Category Archives: Radio

Suicide Baiting

In the course of researching my next book, I came across the phenomena of “suicide baiting.”  This sometimes  happens when a crowd forms to witness individuals who are threatening to kill themselves by jumping from buildings and bridges. Rather than trying to talk the individual down, crowds have been known to encourage them to jump.

In his analysis of 21 cases of attempted and successful suicides by jumping where a crowd was present, Leon Mann found that baiting occurred in half the cases. He analyzed the various factors and concluded that crowd size, temperature and frustation of the crowd played a role.

Suicide bating is still a relatively rare occurrence (maybe because you don’t often get a crowd to witness serious attempts) but it does happen. Only yesterday Radio DJ Steve Penk was condemned for playing van Halen’s “Jump” on the radio as a request for a listener who was caught up in the traffic jam on the motorway that had been brought to a halt by a young woman threatening to jump from a bridge. Moments later she jumped.

It is highly unlikely she heard the song, but this incident does reveal the inherent nastiness of crowds and particularly commuters. If you read the comments left by readers, it is quite clear that a sizable number of people think that it was funny. I was recently on the underground Tube in London, when the driver of our train announced that there would be a delay as someone had jumped onto the track. To my surprise, my fellow travelers did not react with shock but rather, they were annoyed at the inconvenience this suicide had caused. I guess living in cities the size of London does that to you.

This callousness of the crowd is something that the sociologist LeBon (no not Simon) recognized back in 1896 when he described how people felt  “savage” and “destructive” in groups. It was later termed “deindividuation” in Zimbardo’s infamous Stanford prison studies where individuals no longer feel personally or morally responsible for their actions when they are part of a group.

However, as we learned last November, suicide bating doesn’t always need crowds. Nineteen-year-old Rosimeiri Boxall, the adopted vicar’s daughter, fell  to her death after being taunted to jump by two other teenage girls. I guess it is unbelievable the way humans sometimes treat each other.


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News, Radio

Imaginary Friends & the God Spot

Last week, Canon Lucy Winkett presented BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day.” (For those of you non-Brits, this is a daily 5 minute dose of religion or God Spot that is broadcast on the UK’s largest radio show in the morning). You know that you are starting to make an impact if you get mentioned on this as it is usually an attempt to take some topical event and find religious connections or significance. So I was pleased I guess to get a mention. This is what she said,

Many children have imaginary friends. A little girl I know has a friend called Cilla and she sits at the meal table, goes swimming, is strapped into the back seat of the car and shadows every movement of her life. When I was a young child, I had two imaginary creature friends rather inexplicably called Packet and Beady who went with me everywhere too.

The fact that children often have imaginary friends is evidence for Professor Bruce Hood, a psychologist at Bristol university, of the hard wiring of intuitive belief in human beings. In a report published yesterday, his conclusions are that humans have evolved an instinct for religious belief as part of their strategy for survival. His argument is that children have what he calls a “natural intuitive way of reasoning” and that this intuition is overlaid later by more adult rational approaches. His conclusion is startling – that it’s more natural to believe than not to believe. Disbelief, says another anthropologist from the States, is generally the work of “deliberate effortful work against our natural dispositions”. In an age when scientific research and religious belief are often wrongly characterised as mutually exclusive, this is a fascinating proposition. The mistake would be to use this study as evidence either way of the truth of the existence of God, merely the receptiveness of human beings from birth, to believe in something or someone greater than themselves.

It is only a starting place for believers to know that this instinct to believe may be hard wired. Jews and Christians live by the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. As a Christian, I’m encouraged therefore to think about what I believe – and logic and reason play an important role. But there is one aspect of this research that is important in developing our understanding of religion – and that’s in the movement from belief to trust. For adults who have engaged their brain with their faith, which is a vital part of religious life, it is not enough to assent intellectually to the existence of God or not.

These are sterile arguments that can never be proved either way. It’s in combining our intellect with our instincts and emotions that will give us a view of life that’s holistic, that honours our humanity in all its complexity and beauty. And we express this not so much in belief but in trust. To live a life that trusts in God is to live a life that’s fulfilled in a way that unites heart, mind and soul. Our instincts are given concrete expression in a life that is whole, that will trust in the love of God and will choose to love others as we learn to love ourselves. This friendship with God is costly, deeply consoling – but, for me, anything but imaginary.

