Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth

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WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE? Do you remember events differently from how they really happened? Where do your superstitions come from? How do morals evolve? Why are some people religious and others nonreligious? Everyone has thoughts and questions like these, and now Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman expose, for the first time, how our complex views emerge from the neural activities of the brain. Bridging science, psychology, and religion, they demonstrate, in simple terminology, how the brain ...
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Overview


WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE? Do you remember events differently from how they really happened? Where do your superstitions come from? How do morals evolve? Why are some people religious and others nonreligious? Everyone has thoughts and questions like these, and now Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman expose, for the first time, how our complex views emerge from the neural activities of the brain. Bridging science, psychology, and religion, they demonstrate, in simple terminology, how the brain perceives reality and transforms it into an extraordinary range of personal, ethical, and creative premises that we use to build meaning, value, spirituality, and truth into our lives. When you come to understand this remarkable process, it will change forever the way you look at the world and yourself.

Supported by groundbreaking research, including brain scans of people as they pray, meditate, and even speak in tongues, Newberg and Waldman propose a new model for how deep convictions emerge and influence our lives. You will even glimpse how the mind of an atheist works when contemplating God. Using personal stories, moral paradoxes, and optical illusions, the authors demonstrate how our brains construct our fondest assumptions about reality, offering recommendations for exercising your most important "muscle" in order to develop a more life-affirming, flexible range of attitudes.

You'll discover how to:

  • Recognize when your beliefs are altered by others
  • Guard against mental traps and prejudicial thinking
  • Distinguish between destructive and constructive beliefs
  • Cultivate spiritual and ethical ideals

Ultimately, we must always return to our beliefs. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, they give meaning to the mysteries of life, providing us with our individual uniqueness and the ability to fill our lives with joy. Most important, though, they give us inspiration and hope, beacons to guide us through the light and dark corners of the soul.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This new book by the author of Why God Won't Go Away proposes a new biological model for understanding how our beliefs emerge and evolve. Andrew Newberg uses fascinating neurological research to describe the effects of human beliefs on psychological and physical conditions. According to the author, the implications of belief creation and maintenance extend beyond religion. He argues that our perception of reality is a mental construction filled with inaccuracies, conjectures, and confabulations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743274975
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 9/12/2006
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Newberg, MD, is an associate professor of Radiology and Psychiatry and an adjunct assistant professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and also director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind. He is co-author of Why God Won't Go Away and The Mystical Mind. He lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Mark Robert Waldmanis an associate fellow at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. A therapist and the author of nine books, he founded the academic journal Transpersonal Review. He lives in Agoura, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Why We Believe What We Believe

Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth
By Andrew Newberg

Free Press

Copyright © 2006 Andrew Newberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743274970

From Chapter 1

The Power of Belief

Mr. Wright wasn't expected to live through the night. His body was riddled with tumors, his liver and spleen were enlarged, his lungs were filled with fluid, and he needed an oxygen mask to breathe. But when Mr. Wright heard that his doctor was conducting cancer research with a new drug called Krebiozen, which the media were touting as a potential miracle cure, he pleaded to be given treatments. Although it was against protocol, Dr. Klopfer honored Mr. Wright's request by giving him an injection of the drug, then left the hospital for the weekend, never expecting to see his patient again. But when he returned on Monday morning, he discovered that Mr. Wright's tumors had shrunk to half their original size, something that even radiation treatments could not have accomplished.

"Good God!" thought Dr. Klopfer. "Have we finally found the silver bullet -- a cure for cancer?" Unfortunately, an examination of the other test patients showed no changes at all. Only Mr. Wright had improved. Was this a rare case of spontaneous remission, or wassome other unidentified mechanism at work? The doctor continued to give injections to his recovering patient, and after ten days practically all signs of the disease had disappeared. Wright returned home, in perfect health.

Two months later, the Food and Drug Administration reported that the experiments with Krebiozen were proving ineffective. Mr. Wright heard about the reports and immediately became ill. His tumors returned, and he was readmitted to the hospital. Now, Dr. Klopfer was convinced that the patient's belief in the drug's effectiveness had originally healed him. To test his theory, he decided to lie, telling Mr. Wright about a "new, super-refined, double-strength product" that was guaranteed to produce better results. Mr. Wright agreed to try this "new" version of what he believed had healed his tumors before, but in reality, Dr. Klopfer gave him injections of sterile water.

Once again, Mr. Wright's recovery was dramatic. His tumors disappeared, and he resumed his normal life -- until the newspapers published an announcement by the American Medical Association under the headline "Nationwide Tests Show Krebiozen to Be a Worthless Drug in Treatment of Cancer."

After reading this, Mr. Wright fell ill again, returned to the hospital, and died two days later. In a report published in the Journal of Projective Techniques, Dr. Klopfer concluded that when the power of Wright's optimistic beliefs expired, his resistance to the disease expired as well.

Each year, thousands of cases of remarkable recoveries are described, and although such "miracles" are often attributed to the power of faith and belief, the majority of scientists are skeptical of such claims. In the medical literature, spontaneous remissions -- at least when cancer is involved -- are extremely rare. Estimates range from one case in 60,000 to one in 100,000, although a definitive overview of the topic argues that perhaps one patient in 3,000 experiences a spontaneous remission. Moreover, the majority of oncologists believe that an unidentified biological mechanism is at work rather than a true miracle; and current hypotheses favor alterations in the body's cellular, immunological, hormonal, and genetic functioning over psychological mechanisms. But Mr. Wright's case is unique -- and one of the few to be documented during a university research project. The remissions of his cancer have been attributed to the effects of his mind on the biological functioning of his body -- in other words, on the biology of belief.

