Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Agustín Fuentes's "Why We Believe"

Agustín Fuentes is the Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Professor of Anthropology and chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being, and reported the following:
Opening to page 99 of Why We Believe introduces you to one of the key conclusions of the book: belief shapes our biology and our mind.

On this page, we learn that from birth we are “immersed in the details of the beliefs of our home community and…of the places and peoples we encounter. Throughout our lives, our minds and bodies are shaped by all of these experiences.” The results of this experience are not “external features mapped onto the biological base of our bodies. They are materially real parts of us, embodied in our neurobiology.” In short, “Neuroanatomy makes experience material—Cultural concepts and meanings become anatomy.”

This means that our “gut” sense of right and wrong, and our facility to deeply feel, physically and emotionally a religious commitment or a political stance is not just about an opinion. It is literally part of our anatomy.

The page 99 test works for Why We Believe, it sets the stage perfectly.

Pages 1-98 and 100-114 fill in all the rest of the back-story. Our place in nature, our evolutionary history, our cultural and biological complexity, and the ways all of these come together to give humans the capacity to believe. Then, from pages 115 till the end of the book, I illustrate how this capacity plays out in the areas of religion, economies and love, ending with a few notes on the dangers of belief and a glimpse of hope for the future.

The premise of the book is that believing is our ability to draw on our range of cognitive and social resources, our histories and experiences, and combine them with our imagination. It is the power to think beyond what is here and now in order to see and feel and know something— an idea, a vision, a necessity, a possibility, a truth—that is not immediately present to the senses, and then to invest, wholly and authentically, in that “something” so that it becomes one’s reality.

The point is that beliefs and belief systems permeate human neurobiologies, bodies, and ecologies, and structure and shape our daily lives, our societies, and the world around us. We are human, therefore we believe, and this book tells us how we came to be that way.
Learn more about Why We Believe at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You.

--Marshal Zeringue