Here, Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason Magazine offers a “devoted fan” review of Shermer’s The Believing Brain: “A Trick of the Mind: Looking for patterns in life and then infusing them with meaning, from alien intervention to federal conspiracy” (August 2, 2011).
A traditional Canadian who has actually watched the government conspire against citizens (including friends) is astonished by the assumption in the title that a federal conspiracy doesn’t really happen. It all depends on who the government is, many would say. Worldwide.
That point is quite lost on Shermer and his acolytes. One example that acolyte Bailey offers is telling:
Superstitions arise as the result of the spurious identification of patterns. Even pigeons are superstitious. In an experiment where food is delivered randomly, pigeons will note what they were doing when the pellet arrived, such as twirling to the left and then pecking a button, and perform the maneuver over and over until the next pellet arrives. A pigeon rain dance. The behavior is not much different than in the case of a baseball player who forgets to shave one morning, hits a home run a few hours later and then makes it a policy never to shave on game days.
In reality, the behaviour is much different. The pigeon, lacking reason, defaults to behaviour associated with past success. Much animal behaviour can be explained that way. The ball player chooses to ignore reason when he adopts an irrational theory to explain his track record.
By the way, why does anyone pay attention to Michael Shermer? Isn’t the direction clear enough?