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The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Jesse Bering(Author)

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Top 25 Books of 2011 by the American Library Association, Choice Reviews
Named one of the 11 Best Psychology Books of 2011 by The Atlantic

"A balanced and considered approach to this often inflammatory topic." ―Nature

Lively and brilliantly argued, The Belief Instinct explains the psychology behind belief. Drawing on surprising new studies as well as on literature, philosophy, and even pop culture, The Belief Instinct will reward readers with an enlightened understanding of belief―as well as the tools to break free of it.

“A colorful romp through psychology, philosophy and popular culture.” - New Humanist“Witty . . . . [Bering] employs examples and analogies that make his arguments seem like common sense rather than the hard-earned scientific insights they really are.” - New Scientist“Bering ranges comfortably among evolutionary biology, psychology, and philosophical concerns, and finds the good science in belief.” - Kirkus Reviews“[Bering] approaches these dicey subjects with a dazzlingly insightful reading of the empirical literature on human cognition and development, a sly sense of humor, and an obvious compassion for those who do not share his beliefs. He also has a lot of fun. Richard Dawkins and others have surveyed some of this terrain before, but few have done it as convincingly and enjoyably.” - American Library Association, Choice Reviews (Top 25 books of 2011)“Bering's contribution to answering the question [of God] is worthy of consideration by any thinking person.” - The Scientist (Magazine of the Life Sciences)“Voted one of the 11 Best Psychology Books of 2011. Blending empirical evidence from seminal research with literary allusions and cultural critique, Bering examines the central tenets of spirituality, from life’s purpose to the notion of an afterlife, in a sociotheological context underlined by the rigor of a serious scientist.” - The Atlantic“Jesse Bering is a brilliant young psychologist, a gifted storyteller, a careful reader of Jean-Paul Sartre, and a very funny man. And his first book, The Belief Instinct, is a triumph―a moving, provocative, and entertaining exploration of the human search for meaning.” - Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University, author of How Pleasure Works“An interesting and pleasurable book to read, mainly because it throws up demanding challenges. It may never achieve the notoriety of The God Delusion but its fundamental approach took me from Professor Dawkins's cliché-ridden arguments into more original territory.” - The Catholic Herald Jesse Bering, Ph.D., is a frequent contributor to Scientific American, Slate, and Das Magazin. His work has also appeared in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The New Republic, and has been featured on NPR, the BBC, Playboy Radio, and more. Bering is the former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University, Belfast, and began his career as a professor at the University of Arkansas. He lives near Ithaca, New York.

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Book details

  • PDF | 272 pages
  • Jesse Bering(Author)
  • W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 20, 2012)
  • English
  • 2
  • Religion & Spirituality

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Review Text

  • By Morgan on May 30, 2013

    This book is a fascinating exploration of what drives human beings to believe in all kinds of ludicrous ideas, like destiny, purpose, meaning, and god. Most shocking of all is the dawning understanding that evolution has actually wired our brains to indulge in such delusional thinking. The book could be described as an in-depth analysis of Theory of Mind: the uniquely human capacity to understand that other people and creatures have mental states, or subjective experiences. This ability causes us to see purpose, intelligence, and intentionality in just about everything. What started as a social skill to help us survive in small tribal organizations has become a fundamental building block of how we perceive reality itself. Mr. Bering does an excellent job of fleshing out his arguments and covers the topic quite extensively. A slight warning is necessary, however: do not read this book until you are completely ready to abandon every last scap of magical thinking that you have heretofore indulged in. It's conclusions can be depressing, but this must be tempered with the realization that no one perspective on reality encompasses the whole picture. If nothing else, it's the best book on Theory of Mind that I've yet found.

  • By MWin on May 7, 2016

    This book, without resort to conventional atheism, explains the nature of our religious and supernatural beliefs. It is highly recommendable. Jesse Bering explains that our superstitious intuitions depend on humanity's evolved capacity to reason about the unobservable mental states of other beings. This is unique to mankind and is called "theory of mind". However, we do not only interpret the mind-states of persons, but also of animals, artifacts, and natural events.Such ideas are not simply errant ways of thought invented by religious charismatics. In fact, it is part of our nature to think in a religious way. According to Bering, "culture develops and decorates the innate psychological building blocks of religious belief" (Kindle Loc.1835). These are adaptive illusions, because being observed by a supernatural audience promoted inhibitory decisions against ancestral biological drives, which in turn bolstered reproductive success. After all, being "good" would have been highly adaptive, especially since our verbal capacity of gossip often has the consequence of ostracism. Supernatural reasoning has served to restrain our selfish and impulsive behaviour, since it undermines the anonymity of the situation (cf. Kindle Loc.2844f). Says Bering:"The cognitive illusion of an ever-present and keenly observant God worked for our genes, and that's reason enough for nature to have kept the illusion vividly alive in human brains." (Kindle Loc.2912f)So this is an entirely different take than the hard-hat kind of atheism as represented by Richard Dawkins, for instance. According to Bering, God is an adaptive illusion, which means that the notion has been functional in human history. This opens up the question whether supernatural beliefs should be regarded *psychologically* real, since they have a pronounced effect on psychic and social life. After all, that which works is usually regarded real. Comparatively, our self-conscious ego is an illusion created by the brain. Although we know this, few people question the reality of their own ego. (This review has largely been retrieved from my article on synchronicity.)Mats Winther

  • By Michael Heath on July 26, 2015

    Jesse Bering achieves two tasks here. First he provides a nice overview of the status of theory of mind hypotheses in the scientific community, both for humans and other animals.Secondly and most interestingly, the book's last half drills down into research on how humans think about the supernatural - in particular the different conclusions between religious believers and non-believers. Related and also covered is research on the different thinking observed by the children of the religious vs. the children of non-religious parents.The research Bering provides on [religious] belief reveals some interesting surprises amongst even atheists. In some areas up to 1/3 of some adult atheists aren't immune from our belief instinct.The first half isn't all that illuminating if you're already well-read on the basics of theory of mind. The second half is easily worth the price of admission when it comes to parsing out the differences in thinking between believers and secularists. That and explaining why some humans refer to a god to explain death and tragic results; that's the chapter I found most interesting.


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