Friday, July 26, 2019

Book Report: Why People Believe Weird Things

Michael Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things, analyzes pseudoscience, superstitions, and other confusing subjects of our time. In this book, Shermer applies a principle called Darwin’s Dictum, which states: All observations must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service (Shermer, 1998)By applying this principle, he judiciously uses both theory and data to understand both the how and why of morality. Also, he acknowledges that any claim involving science is provisional. With the balance of doubt and certainty, he can make meaningful, intellectual conversations involving pseudoscience, superstitions, and other confusing subjects.
In chapter 2, The Most Precious Thing We Have, Shermer talks about scientific terms. He describes the laws of physics and logic, the principle of algebraic substitution, and the number system as “ghosts.” In his own words “we just believe in them so thoroughly they seem real.” For example, it seems natural to presume that the law of gravity existed before Isaac Newton. Yet, the sitting, non-energetic, no mass concept was nonexistent. Thus, Shermer believes that the law of gravity did not exist before Isaac Newton (Shermer, 1998). This is an example of using heuristics to describe “ghosts.” 
Shermer uses heuristics to express his Darwin’s Dictum principle in chapter 2. He primes (heuristic #1) us to think about an associated idea that goes against the viewpoint of science. In addition, he uses confirmation bias (heuristic #4) to promote his way of viewing the law of gravity. Furthermore, he uses confidence over doubt (heuristic #10) to suppress ambiguity and doubt by constructing stories from scraps of data. From just these few examples, he covers points from Ways of Thinking, overview lecture 1, and successfully uses Charles Darwin’s principle.
In everyday life, it is important to question science. As mentioned above, science is provisional. Theories and laws are constantly being researched and tested. Understanding and analyzing pseudoscience, superstitions, and other confusing subjects of our time allows humans to solve real-world problems or address current issues. If science still has “ghosts” lurking around, maybe Darwin’s Dictum is the key to unraveling unanswered questions. 
Shermer, M. (1998). Why People Believe Weird Things. New York, New York: Henery Holt and Company.

1 comment:

  1. This was my second choice if i could not find the book I wanted at the library, happy to see that it covers a consept as intreting as the title. Interested in that podcast too, I hope it goes well.