The Belief Instinct

The psychology of souls, destiny, and the meaning of life

In this lively and masterfully argued new book, Jesse Bering unveils the psychological underpinnings of why we believe.

Synopsis

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.

Publisher

W.W. Norton & Company

Release date

February 11, 2011

Coming Soon
ISBN

9780393072990

Dimensions

6.5 × 9.6 in / 252 pages

“Bering ranges comfortably among evolutionary biology, psychology, and philosophical concerns, and finds the good science in belief.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Witty . . . . [Bering] employs examples and analogies that make his arguments seem like common sense rather than the hard-earned scientific insights they really are.”

New Scientist

“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, author of How Pleasure Works

“[Bering] approaches these dicey subjects with a dazzlingly insightful reading of the empirical literature on human cognition and development, a sly sense of humor, and an obvious compassion for those who do not share his beliefs. He also has a lot of fun. Richard Dawkins and others have surveyed some of this terrain before, but few have done it as convincingly and enjoyably.”

American Library Association, Choice Reviews (Top 25 books of 2011)

Top 25 Books of 2011 by the American Library Association, Choice Reviews

“Voted one of the 11 Best Psychology Books of 2011. Blending empirical evidence from seminal research with literary allusions and cultural critique, Bering examines the central tenets of spirituality, from life’s purpose to the notion of an afterlife, in a sociotheological context underlined by the rigor of a serious scientist.”

The Atlantic

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