Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Which I'm Finally Done With The Believing Brain (yes, thank God)

"There is something rather than nothing because something is more stable." - Victor Stenger

"There once was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took [the square root of infinity]
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets
He dropped math and took up Divinity" - George Gamow

"It is not only man that is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man." - John Barrow and Frank Tipler

The final section of The Believing Brain was too multi-faceted to write a post about it, so I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about the book as a whole.

First, a brief list of things I have learned from it:

  1. What we believe, why we believe it, and how we came to believe it is far more complicated than any single statement, just like a person's actions. We're the sum of our entire personal past, as well as the past of our species as a whole.
  2. People in the "community of skeptics" (i.e. skeptics who bother to go to Skeptic Conventions and such) often annoy me more than the paranormal-believer types.
  3. Belief really does come before rationalization-- we might have a reason for the beginning of a belief, but the continuation is a different story.
  4. Beliefs make everyone irrational, and everyone's biases make them blind--even Michael Shermer.

This book has flaws, mainly due to biases on behalf of the author. Some of these he acknowledges, and some he does not. It gets off-topic sometimes, but then again, the tangents are often interesting.

However, as I said in my first post about this book, those flaws make it all the more fascinating, since the reader can observe the very phenomena being discussed both in the author and in themselves as they make their way through it.

I enjoyed this book--not necessarily because it was amazing or because I agreed with everything it contained, but because it made me think about things I hadn't considered before. If you've enjoyed this series of posts, awesome. If you haven't, I assume you aren't even reading them by this point so I won't bother addressing you. ;)

Just to give you all a fair warning, my next book is Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do? by Michael J. Sandel, and it's a book-ization of one of Harvard's most-loved courses. There will be posts about this book, although most likely in a more topic-oriented fashion than the book-oriented style I've been doing with this one.

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