Lewis Wolpert

Six impossible things before breakfast

Beliefs are strange things - people tend to stick to them despite contrary evidence. In Six impossible things before breakfast Lewis Wolpert looks at how we come by our beliefs, and puts forward a theory that we naturally try to find a causal explanation for things, even when there is insufficient information to do so. He shows how tool use goes hand in hand with a causal view of the world. If you're interested in the nature of belief then you'll find plenty of useful information in this book. However, I did have severe misgivings about some of Wolpert's arguments.

Firstly Wolpert claims that he tries not to belittle other people's beliefs. I feel that he fails in this attempt. Clearly he is very knowledgeable, but rather than critically examining his own beliefs he gives the impression that he knows better than everyone else. Wolpert's breadth of knowledge brings me on to my second complaint - he doesn't always stick to the point in an argument, and sometimes a sentence seems to change tack in the middle. Another thing that irritated me was his comments on the difficulty people have in logical thinking, such as assessing the validity of syllogisms. I can't help feeling 'so what' - some things are difficult to work out and we shouldn't expect them to come naturally. They don't to me and they don't to Wolpert either it seems (as far as I can tell he gets the third example wrong)

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 256 pages  
ISBN: 0393064492
Salesrank: 732823
Weight:0.7 lbs
Published: 2007 W. W. Norton & Company
Amazon price $10.95
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 256 pages  
ISBN: 0571209203
Salesrank: 1412124
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 2006 Faber and Faber
Marketplace:New from £7.02:Used from £0.01
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 288 pages  
ISBN: 0571209203
Salesrank: 3430680
Weight:0.66 lbs
Published: 2006 Faber & Faber
Amazon price CDN$ 18.87
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 18.85:Used from CDN$ 0.02
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Product Description

A unique, scientific look into why we are all believers.

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, the White Queen tells Alice that to believe in a wildly improbable fact she simply needs to "draw a long breath and shut [her] eyes." Alice finds this advice ridiculous. But don't almost all of us, at some time or another, engage in magical thinking? Seventy percent of Americans believe in angels; 13 percent of British scientists "touch wood"; 40 percent of Americans believe that astrology is scientific. And that is only the beginning.

In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Lewis Wolpert tackles one of the most important causes on the horizon of public debate: the nature of belief. Looking at belief's psychological basis and its possible evolutionary origins in physical cause and effect, Wolpert expertly investigates what science can tell us about those concepts we are so sure of, covering everything from everyday beliefs that give coherence to our experiences, to religious beliefs, to paranormal beliefs for which there is no evidence.