Once again people have used me as a soapbox to proclaim their interpretation and make up research findings that I have never produced. I have never worked on imaginary friends though I know of the work of Majorie Taylor  at the University of Oregon who has produced the best work in this area and a fine summary of the research in her book, “Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them.” Canon Winkett has assumed that I have worked on imaginary friends and used this phenomena as evidence that children are predisposed to believe in God. Well I haven’t. More importantly, Taylor’s work shows that children are aware that their imaginary friends are make believe. But that information was conveniently ignored in Canon Winkett’s thought for the day. Maybe if people did a bit more research and less thinking for the day we would get a better message.


Filed under book publicity, In the News, Radio

Should We Use the ‘C’ Word in a Science Class?

This week I was at the British Science Festival where I was interviewed by the BBC about the resignation of Prof Michael Reiss who was effectively forced out of his post as Education Director at the Royal Society. At the 2008 meeting last year, Prof Michael Reiss suggested that science teachers should be prepared to discuss creationist beliefs in the classroom if asked about them by pupils.

Many scientists think that it is simply unacceptable to use the “c” word in a science class. By even discussing creationism, teachers may be giving it an air of plausibility as an alternative to natural selection. I am not so sure. If anything, it may have been a missed opportunity to address the importance of discussing empirical evidence when evaluating what makes something scientific. This is especially important if the natural inclination in children is towards a creationist stance. Simply ignoring the issue doesn’t make the problem go away.

I would have thought that it must be better to see an argument demolished through reason and evidence than by testimony alone. Creationism is such an easy target that any science teacher could easily dismiss it. There again, people seem to have such a hard time accepting the truth of human evolution through natural selection, then maybe those class hours are better dedicated to fixing this problem. What do you think?

Here’s what I said. I am on 24 mins into the piece.

UPDATE: I spoke to Prof Reiss yesterday as we are on the same advisory panel for the @Bristol Science museum. He confirmed what I suspected, namely that his view has been totally distorted by the press. I thought he was very balanced and not evangelical in the slightest. We must be wary of witch-hunts.


Filed under atheism, In the News, Radio

Radio Ga Ga

IMG_0178This week is all about promoting the book in the UK. When things settle down I will get back to highlighting and discussing the quirks of the human behaviour that go beyond belief. But today is another marathon of self promotion as I am scheduled to give 18 back-to-back BBC regional radio interviews.

Here’s the list so if you happen to be in that part of the UK then tune in or better still phone in.

1000       LEICESTER recoded

1010       HEREFORD & WEST *LIVE*

1020       DEVON *LIVE*


1040       BRISTOL *LIVE*

 ** break **

 1100      HUMBERSIDE recorded

1110       CORNWALL *LIVE*

1120       SHROPSHIRE recored

1130       SUFFOLK *LIVE*

1140       CUMBRIA *LIVE*

1150       SOLENT recorded

 ** break **

 1210      SURREY & SUSSEX *LIVE*

1220       DERBY *LIVE*

1230       KENT recorded

1240       SHEFFIELD *LIVE*

1250       YORK recorded


1.15-1.45pm    Live interview with BBC Scotland The Radio Cafe

 4-4.30pm         Pre-recorded interview with Ireland’s RTE1 Dave Fanning Show


As you can imagine, it will be pretty difficult to keep coming up with original things to say and I reckon I will be talking ga-ga by the end of the day. I wonder how many will play Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” as an introduction. Also, a prize to the keen listener who spots me using the key phrase “suacy codpiece” that I plan to randomly insert into one of the interviews!


Filed under book publicity, Radio

Start the Weak: Update


With Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4 "Start the Week"

With Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4 "Start the Week"

On Monday, May 25th I will be appearing on BBC Radio 4’s “Start the Week: setting the cultural agenda every Monday.”  This show was recorded as the relentless Andrew Marr does have to take a holiday sometime. This is not my best performance by a long shot and yes, before you email me, yes I know … I use a couple of makey-up words. However, I blame Andrew for this as he nonchalantly informed us that they had an estimated 2.2 m listeners just before we started. Holy crap… better not screw it up which means “You’re going to say something stupid!”

You know that feeling when you suddenly become very self-conscious and self-aware as you are speaking? Well I had it in spades. I think I rambled a bit. But at least I got the phrases “whizz -bang” and “supersense” into the interview a couple of times. All good practice for the Oprah Winfrey show I guess.

If you have not got a copy of the book yet, then you can get a 30% discount at Constable & Robinson by going to this link here.image001

It’s so cheap, I feel tainted.

UPDATE: Actually, the interview went alot better than I remembered. I just have to learn to slow down as I speak so fast!

You can listen to it hear

Oh.. and I made the UK Amazon top 100 rank … whoo hooo! Hope I maintain this.


