Supersense: A Review (of sorts)

Supersense US cover

Supersense: U.S. Cover

 

“Reading SuperSense is like having lunch with your favorite professor—the conversation spans religion, biology, psychology, philosophy, and early childhood development. One thing is for sure, you’ll never see the world in the same way again.” ~ Ori Brafman, New York Times bestselling author of Sway

I have a confession to make: I actually feel a little intimidated about writing a review of Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable, the book written by one of my favorite bloggers, Bruce M. Hood. Obviously, I should explain.

I finished reading Bruce’s book a couple of months ago. My first inclination was, “Wow, that was even better than I thought that it would be.” My second inclination was that I should post a review of  the book on my blog. My third inclination was, “I’m not worthy.”

I found Supersense to be one of those books that crosses many lines: Well-written and entertaining, the book’s premise is intellectual. It appeals to a very broad spectrum of people, and it’s a great read. That in mind, when I tried to write a review, I kept feeling that I just wasn’t doing the book justice. Don’t ask me why I felt this way; it’s irrational, I know.

Hence, my usual reaction to such situations kicked in: I procrastinated until I finally became embarrassed enough in the delay that I did something about it.

A Little Background

Bruce is the Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol. His CV is mightily impressive: research fellow at Cambridge University and University College London, a visiting scientist at MIT , and a faculty professor at Harvard. But with the publication of Supersense, Bruce’s media recognition has grown exponentially. His book tour has taken him to several countries, and he has appeared on numerous radio shows, as well as on the BBC, and he has delivered several lectures on the concept of Supersense.

Let me regress here. I came upon Bruce M. Hood’s blog almost a year ago. I was immediately hooked. The posts ranged from mummified sea monsters to ideas about phrenology (studying bumps on the head), cremation and ashes, goat gonads, sitings of Jesus on a Cheetoh, and my personal favorite, saucy codpiece. It’s a wild and wonderful world at Bruce’s blog.

Would You Wear A Killer’s Cardigan?

Supersense UK cover
Supersense: UK Cover

As defined by the author, an individual’s supersense is the inclination or sense that supernatural experiences may be real, even though they are not supported by facts or substantiated by reliable evidence (paraphrased from page x in the book). Essentially, Bruce contends that as humans, we are born with this hard-wiring to try to make sense of the world in which we live, even if it means having beliefs that aren’t exactly explainable, or being superstitious, or seeing patterns. 

For example: Do you knock on wood? Have you ever thrown salt over your shoulder? Do you have a lucky suit or a certain pair of shoes that you wear to job interviews? Have you ever felt as if someone is staring at you? Supersense.

In addition to fleshing out the definition of supersense and how it “shapes our intuitions and superstitions and is essential to the way we learn to understand the world and in binding us together as a society,” the book elaborates on this premise through numerous relatable incidents such as those mentioned previously.

Bruce explores why some people would wear the cardigan (sweater for Americans) belonging to a killer while others would not, why an individual needing an organ transplant might reject an organ donated by a killer, why athletes have rituals that they repeat before beginning any game, and why the concept of security blankets and other attachment objects are so pervasive in society.

The Science and the Psychology

Of course, Supersense is foremost an exposition of a scientific premise that humans are born with this heightened, or super sense, and the author cites several studies of babies and children to support this thesis. The scholarship works companionably with the author’s use of observations and anecdotes.

Among many of the book’s reviews from authors, researchers, journals, and magazines, I read a wonderful review of Bruce’s book in Psychology Today. Written by Dave Sobel, this review delves a bit more into the child development aspects of the book in a way that I could not do justice. Sobel discusses the author’s work with Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology a Yale University. Together, the men created a “copy machine,” a machine that could supposedly make an exact duplicate of an object, when in fact, the machine was a mere magic trick.

What was interesting about this “machine,” was how children reacted to it: As Sobel explains,

“Hood and Bloom found that children were willing to accept duplicates of many kinds of familiar objects, except one specific kind—attachment objects like their security blanket or a special stuffed animal (actually, they almost never would allow these objects to be duplicated in the first place). Children recognize that an object’s experience is as critical to its identity as its physical appearance.”

