The Believing Brain: Evolution, Neuroscience, and the Spiritual Instinct

  • Published on: 01 June 2019
  • God, they say, is in the details. But could God also be in our frontal lobes? Every culture from the dawn of humankind has imagined planes of existence beyond the reach of our senses, spiritual domains that shape our Earthly experiences. Why do beliefs of the fantastic hold such powerful sway over our species? Is there something in our evolutionary history that points to an answer? Does neuroscience hold the key? Straddling the gap between science and religion, Brian Greene is joined by renowned neuroscientists, anthropologists, and evolutionary biologists, to explore one of the most profound mysteries of our existence.

    PARTICIPANTS: Lisa Barrett, Barbara J. King, Zoran Josipovic, Steven Pinker

    MODERATOR: Brian Greene


    This program is part of the BIG IDEAS SERIES, made possible with support from the JOHN TEMPLETON FOUNDATION.

    - SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube Channel and "ring the bell" for all the latest videos from WSF
    - VISIT our Website:
    - LIKE us on Facebook:
    - FOLLOW us on Twitter:

    0:00 - Introduction
    01:05 - Overview of religious beliefs
    12:15 - Panelist intros
    14:27 - Panelists share personal religious beliefs
    18:28 - Broadening our views of belief
    19:15 - Do other animals have a sense of spirituality?
    20:50 - What is evolutionary psychology?
    27:51 - Are humans wired for belief?
    32:36 - Is there evidence of an internal predilection of religious belief?
    37:46 - Searching for the origin of religious belief
    45:21 - Is there an adaptive value of religious belief?
    49:31 - Advantages of religious belief relating to the nervous system
    55:24 - Why has religion persisted for so long?
    1:00:30 - Religion as an emotional response vs a social mechanism
    1:08:20 - The future of the role of religion
    1:14:15 - What would aliens think of our religious beliefs?

    - Produced by John Plummer
    - Associate Produced by Laura Dattaro
    - Opening media created by Josh Zimmerman
    - Music provided by APM
    - Additional images and footage provided by: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Videoblocks

    This program was recorded live at the 2018 World Science Festival and has been edited and condensed for YouTube.
  • Runtime : 1:17:47
  • neuroscience of faith does god exist brain human evolution spiritual instinct science and religion belief origins of faith religious planet Einstein cosmos Brian Greene Barbara King Zoran Josipovic Lisa Barrett Steven Pinker history of religious belief existence of supernatural entities atheism consciousness World Science Festival 2018 NYC Big Ideas anthropology origin of sprituality evolutionary psychology psychology mind and body philosophy


  • Infinite Hustle
    Infinite Hustle   4 hours ago

    Hello world I'm a nonexistent spirit speaking through my brothers simulational realmetry. Do you want to know what evolution really is, change. Why do you never say de-evolve.? You say 10 I say dog backward. Ru tripping or am I slippin bc there something u missin. Wake up

  • Infinite Hustle
    Infinite Hustle   4 hours ago

    If I walk on water will every scientist kiss my big toe and a camel's cameltoe? If not you blow up. Deal????

  • Infinite Hustle
    Infinite Hustle   4 hours ago

    You will look at the clock at 1134 and then remember hell. 1134 was when that friend or relative died. Fuck 1134. 112, 411, 624, 1124 I miss u all. Its 833. Judy joe gotta go.

  • bigrigJim
    bigrigJim   18 hours ago

    It is pretty amazing that in the 21st century there are still so many people that think that there is an invisible and magical man in the sky watching over us all. It is slowly coming to an end though , young people are wising up and also not being indoctrinated and brainwashed by their parents.

  • William Jennings
    William Jennings   2 days ago

    This life in this worldseems to be only for learningand to be testedfor our purposes in the next life.Humans in this world invent and developbut fail to really accomplish anythingbecause it's impossibleto accomplish anything meaningfulin this world."It's impossible to love the world and God at the same time."

  • William Jennings
    William Jennings   2 days ago

    An individual can communicate directlywith a supreme beingwithout having to go through a brokersuch as a religious leader.It seems likely that some prominent humanshave created waysto harness the natural spiritual interestsof many in the populationto redirect themtoward accomplishing the worldly agendaof that prominent human leader.Nobody has to buy the overpriced ticket from the scalper.The less expensive ticket can be bought at the box office.Nobody has to send $5 to the TV preacherto get that preacher to say a prayer.The individual can pray as well as that TV preacher.

  • William Jennings
    William Jennings   2 days ago

    One of the people in the grouphas a way of speakingthat I would call hyper-objectiveas if he is tensed upand reluctant to announcewhat his senses are telling him.

  • Anthony Fletcher
    Anthony Fletcher   2 days ago

    My understanding is that the mind can't possibly understand 'God' or Oneness, for the mind is a tool to break down a subject into it's constituent parts and to analyse. It is, I believe, only through the feeling heart, through love and compassion that a person can comprehend Oneness, or the 'Cosmic Consciousness'.

