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.

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“Half my life is in books’ written pages, lived and learned from fools and from sages.” ~ “Dream On” by Aerosmith

die tanzerin poster

“Die Tanzerin” (detail), by Gustav Klimt

 

“Lost in a dream of mirrors. Lost in a paradox.” ~ “Dream of Mirrors”* (Iron Maiden)

“A reflected dream of captured time . . .”

kananga-mineral-water-japanAs I’m sitting here, staring at the blinking cursor, I could swear that it’s mocking me: You cannot write. You cannot write. Ha ha ha . . .

I know, I do have a habit of personifying inanimate objects quite often, but I’m certain that it’s because my mind works on the same plane as those very objects that I personify. In other words, I understand the cursor, the mouse, the keyboard in the same way that I know what my dogs are saying.

Trust me. It’s a special gift—being this in touch with non-living, objects. Notice I did not say non-sentient? That’s because these little buggers are sentient (I don’t care what you think Bruce Hood; this is my special kind of  Supersense). For example, the mouse knows precisely when to act up: When I am exhausted and having a hard time editing myself. The keyboard knows exactly when to shift the keys one place over: When I am on a roll and not paying attention to the screen so that once I finally look up, I have 20 lines of gibberish.

It’s a conspiracy, I tell you. And I think that the ceiling fan may be in on it as well. By the way, the dogs are laughing at me.

“Have you ever felt the future is the past, but you don’t know how?”

Of course, you are probably sitting there thinking, ‘She’s sounding pretty strange today. Stranger than usual, that is.’ Well you’d be acting strangely too if you had the dream that I had last night. It was filled with confrontation, religious symbolism, a non-working right leg, a professor who turned on me in class, and a red-headed woman who was out to get me. Trust me, all of that trying to escape, falling off a metal bleacher and landing inside a church: That takes a toll on a person’s psyche.

Nevertheless, the actual reason for this post is that David Bridger  posted an interesting meme: Describe the most interesting dream you have ever had, or the dream that you simply cannot forget. I have quite a few, but there is one in particular that really sticks with me because it did not feel like a dream. It felt like a memory.

Now we all know about my Buddhist tendencies to believe in reincarnation: You keep coming back until you get it right. Well this particular dream felt so real, so linear and complete that when I told Corey about it, I also mentioned that I thought that it was more of a memory than a dream.

Okay, for you non-believers out there, just go with the flow. I mean the whole reincarnation thing has always troubled me because I fear coming back as a cockroach; however as someone pointed out to me, coming back as a cockroach would not be so bad because someone would step on you or poison you, which would end that particular incarnation, and then you would be able to come back as something better, that is unless being a cockroach is your final destination, in which case, we really don’t want to ponder that too much.

Moving on. I find it particularly hilarious that many people who claim to have had past lives declare that they were someone famous. How many people could have been Napoleon, or George Washington, or Marie Antoinette. Why is it that no one ever remembers being a scullery maid, or a blacksmith, or a fisherman?

(Just a note: You thought that the whole first section was a complete drop-in, something to fill space, but I had my motives: If I began this post with something completely nonsensical and outrageous, then by the time I got to reincarnation, it couldn’t possible phase you, and you’d just keep reading. (I do have my moments of lucidity within my insanity . . .))

“Have I dreamt this time, this place?”

Delusions of reincarnation grandeur. Too funny. But as usual, I digress. Getting back to my memory dream . . .

utamaro-kitagawa-a-young-woman-seated-at-a-desk-writing-a-girl-with-a-book-looks-on
"Young Woman Seated at Desk Writing, Girl With Book Looks On," by Utamaro Kitagawa

I am a young Japanese girl in Feudal Japan. My mother is a person of some importance in court, not a princess, but someone who is definitely of the upper class. I am wearing a white kimono that is covered with small cherry blossoms. In my child’s mind, I think that the kimono should not be white as that is the color for marriage. I wish that I could wear a fancy kimono like the ones that my mother wears, but I am too young.

