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Friday, August 14, 2009


Just finished "Supersense: why we believe in the unbelievable," by Bruce Hood. The thesis is this: the design of our minds inclines us to "infer structures and patterns in the world and to make sense of it by generating intuitive theories." Later, these theories may be be reinforced by culture, especially religion. But not all "supersense" contructs are religious. People knock on wood, believe in UFOs or alien abductions, or hold other notions for which there is scant or contradictory evidence.

The book is riddled with a host of fascinating stories. My favorite is the one about the lady who is told by her doctors that she could not possible have been the mother of her children -- no DNA match. But it turns out that she was a "chimera" -- a person who absorbed the DNA of a fraternal twin in the womb, and thus was literally two people.

Here's another: "A recent survey of two thousand solitary travelers by a U.K. hotel chain revealed that one in five men slept with a teddy bear -- more than the female travelers."

The book also describes some fascinating experiments with children, and their changing sense of the world, particularly around the idea of "essentialism," or the idea that there is some ineradicable and unique quality, almost of sentience, in some objects (think Linus' blanket in the Peanuts comic strip).

The conclusion is a little surprising: our supersense, illogical as it may often be, is precisely what helps us identify what we call "sacred" -- powerful intuitions that capture the essence of the quest for human meaning. So we have even more evidence that we are not rational creatures - but we're not necessarily unreasonable, either.

A great read. Recommended.


brucemhood said...

Thanks Jamie,
I appreciate your review and recommendation. It was fun writing the book and I still had so much more to put into it. I am hoping Oprah reads it so that many of her woo believers realize where their beliefs come from.

Jamie said...

Hah. I would love to see you on Oprah. And if you ever find yourself closer to Colorado, let me know. I do some TV author interviews myself, and would be delighted to add you to the program.