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Why People Believe Weird Things Price: $16.00 |
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This book should be turned into a high school class that students must pass to graduate. I don't think there could be a more important course offered. Unfortunately, even science classes don't offer this kind of advice on how to think. Usually they just involve the memorization of various facts. Why People Believe Weird Things does far more than this. The methodology presented by Shermer allows one to think clearly and understand why humans want to believe in so many false things.

Shermer's conclusion is very simple. People believe weird things because of wishful thinking and continue to believe in those things despite contrary evidence because they are unwilling to alter preconceived notions. The reasons for the unwillingness to shift paradigms are many. People don't want to admit they are wrong. They sometimes want something comfortable rather than something true (even if they play a game of pretend by calling their fantasies and wishes true). Racism and group think also play major roles. These weird theories are propagated through 'feedback loops' which Shermer explains by using the witch hunts as an example. Numerous other feedback loops have been created recently. The media (especially now with information being so easily exchanged on a national and global basis) has been a major player in starting and defusing these loops. The concept of 'memes' or mental viruses comes into play here although I don't think Shermer ever uses these terms.

Shermer is not afraid to debunk anyone or anything--even if it is something he partially believes in. For instance, even though he agrees with much of the objectivist philosophy, he shows how the actual movement took on a life of its own which puts some orthodox objectivists in a situation where they practice what they preach against. He is against censorship of any form, and feels that both sides of all the 'weird' issues should be presented.

Perhaps the most interesting observation Shermer makes is with regard to the similarity in the flawed methodology that all the proponents of weird things use. His two main examples are creationists and Holocaust deniers.

Finally, Shermer presents a very good look at what the scientific method can accomplish and exactly what the method is and isn't. The scientific method is broad enough to cover much more than easily testable problems. Pseudo-science, pseudo-religion, and pseudo-history can all be marginalized if more people use the tools and methods Shermer so clearly presents.