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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biology of Belief
Throughout this book, Mr. Giovannoli has tried to stay close to the science while giving the reader an intuitive understatnding, often through analogy and metaphor of how scientists and philosophers have reached the current perception of beliefs. Even though he avoids burdensome technical language and equations, because of the radically new concepts invloved, the reader...
Published on April 10, 2002 by Gary Thompson

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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but flawed
The author is a gifted amateur who raises a wide range of ideas, but has difficulty in tying them all together in a coherent thesis. The central concept is a variation of Richard Dawkin's idea of the meme, and how our core beliefs are passed from generation to generation without much critical thought.
There is not very much biology in this book, so I found the title...
Published on January 29, 2004


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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biology of Belief, April 10, 2002
By 
Gary Thompson (Atlanta, GA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions (Paperback)
Throughout this book, Mr. Giovannoli has tried to stay close to the science while giving the reader an intuitive understatnding, often through analogy and metaphor of how scientists and philosophers have reached the current perception of beliefs. Even though he avoids burdensome technical language and equations, because of the radically new concepts invloved, the reader may need to pause now and then, to mull over a section here or ponder an explanation there, in order to follow the progression of ideas fully.
Despite an acceptable "Western" perspective, "The Biology of Belief" does more than just augment the fragments of understanding we have about our belief system..It arranges biological and historical benchmarks into a sometimes thrilling intellectual jaunt that belies Mr. Giovannoli's belief that the whole is much greater than the sum of it's parts. A common evolutionary thread pierces the book and illustrates our dependence on our reptilian ancestors brain functions, and ties it to the world's current dealings with zealots and fundalmentalism. A quantum leap, presented with conviction and compassion.
Never in my years of associated reading, have I been so anxious to read a book for the third time.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but flawed, January 29, 2004
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This review is from: The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions (Paperback)
The author is a gifted amateur who raises a wide range of ideas, but has difficulty in tying them all together in a coherent thesis. The central concept is a variation of Richard Dawkin's idea of the meme, and how our core beliefs are passed from generation to generation without much critical thought.
There is not very much biology in this book, so I found the title rather misleading. Giovannoli does not lay a rigorous scientific foundation for his hypothesis, and he leaves the reader with many questions concerning the basis for his assertions.
That said, the book is often very entertaining with many tidbits of information from a wide range of disciplines. Anyone looking for a serious treatment of cognitive science and what it says about human capacity for belief is likely to be disappointed, as I was. If you are looking for a very personal discussion of mythology vs. science, you are likely to find this book most enjoyable.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enlightening view of myself., May 5, 2003
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This review is from: The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions (Paperback)
There are very few books that can truly alter the way one views the world. The Biology of Belief is one of those very few. The author's comment, that the original motivation of the book was to see "why rational minds are capable of believing in myth" and "its capacity to alter our view of reality", took me on my own "journey". An understanding of the extent of brainwashing that exists in our culture was very enlightening. In fact, I can only describe my experience in the following manner: in borrowing the phase "I once was blind but now I see.." I think the book should be require reading at EVERY liberal arts university. The tough part would be supplying the professors to teach it!
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressed reader, February 13, 2004
By 
helene a mcardle (Butler, New Jersey, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions (Paperback)
This book was recommended by a friend, but after reading a review that described the author as a "gifted amateur" I must admit I had reservations. However, on reading the book I found that it explained the process of belief formation through an extraordinary synthesis of diverse knowledge disciplines. The author, apparently a generalist with encyclopedic comprehension, described how the human brain evolved and the significance of that evolution on the biological and social influences affecting how we form beliefs. I found the description of the evolution of life on earth, and specifically the events that directly influenced brain evolution to be enlightening. The book's use of historical examples of belief evolution and manipulation caused me to think twice about what I had been taught to believe. The current science-religion debates were given a neuro-historical perspective through a description of the parallel histories of both ways of thinking, beginning with Plato and Aristotle. The book posits that the brain's emotional limbic structures might account for the thinking of Plato and subsequent religious thinkers, while the frontal portion of the brain's neocortex might explain Aristotle's reasoned, more scientific approach to the world. In this regard, the book painfully reminded me of the injustices experienced by scientists and others in the name of religion. The rise of religious fundamentalism in our time might explain the author's concern about the possible negative influences of mythological belief systems on the future of humanity.
I have a special interest in the ongoing debate over Richard Dawkins' meme theory. The author's view that memes are an oversimplification of the method by which beliefs move from person to person was supported by a number of academics in a Scientific American article in Oct. of 2000. I found compelling the author's observation that meme theory falls short by failing to predict who will "be acquired" by a meme, and that meme theory fails to account for the capacity of thought and self-direction to intervene in the process of belief transmission from person to person. In short, I liked the book. It contained many original concepts and perspectives, was well documented and was very readable. I'm not surprised at the publisher's listing of universities in Europe and North America that use the book as a reference or text.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Examination of Mankind, Society and Belief, January 19, 2009
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This review is from: The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions (Paperback)
I can think of no greater recommendation than to say this book has changed the way I think about myself and about life. Mr. Giovanneli treks a rigid path - strictly bounded by science and proof - in his recounting of the history and development of religious beliefs and how mankind and societies have developed around these beliefs. At the outset, this book throws down the gauntlet of dismissal: Any religious, afterlife or "higher power" faiths of any kind are categorized as "myth-based beliefs," and are summarily rejected in substance. Instead, borrowing from Darwin, Giovannoli tracks mankind through the history of societal changes - influenced for good and bad by myth-based beliefs - by tracking "psychogenes," the social parallel to individual genetic inheritance.

