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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > Nov/Dec 2018 > How We Believe

How We Believe

Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling. By James E. Alcock. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. 2018. ISBN: 9781633884038. 638 pp. Hardcover, $28.

In James E. Alcock’s classic 1995 Skeptical Inquirer article “The Belief Engine,” he wrote, “Our brains and nervous systems constitute belief-generating machine, a system that evolved to assure not truth, logic, and reason, but survival.”

Now he has expanded that thesis into a book, Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling. It’s much more than a book about belief. In the foreword, Ray Hyman says it would be an ideal textbook for a course that provides an integrated overview of all the areas of psychology. He says every psychologist and psychology student should read it. It is an outstanding achievement of scholarship; its 638 pages include over seventy pages of references. It covers everything from the latest findings in neuroscience to a catalog of many of the questionable beliefs people hold and why they hold them.

Alcock is the ideal person to write such a book. He has a BSc in physics and a PhD in psychology and has been teaching psychology at York University since 1973. He is one of the founders of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), a CSI fellow, and a member of its Executive Council. He has also won numerous awards for skepticism and psychology. He has written extensively on social psychology and the psychology of belief. He is a registered clinical psychologist with his own private practice and is also an amateur magician. He has stature in both senses of the word (if I remember correctly, he’s about six-foot-five).

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