Bruce M. Hood is chair of the Cognitive Development Center in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol. He was a research fellow at Cambridge and has been a visiting scientist at MIT and professor at Harvard. Hood has received many awards for his work in child development and cognitive neuroscience. His newest book is Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Bruce M. Hood explains how his agenda is different than the common skeptical agenda to disprove supernatural claims, and instead is an attempt to explain why people believe hold such beliefs in the first place. He argues that everyone is born with a “supersense,” an instinct to believe in unseen forces and to recognize patterns and infer their causation, citing examples such as seeing Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich, or the case of the “haunted scrotum.” He explains how this supersense is universal, and that even skeptics and rationalists often exhibit it in their lives through rituals and the owning certain valued possessions, such as Richard Dawkins’ prizing of objects once owned by Charles Darwin or MIT growing saplings from the tree under which Newton first discovered the laws of gravity. He details how rituals give a perceived sense of control to believers, and how they may actually affect a believer’s performance. He talks about the “secular supernatural,” contrasting it with the “religious supernatural.” He argues against Daniel Dennett’s and Richard Dawkins’s thesis that religious belief results primarily from indoctrination in childhood. And he defends the position that unbelievable beliefs serve important social functions.