vendredi 5 août 2011

How our brains find (create) meaning

To read: _The Believing Brain_, by Michael Shermer.

From an article in Reason magazine (

"Beliefs come first; reasons second. That's the insightful message of The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer, the founder of Skeptic magazine. In the book, he brilliantly lays out what modern cognitive research has to tell us about his subject-namely, that our brains are 'belief engines' that naturally 'look for and find patterns' and then infuse them with meaning. These meaningful patterns form beliefs that shape our understanding of reality. Our brains tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs, ignoring information that contradicts them. Mr. Shermer calls this 'belief-dependent reality.' The well-worn phrase 'seeing is believing' has it backward: Our believing dictates what we're seeing."

"The Believing Brain perhaps inevitably turns to religion, but a sign of Mr. Shermer's all-purpose skepticism is his consigning of the chapter 'Belief in God,' along with 'Belief in Aliens,' to a section called 'Belief in Things Unseen.' He doesn't take religious faith seriously except as an object for explanatory debunking-God is simply the human explanation for pattern-making and agency on an epic scale.

'As a back-of-the-envelope calculation within an order-of-magnitude accuracy, we can safely say that over the past ten thousand years of history humans have created about ten thousand different religions and about one thousand gods,' Mr. Shermer writes. He lists more than a dozen gods, from Amon Ra to Zeus, and wonders how one of them can be true and the rest false. 'As skeptics like to say, everyone is an atheist about these gods; some of us just go one god further.'"

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