around us. And without sight of a horizon our perceptions were fooled.)

A slightly different explanation appears in the Wikipedia article under the Forer Effect. As well as another link to the fallacy of self validation. Juicy stuff.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Sun May 29, 2011 2:02 pm

see the links I just posted in the discussion about Stephen Batchelor - the links to the Darren Brown videos....
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Ol'ga

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PostSubject: Re: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Sun May 29, 2011 3:48 pm

Hi,
A good example of how astrology "works". See a fun clip of Derren Brown (our British friends may know him) giving an astrology reading.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haP7Ys9ocTk&feature=player_embedded

As Czechs say, Lid chce bejt klaman, People want to be deceived.
Ol'ga
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: The Believing Brain - New book from Michael Shermer   Sat Jun 11, 2011 12:56 pm

There is another newish book just published on belief.... THE BELIEF INSTINCT: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life by Jesse Bering, an evolutionary psychologist, director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University in Belfast and one of the principal investigators of Explaining Religion Project. He also blogs for Scientific American.

Just picked up the book.... looks good
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