The majority of the world's population is religious or believes in supernatural phenomena. In the United States, nine out of every ten adults believe in God, and a recent Gallup poll found that about three out of four Americans believe in some form of telepathy, déjà vu, ghosts, or past lives. Where does such supernatural thinking come from? Are we indoctrinated by our parents, churches, and media, or do such beliefs originate somewhere else? In SuperSense, award-winning cognitive scientist Bruce M. Hood reveals the science behind our beliefs in the supernatural.
Superstitions are common. Many of us cross our fingers, knock on wood, step around black cats, and avoid walking under ladders. John McEnroe refused to step on the white lines of a tennis court between points. Wade Boggs insisted on eating a chicken dinner before every Boston Red Sox game. President Barack Obama played a game of basketball the morning of his victory in the Iowa primary and continued the tradition on every subsequent election day.
Supernatural thinking includes loftier beliefs as well, such as the sentimental value we place on photos of loved ones, wedding rings, and teddy bears. It also includes spiritual beliefs and the hope for an afterlife. But in this modern, scientific age, why do we hold on to these behaviors and beliefs?
It turns out that belief in things beyond what is rational or natural is common to humans and appears very early in childhood. In fact, according to Hood, this "super sense" is something we're born with to develop and is essential to the way we learn to understand the world. We couldn't live without it!
Our minds are designed from the very start to think there are unseen patterns, forces, and essences inhabiting the world, and it is unlikely that any effort to get rid of supernatural beliefs, or the superstitious behaviors that accompany them, will be successful. These common beliefs and sacred values are essential in binding us together as a society because they help us to see ourselves connected to each other at a deeper level.
About the Author
BRUCE HOOD is the author of The Science of Superstition and is one of the leading international authorities on child development and supernatural thinking in adults. He has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and has been a faculty member at UCL and Harvard and was a visiting scientist at MIT. He is currently the chair of developmental psychology at Bristol University in England and director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre. Born in Toronto, he now lives in Bristol, England.
Praise for SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable…
In an account chock full of real-world examples reinforced by experimental research, Hood’s marvelous book is an important contribution to the psychological literature that is revealing the actuality of our very irrational human nature.
[A] fascinating, timely and important book. . . . Hood’s presentation of the science behind our supersense is crystal clear and utterly engaging.
An intriguing look at a feature of the human mind that is subtle in its operation but profound in its consequences.
-Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
Reading SuperSense is like having lunch with your favorite professor--the conversation spans religion, biology, psychology, philosophy, and early childhood development. One thing is for sure, you’ll never see the world in the same way again.
-Ori Brafman, New York Times bestselling author of Sway
In recent years, there has been a lot written about religion, superstition, and faith, but there has never been a book like this. . . SuperSense is a joy to read--beautifully written, deeply clever and funny, replete with brilliant insights and observations.
-Paul BloomProfessor, Department of Psychology, Yale University Author of "Descartes' Baby: How the science of child development explains what makes us human"
Dr. Hood, a world-class scholar in the field of cognitive science, explains the many weird and wonderful ways that we humans naturally view the world as ruled by supernatural phenomena. Bruce Hood’s SuperSense is sensational.
-Susan A. GelmanSusan A. GelmanSusan A. Gelman, author of The Essential Child
Read this beautifully written book, and you will lose some childhood innocence about how the world works. But, it will leave you wiser about yourself, and what it is to be human.
-Guy Claxton, author of Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less
Magical thinking is a defining feature of the human mind – the source of all that is sublime and absurd about our species. In this timely exploration of the psychology of irrational belief Bruce Hood pulls off the rare feat of being both authoritative and wonderfully entertaining. Brilliant.
-Paul Broks, author of Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology
A compelling account of how beliefs in the supernatural world spring from the natural way our minds make sense of our experiences.
-Daniel M. Wegner, Harvard Professor of Psychology, author of The Illusion of Conscious Will
If we understood our own irrationality, and why so many people believe in ghosts, spirits, and invisible powers, then we might be able to improve the way we think. With quirkily fun examples and fascinating experiments Bruce Hood explains why we can’t always escape our Supersense.
-Dr. Susan Blackmore, author of Conversations on Consciousness
Supersense is a terrifically fun read. But it is much more: though we may forever believe in ghosts, goblins and the beneficent deities, with a dose of skeptical scientific realism, a la Hood, there is hope that sanity will prevail.
-Marc Hauser, Harvard College Professor, author of Moral Minds
“...a fun and illuminating book.”
“Hood’s treatise provides a much-needed counterbalance to hardcore skeptics by arguing that supersense, while not exactly grounded in rationality, ultimately gives our lives meaning.”