Book's Reviews > The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life

The Belief Instinct by Jesse Bering
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Jun 24, 11

bookshelves: neuroscience, atheism-religion
Read in February, 2011

The Belief Instinct by Jesse Bering

The Belief Instinct is an enjoyable book whose response to our basic belief system can be attributed to an understanding of the "theory of mind". Mr. Bering weaves an interesting narrative on how psychological illusions caused by the "theory of mind" gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage. This 272-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. The History of an Illusion, 2. A Life without Purpose, 3. Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs, 4. Curiously Immortal, 5. When God Throws People Off Bridges, 6. God as Adaptive, and 7. And Then You Die.

Positives:
1. An enjoyable, well-written, well-researched book that builds up an interesting theory to a satisfactory end.
2. Elegant prose, very conversational tone throughout.
3. Mr. Bering is a well-read author who doesn't hesitate to immerse quotes, anecdotes, studies smoothly into his narrative.
4. At times, though-provoking but never unintelligible.
5. "Teleo-functioning reasoning" explained.
6. Evolution of our cognitive systems.
7. Interesting look at autism.
8. The human penchant to see meaningful signs.
9. Many references to scientific studies sprinkled throughout book.
10. The idea of an afterlife guided by our intuitions.
11. The illusion of purpose.
12. A thorough and satisfactory explanation of the "theory of mind".
13. Human evolution lead by the coevolution of the theory of mind and language.
14. The impact of human gossip.
15. The cognitive illusion of "God".
16. Good use of links and an excellent comprehensive bibliography.

Negatives:
1. I really wanted to give this book 5 stars but I was a little disappointed in what was not included in the book versus what was in it. Namely, a more thorough debunking of souls. I would have liked to have seen the term defined and more depth.
2. A little more science would have helped. Very basic, I understand the book is intended for the masses but more science was merited.

In summary, I enjoyed this book. It didn't take long to read and Mr. Bering does a wonderful job of tying everything together at the end. It satisfactorily addresses why we have supernatural beliefs and why it was advantageous to our ancestors. A little more "soul" searching would have been icing on the cake but a sweet treat nonetheless.

Recommendations: "Religion Explained" by Pascal Boyer, "Human" by Michael S. Gazzaniga, ", "Supersense" by Bruce M. Hood, "The Third Basic Instinct..." by Alex S. Key and "The Ego Tunnel" by Thomas Metzinger.
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