Shermer Explains ‘The Believing Brain’

Arch-skeptic Michael Shermer spoke at Tattered Cover May 31 about his new book, The Believing Brain. With permission, I filmed the presentation, and I’ve edited three selections.

In the first video, Shermer explains the basics of how people tend to find patterns both where they are real and where they are not. We need science to tell the difference, he argues.

In the second video, Shermer argues that people tend to find agency even in complex systems and inanimate things.

Finally, Shermer explains people’s tendency to mentally construct agencies and project them into the world.

Shermer also offered some fascinating insights into political battles, specific conspiracy theories (deathers, birthers, truthers), and the importance of free-trading liberal democracies (broadly understood) for preserving the peace and keeping dangerous people from gaining power. For all that and more, you’ll have to read his book!


Tess commented June 2, 2011 at 11:55 AM
This is great!! I was there at the lecture as well. Nice job on filming and editing it. Is there any chance you’d be willing to post the entire lecture or maybe send it to me? Thanks again for posting this!

TJWelch commented June 6, 2011 at 7:44 PM
Many years ago, I read the original (1997) edition of Shermer’s book _Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition and Other Confusions of our Time_. In what was otherwise a good book, he included a chapter called “The Unlikeliest Cult: Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the Cult of Personality”. While purporting to be a debunking of Objectivism, it was at most an indictment of the alleged behavior of some Objectivists–largely sourced from the Brandens’ memoirs. I don’t remember much in the way of arguments against the philosophy itself, other than an arbitary assertion that morality cannot be objective.
Keep in mind that the rest of the book dealt with creationists, Holocaust deniers, UFOlogists and the like. I found it intellectually dishonest to lump Objectivism in with such company on flimsy pretext.
Rand herself exposed the use of such tactics in her essay “‘Extremism,’ or the Art of Smearing.”