50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True

50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True
© 2011 Guy Harrison
458 pages

“Just because it’s vivid, detailed, and expressed with confidence and emotion…doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Chances are you know someone who harbors what you know to be irrational beliefs, and chances are they hold the same opinion about you. It isn’t easy to stay sober with a monkey brain trying to impose order on the chaos of life,  sometimes mesmerizing itself with its own fiction.  50 Popular Beliefs consists of an introduction, fifty brief essays debunking various icons of culture from ghosts to horoscopes, and a conclusion.  Those who count themselves skeptics already will find no surprises, and should not anticipate anything that will add greatly to their own knowledge, like The Demon Haunted World or Why People Believe Weird Things. This is straightforward debunking, along with some information on how we are so easy to fool — especially when we’re fooling ourselves. The ideal audience is people who regard themselves as well-informed and appropriately skeptical, but who are exposed to some ideas so often that they’re wanting confirmation that yes, horoscopes really are BS.

While many of the essays address areas of constant skeptic scorn — astrology, homeopathy, ancient aliens, Area 51,  Holocaust denial —  Guy Harrison also covers matters that aren’t low-hanging fruit, like the value of television and the dimensions of race. He explores race as a concept, then some stereotypes about it in regards to sports and intelligence. The pieces have a strong personal flavor, as Harrison uses his own experiences to try to understand those of others, and he attempts to experiment directly when he can. For instance, in the chapter on psychics he successfully cold-reads someone, and in the chapter on faith healing he attends a Benny Hinn performance. The pieces are sometimes too short to do their topic service, which I think will expose them to “what about” rebuttals as believers present similar convictions from a slightly different angle  Not every article has the same length, however;  Harrison is partcularly passionate about the veracity of the Moon landings and that essays goes on for a bit rebutting the various arguments for their being a fraud.

The most valuable part of 50 Beliefs, personally, are its resources for extended reading. I saw more than a few titles in here which I’d either long forgotten about or had never heard of at all.  Harrison has written more in this genre, but I’m more interested in Brian Dunning’s new book dissecting conspiracies or The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe’s  October release of a book using their name.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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14 Responses to 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    an intro to sanity; much needed in today's world… altho… is it true that trees can talk?

  2. Stephen says:

    Mine say “Hoo, hoo”, only at night. And only when there's an owl in them.

  3. Elle says:

    This sounds like a book I can give to a couple people I've met, but they probably won't believe it still. It is crazy how some people are so stubborn to a set of beliefs and refuse to even acknowledge facts that counter those beliefs. Funny coincidence is that I just took a course on Sports Anthology and they cover stereotypes of race and intelligence in sports.

  4. Stephen says:

    We tend to come to beliefs and then support them with facts instead of the other way around, so that's not surprising. Ultimately people have to be more interested in knowing the truth and less attached to their ideas, and…well, that doesn't happen TOO often. Even people who know better are affected!

  5. Elle says:

    I guess a lot of people are just uneducated in certain matters or they just refuse to be wrong at times. Oh well :/

  6. R. T. Davis says:

    Didn’t Hamlet remind Horatio that many things exist beyond our knowledge and imagination — big paraphrase there — and don’t we all need to keep open minds about certain truths? Well …. your fine posting will send me to the library in hopes of finding the books and shattering some of my illusions. What do you mean horoscopes and astrology are b.s.? Really? https://rtsinformalinquiries.blogspot.com/

  7. Stephen says:

    Things do exist beyond our imagination and knowledge, but we have to have standards for what we assert as fact — especially if we are using those facts to build expectations on. Regarding astrology — total baloney, on every level. I've seen an experiment conducted on people on the street, who gave their astrological “sign” and then were “read” their horoscope. The participants were fairly mixed among the 'signs', but all were unwittingly given the same horoscope — and all said it was spookily dead on. Not withstanding the idea that balls of fissoning hydrogen light years away could influence someone's relationship prospects on Earth — why would they? How? — the fundamental idea of the horoscopes is wrong to begin with. Astrology is supposedly based on using what constellation the sun was in during the month of your birth, but the constellations themselves aren't tidily spaced out, one for each month. The constellations themselves are also just abstracted patterns that we create in the skies, not real things in themselves. Basically, horoscopes became popular in the sixties when disaffected kids were embracing everything “eastern”.

  8. Stephen says:

    Eh, we all 'sin'.. 😉

  9. CyberKitten says:

    When people hold beliefs and internalise them they become part of who they are. Changing beliefs is far more than changing clothes – its like ripping off some skin and growing a new bit. Painful!

  10. R. T. Davis says:

    Hmmm. My tongue was in my cheek. Now I offer something more sensible, especially regarding knowledge v. belief. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/It’s hard to know. It’s easy to believe. Hence, problems in life.

  11. Stephen says:

    @Cyberkitten Very true, especially when they place a lot of meaning in belonging to something like a religious or political organization.

  12. Stephen says:

    @R.T. This is true…

  13. Brian Joseph says:

    I tend to like these books. The Demon Haunted World is one of my favorites. I tend to be a big skeptic. Dissecting Conspiracies sounds good and very timely. Belief in conspiracies seems to be driving some very bad things these days.

  14. Stephen says:

    Same here! DHW is THE essential book on critical thinking.

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