Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Believing Brain

Michael Shermer talks about his theory of the brain as a ‘pattern believing machine’.  Put simply, we first believe in patterns subconsciously, then add logical explanations post hoc. This partly explains why debating passionate people on their topic of choice often leads each person more entrenched in their beliefs than afterwards, since logic doesn’t govern our already held subconscious beliefs.

He has a book exploring the idea in more detail, and if you want another brief take on his theories you can read one of his articles here.

And the conclusion from one reviewer -

Having presented the case that we form beliefs on the basis of unconscious, often irrational processes, and that all our argumentation in support of these beliefs is then added post hoc and subject to a wide range of cognitive biases which he lists and explains, Dr. Shermer leaves us in a near-hopeless state. The human condition, according to this perspective, is one of deep-rooted, biased subjectivity and perpetual, unresolvable conflict between believers with different sets of beliefs.


  1. Hi

    "So we know that our ignorance about certain issues makes it easy for us to be misled but your research shows that we don't necessarily change our minds even when we have the facts
    So not only did they not believe the facts that you were putting before them; they actually reinforced the incorrect views they originally had."

  2. Wow. Great link. It's a little sad really, but I personally know how hard it is to change long held beliefs (whether they had any justification in the first place or not). Thanks

  3. Cameron

    glad to return the favour ... it forms a significant portion of everything which is wrong with the democratic process ... combined with: