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The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life Hardcover – February 7, 2011
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“A colorful romp through psychology, philosophy and popular culture.” (New Humanist)
“A balanced and considered approach to this often inflammatory topic.” (Nature)
“Bering ranges comfortably among evolutionary biology, psychology and philosophical concerns, and finds the good science in belief.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“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)
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
As one of the leading scholars in the field of religious cognition Bering weaves a persuasive thesis that builds on the strengths of his research and others. Herein you will not find someone wrestling with theological minutia as cognitive accounts of religion go right for the root of what really matters for a rigorous account of the supernatural--the structure of the conceptualization rather than the propositional content. As Bering amply demonstrates, the foundations of religious thought are based on cognition that is much more general and deep than any specialized religious expression may superficially hint at.
The first chapter opens with an exposition on theory of mind--that ever present and nearly ubiquitous feature of our brains that fills it with recognition and understanding of other minds (only those with Autism and Asperger's syndrome typically have an impaired theory of mind). As the level of social sophistication was ratcheted up by evolution in our species, we broke into new niches that had previously been denied other Hominidae by their biological equipment--namely laryngeal and cerebral. A theory of mind allows us to represent what other minds may be thinking or intending and language allows these things to be communicated.
How does theory of mind relate to God?--in a foundational manner Bering argues. What is God but theory of mind applied to the mindless domain of nature where it does not belong?Read more ›
But then came the New Atheist "revival," and with it, several interesting and enjoyable books. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The God Delusion. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Several others.
And then it just all started feeling like too much. Each book started looking like just one more aspect of a dreary polemic about how god almost certainly doesn't exist. This is true. There is no cogent evidence whatsoever for the existence of a god, and several excellent reasons that argue AGAINST the existence of a god. But that's kind of dull, once you realize it.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that the LIFE of an atheist (this atheist, anyway) is dull or dreary. Not at all. But the TOPIC starts to feel almost as played as religion is.
There were a couple of works that took an approach and filled niches in ways that sparkled and stood out: The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods, for example, and Letting Go of God. But most of the material being produced that was skeptical of religion or argued for atheism felt listless, pedantic, and unnecessary.
Enter "The Belief Instinct.Read more ›
The Belief Instinct is an enjoyable book whose response to our basic belief system can be attributed to an understanding of the "theory of mind". Mr. Bering weaves an interesting narrative on how psychological illusions caused by the "theory of mind" gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage. This 272-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. The History of an Illusion, 2. A Life without Purpose, 3. Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs, 4. Curiously Immortal, 5. When God Throws People Off Bridges, 6. God as Adaptive, and 7. And Then You Die.
1. An enjoyable, well-written, well-researched book that builds up an interesting theory to a satisfactory end.
2. Elegant prose, very conversational tone throughout.
3. Mr. Bering is a well-read author who doesn't hesitate to immerse quotes, anecdotes, studies smoothly into his narrative.
4. At times, though-provoking but never unintelligible.
5. "Teleo-functioning reasoning" explained.
6. Evolution of our cognitive systems.
7. Interesting look at autism.
8. The human penchant to see meaningful signs.
9. Many references to scientific studies sprinkled throughout book.
10. The idea of an afterlife guided by our intuitions.
11. The illusion of purpose.
12. A thorough and satisfactory explanation of the "theory of mind".
13. Human evolution lead by the coevolution of the theory of mind and language.
14. The impact of human gossip.
15. The cognitive illusion of "God".
16. Good use of links and an excellent comprehensive bibliography.
1. I really wanted to give this book 5 stars but I was a little disappointed in what was not included in the book versus what was in it.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Had me thinking for days - not for his captivating argument and well presented theories, but with despair for our species plight. Read morePublished 15 days ago by Ned
This book, without resort to conventional atheism, explains the nature of our religious and supernatural beliefs. It is highly recommendable. Read morePublished 24 days ago by MWin
I recommend reading the other one star reviews. An author has an obligation not to waste the reader's time with irrelevant material. This author fails at that. Read morePublished 2 months ago by doug k
Seemed largely passion and person opinion not a good scientific work.Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
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... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Michael Heath
This book provides excellent insight into why the human mind searches for causes for personal observations and experiences and assigns their existence to acts by supernatural... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Jack Dostal