Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Book Report- “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer

I read “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer. The book was just that: Shermer’s explanations of why people believe pseudoscience concepts. For a good portion of the book, he listed and explained the fallacies that morph people’s thinking allowing them to believe pseudoscientific concepts. Shermer is a self-proclaimed skeptic but has slightly controversial skeptic views; he somewhat believes in varied states of consciousness. He believes that different states of consciousness allow people to be more susceptible to altered thinking. He gives the example of how he was a marathon cyclist, claiming that in an extreme state of sleeplessness, he thought his crew were aliens that abducted him. He knows, of course, that that is not true, yet he said it felt real. He believes that in certain conditions people are more likely to believe hallucinations. Shermer also focused a lot on Holocaust deniers, explaining talk shows he’s been on and debating such nonbelievers. That was kind of an uncomfortable part of the book for me. Having always been interested in that type of history, going to the Holocaust museum and survivor seminars, listening to reasons why people would deny those horrid things done to those people is, in my opinion, absurd and insensitive.

I have a few parts of the book that I really enjoyed. Because I read the book via audiobook, read by Shermer himself, there was a bit of sass that he added, which was kind of funny at parts. I also liked when he spoke on his experiences trying “health crazes” as a cyclist. It seems like he went extremely far for his research of these performance-improving suggestions. He took excessive vitamins, drank smoothie concoctions, had massages, etc., all testing fads and “tricks” of the health community.

Shermer focused a bit on out of body experiences and near-death experiences, and how trauma is an important factor in understanding why people have these “experiences”. When I was younger, I believe in the 1st grade, a traumatic event struck on of the people I love the most, my father. He was a road worker and was drawing lines on the ground to mark where to pave for a person driving a machine. The person driving the machine didn’t see my father, and accidentally ran him over, causing the loss of my dad’s leg. I never asked him what went on in his head at that moment, so for the sake of this paper I decided to interview him. His experience isn’t exactly like descriptions of a NDEs discussed by Shermer and in class. He didn’t see anyone deceased calling to him or a white light, but he did hallucinate in his time of extreme trauma. He told me that he remembers staring at one of his coworkers trying to ask him for a gun, so he could kill himself. Then my dad said that he seen my mother and I looking down at him asking him not to give up. We have a family member, Lisa, that has a prosthetic leg. So, my father said to himself, “If Lisa can do it, so can I”, referencing his unfortunate new lifestyle. He is aware that all of this happened in his head, he knows my mother and I weren’t actually there, but he said it feels as real to him as talking to me now.

Shermer said that he was on numerous television programs as a skeptic, so I wanted to include the one that sounded the most interesting to me. He was on the “Bill Nye The Science Guy” show, which who doesn’t love that show? He was there debunking fire walking. I don’t know if I found the exact clip, but this is a video of Shermer explaining the “phenomenon” and participating in it. He proves that the coals are not hot enough to burn your feet whilst moving quickly on them.

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