Monday, April 27, 2020

Tyler Bolich's Book Report on Why People Believe Weird Things

     Micheal Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things is an insightful but difficult read. I don't say that lightly, after all, I'm majoring in Literature. When Shermer's writing falters, it falters hard. He gets bogged down in overly complex explanations of the scientific method, and long arduous explanations of scientific thinking. I found these parts very difficult to get through. However, the highs of Why People Believe Weird Things are just as high as the lows are low. When Shermer is debunking conceptions and telling stories, his writing shines. Particularly, the chapters that really leapt out to me as excellent were The Unlikeliest Cult, Abducted!, and Confronting Creationists. 
     Chapter 8, The Unlikeliest Cult, covers the creation, philosophy, hypocrisy, and downfall of Objectivism, created by philosopher Ayn Rand. I would be remiss to not mention that Objectivism had already occupied my mind as an interest, which is partly why I found this chapter so enjoyable. I had been trying to learn about Objectivism for months, but the concepts were to nebulous for me to grasp. Imagine my surprise, when I found a chapter in this text I had to read about it. Shermer brilliant outlines Objectivism's 4 key philosophy, and gives a brilliant explanation of its history. He introduces the reader to key figures like Rand herself, as well as her former prodigy Nathaniel Brandon. He points out the disdjointment between their beliefs and practices, and draws the conclusion that a philosophy based on logic and fact ironically became a cult. The chapter is interesting, compelling, and it taught me about Objectivism.

     Abducted! is the chapter that the average reader will probably get the best experience out of. In it, Shermer explains what leads people to believe in Alien Abduction. He tells a humorous story where he experienced an "alien abduction" of his own, where he took some drugs in a biking marathon. In a hallucination, he mistook his pit crew as aliens trying to abduct him. along with several other interesting stories of this caliber, he also explains the reasons why these stories and beliefs are invalid.

     The final chapter I will be discussing, Confronting Creationists, is another one that I admit I may be biased towards. Raised Catholic and brought up in a Catholic school system, I was exposed to several of the less then logical beliefs that creationists hold. Getting to read Micheal Shermer tears these beliefs to shreds was particularly entertaining for me. Shermer is careful to not be offensive in his debate. He argues that Creationism is not a science, but he leaves them to their beliefs in every regard. The way Shermer researches before his debate and the way he circumvents his opponents arguments is entertaining and educational. 

     It is difficult for me to make a final assessment and recommendation for Why People Believe Weird Things. On the one hand, I got immense enjoyment out of the book. I found it interesting, and I actually learned quite a bit from it. On the other hand, a large portion of my enjoyment was based on specific interests and past expediences that not everyone will have. Furthermore, I found certain segments of the book intensely difficult to get through, and I feel that I am at an above average reading level. For the average book goer, these segments could be down right back breaking. I would say, if you are looking for a challenging read that could be interesting and education, this could be for you. If you want something easy and fun, then Why People Believe Weird Things by Micheal Shermer probably isn't for you.

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