Michael McGuire

Non Fiction

Michael McGuire is author or co-author of 5 books, notably Darwinian Psychiatry (Oxford University Press) and God’s Brain. His research findings on serotonin levels and its links to dominance in vervet monkeys has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek. His distinguished academic career includes positions at Harvard Medical School, University of California Medical School , Director UCLA’s non-human primate research facility for 20 years and Director, Gruter Institute of Law and Behavior. He lives in northern California. 

“Beliefs define who we are, organize our lives, influence our actions and affiliations, and pervade all human experience. What are these beliefs? How did they evolve, and how do they arise? What do they do, and how do they work? McGuire asks these fundamental questions and seeks answers in new findings from neuroscience and human evolution. He looks closely at ‘divides’ between beliefs’ content and evidence as well as at intransigent beliefs that persist despite disconfirming evidence and destructive effects. He asks what to do about the latter. This book is a must-read for those who want to better understand and deal with the core dilemmas of human living.”

—John O. Beahrs, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry, Oregon Health and Science University

“From Christianity’s Jesus to Islam’s jihad, and from the conservative American Tea Party to the liberal moveon.org, what we believe with strong conviction biases our behavior in powerful and predictable ways. Written in an easy-to-understand, conversational style, Believing explains how this occurs. In On Human Nature, E. O. Wilson made the provocative statement, ‘Men, it appears, would rather believe than know.’ Now, almost forty years later, utilizing all the modern advances in neuroscience, Michael McGuire can explain why and, most importantly, how. An important book for any believer who now wants to know.”

—Jay R. Feierman, editor and contributor, The Biology of Religious Behavior: The Evolutionary Origins of Faith and Religion

“A superb scientist, McGuire has mastered understanding how body and brain interact. He shines a clarifying light on the puzzling and even infuriating issue of why countless people believe the strange, often-dangerous things they do. From marketing soft drinks to managing genocidal wars, the brain and its beliefs remain central. Believing will clarify how and why. It may even protect you.”

—Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Professor of Anthropology (emeritus), Rutgers University


Prometheus North America 2013


The Neuroscience of Fantasies, Fears, and Convictions                                

Michael McGuire is a psychiatrist by training, a neuroscientist by occupation and a preeminent figure in brain-behavior research.

His interest in the mechanisms and persistence of beliefs was ignited by a tearful psychiatric patient, who, for years was unable to accept that her parents, whom she loved, were her biological parents, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. 

Her difficulty believing irrefutable evidence led McGuire to undertake decades of research involving vervets and chimpanzees.  

In this short and lively book, McGuire recounts his investigation on the latest contributions of philosophers, historians, cognitive psychologists, theologians, evolutionary biologists, and brain scientists. Notably, McGuire also draws on his own research on the role of serotonin. Each discipline has something enlightening to offer, but none is sufficient. 

However, nowhere is there a more complete or entertaining summary of current knowledge on belief. And surprises abound.

*Belief does not cause action; action often comes first.

*We believe we have made a decision or a plan, that we have free will and choices are not random, but biology says otherwise.

*The default state of beliefs is resistance to change.

*The brain is the product of millions of years of evolution and the mechanisms responsible for belief are unperceived in awareness. 

*The brain, its mechanisms and its ways of processing information are unlikely to change soon.

McGuire addresses features suggested in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer but in their work, the biological mechanisms responsible remain to be specified. It is these that McGuire addresses.