Why do we demolish evil houses? Could you wear a Killer’s cardigan? Would you let your wife sleep with Robert Redford? The psychologist Bruce Hood poses these questions in Supersense and offers an intriguing explanation for our answers.
The central argument of the book goes like this. Most people hold some kind of supernatural belief, ideas which defy natural laws. Hood thinks that supernatural thinking is in fact a perfectly natural mechanism which develops in childhood and often persists into adulthood, even in otherwise perfectly rational people. According to Hood, supernatural thinking is an intuitive process and is not dissimilar to common sense; hence he terms it ‘supersense’.
Hood blends together anecdotes, psychological experiments, argument, popular culture and hints of philosophy exceptionally well, making Supersense a fantastically engaging book. I read so much of it on the tube that I actually began to look forward to tube journeys, which is about as much praise as I can give.
One of the particular strengths of the book is the range of supernatural thoughts it covers. Going beyond the well-trodden ground of religion and the paranormal, Hood draws our attention to all sorts of supernatural beliefs – sentimentality, mind-body dualism, the superstitions of tennis players and the idea of transferring essences to objects like cardigans.
The science is interesting and well explained, but not too dense. The experiments about childhood thinking are intriguing and prompt the reader to examine their current beliefs in relation to their childhood beliefs. Musings about the psychological implications of disgust permeate throughout the book and keep your attention. And even though Hood is a scientist and explains a lot of science very well, you never get the feeling you are reading book about science – which for me, on the whole, is a good thing.
At times Hood labours his central argument a little too much, but he acknowledges this himself and the surrounding material more than makes up for it. I think the reason he works so hard to relate the material to it is because he strongly believes that what he calls our supersense is natural and fundamentally embedded into the way we reason, and that it is unlikely that we will ever be rid of it.
This conclusion is bad news for the likes of Richard Dawkins, but for Hood our supersense allows us justify our sacred values – our morals, our ideas about interconnectedness, our sense our self and our attachment to objects. This is enough to make them rational and even desirable on some level. Whether you agree with this ultimate conclusion or not Supersense makes for a highly entertaining read and makes you think. So read it.