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Shermer, M. (2011) The Believing Brain. Times Books: New York

  author = 	 {Shermer, Michael},
  title = 	 {The Believing Brain},
  publisher = 	 {Times Books},
  year = 	 {2011},
  address = 	 {New York}

Author of the summary: Jim Davies, 2012, jim@jimdavies.org

Cite this paper for:

This is the book's thesis: "We form beliefs for a variety or reasons, and then afterward justify them." [5]

Patternicity: "the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data."

Agenticity: "the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency."

[35] Why do smart people believe weird things? Because they are good at confabulating justifications for those beliefs that they unconsciously arrived at.

[52] The so-called "hard" sciences are actually easier, because it's simpler to isolate variables, and they are less complex systems than, say, psychological or ecological systems.

[60] Here is the patternicity equation: p = CT1 < CT2
which means that P (patternicity) occurs when the cost of making a type 1 error (CT1) is less than the cost of making a type 2 error (CT2).

[62] We believe in things like the paranormal because we evolved to believe in true things.

[76] Barrett 2010 Supernormal stimuli: The reproductive interest differences between men and women are striking in their expression in "porn." Male porn is very graphic, sexual, and lacking in relationship. Female porn, found in soap operas, romances, etc., are all about capturing the heart of a lover. Sex is often only implied. Marriage is often the end of the story.

[77] Paranormal people tend to have an external locus of control (meaning they think other forces guide their lives). While skeptics tend to have an internal locus of control.

Magic is found in environments of unpredictability and danger.

[78] People are more likely to see patterns in noise just before they jump from an airplane with a parachute, according to some study in 1977.

[79] Brugger et al. 1990 "A Sheep Goat Effect...": Believers in the paranormal believe that die rolls of 5-1-3 are more probable than 2-2-2, even more than skeptics do.

[100] Geiger The Third Man Factor: The sensed-presence effect is the experience of talking to an imaginary person. It happens with monotony, barren landscapes, darkness, isolation, cold, injury, dehydration, hunger, fatigue, fear, and sleep deprivation. [101] It happens a lot to climbers.

[104] But what are the brain conditions that the above trigger?

[121] BruggerMohr2008: right hemisphere sees more pattern in random noise.

[122] BruggerGammaMuriShaferTaylor1993: Skeptics are more left hemisphere dominant. Believers in ESP are have higher activation in the right hemisphere, as measured by EEG.

[124] Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) is active when deciding which is correct between options.

[126] Heretic Personality: permanent traits that make one prone to disbelieve in what authority says is true.

[125] Schizophrenic show less activity in the ACC.

[135] HarrisShethCohen2007: We accept what we see as real unless we have reason to think otherwise.

Spinoza's Conjecture: belief is natural, skepticism is difficult. Most people have a low ambiguity tolerance.

[151] Stenger: Neurotrasmitter molecules are about three orders of magnitude too large for quantum effects to make a difference.

[169] WallerKojetinBouchardLykkenTellegen1990: genetic factors account for 41-47 percent of variance in religious belief.

EavesEysenckMartin1989: The effect of how you're raised on religious belief is about 3 percent.(p385)

[170] DRD4 (dopamine receptor D4) is the gene that codes for the production of dopamine. Comings et al: More of these on the 11th chromosome leads to less dopamine, and more risk taking.

[194] Clancy: "Some of these belief systems speak to powerful emotional needs that have little to do with science-- the need to feel less alone in the world, the desire to have special powers or abilities, the longing to know that there is something out there, something more important than you that's watching over you."

[225] G. Gordon Liddy: The problem with government conspiracies is that bureaucrats are incompetent and can't keep their mouths shut.

The more people would need to cooperate, the less likely the conspiracy is likely to be true. (Shermer gives a great example of how hard it is to pull off a conspiracy.) They are fraught with minutiae of error.

[234] The working poor give a higher percentage of their income to charity.

[243] EavesEysenckMartin1989: 40 percent of our political attitudes is due to genes.

[257] A one-in-a-million event will happen 15.5 times a year.

[258] Folk Numeracy: the tendency to misperceive probability, rely on anecdotes, and to remember patterns. [260] KuhnWeinstockFlaton1994: In a simulated trial experiment, Ss decided on a verdict, then search the evidence for things that support their story of what happened.

WestenKiltsBlagovHarenskiHamann2006: Ss listened to contradictory speeches from Kerry and Bush. They defended who they supported. The DPFC was quiet, but the oribtal frontal cortex (emotion dealing) was active, and the ACC (dealing with conflict resolution.

[265] Intellectual attribution bias and emotional attribution bias: Belief that our beliefs are intellectually justified, and others' are emotionally. (e.g., belief in God because of fear of death.) It happens all the time with politics, too.

[271] Glassner1999: Women in their 40s think they have a ten percent chance of dying of breast cancer (the real odds are 1 in 250). The effect correlates to the number of news stories about it.

[277] Dawkins (The God Delusion): Middle world: the world we evolved to understand. Not too big, not too small.

[342] Principle of positive evidence: You must have positive evidence of your theory, not just negative evidence for the one you oppose.


Summary author's notes:

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