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?
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.