  • Lerrad Noillik
    Lerrad Noillik   2 days ago

    Brian G, you forgot one religion and or belief, Deism, I would even brave to say that at least 25% of the global population are deist but don't know it, because no one talks about it anymore, but even so, it is a simple belief, would you say that it deserves a place in your % graph you gave towards the beginning of the video??

  • A Body of Beautiful Minds

    Mr. Greene, I challenge anyone who believes in their concepts to prove it, as I can prove truth..

  • aspektx
    aspektx   2 days ago

    I was hoping for a more specific discussion concerning observable evidence found in the brain itself.I know that at some point there were groups using various measurements, like MRIs, to watch the brain's activity in relation to various experiences and images.

  • aspektx
    aspektx   2 days ago

    I really don't care for voice overs by voice actors.

  • මලින්ද සමරසිංහ

    Dear Sir, Iam from Srilanka .I suggest you might find the teachings of Budda would be helpful .Not the religion as you have heard Sir but the philosophy .the teachings .

  • keyhw
    keyhw   4 days ago


  • jitendra bharai
    jitendra bharai   5 days ago

    Belief in God is the result of the fear of death and nothing else.

  • jitendra bharai
    jitendra bharai   5 days ago

    Aliens would not only laugh at us but find us easy prey if they ever found out how irrational we are when it comes to our belief in such irrational notions such as God and Ghosts.

  • Scott Koshland
    Scott Koshland   1 weeks ago

    It’s all consciousness. Information is the unit for consciousness. Everything is information. So does the universe create consciousness or does consciousness create the universe. Once you know yourself you will know. There are levels of consciousness that relate to higher and lower dimensions for existence. The one that sows for the flesh will reap desolation and the one the sow for the spirit will reap everlasting life.

  • Alison Howells
    Alison Howells   1 weeks ago

    No matter how similar you consider the human race to be to chimps..We did not evolve from chimps.if we had then there would be no chimps.when something evolves in it's entirety..

  • Andries Scheper
    Andries Scheper   1 weeks ago

    Our brain wants to make sense out of nonsense , the mystery of life, or like the French philosopher Sartre would call it: the absurdity of existence, much in the same way as we understand a chaotic inkblot as f.e. a butterfly, a cloud as a flying pig, and events that are not related as to our human experience meaningful coincidents (Jung). To our conscience death cannot be accepted. Our world confronted us with forces we did not understand: storm, lightning, fire, the sky at night. It looked like there were spiritual forces all around us. Vulcanos, mountains, celestial bodies, the sea, a well etcetera, became living entities. Loved ones that passed away were believed not to be gone, but to survive in other dimensions. We used rituals to sooth the distress of their deaths.Another matter concerns cosmology. Our brain cannot grasp infinity or eternity. There has to be a start and finish of the lot. Conciddering the intelligent appearance of our world, there has to be a creator, etc. Our senses, awareness, memories, dreams, imaginations, fantasies, fears and visions presented themselves as our self conscianceness and our souls were born. Rituals became religion and tribes invented their gods, heavens and underworlds. Zoroaster, and later pharao Aknaton introduced a religious system with only one God above all that is, ever was or will be. It's written that Abraham, and later Moses, introduce Yahweh and his laws. He evolves from a farmer's God to a war god that would stand trial at the U.N. war tribunal in The Hague, Holland. In Jesus time he becomes a loving and forgiving trinety of God, Son and Holy Ghost. Opponent is a dark force that takes mankind into sin and resides over hell, etcetera. Conclusion: we invented God, religion, priests and prophets. People are taught and pressed to believe and act in accordance to it, and to accept ideas that seem irrational and illogical: a virgin that breeds with a god, angels that copulate with the daughters of mankind. A man, or semi god that walks on water witch eventually turns into wine. All because it was written down. Earth is flat and only about 5500 years old... The God must be worshipped with offerings, singing and prayers. His son survived death, went to heaven and will return at the end of time, etc., etc. Essence of the story: people can be made believing whatever they are told, even if it's unlikely or in realty impossible. Miracles, Qanon, conspiracies, flat earth, aliens, gods, spirits and angels, unicorns, leprechauns, everything seems acceptable, as long as it's presented to be true by influential people that are in power and/or who pretend to be guided by celestial beings. In the past a lot of killing has been done to serve the gods. Yahweh gave the Yews their Israel, the Arabs and Christians their Holy Land. God gave the Masai all the cows in the world. Christianity had no problem with the inquisition, witch-hunts and slavery. Traditional Islamists blow eachother to kingdom come, the Yews pray for the Holocaust to happen to the Arabs. And it all started with calves, cows or steers being holy... So as far as I can see religion as an institute that started with farming. Man created God and his servants some 10000 years ago, and isn't ready yet to say goodby to their archaic creator. There might be some cosmic intelligence. There might be a spiritual afterlife, reincarnation, etc. We'll see. Everyone, sooner or later. It may as well end right there! Who knows! I think nobody does. Have a nice day!

