What can neuroscience tell us about novels, poems, and plays? Can fiction help us develop real-world cognitive skills? And can writers exploit our mental weaknesses—for our own good? These are some of the questions we'll be asking on this week’s show, “Your Brain on Literature.”
Last month, I started a new series of essays on Freud as a philosopher. This month, I want to lay out some of the perplexing philosophical issues that Freud and his intellectual community were confronted with towards the end of the nineteenth century, and how they grappled with them.
I grew up as a boy going to the Christian Reformed Church, in which every Sunday we would recite the Apostle’s creed. It starts: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth.” There are two things to note here. First, the creed mentions the psychological state of “belief.” Second, the belief is supposed to be in a being that is almighty, or omnipotent.
I wrote last time on whether cognitive science of religion impacts whether one should believe in God. Today I’d like to discuss a finding that raises a different but related question.
What makes people believe in God?
The relatively new research field cognitive science of religion is busy trying to answer this question. And it’s come up with some powerful answers so far. Importantly, its answers are psychological. They focus on the mental processes that cause religious belief—or religious credence, as I call it.