My mother is trying to teach me how to paint my characters, specifically my name with small willows on a sprig as decoration. I keep trying, but I cannot get the page to look as beautiful as my mother’s.

In leaning over the paper, I spill some ink on my kimono. It is red ink even though I am drawing with black ink, and I think that the splatter looks like blood. My mother chastises me for being so clumsy, and leaves the room with her maid. I continue to work, but instead of drawing what I am supposed to be practicing, I draw the following image instead:

 

Basic RGB

 Japanese Memory Dream Image by L. Liwag

And I think I’ve seen your face, seen this room, been in this place”

I draw this image repeatedly, trying to perfect it until an old man comes into the room. He is my tutor. He looks at what I am drawing and tells me to stop. For some reason, the image makes him uncomfortable. He tells me that I can learn how to draw my characters better if I practice drawing a small canoe first. He takes the brush, and in three easy strokes draws a canoe; then he adds fine lines and a bit of shadow that illustrate the water.

I tell him that I am not able to draw such a simple yet beautiful picture, but he instructs me to begin with the three lines of the canoe. I push aside the image from my mind that I have drawn over and over again, and I take a clean sheet of white paper. I dip the brush in the ink pot, and I draw the three lines. They look just like the old man’s canoe. He smiles at me and bows his head. I bow my head in reply.

The dream ends.

“Think I’ve heard your voice before, think I’ve said these words before”

In setting the action into words, it seems as if it is a very short dream. But the reality is that this dream or memory takes a long time. I begin the lessons with my mother in the early afternoon. I pursue the elusive image in my mind for several hours. By the time I finish the canoe, it is evening.

arnie-fisk-gilded-kimono
"Gilded Kimono," by Arnie Fisk

Things I remember about the dream: My mother’s hair is very beautiful, black and shiny. Her Kimono has very long sleeves or tamoto, that are trimmed in gold, and I wish that I were old enough to wear sleeves like my mother’s. My mother’s maid is short and not very attractive, and she gives me a dirty look when my mother says that I am clumsy. I know that she is trying to make my mother like her more. I shoot the maid a child’s dirty look, although my eyes are cast downward out of respect for my mother.

The red ink that I spill on my kimono spreads quickly like blood, leaving the bottom of my right sleeve, and a portion of the right side of my kimono saturated with the ink. I try to blot the ink with a piece of fabric, and I stick my fingers in water to try to rub out the ink . Someone, I don’t know whose voice it is, says that the ink will come out when the kimono is washed, but my mother scolds the person and says that the kimono, which is made of fine silk, is ruined now.

My tutor does not have a long mustache. He is thin, and he has brown leathery hands, and the bones are prominent. I think that he will not be able to draw well with such hands. My tutor has an assistant, a much younger man, who does nothing. He sits off to the side and drinks tea while the old man instructs me. I think that he is a lazy assistant and wish that I could spent more time with my tutor as I like him very much. He is not as stern as my mother, and he is very patient with me.

The room that I am in throughout the dream has long windows. At first, there is much sunlight streaming into the room. As the day wanes, I no longer notice the sunlight, but at some point my tutor lights the lanterns in the room. The floor is stone, and I am sitting on a large, red cushion. It has gold tassels on each corner.

“Have I found my destination?” 

Picture of the Upper Class by Kitagawa Utamaro
"Picture of the Upper Class," by Utamaro Kitagawa

Now, I had this memory dream several weeks ago, but I still remember every detail, even though this is the first time that I have written about it. I do remember my dreams, but never with this much clarity.

The other very curious thing about this memory dream and reality is that for a very long time, since I was in my early 20’s, I have felt that there is something Japanese in me somewhere along the line. It’s not from my father’s side of the family. In fact, my father hated the Japanese, and for good reason. His village suffered horribly under Japanese rule during WWII.

Despite that, I have had this feeling that I have Japanese blood, and I wrote about it in a poem called “Blood Tracings.” I never told my father about my feelings; in fact, I have only told a few people over the years about this sense of heritage, but I have not thought about it in years.

And then this memory dream pervades my bedtime sojourns and leaves me feeling very disquieted.

