A new book about brain chemistry, neural systems, and the formation of beliefs from the scientist who brought to light serotonin's many crucial roles in human behavior.
Beliefs: What are they? How have evolution and culture led to a brain that is seemingly committed to near endless belief creation? And once established, why are most beliefs so difficult to change? Believing offers answers to these questions from the perspective of a leading neuroscientist and expert in brain-behavior research.
Combining personal anecdotes and the latest research, Dr. McGuire takes the novel approach of focusing on the central and critical role of brain systems and the ways in which they interact with the environment to create and maintain beliefs. This approach yields some surprising and counterintuitive conclusions:
• The brain is designed for belief creation and acceptance.
• It is biased in favor of its own beliefs and is highly insensitive to disconfirming evidence.
• It prefers beliefs that are pleasurable and rewarding to those that are unfavorable.
• Beliefs are "afterthoughts" of unperceived brain activities; they don't cause behavior.
• Our consciousness has minimal influence on the neural systems that create beliefs.
Based on these observations, McGuire concludes that for the foreseeable future people will continue to hold a multitude of beliefs, many of them intransigent.
“A superb scientist, McGuire has mastered understanding how body and brain interact. He shines a clarifying light on the puzzling and even infuriating issue of why countless people believe the strange, often-dangerous things they do. From marketing soft drinks to managing genocidal wars, the brain and its beliefs remain central. Believing will clarify how and why. It may even protect you.”
—Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology (emeritus), Rutgers University
“Through analyses of the current neuroscience and numerous anecdotes...McGuire unpacks his topic in a consistently accessible and intriguing manner, and offers up some interesting conclusions.”
“From Christianity’s Jesus to Islam’s jihad, and from the conservative American Tea Party to the liberal MoveOn.org, what we believe with strong conviction biases our behavior in powerful and predictable ways. Written in an easy-to-understand, conversational style, Believing explains how this occurs. In On Human Nature, E. O. Wilson made the provocative statement, ‘Men, it appears, would rather believe than know.’ Now, almost forty years later, utilizing all the modern advances in neuroscience, Michael McGuire can explain why and, most importantly, how. An important book for any believer who now wants to know.”
—Jay R. Feierman, editor and contributor, The Biology of Religious Behavior: The Evolutionary Origins of Faith and Religion
“Beliefs define who we are, organize our lives, influence our actions and affiliations, and pervade all human experience. What are these beliefs? How did they evolve, and how do they arise? What do they do, and how do they work? McGuire asks these fundamental questions and seeks answers in new findings from neuroscience and human evolution. He looks closely at ‘divides’ between beliefs’ content and evidence as well as at intransigent beliefs that persist despite disconfirming evidence and destructive effects. He asks what to do about the latter. This book is a must-read for those who want to better understand and deal with the core dilemmas of human living.”
—John O. Beahrs, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry, Oregon Health and Science University