The Belief Instinct

The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life

By Jesse Bering
(W. W. Norton & Company, Hardcover, 9780393072990, 252pp.)

Publication Date: February 2011

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback, Hardcover, Paperback

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Description
Why is belief so hard to shake? Despite our best attempts to embrace rational thought and reject superstition, we often find ourselves appealing to unseen forces that guide our destiny, wondering who might be watching us as we go about our lives, and imagining what might come after death. In this lively and masterfully argued new book, Jesse Bering unveils the psychological underpinnings of why we believe. Combining lucid accounts of surprising new studies with insights into literature, philosophy, and even pop culture, Bering gives us a narrative that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. He sheds light on such topics as our search for a predestined life purpose, our desire to read divine messages into natural disasters and other random occurrences, our visions of the afterlife, and our curiosity about how moral and immoral behavior are rewarded or punished in this life. Bering traces all of these beliefs and desires to a single trait of human psychology, known as the "theory of mind," which enables us to guess at the intentions and thoughts of others. He then takes this groundbreaking argument one step further, revealing how the instinct to believe in God and other unknowable forces gave early humans an evolutionary advantage. But now that these psychological illusions have outlasted their evolutionary purpose, Bering draws our attention to a whole new challenge: escaping them. Thanks to Bering's insight and wit, The Belief Instinct will reward readers with an enlightened understanding of the universal human tendency to believe-and the tools to break free.

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