Filed under book publicity, Radio

SuperSense on Authors on Air

On April 7th (the day my book comes out!) at 3pm EST / 12 noon PST / 8pm GMT, I’ll be making a special appearance on the HarperCollins Author on Air TOP SHELF show.

Bruce M. Hood, Authors on Air

For about 45 minutes I will take calls and questions from listeners– you can tune in through the web or call in on the phone. So if you’ve been dying to ask me something, now is the time!

Throughout the time, I’ll also be discussing my book SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable with my Editor, Eric Brandt.

Click Here for more information… (you can even set a reminder for yourself)
Call-in Number: (347) 945-6141

I hope you all will join me and tune in. Ask me something that will really confound me. It’s great to hear someone squirm on air!


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News, Radio

Cellular Memories and Bad Blood

I am taking part in a radio interview for BBC Southern Counties Radio’s Brighton breakfast show hosted by Gordon Astley on Sept 10th at around 10am (assuming the world does not come to an end when they switch on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland).

They want a scientific opinion on the reports from transplant patients who think that they have taken on personality characteristics from the donor following the operation. On the show will be Ian and Lynda Gammons who I interviewed for my book. In 2005, Ian had kidney failure and by chance, his wife, Lynda was found to be a compatible match for organ transplantation. About 6 months after the operation, Ian started to notice a change in his attitudes towards shopping, cooking and working in the garden. All the activities his wife enjoyed but that he could not abide. However, one day during a shopping trip with Lynda he suddenly exclaimed that he was really enjoying himself. Since then Ian has taken up his wife’s interests with enthusiasm. He reports that they have a telepathic connection and even share dreams.

Around 1 in 3 transplant patients believe that they have taken on characteristics of the organ’s donor or at least think that they have changed personality in some significant way. Interestingly, such reports are more common among those that have received an organ from a deceased rather than living donor such as in the case of the Gammons.

The first widely publicized report of such organ memory was the former dancer Claire Sylvia who received the heart and lungs from a young man. Following the transplant she developed a taste for beer, chicken nuggets and an attraction to short blond women. The donor’s girlfriend had been short and blond. He liked beer and chicken McNuggets were found in his coat pocket at the scene of the fatal road traffic accident.

How are we to understand such common reports? One pseudoscience theory is that of cellular memory whereby tissue and organs store information about the individual that can then integrate with the host if transplanted. However, psychological states such preferences and memories are encoded in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus and these brain areas cannot be transplanted. Nor is there any reputable evidence for storage of mental states outside of brain tissue. Organs are indeed connected to the brain via nerves but it is a totally different type of nerve system to that of the cortical neuronal networks of the brain that generate the mind.

Rather, I think that a more likely explanation is the longstanding supersense belief that others have an essence of identity that can be incorporated by contact. Certainly this is what Swedish researcher Margareta Sanner has found in her interviews with patients and the general public. Not only do we believe we can absorb the vitality of others by intimate connection, we also believe we can absorb some by their memories and personality. And what could be more intimate that sharing a physical connection with another through the incorporation of part of their body into our own.

This is why one of the greatest concerns for potential organ recipients is the loss of one’s own identity. In 1999, a 16-year-old girl dying from heart failure was forcibly given a heart transplant because she had refused the life-saving operation. She was so concerned that she would lose her identity with some else’s heart insider her, that she preferred certain death.

It does not have to be an organ. My grad student Arno just translated this article from a Dutch paper that reports a recent situation where a Serb was holidaying in Croatia and learned that the country was suffering from a severe lack of blood donated for operation. Having donated blood for years the man turned up at the hospital and offered to make a donation. This was gratefully accepted until they discovered that he was a Serb. When asked why he was turned away, the hospital explained that patients would not accept a transfusion of Serbian blood. It was bad blood.

This reminds me of a number of recent scandals in the US and UK where families where not happy about their loved one’s organs going to recipients from a different race. When a Newcastle Hospital accepted an organ donation on the condition it went only to a white recipient, UK legislation was enacted in 2000 to stop families dictating who should receive donations.

It is not only the recipients of organs who believe that they take on the personality of the donor, so do the relatives who think that the deceased lives on in a new body! No wonder the UK transplant coordination centre is not keen to discuss this problem as such beliefs could hamper their program to recruit more donors.

I am not sure how I would react to someone else’s organs inside me. On an intellectual level I know that organs are just component parts that serve a function but to be honest, I think I too would have to fight hard not to believe that I had part of someone else living on inside of me. It’s only natural.  


Filed under Essentialism, Radio, supernatural