    NANDAYO ICHINEEE   1 weeks ago

    the second you try to read Alberts letter until the end and it just cutted out lmao. i muted the sound so i can focus o the letter then it ended xd

  •   1 weeks ago

    The reason for beliefs in supernatural things is to believe that music, globally Grooved will prove miraculous!!

  • Nonconcensusical
    Nonconcensusical   1 weeks ago

    Evolution is the "Ebner Effect".God (?) is Counterspace.Space is God's thoughts!There is an event horizon/Inertial plane, around peoples brains.Casimir Effect = Counterspace and Space are the plates, the Inertial plane attracts and repels the plates.

  • No waäy
    No waäy   1 weeks ago

    I would add science and religion are in harmony as long as there is balance in the world. We need to connect religions and reach out to understand each other.

  • Judy Petree
    Judy Petree   1 weeks ago

    As an elderly women who has a background of arts, science, and religion, I have come to believe the women are more in touch with humanity than men. The reason is mainly because we carry biological cells in our body that we don't necessarily believe in, but low and behold it becomes a human being; a process that only the female can experience. In order to nurture that being we have to 'take sides' with whatever is best for that being. As the being separates from us we can question and search for meaning in the world outside.

  • Mr Tom Hol
    Mr Tom Hol   2 weeks ago

    ...YES - some Scientists starting to believe in 'God and religion', as soon as they understand fact - Science is their 'God and religion'. Terminology is changing, with changing point of view, and this is most fascinating thing about consciousness. Having empathy or sense of Humanity, should be consider as Spirituality ? hmmm - I think, not all mammals with capability of discovering Atomic Bomb would do it, if they knew, Human kind will use their discovery to kill or poison their own kind. Unfortunately, it may also means - with loss of Spirituality, Human Family will loose a lot more in up coming decades (with each and individual discoveries). Today is 11OCT2021, did you notice what is going on in the World ? - what do you think: '...2021 years from now, what People will say about 'scientists' from the 21st Century ? - foremost, do you think: '...they will exist another 2021 years, without Global manmade catastrophe aka Humans extinction ?

  • Michael Rasmussen
    Michael Rasmussen   2 weeks ago

    That Zoran dude was only asked to answer like 2 questions. How insulting to even invite him if you're going to ignore him

  • Kidisha DF
    Kidisha DF   2 weeks ago

    The more i listen to these athiest the more i believe in the supernatural... I would like them to explain to me the experiences of persons who had a near death exprience...when their spirit (soul) left their bodies in the hospital and declared by doctors brain dead but can still tell of things that were being said, and where persons put items that there was no possible way they could have known or seen these things of course they were lying there with their eyes closed brain dead.. So how can they know all this when they awoke from their coma??? explain! if there wasnt another place beyond what our eyes can see how is it that something inside of us the (soul) become conscious and have a whole set of experiences with passed on loved ones they didnt even knew existed when the body is presumable dead?

  • razony
    razony   2 weeks ago

    I'm an Ex-Christian for GOOD reason. I believe in NDE's, ghosts, spirits, reincarnation, life after death...It is asked why 'We' feel the need to believe...Observation! Humanity has seen and witnessed many strange anomalies since the beginning of time and Man has written about some of those anomalies. Some of those things man has written about, is in the form of facts, (Religion) when in fact, It's NOT. Over the centuries, humanity has been literally told what to believe or ELSE. Humanity (most) believes in what they witness and see, more so than what they are told. Thus the HUGE gap in what humanity believes in. Why does a confessed Christian become an Ex-Christian? Because what he was told as a child, is NOT what he experiences as an adult. I observed things in life that contradict what religion is telling me and I'm being deceived by Demons and The Devil. That's more than my ignorance level can tolerate. With EVERYTHING religious ones talk about. The power of the Holy Spirit, The Divine, Faith, God...Why is it, NOT one single Christian can create miracles or walk on water? Why? p.s. Just a few centuries ago. Most people would be put to death for talking/believing in what is spoken about here and YOU wonder why people believe in Religion...FEAR!

  • tony perez
    tony perez   3 weeks ago

    Science is always changing and contradicting itself .Scientist are only on this earth for a short time and there names are erased from people's memory fast .ask 100 people on the street who Enrico Fermi was only a handful would know .However Jesus lives forever never changes and is never forgotten .

  • Steph Rich
    Steph Rich   3 weeks ago

    So then deciding on athiesm also reduces uncertainty and stress and offers comfort to the entire panel which is most likely why they all decided to settle in with athiesm in the presence of other such individuals. The pressure of pride in athiesm. Love you guys.

  • Steph Rich
    Steph Rich   3 weeks ago

    Aww... how cute... they all felt the pressure of pride to be athiest. So cute. Hope they grow up one day. Sorry if I sound insulting.