Why do the vast majority of human beings believe in the supernatural? With the advance of science and the continuing discoveries about the natural processes behind human life, it would seem that we would be moving toward a more rational way of viewing our lives, our planet, our universe. But no. We still believe in the benevolent gods. We still attach superstitious qualities to inanimate objects and personal rituals. We still knock on wood. We still throw salt over our shoulder.
Experimental psychologist Bruce M. Hood believes our very mind construct leads to irrational beliefs, and he presents his hypothesis in a stunning and mind-bending book, SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable.
Think you’re immune to superstition? Ask yourself these questions:
• Would you wear a sweater if you knew it had been worn by a serial killer? (Feel a little creepy?)
• How would you feel if you were able to try on a sweater that had been worn by Mr. Rogers? (Get all warm fuzzies inside?)
• If a person offered to give you $100 in exchange for your soul, would you take it? (If you believe we don’t have souls, why does this still make you feel a little fearful? If you believe you do have a soul, why do you believe this person could actually purchase it and own it?)
Hood shows us how the supersense develops early and independently as a child develops, before religious or cultural beliefs are passed on. He covers the nature of phobias, our attachments to objects (like a blankie), the question of mind-body dualism and the possible illusion of free will. He explains the difference between religion and secular superstition, considers our nature as psychological creatures who recognize sentience in others, talks about the influence of dopamine, and looks at the impact of brain disorders and injuries (like Capgras Syndrome) that may have something to tell us about the supersense.
The supersense comes from our intuitive reasoning systems and so is part of our makeup.”
In the end, Hood believes our intuitive senses will always play an essential role in our species. Indeed, it appears to have served us fairly well in our evolutionary history. He writes, “I think the supersense will persist even in a modern era because it makes possible our commitment to the idea that there are sacred values in the world.”
And that, perhaps, is what makes us special as human beings.
How strong is your supersense?