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Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  377 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Lewis Wolpert investigates the nature of belief and its causes. He looks at belief's psychological basis and its possible evolutionary origins in physical cause and effect.
Paperback, 243 pages
Published January 4th 2007 by Faber & Faber (first published March 16th 2006)
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While reading this my enjoyment of the book swayed from high to low and back again quite often. Since the book is only 219 pages long this pretty impressive.

I've gone on and on in my latest reviews of Richard Dawkins books about the lack of citations, and here it is even worse. Dawkins at least puts a name to what he is talking about, giving a pointer for the adventurous to find out more. Wolpert very rarely does even this. What if I wanted to find out about the little joke scientists played on
Having believed more than my share of impossible things, I’ve gotten very interested in the thinking processes behind matters of belief. Evolutionary biologist Wolpert tackles this subject from a different angle than many in his field. Wolpert proposes that our development of tool use created a heavy mental emphasis on the relationship between cause and effect. While searching for cause and effect in the natural world has served us well in such fields as science and technology, not being able to ...more
Henry Manampiring
Sep 17, 2007 Henry Manampiring rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone with too much time or excessive interest in evolution
You really don't need to buy this book if you are interested in its core idea. I could sum it up in one paragraph:

Evolutionists have the challenge of explaining religion and beliefs among mankind. If our behavior and mind should demonstrate evolution reasoning, then why do we believe? The author attribute this to our need of 'causal' explanation, which helped our ancestor's discovery of tool making and tool use. Since we were so excited to find out that if you hit a dead animal with sharp object
No real qualms with this one other than a lack of internal referencing. Wolpert gives tons of examples, but none of them are cited. "There have been studies..." etc. He supplies names along with some studies, but not many. He claims to be trying to convince the reader that belief comes from tool use, but he hardly mentions tool use at all. I do not necessarily disagree with him, and he is open about the fact that it's just his idea and he could be wrong, but the book just doesn't seem to actuall ...more
This book starts so promising, but let me down less than halfway through. The evolution of belief is a very interesting subject, and having studied biology (just as Wolpert) I thought he would give the science based results of his studies on this subject. Instead of an exposition of the history of belief according to various scientific works, however, Wolpert hurries to make his point (that humans' cause and effect beliefs evolved alongside tool use) without -I feel- sufficient scientific ground ...more
Ferda Nihat Koksoy
Kitaptan Alıntılar ve Sentezler:
-İnanışlar mülkiyet ve kimlik gibi insanlara kendilerini iyi hissettiriyor.

-Biyolojik ve geleneksel olarak görmek/varmak istediğimize ulaşmaya ve inanmaya meyilliyiz.

-Bir ankette, akademisyenlerin %94'ünün, kendilerinin diğerlerinden daha iyi olduğuna inandığı ortaya meydana çıkmıştır; insan, kendini başkalarından daha iyi olarak görmeye meyillidir.

-MIT'de yapılan bir bilimse
I picked this book mostly for its title, i love alice in wonderland. and so i couldn't resist. I have conflicting feelings about the book, but first and far most I feel like I have to express how brilliant the author really is, you rarely happen to stumble upon such an open mind, and it really shows! You might think all atheist are open minded, I am not entirely sure about that but I know that some of them are prejudice to their own beliefs. Just like any other human being with a religious ident ...more
Iso Cambia
Sep 01, 2011 Iso Cambia rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Iso by: Other books, other writers
"Non-medical causes of illness offered by psychiatric patients in a university hospital in the USA included 'God's Will' and the hex or evil eye. Psychoanalysis and Freudian views of the unconscious present us with a related set of beliefs that I think fit most comfortably with paranormal beliefs... While the aim of Freud was to make psychoanalysis part of natural science, it has not turned out that way, and Freudian explanations seem to be much closer to beliefs related to witchcraft in the way ...more
theme: biological perspectives on RELIGION

Approached: the evolutionary roots of belief
-main mechanism/concept: "THE BELIEF ENGINE":"that works on wholly unscientific principles: "It prefers quick decisions, it is bad with numbers, loves representativeness and sees patterns where there is only randomness. It is too often influenced by authority and it has liking for mysticism".
-the title of the book is based on Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass, in which the White Queen explains to Alice t
Maurizio Codogno
Questo libro, dal sottotitolo "Le origini evolutive delle credenze", parte mettendo subito in chiaro che l'autore vuole far piazza pulita di tutte le credenze, religiose e no, che non siano sostenute da prove scientifiche; la causalità la deve fare da padrona. Il leit motiv del libro è per l'apunto l'ipotesi - parlare di "teoria" è un po' azzardato - che le credenze nascano non appena l'umanità ha iniziato a ragionare in termini di cause ed effetti; se quindi succedeva qualcosa, ci doveva essere ...more
The book's about the evolutionary origins of belief, which Wolpert ties to tool use, which is apparently not that common a theory, but it made sense. The basic idea is that human's ability to have causal beliefs, to wonder why something happened, is what gave us the ability to make complex tools and also leads to us having causal beliefs on which we base our lives. There's chapters on different types of beliefs people have in their lives that are common.