“Am I still inside my dream? Is this a new reality” 

Who’s to say if my dream means anything. It may just be my mind’s way of sifting through the detritus of the day, which is how I usually interpret my dreams. If there is a red-headed woman in my dream, it’s usually because I have seen a red-headed woman on television, or on a book flap (which was the case last night), or in person.

 But this dream has nothing to do with anything I have thought about recently, nothing I have written about, nor anything that I have seen. It just came to me, and when I awoke, I was certain that it was a memory. I felt that way and still feel this way because of the effect that this memory dream has had on me: I think about it constantly; the details are still quite vivid, and when I awoke from the dream, I immediately said to Corey, “I just had the most curious memory.” Of course he was asleep at the time, so I had to remind him later.

If it was indeed a memory, then it was a good one. Aside from displeasing my mother, I enjoyed my creations with brush and ink. I cared little about my kimono being ruined, and the old man who was my tutor gave me a great deal of comfort. The room in which I was working was obviously the room that was dedicated to learning as there was the one larger desk with several brushes, and many cushions on the stone floor.

I know nothing about Japanese characters. I don’t think that the drawing that I created actually translates into anything. But if it does, I would love to know.

またあいましょ : ‘Mata aai masho’ or “Let us meet again.” Peace.

claude-monet-the-japanese-bridge

 “The Japanese Bridge,” by Claude Monet

*All quotes in text subheadings are taken from Iron Maiden’s “Dream of Mirrors”
                                                                                                                                        
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“Very superstitious, writings on the wall,/Very superstitious, ladders bout to fall” ~ From Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”

supersense-us-cover

The U.S. Book Cover for Supersense

“There is superstition in avoiding superstitions.” Sir Francis Bacon

Supersense: Bruce Hood’s Book Hits the Shelves

I know that several people who follow my blog also follow Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable (http://brucemhood.wordpress.com/), which is hosted by researcher, scientist, and author Bruce M. Hood.

supersense-uk-cover
Supersense U.K. Cover

Bruce’s blog is always entertaining, very often educational, and the comment streams can be great fun. I have been visiting Bruce’s blog for a while now, and I will freely admit that it is one of my favorites. I think that I enjoy the comments as much as the blogs themselves. Those of us who comment regularly are an irreverent bunch, mostly from the UK and the US, but people drop in from all over the world.

Bruce is currently on the U.S. leg of his promotional tour for his book, which has the same name as his blog site; unfortunately for me, Bruce’s tour dates didn’t come anywhere near the Mid-Atlantic, or I would have traveled to see him. As it is, once I am able to purchase is book, I am probably going to send it to Bruce so that he can autograph it for me.

I’ll probably order the UK version as I really prefer that cover to the US cover. (Decisions on cover designs for different countries is fodder for an entire class on design. Don’t get me started.)

Here is a brief description from the Amazon site:

Why is it that Tony Blair always wore the same pair of shoes when answering Prime Minister’s Questions? That John McEnroe notoriously refused to step on the white lines of a tennis court between points? And that President-elect Barack Obama played a game of basketball the morning of his victory in the Iowa primary, and continued the tradition the day of every following primary? Superstitious habits are common. Do you ever cross your fingers, knock on wood, avoid walking under ladders, or step around black cats? Sentimental value often supersedes material worth. If someone offered to replace your childhood teddy bear or wedding ring with a brand new, exact replica, would you do it?

It has been wonderful keeping up with him and his promotions people in the big lead up to the publication dates in the UK and in the US. And in spite of his busy and hectic schedule, he still finds time to post to allow his regular readers to keep up with his goings on.

He was on NPR on April 7 with Brian Lehrer, but I missed the show. If I hadn’t missed it, you can bet that I would have called in and asked Bruce about mummified mermaids. But since I missed the show, I wanted to take this opportunity to post the youtube of the show, called “Are You Superstitious?”

 

 

“Men are probably nearer the central truth in their superstitions than in their science” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Personally, I am very superstitious about some things but not others, but I don’t really think about it until someone points it out. For example, I have no problems in opening an umbrella inside of the house or a building, but this drives my poor mother crazy. However, I do not like to walk under ladders; but to be perfectly honest, I think that this dislike arises more from clumsiness than superstition.

