Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why People Believe Weird Things Michae Shermer

“Why People Do Weird things” by Michael Shermer is a book that tries to explain pseudoscience and how they work, and why they are not factual in their beliefs. Also it to show why we, the general public, choose to not only entertain these fictional stories but why we choose to believe and give more credibility to extraordinary claims then the basic explanation which is usually right in front of us. One thing I noticed throughout the book was the author use of the work Skeptic and Skepticism. He described being a Skeptic as a person who questions the validity of a particular claim by calling for evidence to prove or disprove, and Skepticism was the method in observing and building a testable body of knowledge to reject or confirm. I did not like this because it turns out that he is the editor of “Skeptic” Magazine, so the book is pretty much a huge ad for his magazine. The book discusses a range of topics it difference between the pseudoscience and actual science, much like in our text. Also it goes on the show why people tend to believe in these “weird things”. He claims that people believe in wrong things for several reasons; He things that it is because hope springs eternal and that  we want to believe that there is something more out there then what is offered to us, One of my favorite explanations is that “what we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning” (pg 46) which I believe discusses perception and which maybe the truth for one person may not exactly be another person’s truth, and lastly he claims logical problems in thinking suggesting that we pair items and words to negative and positive things over the years making it easy to discredit or give credit to stories. The book goes on to give examples of types of pseudoscience such as cults and aliens. Also there is a portion of the book that discusses history and people who claim that the Holocaust did not occur. Which proves the authors point about Skeptics not being such negative individuals, and that they set to both prove and disprove.  Finally the book goes on to discuss why intelligent people believe in weird things. He explains this by stating that we rarely sit down at the table with a problem in front of us and just weigh the pros and cons of the situation, and that there are always outside influences that will push us in one way or another.

My Favorite part of the book, I mentioned earlier, was the section that discussed the many fallacies of our thoughts. I found it funny because reading that one statement about nature; I couldn’t help but think of that one scene from Pulp Fiction. When the guy busted through the door and unloads his gun on Samuel Jackson and John Travolta, and completely misses.  They fire back and kill him, but Jackson’s character feels blessed and that a higher power stop the bullets from killing him (this after he killed two others) and John Travolta’s character feels that they just got lucky. Much like the book it was an extraordinary event that a man can be so close to them to fire a gun six times at two people and fail to harm either. Instead of Jackson’s character ignored the fact it was probably the man’s first time even using a gun, that he practically had his eyes closed while he was screaming and shooting and finally there was no real way to tell where they were before he kicked down the door and started firing. Situations in life are sometimes how we choose to perceive them, and that has a lot to do with our own biases.

As I read through this book it felt that it could double as our text book. It was very similar in the message and the definitions throughout the book. It discussed both the scientific method and what makes science a science. Also it discussed the characteristic of pseudoscience and why people believe in it. I found myself reaching for my pen just to take notes. The only significant difference was the use of the word skeptic, but that is only because of the author’s bias and his constant advertising of his magazine. Also another difference was that our text book dealt with pseudo sciences but this book discussed history and historical facts, and challenged those who challenge history of claims of an event never happening.

The real world application of this book is to promote each individual to look at each fascinating and unbelievable claim, through an unbiased eye and possibly find a real world solution for an out of this world problem. In other words the author would like us to be more like John Travolta and less like Samuel Jackson.  
Me practicing on being a skeptic

Skeptical how this ball is suppose to help her figure out why my dog died

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