Book Excerpt: Life After Death, Powerful Evidence You Will Never Die

by Stephen Hawley Martin

How do we believe?

I reviewed this book a couple days ago, and obtained permission to print the following excerpt. Its relevance to religion, and life after death in particular, should be recognizable.

pp 140-141

For years, Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory University, has been studying how people think, particularly in the area of politics. … In experiments using MRI scans, Westen has demonstrated that persons with partisan preferences believe what they want to believe regardless of the facts. Not only that, they unconsciously congratulate themselves–the reward centers of their brains light up–when they reject new information that does not square with their predetermined views.

In one test, subjects were presented with contradictory statements made by George Bush and John Kerry. Republicans judged Kerry’s flip-flop harshly, while letting Bush off the hook for his. Democrats did the reverse. Interestingly, brain scans showed that the parts of the brain accounting for emotion were far more active during the experiment than the reasoning parts.

Anyone who follows politics will not be surprised by this. The truth is, Westen’s research does not relate anything new. Solzhenitsyn characterized this phenomenon as “the desire not to know.” …

Results such as this might help explain why some debates never seem to end. People are invested in the positions they take. So, as Westen puts it, they have a tendency to weigh not just the facts but also, “what they would feel if they came to one conclusion or another, and they often come to the conclusion that would make them feel better, no matter what the facts are.”

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