The one downside is that it killed a lot h
Steven Williams
The book was not as good as I thought it was going to be. It focused more on the subtilte part of the book. It was interesting. Although I thought his arguments could be valid, I did not think they were present very well. The debunking section was not that strong, and since that's why I wanted to read the book in the first place, hence my middle of the road rating.
Fire Kovarovic
I couldn't wait to get to this one! Professor Wolpert works at UCL where I was based as a student and staff member for 12 years. He is quite a character. I met him only a few times, once at a Q&A session that he moderated where I discovered that his wit and charm are both as big as his brain. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get into the spirit of this book! I started reading it on several occasions since I bought it three years ago, but just can't ever convince myself to finish it. I am not ...more
Feb 06, 2008 Roly added it
Very interesting look at the evolutionary origins of belief. From the dawn of early man, the author argues, the brain circuitry for religion developed as a result of his endeavours with early technology/tool manufacture.
Comparisons are made between the effects of hallucinatory drugs and religious experiences on the same part of the brain. The author also looks at other irrational beliefs and quotes some fascinating experiments carried out in this field of brain chemistry. We may have a genetic
Samantha Schuller
For a casual reader, it's a little repetitive and takes its time getting to the meat of the ideas behind the central hypothesis of the book: that believing things without requiring solid evidence first is an evolutionary adaptation that humans needed to be a successful species. Good research, good ideas, but not as much fun to read as On Being Certain: Believing You're Right Even When You're Wrong, the book I preferred on this topic.
Although it's a very small book that can be read rather quickly, it's perfectly structured and the argument that belief or the search for a cause behind everything evolved from an understanding of cause and effect along with tool making seems plausible to me.

Since the text is a bit dry and repetitive I wouldn't recommend it, because there seem to be much better books on this topic. Incidentally, I just bought it because of its title and I'll be more cautious using this tactic in the future.
This book is excruciatingly dry and repetitive. He makes a one paragraph point and then spends 30 more pages restating it and supplying bland anecdotal evidence. I'll summarize the whole book for you: humans are the only animal that understands the concept of causation, and we've gotten a little carried away with it and like explanations for everything, and we end up with superstitions and religions and that sort of thing. Now you don't have to read it.
Paul De Belder
As usual Lewis Wolpert's writing style is very dense. The facts are stacked sentence by sentence, without too much explanation. You need to know about what he writes, to be able to follow this past-paced story. Regarding his thesis that tool use is at the origin of human causal thinking and belief, interesting hypothesis but I'm not really convinced it is properly supported by the facts.
Carmen K
This is an interesting book. The author freely admits that the 'evidence' he presents is lacking. Often times I got to thinking about the examples cited and completely lost track of the central theme of the book. It is thought provoking, but it is a quick overview and not an in depth analysis.

Very interesting ideas in this book. I only gave it 3 stars because the writing was dry and textbook-y at times, and the author's somewhat condescending attitude towards religious beliefs in a few places rubbed me the wrong way. But otherwise an interesting read on the evolution of belief.
Steve Mitchell
A look into how belief in religion, astrology, alternative medicine and the like could be programmed into our brains and provide an evolutionary benefit. Not as extreme as ""The God Delusion"" by Richard Dawkins, but makes many of the same points.
Aug 13, 2009 Richard marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Dana Ream
Shelves: cognition
(Reviewed here by Dana Ream, the group organizer of the Meetup group "Cognitive Science Reading & Discussion Group".)
i read turkish translation. A honest book about this thought on beliefs, religion and science. He tried to be fare on the nature and the need for believing. His points about "plain logic" are soo true...
Oct 30, 2007 Alexa rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: atheists and those trying to understand beliefs
Made some really good points even though I don't agree with a lot of the content of the book. Helped me somewhat understand how my friends without strong beliefs in God rationalize life.
I find new hypothesis intriguing and this one has it's points, however hard to prove. At any rate, it was worth a read to gain some new perspective on cultural evolution.
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
I look forward to reading his book on depression, Malignant Sadness (which was also turned into a BBC documentary series).

This was a fine read. That's all for now.
Mark Fallon
Interesting discussion on how and why we "believe". While I agree with some of Wolpert's ideas, I believe they could be built better.
All about the evolution of causal belief systems and why they may have evolved in human beings and not animals. Enjoyed it!
Benjamin Plume
Very deep look at what shapes thought and belief. Read it and perhaps you'll be less inclined to judge.
Provides a decent outline of some concepts for further study. Not much development of ideas.
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Lewis Wolpert CBE FRS FRSL (born October 19, 1929) is a developmental biologist, author, and broadcaster.


He was educated at the University of Witwatersrand, Imperial College London, and at King's College London. He is presently Emeritus Professor of Biology as applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and developmental biology at University College London.

He is well known in his field
More about Lewis Wolpert...
Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression How We Live and Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells The Unnatural Nature of Science: Why Science Does Not Make (Common) Sense Principles of Development Developmental Biology: A Very Short Introduction

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“Mania has been described as having a mystical quality, an example of which is described by the writer Theodore Roethke. One day he felt good, and then felt that he knew what it was like to be a rabbit, and then a lion; so he entered a restaurant and ordered and ate raw meat. Kay Redfield Jameson bought twenty Penguin books in order to form a colony of penguins, and the poet Robert Lowell believed on one occasion that he might be the reincarnation of the Holy Ghost and could, if he wished, paralyze cars.” 3 likes
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