I don’t believe in throwing salt over my shoulder or knocking on wood (more because everything is laminate, and that kind of defeats the purpose of wood), but I do believe in ghosts, more because of events that have happened in my life. I’ll pick up pennies whether they are heads up or heads down, just because I view a penny as part of a larger whole; is that in itself a superstition?

arnold_6661Friday the 13th passes by without my acknowledgement, but I wouldn’t want to stay on the 13th floor of a hotel, nor would I want to stay in room 666. I don’t believe in the seven years of bad luck associated with breaking mirrors, but I might want to rethink that one considering the string of bad luck that we’ve had.

I don’t believe in lucky clothes, but I’m not an athlete. My former husband used to be a competitive runner, and he had a lucky t-shirt. And I’ve known other people who play sports who have lucky socks or lucky shirts. However, I do have an old sweater from the sixth grade that I refuse to rid myself of, as well as a t-shirt from high school that is faded and wouldn’t fit on my thigh, but I cannot bring myself to throw that away either. Superstition or sentimentality? Is there a difference?

walking-on-broken-glass
Walking on Broken Glass by L. Liwag

I am not afraid of black cats; in fact, I find them rather beautiful. But I do believe in angels or angelic presence. I don’t believe in things commonly referred to as “old wives’ tales,” but my mother still clings to many of these.

For example, my mother still has a thing about the night air, as in people who are sick shouldn’t go out in the night air. This “old wives’s tale” actually dates back to the Renaissance and before. People used to believe that ill humours floated about in the night air, and those who actually chanced a nightly constitutional among the humours would be affected adversely by catching diseases and ailments. As a result of this, my mother would never let me go out at night when I was younger for fear that my asthma would be affected by the night air.

Okay, then.

I can tell you that since my operation, my back now is a very good predictor of rain and snow, just as people for years have claimed that their arthritis predicts bad weather.

“Like it or not, we’re still a primitive tribe ruled by fears, superstition and misinformation.” ~ Bill Maher 

My father used to have this funny superstition, but I’m not sure if he really believed it or just found it funny enough to pass on. Apparently, an ancient Filipino, perhaps Asian cure for when people were choking on fish bones was to pat them on the head. I’ll never forget when Alexis seemed to have something caught in her throat, and my dad said, “Pat her on the head. It will go away.” Luckily, she wasn’t really choking. We’ve laughed about that one for years.

Another superstition among many tribes and religions is that of a woman being unclean when she is menstruating. In some cultures, these women were/are made to go stay in a separate hut or room until her menses passes. Often the superstition is that the woman can contaminate the rest of the village somehow, or, that the menstruating woman is a little bit mad. I can vouch for the latter: Men should try having bloating, cramps, headaches, insomnia, and mood swings every month of their lives . . .

full-moon-croppedThen there are the serial killers. Now there’s a superstitious bunch for you. What do I mean? How about those who will only kill under the full moon? Or those who will only kill women with blond hair? Or those that will bury their dead in the same place because it’s lucky? Icky, huh?

Or cultural superstitions: not eating cows because they are sacred (India), throwing coins in a fountain while facing away from a fountain will grant three wishes (Argentina), or not sleeping with your head pointed north because that’s the direction that dead people face (Japan).

Or doomsday cults. That’s another superstitious subculture. The world will end at the new millennium. The world will end when women get the vote. The world will end when blacks are integrated into society. The world will end when I finally publish a book. No wait, that one is mine. Sorry.

I’m not even going to touch on the superstitions tied to various religions. That is a book all by itself. Scientology anyone?

I could go on, but it would be much better if you ordered Bruce’s book (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your independent bookseller), and read about these things as written by an expert on the subject.

I do want to close with a quote by the incredible Carl Sagan when he was pondering what would happen at the close of the millennium: “I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.”

 “Siren song of unreason”—boy I wish that I had written that.

More later. Peace.