Friday, July 29, 2016

Book Report- Why People Believe Weird Things

             We all know that there are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to inexplainable beliefs, religion or science; but what makes us as humans susceptiable to either rationalization? The truth is, we will never know, but in “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer, we’re able to depict reasons as to why people think in the ways they do. Shermer tries to de-bunk many pseudosciences and susperstitions in this book using his skepticism. In his lifetime, he has traveled to many different places to understand and explain why these pseudosciences can’t be proven true. Some of these include alien abductions, near death experiences, the paranormal, and psudohistory such as the holocaust. In his writings, Shermer talks about 25 different fallacies which are said to lead us in believing weird things. The interesting thing about this book is that although he is proving to us why things aren’t, we can’t help but to still wonder if he is right, or if our original thoughts are.

               While this whole book was compelling to rea, my favorite chapter was Chapter5: Through the Invisible. This chapter discusses near death experiences (NDE) AND out of body experiences (OBE) to aid in our quest of the afterlife. Shermer starts off this chapter by describing the events of Jack Schwarz, who was able to, in his own words, take his body to another place. Shermer attended a seminar of his where he stuck a rod through his bicep and didn’t even flinch. He even barely bled, but how is this possble? “Apparently” there are other places your mind can go. In this chapter, there is a diagram which I found interesting of your EEG readings.

               It showed how much activity your brain has during an excited state, a deep sleep, and a coma. These different states of consiousness show that we can monitor our awarness. What I found interesting however is while Shermer doesn’t believe in the other states of consciousness; this gave me all of a more reason to believe.

                The NDE and OBE only works when your mind takes you to another place, and there elements are floating out of the body, seeing a bright light, and seeing family members. This all seems to show death as a pleasant experience but how can we know for sure? There was a story in this chapter that really got me thinking, and it was about Mrs. Schwartz. She was in the opperating room, and was pronounced dead. Surgeons tried everything in their power to revive her, and she claims that she laid looking down at her body and can recall the whole thing. She was able to recollect the color of the ties of the doctors, the conversations they had, the jokes they made, and their stress to revive her. How did she know this? The sad thing is, there is no evidence, but the stories compelled me. There was other claims that blind people were able to recall colored scenes of their NDE and that people who were paralyzed were capable of dancing in their’s. However, Shermer reminds us that people do have “fantasy proned’ imaginations, and that highly stressed minds can create these visuals.

                While reading this book, I was able to tie in a lot of the concepts we learned in class. However, the most crucial aspect between the two correlates with our first lecture: Ways of Thinking. Those slides are consistatly reminding us that pseudoscience relies on fast thinking and that science relies on slow thinking. This is the main topic that Shermer is trying to convey in his writings. His skepticism shows us that people believe with pseudosciences because they follow the heuristics that seem easily available to them, rather then to think critically about the information they are receiving.  But if there is one thing I’ve learned through this course, is that I am not a skeptic, I tend to believe many things I hear, and I am OK with that. I understand WHY I believe the things I do, and that they could possibly be wrong, but if believing in weird things makes me happy, then so be it.

             When it comes to real world problems, what I have learned in this class has helped my real life situation immensly. One issue that I have always had is that when it comes to the afterlife I am skeptical. This has caused me to fall into a deep depression and anxiety because I became petrified to die. As soon as I thought thinking about death, my mind would take me to places tht insinuated major panic attacks. I didn’t believe in heaven, or an afterlife, but I was also naïve and didn’t know all of the other ideas presented in this world. I went to a therapist and she suggested reading 3 books. They were Heaven is for real (which was made into a movie), Spook (which I ended up having to read at Stockton), and this book by Shermer. She told me that each would show me multiple perspectives on the afterlife, and hopefully this would easy my anxiety. All of these examples of NDE’s did in fact calm me down. Whether these stories were real or not, I believed it because I wanted to believe that there was something to believe in. Pseudoscience is as simple as that. Yes, there are heuristics, but as Shermer says in Chapter 18 “One person’s weird belief may be another person’s theory.

                                                                   Skeptic? Watch here!

Believer? Watch here!


  1. Hi Jacqueline,
    I loved reading your book report, and watching both of the videos you included. The book Why People Believe Weird Things, sounds like an interesting book. However, something that struck me as being strange. In your blog, he seemed to convey that Shermer would considers the Holocaust, as pseudo history. Did you mean that some people, believe the Holocaust to be pseudohistory? I would hope that Mr. Shermer, as an intelligent, learned, and slow thinker would view the Holocaust as a horrific example of what can happen to a society when the people in it, don’t stand up against what they know to be wrong. The senseless killing, and vial extermination of over 20 million people throughout Europe, during the Holocaust was very well-documented (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2016). There is no Pseudo, or false history regarding the Holocaust, it was very real.
    In your review of Chapter 5, in the book, you write that Shermer does not believe in different states of consciousness, such as, exited, relaxed, drowsy, deep sleep, and coma. Did I miss interpret this also? Because the interpretation of EEG tracings has been empirically researched, and accepted by the scientific community for many years, to determine if a person is having silent seizures, and as an integral aspect of determining clinical brain death (New York State Department of Health and New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, 2011).
    Through empirical research, scientists have been able to explain much of what happens to our brains when we have so called, outer body experiences, however, they don’t have all of the answers, and your recap of Mrs. Schwartz’s claim to have heard, seen, and remembered everything that occurred in the operating room while she was being resuscitated, highlights the need for still further research.
    The SNL video was hysterical!

  2. Ooops!
    New York State Department of Health and New York State Task Force on Life and the Law. (2011). Guidelines for determining brain death. Retrieved from
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (2016). Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution. Retrieved from