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Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth Hardcover – September 12, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Printing edition (September 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743274970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743274975
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #733,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When Newberg, a professor of radiology, psychiatry, and religious studies, ponders the nature of reality, it makes fascinating, mind-bending reading. What is reality, he asks, but a combination of the subjective vividness of an experience (strengthened by the continuity and duration of that experience) and the consensus of others that it is so? Expanding on a thread picked up before in Why God Won't Go Away (2001), he and Waldman examine the Liar's Paradox, assert the likes of "Truth cannot be entirely known, for no matter how much evidence you collect, your knowledge will always be incomplete," and maintain that individual reality is exclusively guided by a combination of sensory perceptions (which are prey to any number of distorting influences) and beliefs. Heady stuff, but with extensive research and credible scientific resources to support it, enough to make a person rethink concepts of truth, reality, and belief. So rich a book that it begs to be read in small bites over a long time. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Our beliefs are the most precious things we possess. But how do we get them? Newberg and Waldman propose a thoughtful, well-documented, biological hypothesis...[that is] fascinating for believers and nonbelievers alike." -- Dean Hamer, PhD, geneticist and author of "Living with Our Genes" and "The God Gene"

Customer Reviews

This book was very insightful.
Patricia Williams
Overall, an astonishing book that was equally fun to read--but then again, that's what I believe.
Neil Schuitevoerder
I just finished reading this book last week and it is amazing.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

116 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Neil Schuitevoerder on September 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This fascinating book examines how human beings construct their beliefs about everything: how we map the realities of the world, build moral and political beliefs, and develop religious and spiritual beliefs about the universe. The authors base their premises on neurobiological research and then they integrate their findings with contemporary psychology and sociology without ever becoming overly technical, a difficult feat when it comes to explaining the neurological processes of the brain.

The introductory chapter introduces the basic premises of the book, using the case history of a man who riddled with cancer and is about to die in a research hospital at UCLA. Placebo injections are given, and within a week all tumors disappear, but when newspaper reports describe the ineffectiveness of the medicine the patient thought he was taking, the tumors returned. The doctor convinced the patient that a "new and improved" medication was available, and again the tumors disappeared. The FDA then pronounced the medical study a failure, and again, the tumors returned. The authors return to this story throughout the book to explain how our beliefs can deeply influence the neurobiological processes in the brain.

In Chapter 3, the authors use numerous optical illusions to How the brain incorporates perceptual errors into its maps of the world. In this way, they show how many supernatural beliefs are literally perceived as real within the brain. In the next chapter, they show how different cognitive functions contribute to the foundations of everyday beliefs about reality, and how a child's brain is prone towards seeing monsters, believing in Santa Claus, and relying on magic to explain unusual occurrences in the world.
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103 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Deem on September 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Andrew Newberg, professor of Radiology and Psychiatry, has written (along with Mark Robert Waldman) a sequel to his book, Why God Won't Go Away. The new book has strengths and weaknesses, but, should be of some interest to those who have an interest in spiritual matters and human behavior. The book is primarily written to address the question of how the brain works so that we arrive at what we believe to be true. The authors write from a spiritual perspective, but take numerous jabs at Christians and Christianity throughout the book. In contrast, New Age and Far Eastern religions seem to receive little or no criticism (co-author, Mr. Waldman seems to be into New Age type spirituality), and are actually endorsed. Likewise, atheists may not be entirely comfortable with the content, since it clearly challenges their cherished belief that that have no beliefs.

Even with this viewpoint bias, the first two parts of the book ("How the brain makes our reality" and "Childhood development and morality") are nothing less than fascinating. The topics are broad, so a lot of details are not included (especially supporting studies), although doing so would have increased the length considerably. Even so, I would have preferred more details and citations and a little of the controversy, which must be present in such a complex field. One gets the distinct impression that the results are not quite as neat and tidy as presented, and one wonders if studies that do not support the authors' premises are omitted as a form of viewpoint bias or just to save space.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Tinker on August 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm just about done reading this book and have enjoyed it very much. The author doesn't go on any tangents, go off the subject or include any difficult theories to weed through. The author does mentioned several scientific experiments but they are necessary to back up his findings. He doesn't bash people who believe in spiritual things but he doesn't sway that way himself he just looks at what he discovered with a scientific eye. I prefer books that don't bash other people with an opposing view but prefer someone who is looking for the reason of things with an open mind. I still would recommend that if you are a Christian you will need an open mind to enjoy this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Hyman VINE VOICE on June 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has two sections to it... a general overview of neurophysiology and a review of experiments looking at brain scans of people having religious experiences. I found the first part... the overview ... to be below average. There are many far better, far more interesting books that cover the topic, and I found that I started to skim. During these parts, the authors came across as being a bit egoistic.

In the second section, the book explores research the authors have conducted, and focuses on studies of monks, nuns, pentecostals and others in the midst of religious experiences, in which the authors inject a tracer and study their brains. This part is much more interesting. There is less philosophical fluff, and more exploration of research in interesting areas.

Although I'm glad I read the book, it is hard to give a good rating because of the difference between the two sections. For a general review of brain functioning, seek other books.

But the studies of brain scans of meditating nuns and Buddhists and people speaking tongues and so forth was quite interesting, along with conjectures as to how the brain functioning is giving a strong sense of reality to the religious experience. That part was quite interesting.
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More About the Author

Andrew B. Newberg, M.D. is currently the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia. He is also a Professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1993. He did his training in Internal Medicine at the Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, serving as Chief Resident in his final year. Following his internal medicine training, he completed a Fellowship in Nuclear Medicine in the Division of Nuclear Medicine, Department of Radiology, at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Nuclear Medicine.
He has actively pursued a number of neuroimaging research projects which have included the study of aging and dementia, epilepsy, and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. Dr. Newberg has been particularly involved in the study of mystical and religious experiences as well as the more general mind/body relationship in both the clinical and research aspects of his career. His research also includes understanding the physiological correlates of acupuncture therapy, meditation, and other types of alternative therapies. He has taught medical students, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as medical residents about stress management, spirituality and health, and the neurophysiology of religious experience. He has published numerous articles and chapters on brain function, brain imaging, and the study of religious and mystical experiences. He is the co-author of the new book entitled, "Words Can Change Your Brain" (Hudson Street Press). He is the co-author of the best selling books entitled, "How God Changes Your Brain" (Ballantine) and, "Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief" (Ballantine). He is also a co-author of "Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs" (Free Press). He is also the author of "Principles of Neurotheology" (Ashgate) and "The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Belief" (Fortress Press) that both explore the relationship between neuroscience and spiritual experience. The latter book received the 2000 award for Outstanding Books in Theology and the Natural Sciences presented by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. He has been involved in the teaching of the physiological basis of various alternative medicine techniques including the importance of spirituality in medical practice. He also teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at the School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania. He has presented his work at scientific and religious meetings throughout the world and has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, CNN, ABC World News Tonight as well as in a number of media articles including Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Readers Digest.