Research psychologist Bering (The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life, 2011, etc.) tackles touchy subjects with aplomb and humor in this snappy compilation of essays.
The book is divided into eight sections, each devoted to a single theme “sampling the astounding oddities of simply being human.” These include the male reproductive anatomy, little-known facts about our bodies, brain science, sexual paraphilias, fetishes and conditions, the bodies and minds of women, homosexuality, how religion is intertwined with our psychology, and suicide and the meaning of life. Many of the essays were previously published in another form in the author’s columns in Scientific American and Slate. Each essay offers a concise, illuminating overview to such queries as “how our coveted free will articulates with our genitalia,” or whether it is “really possible for an otherwise normal, healthy person to develop a genuine sexual preference for a nonhuman species.” The author also ponders whether suicide could be an adaptive behavioral strategy or “how people’s everyday reasoning about free will, particularly in the moral domain, influences their social behavior and attitudes.” Bering admits that he doesn’t delve into every aspect or all dissenting views surrounding each topic, but he includes endnotes for readers hungry for more insight. The author adroitly weaves together previous scholarly ideas and case studies with current research on his subject matter, then tops it off with his own idiosyncratic approach. At the beginning, he writes, “let me start by offering a full disclosure: my perspective is that of a godless, gay, psychological scientist with a penchant for far-flung evolutionary theories.”
An accessible, lively, thought-provoking book for anyone curious about what it means to be human.