Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Why People Believe Weird Things Book Report

Michael Shermer is well-known among the science community, specifically for being the founder of Skeptic magazine. Skeptic magazine takes a look at cases of pseudoscience, commonly revealing the false information or lack of proper thinking that comes with them. Much like the magazine, Shermer's book Why People Believe Weird Things also takes a look at common examples of pseudoscience. He uses the book to point out the logical reasoning and thinking flaws to debunk common examples such as alien abductions and near-death experiences. The book mostly focuses on flaws in the human brain and what is known as "fast thinking", not taking the time to really sit down and consider how realistic the story is. The video linked below is Shermer giving a Ted Talk about common misconceptions and how ridiculous they can be.
Many of my favorite sections from the novel come from the first half. Although a lot of the beginning of the novel was explaining thinking fallacies, there was one section in the introduction that really got me interested in reading the novel. In this opening chapter, he begins to debunk mediums and psychics as they are simply just good at reading people and picking up on reactions. He tells the story of how he went on Oprah to sit in and debunk a famous psychic who would be appearing on the show. This chapter partially stood out to me because he immediately relates it to something that he has done hands-on. Shermer is not just writing what is wrong with mediums, he tells the audience of a time where he got to witness and debunk one right there.

The next chapter that caught my attention was chapter 6, a chapter dedicated to alien abductions and why so many are considered malarky from the beginning. Sherman described that many alien abduction stories stem from sleep deprivation or are later remembered from some type of memory involvement. The idea of remembering an event after hypnosis makes the event less likely to have actually happened. There is no scientific evidence showing that hypnosis works, including that the human brain and memories do not function like that. This does not only apply to alien abductions but any type of memory trying to be retrieved via hypnosis.
How You Might Come to Believe You've Been Abducted by an Alien ...
There have been millions of accounts of alien abductions over the years, can any of them be deemed true?
Finally, the third chapter that I enjoyed the most is Chapter 10: Confronting Creationists. The chapter really pins the theory of evolution and the theory of creationism against each other. Shermer offers up 25 questions that Creationists have said in arguments or claims and answers them in a way an Evolutionists would. This chapter was partially interesting because of the setup of 25 different questions, rather than simply relaying information to the reader. Much like the introduction chapter I had mentioned, this chapter offered a different dynamic and break in the lecture-like reading style.

Overall, Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer was interesting to get through, though a bit tedious at times. The novel is very information-heavy and spends the first 1/4th of the novel explaining the many scientific flaws in thinking that the general public has. I'd recommend this novel, but not in the sense of a light read. Although it has some strong points, it is a novel that a reader definitely needs to be motivated to read, or else they will get lost in the text very easily. I would be willing to check out some of his other novels covering a similar topic. 
Michael Shermer

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