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50 Beliefs, Some of Which Are, Unfortunately, Embraced by a Large Percentage of the Population

February 08, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 186

Guy Harrison's book "50 Popular Beliefs People Think are True "(Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 2012) contains 50 chapters, one for each belief category containing an assortment of ideas that many believe to be true. None is true, or at least there is little or no credible evidence for these forms of belief reviewed and critiqued by the author:

* Nine forms of magical thinking.

* Six varieties of groundless theories about elements of the world "out there" including astrology, alien visitors and faked moon landings.

* Seven notions that fly in the face of science and reason (e.g., that the Holocaust never happened).

* Five forms of medical fantasy, such as homeopathy and faith healing.

* Twelve types of religious palaver under the banner "lure of the gods."

* Four beliefs about "unusual beings," specifically Bigfoot, angels, ghosts and witches.

* Four stories about "weird places," including Atlantis, heaven and the Bermuda Triangle.

* Three strains of faulty cognition associated with a category Harrison calls "dreaming of the end," such as "the Mayans warned us" or "the end is near."

One need not be a Penn Jillette, James Randi, Harry Houdini, Michael Shermer, Paul Kurtz, Joe Nickell or other famed or practiced debunker of irrational wackiness never to have believed for a moment any of the 50 beliefs assessed. When I initiated my own reading of "50 Popular Beliefs," I certainly did not give credence to any of them, with the possible exception of belief # 39-that "a TV preacher needs my money." I mean, come on, who could watch Richard Roberts on what seems like 24-hour a day non-stop fund-raising with prayer requests and calls for "seed plantings" (i.e., money) and not be overwhelmed with the urge to send him as much money as one has? When I alight on the infomerical channel carrying his round-the-clock faith appeals, I'm so motivated to send money I start filling out second mortgage applications. But, then the Lord tells me to hold off.

Despite my already well -founded skepticism, I found every chapter interesting for at least 50 reasons. I don't have space or inclination to list all 50 of the reasons I endorse this book. However, here are a few of the features I especially enjoyed. Any one of these satisfactions would make the book a winner for wellness seekers in my view:

* The foreword- Dr. Phil Plaint explains that we are not born with a skeptic gene, unfortunately. Children are naturally eager to learn. They can be guided to test ideas rather than develop allegiances or loyalties to these ideas. This kind of learning can be an early pre-science lesson. Revelations and assumptions build on one another, but reality is indifferent to what you believe, what you do, for whom you vote and so on. The build-up of faulty ideas over time is like building a pyramid built upside down-a crash at some point with reality is likely. Understanding trumps belief.

* The introduction- Skepticism is described as a compass of sorts, invaluable for guiding the way through an often crazy world. The nature of healthy, functional skepticism is described as clear thinking for effective decision-making. In addition, the often perilous consequences of irrational beliefs are noted. The introduction serves to whet the mental appetite for chapters that follow. The author notes that skepticism enables us "to abandon astrology for astronomy, to see through the fog and find the stars, to stand up and exist fully as thinking human beings."

* The chapters- Each chapter assesses a related set of irrational beliefs for which there are no critical, independent supports (evidence). In addition, the author explains the applicable principles for assessing claims. He also provides a critique of related ideas that are equally bogus, a summary of what science offers as a reality-based alternative and resources, particular books, for "going deeper."

* A farewell summing up and extensive notes on every chapter and an impressive biography and index.

This would be a great book to introduce in wellness programs. It would be a creative tool with which to introduce critical thinking lessons. The topics, after all, are familiar to everyone. The biggest obstacle is that many program participants might not welcome some of the chapter topics, such as those dealing with the "lure of the gods." But, a skilled teacher, coach or facilitator would get plenty of help from the material. The need for such information is the best reason to do it, despite the possibility of shaking up things a bit where nonsense abounds.

For the squeamish, such chapters could always be omitted from lesson plans, save for advanced wellness classes wherein participants have the maturity to manage controversy!

To his credit, Guy Harrison explores commonly held claims of an extraordinary nature in entertaining ways that might take some of the sting out of the encounters with reality that he provides. There is more here than a simple debunking of lunacy, deception and unfounded beliefs. The scientific explanations are understandable and convincing, and the discussions of science are far more interesting than mysticism and silliness of primitive claims. Besides, the wonder of the universe, scientific discoveries and legitimate mysteries are more inspiring than the superstitions they replace.

I appreciated the frequent humor that Harrison interjects, and his humility in expressing the point that a skeptical, science-reliant position must always remain open. It is possible if unlikely that an evidence-based perspective today might be overturned tomorrow. Unlike religion, science has no inclination to defend dogmas or deem any to be beyond scrutiny.

Both for the pure enjoyment of the read and for the educational merit of the contents, this magnum opus ranks as a five star wellness hit.

Be weller than well, give 'em hell and try always to look on the bright side of life.

Publisher of the ARDELL WELLNESS REPORT (AWR) - a weekly electronic newsletter devoted to commentaries on current issues that affect personal and social well being from a quality of life perspective. The emphasis is on REAL wellness, which is also the topic of Don's latest book. Read about it here - - The "REAL" acronym reflects key issues embraced and advanced in Don's philosophy, namely, Reason, Exuberance, Athleticism and Liberty. Sample copy of Don's latest edition by request. If you like it, you can sign up - the price is right - free. Contact Don at

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