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Believing: The Neuroscience of Fantasies, Fears, and Convictions

Believing: The Neuroscience of Fantasies, Fears, and Convictions

by Michael McGuire

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A new book about brain chemistry, neural systems, and the formation of beliefs from the scientist who brought to light serotonin's many crucial roles in human behavior.
Beliefs: What are they? How have evolution and culture led to a brain that is seemingly committed to near endless belief creation? And once


A new book about brain chemistry, neural systems, and the formation of beliefs from the scientist who brought to light serotonin's many crucial roles in human behavior.
Beliefs: What are they? How have evolution and culture led to a brain that is seemingly committed to near endless belief creation? And once established, why are most beliefs so difficult to change? Believing offers answers to these questions from the perspective of a leading neuroscientist and expert in brain-behavior research. 

     Combining personal anecdotes and the latest research, Dr. McGuire takes the novel approach of focusing on the central and critical role of brain systems and the ways in which they interact with the environment to create and maintain beliefs. This approach yields some surprising and counterintuitive conclusions:

   • The brain is designed for belief creation and acceptance.
   • It is biased in favor of its own beliefs and is highly insensitive to disconfirming evidence. 
   • It prefers beliefs that are pleasurable and rewarding to those that are unfavorable.
   • Beliefs are "afterthoughts" of unperceived brain activities; they don't cause behavior. 
   • Our consciousness has minimal influence on the neural systems that create beliefs.

Based on these observations, McGuire concludes that for the foreseeable future people will continue to hold a multitude of beliefs, many of them intransigent.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When individuals consider their beliefs, they often do so only in spiritual or metaphysical terms. But few pause to consider the myriad biological, psychological, sociological, and cultural factors that can subconsciously influence such beliefs—not to mention that even objective experiences like seeing are inextricably linked to belief systems. In this wide-ranging discussion, McGuire (coauthor of God’s Brain), a professor emeritus of psychiatry at UCLA, explores the surprising science behind beliefs regarding everything from religion to science to perception. The stubborn brain, McGuire explains, has a tendency to ignore evidence it deems threatening to long-held beliefs and to select data that will bulwark an existing belief. Through analyses of the current neuroscience and numerous anecdotes from the author’s time in the field with Australian Aboriginals, Eastern Caribbean islanders, and more, McGuire unpacks his topic in a consistently accessible and intriguing manner (despite an overlong introductory explanation of his decision to examine beliefs), and offers up some interesting conclusions. Agent: Beverley Slopen, Beverley Slopen Agency (Canada). (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“A superb scientist, McGuire has mastered understanding how body and brain interact. He shines a clarifying light on the puzzling and even infuriating issue of why countless people believe the strange, often-dangerous things they do. From marketing soft drinks to managing genocidal wars, the brain and its beliefs remain central. Believing will clarify how and why. It may even protect you.”
Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology (emeritus), Rutgers University

“Through analyses of the current neuroscience and numerous anecdotes...McGuire unpacks his topic in a consistently accessible and intriguing manner, and offers up some interesting conclusions.”
Publishers Weekly 

“From Christianity’s Jesus to Islam’s jihad, and from the conservative American Tea Party to the liberal MoveOn.org, what we believe with strong conviction biases our behavior in powerful and predictable ways. Written in an easy-to-understand, conversational style, Believing explains how this occurs. In On Human Nature, E. O. Wilson made the provocative statement, ‘Men, it appears, would rather believe than know.’ Now, almost forty years later, utilizing all the modern advances in neuroscience, Michael McGuire can explain why and, most importantly, how. An important book for any believer who now wants to know.”
Jay R. Feierman, editor and contributor, The Biology of Religious Behavior: The Evolutionary Origins of Faith and Religion

“Beliefs define who we are, organize our lives, influence our actions and affiliations, and pervade all human experience. What are these beliefs? How did they evolve, and how do they arise? What do they do, and how do they work? McGuire asks these fundamental questions and seeks answers in new findings from neuroscience and human evolution. He looks closely at ‘divides’ between beliefs’ content and evidence as well as at intransigent beliefs that persist despite disconfirming evidence and destructive effects. He asks what to do about the latter. This book is a must-read for those who want to better understand and deal with the core dilemmas of human living.”
John O. Beahrs, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry, Oregon Health and Science University

Library Journal
Our thoughts and actions are overwhelmingly influenced by our beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs are supported by external evidence, writes McGuire (emeritus, psychiatry & behavioral sciences, Univ. of California, Los Angeles). He promises to reveal how the brain gives rise to principles and narrows the perception of any divide between beliefs and evidence. His work, however, contains little neuroscientific information. Instead, it is a largely personal contemplation of how humans evolved to generate and hold on to myriad beliefs about themselves and the world. Not only does the book fail to tackle the neurobiology underlying belief formation and persistence, its meandering and loose structure makes it difficult for the reader to discern its intended main points. Moreover, with the inclusion of seemingly unrelated personal anecdotes from the author, the book at times comes across as a narrative of the text's creation rather than an insightful exploration into how beliefs become ingrained in the brain. VERDICT The title promises more than the text delivers, and readers should consider alternative choices, such as Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain or the more challenging Memory, Brain, and Belief, edited by Daniel L. Schacter and Elaine Scarry.—Katherine G. Akers, Univ. of Michigan Libs., Ann Arbor

Product Details

Prometheus Books
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Product dimensions:
6.18(w) x 8.84(h) x 0.74(d)

Meet the Author

Michael McGuire, MD (Cottonwood, CA), is professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California at Los Angeles. He is the coauthor of God's Brain (with Lionel Tiger), Darwinian Psychiatry(with A. Troisi), and ten other books. His distinguished academic career includes positions at Harvard Medical School, University of California Medical School, director of UCLA's non-human primate research facility for twenty years, and director of the Gruter Institute of Law and Behavior.

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