Why we Believe, with Michael Shermer

In this episode, Turi speaks to Michael Shermer about Belief, ‘magical thinking’ and superstition: why do we believe so much that is false, how did we evolve to ‘believe’ and why, and how can we learn to build healthy thought models.

S2 E13: Why we Believe

“Our brains are wired to think more like lawyers than scientists - to win arguments, to bolster what we already believe…”

Michael Shermer is one of the world’s most prominent skeptics - founder of The Skeptic Society and editor of its magazine Skeptic. Once a fundamentalist Christian, Michael has spent his career uncovering the workings and causes of our Believing Brain.

We evolved to discern patterns in the world around us. When our ancestors ate the wrong mushroom, they very quickly learnt to link it to their upset stomach. Discovering patterns is the way humans learn. But humans are sometimes too good at it: we ‘discern’ patterns where none exist, and we infuse them with agency.

Listen to Michael and Turi discuss the two key evolutionary drivers of belief: Patternicity - our tendency to find patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. Agenticity - our tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency.

And learn more about:

  • The evolutionary origins of belief
  • Where conspiracy theories come from
  • Dopamine: the belief drug
  • What Twin Studies teach us about the Heritability of belief
  • How to keep a healthy mind
  • And B.F Skinner’s famous pigeon experiment, which shows all animals exist on the belief spectrum.

“Belief comes quickly and naturally, skepticism is slow and unnatural, and most people have a low tolerance for ambiguity.”

Works cited include:

Read the Full Transcript

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer is a science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine Skeptic. He’s also the author of The Believing Brain and most recently Giving the Devil his Due on the free speech wars raging across the West.

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 7 Apr 2021 at 10:22 UTC