Hundreds of mind-body experiments have been conducted -- including placebo studies and research on the power of meditation and prayer -- but few scientists have attempted to explain the underlying biology of belief. We have volumes of comprehensive statistics about the kinds of beliefs we hold, but our understanding of how and why belief "works" is still in its infancy, and most conclusions are still controversial.

Fortunately, recent discoveries about the ways the brain creates memories, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions can provide a new template with which to examine the how and why of belief. What I will propose in this book is a practical model of how the brain works that will help you understand your own beliefs and the nature of reality. It will also help you see how all beliefs emerge from the perceptual processes of the brain, and how they are shaped by personal relationships, societal influences, and educational and spiritual pursuits. This understanding can then help us to discern the difference between destructive and constructive beliefs, skills that are essential if we are to adequately address important individual, interpersonal, and global problems.

Copyright © 2006 by Andrew Newberg, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman

Continues...


Excerpted from Why We Believe What We Believe by Andrew Newberg Copyright © 2006 by Andrew Newberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

PART I HOW THE BRAIN MAKES OUR REALITY

1 The Power of Belief

2 A Mountain of Misperceptions: Searching for Beliefs in a Haystack of Neurons

3 Reality, Illusions, and the Aunt Who Cried Wolf: The Construction of Perceptual Beliefs

4 Santa Claus, Lucky Numbers, and the Magician in Our Brain: The Biology of Conceptual Beliefs

PART II CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT AND MORALITY

5 Parents, Peas, and "Putty Tats": The Development of Childhood Beliefs

6 Ordinary Criminals Like You and Me: The Gap between Behavior and Moral Beliefs

PART III SPIRITUAL BELIEFS AND THE BRAIN

7 Nuns, Buddhists, and the Reality of Spiritual Beliefs

8 Speaking in Tongues

9 The Atheist Who Prayed to God

10 Becoming a Better Believer

Epilogue: Life, the Universe, and Our "Ultimate" Beliefs

Endnotes

Acknowledgments

Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2007

    Outstanding

    This was very interesting read! I was captivated by information and ideas and I am now pondering the universe in a more open way because of this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2006

    Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth

    This book is a must-read for everyone who likes to pray or meditate because the authors show how spiritual practices can alter the brain in ways that make us more loving and compassionate. Science and religion can compliment each other! Bravo for these scientists who recognize religion's strength.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2006

    Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth

    This fascinating book examines how human beings construct their beliefs about everything: how we map the realities of the world, build moral and political beliefs, and develop religious and spiritual beliefs about the universe. The authors base their premises on neurobiological research and then they integrate their findings with contemporary psychology and sociology without ever becoming overly technical, a difficult feat when it comes to explaining the neurological processes of the brain. The introductory chapter introduces the basic premises of the book, using the case history of a man who riddled with cancer and is about to die in a research hospital at UCLA. Placebo injections are given, and within a week all tumors disappear, but when newspaper reports describe the ineffectiveness of the medicine the patient thought he was taking, the tumors returned. The doctor convinced the patient that a 'new and improved' medication was available, and again the tumors disappeared. The FDA then pronounced the medical study a failure, and again, the tumors returned. The authors return to this story throughout the book to explain how our beliefs can deeply influence the neurobiological processes in the brain. In Chapter 3, the authors use numerous optical illusions to How the brain incorporates perceptual errors into its maps of the world. In this way, they show how many supernatural beliefs are literally perceived as real within the brain. In the next chapter, they show how different cognitive functions contribute to the foundations of everyday beliefs about reality, and how a child's brain is prone towards seeing monsters, believing in Santa Claus, and relying on magic to explain unusual occurrences in the world. The authors also show what happens in the brain when adults attempt to perceive the unperceivable, i.e. God and other spiritual realms. In Chapter 5, Parents, Peas, and 'Putty Tats,' Newberg opens his chapter on developmental neuropsychology with a story of how his mother got him to eat his plate of peas. He uses this cute tale to show how early childhood beliefs can shape the remainder of one's adult life. The authors show how easy it is to implant false memories in children and adults, why autobiographical memories are faulty, and why false memories remain imprinted in various circuits of the brain well into adulthood. They also offer a brilliant integration of neurological development with the psychological development of morality (unfortunately, our brains begin to deteriorate in our thirties, and the likelihood of us changing our beliefs, especially inaccurate ones, becomes less and less the older we get. As the title of Chapter 6 implies (Ordinary Criminals Like You and Me) we are not as moral as we like to think we are. Using brain scan research, they show how we are easily manipulated by authorities to lie, hurt and even kill. Ultimately, the more complex the moral dilemma, the longer it takes our brain to react. Thus we are likely to stand by and watch when others commit immoral acts. In Chapter 7, Newberg describes his brain scan research with a group of Franciscan nuns engaged in prayer, and the authors suggest how spiritual beliefs become neurologically real in the minds of practitioners. Chapter 8 includes the first brain scan study of Pentecostal practitioners who speak in tongues, and the findings show that this uniquely creative form of prayer is very different from other forms of spiritual practice, and is probably very similar to shamanic trance states, hypnotherapy, and certain altered states of consciousness brought about by drugs. The authors are careful to point out that Pentecostal practices are inherently beneficial and do not represent pathological processes of illness. In Chapter 9, the authors conduct the first brain scan on an atheist who attempts to pray to God. They found that when a person focuses on opposing beliefs, a neurological dissonance takes place that prejudi

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 5, 2009

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