“Hood’s marvelous book is an important contribution to the psychological literature that is revealing the actuality of our very irrational human nature.” ~ From Review in Science

Essentially, Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable is appealing to both the layperson and the professional. Bruce’s use of first person makes the writing extremely approachable, and his balance of humor and scientific observation work together well in keeping his audience engaged. Ultimately, the book challenges the reader to think about why it is we humans rationalize the irrational, believe in the unbelievable, and avoid walking under ladders after breaking mirrors on Friday the 13th.

You can purchase your copy of Supersense at most bookstores, or online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and several other sources. Something to keep in mind: This book would be the perfect gift for the skeptical reader in your life.

More later. Peace.

“Young cat, if you keep your eyes open enough, oh, the stuff you would learn! The most wonderful stuff!” ~ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss Green Eggs and Ham

Green Eggs and Ham: My Favorite Dr. Seuss Book

 

“Think left and think right and think low and think high.”

“Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!” ~  Oh, The Thinks You Can Think, by Dr. Seuss

One of my regular readers recommended a site that she thought I might find interesting. It’s called Goodreads, and it is a social network for readers. With over 1.2 million members, the site provides a way for members to create their virtual bookshelves.

Dr Seuss Oh The Thinks You Can ThinkAt first glance, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to expend the time or energy on yet another social network. Within three minutes, I was hooked. I have spent the last two days on and off the site. My current pain level, which is hovering between 7 and 8 (out of 10), is making it pretty nigh impossible for me to sit for extended periods (another reason for the laxity in my postings).

Goodreads has proven to be a wonderful balm to my brain. Essentially, it works like this: The site contains the information on over 49 million books (yes, that’s million). By information, I mean everything: the publishing date, the ISBN, information n the publisher, author, genre, number of pages, etc.

Members of the site can search by genre or by lists that are generated by site members. For example, I jumped on lists called “The Book Was Better Than The Movie,” “Books You Must Read Before You Die,” “Best Books Ever,” “Best Science Fiction,” and many, many more. Then I did some searching by genre: classics, biography, crime. As you read through the lists, you rate books that you have read, which automatically adds the books to your personal shelf. You can also highlight books that you want to put on your “to read” list, as well as books that you are in the midst of reading.

If for some reason Goodreads does not contain a book that you have read or in which you are interested, you can add a book. You need to know as much about the book as possible, as in, have it next to  you when you are adding it so that you can consult the publication information page.

I have to admit, though, a few books that I thought that I wouldn’t find were actually already listed.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss I Can Read With My Eyes ShutOne thing that I did not do a lot of was to create reviews of the books that I added to my shelf. At first, I added a few short reviews here and there, but then I decided that I wanted to save the reviewing until after I had completed my first pass at compiling a semi-complete list. That way, I can spend some time on the reviews and add thoughtful comments.

The reviews are intended to help other members in evaluating whether or not they might want to read a book. Since I read book reviews all of the time, I think that this is a great idea. Of course, these reviews are not intended to be comprehensive. Instead, they should be on the short side, something quick and dirty, so to speak.

Another aspect of the site that I haven’t checked out yet is the whole idea of “friends.” I’m not sure how you make them, if you have to make them, if you appear hostile if you don’t actively search for them. Whatever. But apparently, the whole idea of creating a virtual bookshelf is so that your friends can see what you are reading, and check out what you have to say about it. I suppose I’ll get to that sooner or later, as well.

“It’s high time you were shown That you really don’t know All there is to be known.” ~ On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss On Beyond ZebraI have a feeling that I am going to like this site. It’s somewhat of a bibliophile’s dream site: pictures of books, lists and lists of books, opinions of books—everything but the book itself.

Just in my few short visits, I have already added 653 books. And that doesn’t really reflect all of the classics that I haven’t gone through, or biographies, or poetry, or . . .

I checked out all of the site information (posted at the bottom of the page. Goodreads offers advertising opportunities for authors who want to promote their book(s), allows giveaways, etc. There is also a site blog that is maintained by the individuals who work on the site. In addition, Goodreads posts job openings for their site for anyone who might be interested and qualified. And of course, there is a method for contacting the site with questions or comments.

