Why Do We Believe?

Original title: Pourquoi croit-on ?

Author: Ripoll, Thierry

Publication Date:

October 2020



Original language and publisher

Territories Handled

Worldwide excl. French



Why Do We Believe?

Original title: Pourquoi croit-on ?

Author: Ripoll, Thierry


It is often forgotten that humans are distinguished from other animal species by their propensity to believe in the existence of a supernatural world. Thus, behind the banality of an immediately accessible reality, there is a truly spiritual world endowed with forces that escape us and yet powerfully influence our lives. Taking into account this hidden reality would be likely to give meaning to our existence, to make it more acceptable and controllable… We are here in the universe of belief.

In this book, Thierry Ripoll, Professor of Psychology at the University of Aix Marseille, tackles the fascinating and troubling task of identifying the psychological and cerebral processes that lead us to believe a multitude of things (simple superstitions, belief in the existence of non-material energies, the power of rituals and prayers, extrasensory abilities, religious beliefs, conspiracy theories…). These processes, mostly unconscious, spare no one, not even those with radical skepticism. To varying degrees, beliefs always find space to develop and often condition, without our knowledge, our lives, our decisions, our choices and our relationship to the world.

While there is no doubt that beliefs are natural responses to the inherent difficulties that everyone encounters in their lives, and while they contribute in part to our psychological equilibrium, they are nonetheless formidable springboards for behavior that can be potentially dangerous for the believer and for the society in which he or she lives. Understanding their origin is therefore essential. In this instructive and biting book, Thierry Ripoll sheds new light on this thorny and societally crucial subject.


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Author Q & A

Why did you write this book?
The theme of belief is fascinating because beliefs are undoubtedly a specificity of the human mind: the late offspring of a long evolution that has made the Sapiens brain a prodigious belief machine. Beliefs carry us, transcend us and lead us to surpass ourselves. They nourish our creative capacity and allow us to think of an afterlife, which can be that of science as well as that of religion. But beliefs represent a real danger when they totally escape critical and rational analysis, especially when they invade political space. To guard against the potential danger of unfounded beliefs, it is undoubtedly useful to understand how they are established. This is the main objective of this book: to understand the processes that lead us to believe in order to guard against them when necessary.

In your opinion, are people able to change their point of view when their beliefs are touched?
It is very difficult to abandon one’s beliefs, as evidenced, for example, by the fact that flat earthers do not revise their conception despite the amount of objective information they have to recognize the rotundity of the Earth. It is very difficult because beliefs contribute to our internal balance and because we suffer from a bias to think that we think better than others. But it is not impossible, provided that we do not oppose believers head-on, but simply lead them to analyze the unconscious processes that lead them to believe.

What is the most dangerous belief?
That which consists in believing that what we know or think we know through our intuition alone is more valuable than what reason and empirical evidence offer us. Intuition is a wonderful tool that I have studied a lot as a cognitive psychologist. There is nothing magical about it and it simply results from well identified unconscious (and therefore neural) cognitive processes. Because of its unconscious nature, many people give it an almost mystical value that would no longer be questionable. But intuition not subject to critical analysis can be at the origin of the most delirious and dangerous beliefs. To be wary of one’s intuition requires the acceptance of one’s own cognitive limitations and therefore great humility. This is the step that humans must take to free themselves from what is most archaic within them and most dangerous to others.

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