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

By Andrew Newberg (Author) & Mark Robert Waldman (Author)
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Item Number 150146  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   336
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.3" Width: 6.34" Height: 1.07"
Weight:   1.1 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 2006
Publisher   Free Press
ISBN  0743274970  
EAN  9780743274975  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Draws on neurobiological and societal research to present a scientific analysis of how the brain perceives and transforms reality into a wide range of personal, moral, creative, and spiritual beliefs.

Publishers Description
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.

Buy Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth by Andrew Newberg & Mark Robert Waldman from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9780743274975 & 0743274970

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More About Andrew Newberg & Mark Robert Waldman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! ANDREW NEWBERG, M.D., is the director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
MARK ROBERT WALDMAN is adjunct faculty at Loyola Mar ymount University. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Free Yourself From Your Belief in Beliefs.  Nov 11, 2007
In his latest book, author Andrew Newberg, MD (Why God Won't Go Away) explores the biological basis for belief and the nature of reality and truth. The book explores the powers of placebo, false memories, immorality in "moral" people, group think, speaking in tongues and 27 forms of biases.
Very interesting and helpful  Sep 11, 2007
Was struggling with faith. This book helped me sort things out. Very, very helpful.
Why We Believe What We Believe  Aug 24, 2007
I'm just about done reading this book and have enjoyed it very much. The author doesn't go on any tangents, go off the subject or include any difficult theories to weed through. The author does mentioned several scientific experiments but they are necessary to back up his findings. He doesn't bash people who believe in spiritual things but he doesn't sway that way himself he just looks at what he discovered with a scientific eye. I prefer books that don't bash other people with an opposing view but prefer someone who is looking for the reason of things with an open mind. I still would recommend that if you are a Christian you will need an open mind to enjoy this book.
Well-written and compelling, although with obvious biases  Sep 21, 2006
Andrew Newberg, professor of Radiology and Psychiatry, has written (along with Mark Robert Waldman) a sequel to his book, Why God Won't Go Away. The new book has strengths and weaknesses, but, should be of some interest to those who have an interest in spiritual matters and human behavior. The book is primarily written to address the question of how the brain works so that we arrive at what we believe to be true. The authors write from a spiritual perspective, but take numerous jabs at Christians and Christianity throughout the book. In contrast, New Age and Far Eastern religions seem to receive little or no criticism (co-author, Mr. Waldman seems to be into New Age type spirituality), and are actually endorsed. Likewise, atheists may not be entirely comfortable with the content, since it clearly challenges their cherished belief that that have no beliefs.

Even with this viewpoint bias, the first two parts of the book ("How the brain makes our reality" and "Childhood development and morality") are nothing less than fascinating. The topics are broad, so a lot of details are not included (especially supporting studies), although doing so would have increased the length considerably. Even so, I would have preferred more details and citations and a little of the controversy, which must be present in such a complex field. One gets the distinct impression that the results are not quite as neat and tidy as presented, and one wonders if studies that do not support the authors' premises are omitted as a form of viewpoint bias or just to save space.

A particularly interesting chapter entitle, "Ordinary Criminals Like You and Me," presents numerous experiments (many of which would be considered unethical today) that demonstrate that the vast majority of individuals will do extremely immoral acts, given the right conditions. For example, if enough people (planted experimental confederates) go along with a lie, test subjects will do likewise. In another study, participants "electrocuted" a "student" who was a "poor learner." Studies simulating prison conditions showed that the "officers" (experimental subjects) routinely mistreated the "prisoners" (also experimental subjects). In other experiments, subjects would usually act in selfish ways, rather than take the moral high ground. Newberg suggests that barring interception by our frontal lobes of our brain, all our actions would be immoral and selfish.

The book's third section, spiritual beliefs and the brain, presents Newberg's latest (and earlier) functional brain scan results on religious people. Previously, Newberg had studied the brain activity of Buddhists practicing meditation and Franciscan nuns practicing "centering prayer," a Roman Catholic method of meditating deeply on a specific biblical passage or concept. These results had shown similar patterns of brain activity for those meditating on "becoming one with the universe" or "inner peace" (Buddhists) and those meditating on God or the Bible. Both groups showed increased activity in the frontal lobes (primarily the prefrontal cortex), which represents the "attention area" and decreased activity in the parietal lobes (the "orientation area"). Each group interpreted their experience on the basis of their beliefs (e.g., inner peace for the Buddhists or God's presence for the nuns). In this book, Newberg added a third group - Pentecostal Christians who "speak in tongues." When analyzed, the brain scans showed increased activity in the thalamus (as in Buddhists and nuns). Speaking in tongues also resulted in high activity in the temporal lobes (involved in making emotions) and in the midbrain (probably resulting from the activities of speech and dance). Like Buddhists and nuns, Pentecostals represent a small percentage of the American population (probably only about 1% of Americans claim to speak in tongues). Newberg presented one case (not exactly a scientific sampling) of a spiritual atheist. Like the Buddhists, he practiced meditation, and presented with a brain scan similar to the Buddhists and nuns (though the actual scans were not shown in the book).

Also noteworthy was the finding of asymmetric thalamic activity in the Buddhists, nuns, Pentecostals, and even the one "spiritual" atheist, which is not found in the vast majority of people. The question arises whether these people are born with this asymmetry, resulting in the ability to play these mind games or whether the continual practice of the games themselves lead to the asymmetry. None of Newberg's studies were able to address these questions. An even more fundamental question concerns the rest of us, who lack the asymmetry, but still have religious beliefs. Maybe none of these studies really tell us anything about the kind of religious belief that most of us exhibit, since all the groups chosen for study represent extremely small minorities.

In conclusion, the book is well-written and compelling, although the obvious biases of the writers will probably annoy most Christian readers. The topic is complex and experimental design is difficult at best. Future studies will likely shed more light on this subject.
An Astonishing Book  Sep 21, 2006
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 prejudices the individual to reject them. Atheists are physiologically healthy individuals, even though they are one of the most despised groups in America. This chapter sheds light on why political parties tend to despise one another and goes a long way in explaining why there is so much religious discord in the world.

Finally, in Chapter 10, the authors discuss ways to become "a better believer" by developing a more cautious, skeptical, yet openminded approach when evaluating information from the media and from science. An overview of 27 forms of cognitive biases are presented, along with a systematic critique of prayer/religion research. They also summarize contemporary research on the placebo effect.

Overall, an astonishing book that was equally fun to read--but then again, that's what I believe.

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