“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.” ~ Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

I just wanted to add one of my little bits of personal history here as it directly bears on why I think that Goodreads is such a great find:

Dr Seuss Oh The Places Youll GoWhen I left my job at the Museum (left is such a nice word: laid off because of severe budget cuts is more accurate), I decided to spend more time on my freelance writing and editing. A very good friend of mine at the time decided to expand his business empire (loose use of word) by opening a men’s clothing store. The idea was that I would work for him by managing the store, and he would provide an office in which I could work on my writing. The space he provided was very roomy, and it contained several built-in bookshelves.

I nested immediately, as I am prone to do in any space that I occupy. Part of that nesting included bringing in my writer’s reference books, and since I had so many shelves, I also brought in my poetry collection. In all, I had about 150 books in my office.

Now I need to stop here to insert a very important fact: the building in which the store was located was very old. The heater was this huge monstrosity that was mounted to the ceiling. I was always in fear that the heating unit would fall on me because it never looked very sturdy.

The usual routine was that I would open the store every day, and around 2 in the afternoon, after his restaurant’s lunch rush, the owner would come by to check on things. One afternoon, I was sitting in my office space, and the owner was on the sales floor. The two were only divided by a three-quarter wall that did not go to the ceiling. I heard my friend calling my name, but I was very engrossed in something, so I did not respond immediately. Then he called me again, and I detected a not of panic in his voice.

“The store is on fire,” he said. I just stood there frozen. Finally, he yelled at me that we had to get out. I quickly grabbed the pictures of my family from my desk, and one framed photograph that was very old. I took a second to look around, realizing that everything on those shelves was about to be obliterated.

My friend grabbed my arm and hustled me out the front door. We got outside, and someone called the fire department. At this point, I think that I must have been in shock because I grabbed the handle to the front door and opened it. All I saw was black smoke. One of the firefighters later told me that I could have caused a flashpoint and an explosion if I had let enough oxygen into the room.

“So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a great balancing act.” ~ Oh The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss Cat in the HatThey were able to stop the fire without much destruction to the building, which made the other tenants pretty happy. Once we were let back inside, the fire investigator was standing under the heating unit shaking his head. It was pretty obvious what had started the fire: the coil that attached the heater to the electrical source was old and bent, and as a result, it had sparked, and since the store was full of lots of burnable material, that is, clothes, it didn’t take long for the spark to turn into a fire.

After the firefighters had declared it safe to go back into the building, I walked through the piles of wet clothes on the showroom floor towards the door to my office. I had remembered to close it when I walked out. I admit that I was completely paralyzed by the image of what might lay beyond that closed door. Amazingly, none of my books or pictures had burned, but everything was severely smoke damaged.

In the end, many of my books were able to be saved because I used my homeowner’s policy to cover my personal damage. The insurance company sent someone out to my house to evaluate the status of my belongings. Fortunately, there was a process that the cleaning company used whereby they wiped every single page of a book with some kind of wipe that removed the smoke smell and soot from the pages.

The other good thing was that I had kept an inventory of all of the books that I had taken to the office, so I was able to reconcile my inventory with what made it out of the burned store.

“Oh the things you can find if you don’t stay behind.” ~ On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss One Fish Two FishI mention all of this for two reasons: First, I have never updated my book inventory. I have plans to do so once we finally finish the remodeling of the house, and I have the built-in bookcases that Corey promised me.

Second, and this is very significant, I can now use Goodreads to create an online inventory of all of my books. I cannot recall every book that I own from memory, but by scanning the site’s inventory, I will be able to create a very good online inventory.

How will it be accurate, you ask? Well, I may have mentioned that I’m a bibliophile, and I am also a hoarder of a few things, one of them being books. I buy every book that I read, and I never give away books unless I absolutely hated them. So just about every book on my virtual bookshelf will be a book that I have in my possession, even though in possession at the moment means in storage containers.

“If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” ~ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss

So, if you love books as much as I do, be sure to check out Goodreads. You can click on the link in the paragraph above. And if you decide to join, don’t forget to friend me (friend as a verb? appalling), or whatever it is you do to let someone know that you visited.

Seriously though, it’s a great way to spend some time immersed in book titles long forgotten.

See you around the bookshelves.

You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s a great balancing act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

~ From Oh, The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss

More later. Peace.