This unique slicing of man's history and culture offers up such fascinating capsules as: "From about 750 [BC] to 1600 [AD], Italian beliefs experienced many fundamental changes as Italy evolved from a republic to an empire; from the Roman state under Julius Caesar ... the consequences of conquering Greece and assimilating its culture, the psychogenetic influence of the rise of Christianity, and the influence of Greco-Roman beliefs on Italian psychogenes during the Renaissance."

The author pointedly and sometimes brilliantly ties together the structure and function of man's brain - specifically the primitive amygdala vs. the more evolved prefontal lobes and how these structures act in opposition - with a panoply of historical sources, including quotes and analyses from Plato and Aristotle to Nietszche and Stephen Hawking.

But in adhering to the outright dismissal of anything faith-based, the author perhaps falls into the same trap of over-certainty he dismisses in believers. As anyone familiar with the confounding mysteries of quantum mechanics can tell you, the only thing we can be certain about is that there is no such thing as certainty. Accordingly, Giovannoli's rigid dismissal of any beliefs (even dismissal of advanced meditative states) was at times mildly irritating to me. And if this reader was mildly irritated, I can promise you any reader who fancies himself a believer should brace for this categorical rejection. But if you are secure enough in your own mind to probe the individual and societal causes and effects of beliefs, this book should move you.

Most impressive was the author's application of the history of psychogenes and belief on the futire of mankind. The effects of beliefs on society, and how they might be utilized to stem overpopulation and the depletion of the Earth's resources, was a powerful final chapter. The author carefully lays out how the effects of belief systems can change mankind, and on how mankind might need that changing in the 21st century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic look at how we believe, January 1, 2013
By 
John Khoury (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions (Paperback)
Yes, how we believe. I read this ages ago, but I keep coming back to this page. High time I wrote a review. All I want to say is that it does a great job explaining how the mind is set up to believe in religion and other supernatural things. This is a highly underrated book and it's a shame it's under the radar. Ironically I found it when I was searching for that Bruce Lipton book of the same name which I heard about from a friend. For the record, Lipton's book is Crap (notice the capital c). This one's the real deal.
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40 of 73 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I don't believe it., August 17, 2004
By 
H. Montandon (Walnut Creek, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions (Paperback)
A more accurate title for this book would have been BELIEFS ABOUT BELIEF. In many ways, this is a misleading book. In trying to explain why I think this, I hope to highlight what is right and what is wrong with Mr. Giovannoli's presentation.

DISCLAIMER

I think it is right to cultivate suspicion regarding belief. I appreciate the Masters of Suspicion who in various times and different ways helped to unbefuddle us by offering astringents for the received wisdom. We all know the three Super Heroes in this tradition: Nietzsche, Marx and Freud. The latter two demolished structures of belief in the service of erecting their own, while Nietzsche's Demolition Derby style of inquiry, while not easy to systematize, has shown little resistance to being claimed by ideologues both raw and cooked. Let's acknowledge for the moment that suspicion is a method, and that its main efficacy is in examining/analyzing/deconstructing belief.

PROPOSAL

Let's practice suspicion in considering this text. Let's give it a suspicious reading.

PROBLEMS

The first problem I have with Mr. Giovannoli's work is that I do not know what belief is. I am even less sure what he means by the term. Perhaps it is one of those chimeras we know very well unless we have to explain it. Another possible title: THE RIDDLE OF BELIEF. He presents so many attributes of this fancy that it's like one of those ancient Tibetan riddles:

You learn me before you can think.

I am powered by the brain's right side.

I give meaning to perceptions of reality.

I am self-reinforcing.

I determine the value of information.

I function like a gene.

I constitute unique cultures.

My name is __________?

I can fill in the blank with many things, and "belief" need not be among them. Therefore, this pile of sweepings is NOT constitutive of belief.

A second problem. The book suffers a lot from its tone, or lack of one. The style reminds me of some Bruckner symphonies that meander here and there, like a broad, slow river flowing through a broad, flat plain. The motion of the water is barely enough to carry you along. Perhaps this is meant to be a meditative style, but if it is, it allows the most astonishing ideas to appear with no warning and little acknowledgement. It's as if while flowing down that broad, slow river, you suddenly saw the Loch Ness Monster swimming alongside the boat, but your astonishment came when you realized that no one reacted with astonishment.

This kind of thing happened to me a number times while reading this book. The most astonishing claims were made, but they always had that "Please pass the ketchup" flatness. One such "please pass the ketchup" claim was that cranial right hemisphere dominance is the main source of what Giovannoli calls the "believability" of beliefs. I was surprised at this statement, and I reckon that most neuroscientists would be surprised.

I think this flat tone is more than a stylistic problem. I think it indicates a fundamental difficulty in the author's evaluations of what is true and why, and what is believed and why.

A third problem. As it is, Giavannoli often presents statements from pop psychology (e.g. hemispheric dominance) as if they were mainstream neuroscience discoveries.

Problem four. There is an all too frequent reliance on argument from authority - dozens of quotes from luminaries like Descartes, Kant and Ockham. Surely, argument from authority is a tactic best left in the employ of belief-based polemicists in venues where testimonials are considered valid evidence. Surely, if you are concocting a modern fable about belief, to consistently bolster your words with quotes from ancient authorities is to damage your credibility. In this way, the book sows epistemological confusion.

CONCLUSION

If, as the title alludes to, the charge of this book is to examine the claim that belief is grounded in biology, then the presentation fails to convict, either beyond a reasonable doubt or by preponderance of the evidence. Mr. Giavannoli has not escaped from the very concerns he attempts to articulate: he has given us a loosely wired series of beliefs about belief, but in the final analysis, there is no compelling reason to believe his invocation.
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The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions
The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions by Joseph Giovannoli (Paperback - January 29, 2001)
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