Based on the popular podcast, Steven Novella’s book aims to explain the principles of sceptical ideas around myths, conspiracy theories, flying saucers, Intelligent Design and ghosts, as well as tons of other so-called truths. Exploring thinking skills, memory and perception, it tries to give readers a grounding in presenting arguments and ideas that challenge what we think we know.
On the face of it, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking book. The sections on memory are interesting and illuminating and some of the ideas put forward are truly mind-boggling. The chapter about hypnagogia is excellent, highlighting how the brain reacts during REM sleep. On the other hand, some chapters are a little hard going simply because they’re peppered with big words and intricate concepts. Explaining things in ‘layman’s terms’ would certainly help, as several sections went right over my head. Admittedly, I’m no academic, but delving into Occam’s Razor, for instance, sent me to sleep and even though I’ve read several other explanations, I still don’t get it. Part of the problem seems to be in giving us the ‘simple’ version, Novella reveals that this isn’t really what it means. Yeah, helpful.
While I’d happily recommend this book as essential reading for anyone who thinks they know what’s going on in the world, there’s a fair chunk of it that left me feeling like I’d been wading through treacle.