'Entertaining and enlightening ... offers ways to temper our anti-social tendencies.' Dr Michael Mosley, science journalist and TV presenter
It can often seem that we are utterly surrounded by temptation, from the ease of online shopping and the stream of targeted advertising encouraging us to greedily acquire yet more stuff, to the coffee, cake and fast-food shops that line our streets, beckoning us in to over-indulge on all the wrong things. It can feel like a constant battle to stay away from the temptations we know we shouldn't give in to. Where exactly do these urges come from? If we know we shouldn't do something, for the sake of our health, our pockets or our reputation, why is it often so very hard to do the right thing?
Anyone who has ever wondered why they never seem to be able to stick to their diet, anyone to whom the world seems more vain and self-obsessed than ever, anyone who can't understand why love-cheats pursue their extra-marital affairs, anyone who struggles to resist the lure of the comfy sofa, or anyone who makes themselves bitter through endless comparison with other people, anyone who is addicted to their smartphone – this book is for you.
The Science of Sin brings together the latest findings from neuroscience research to shed light on the universally fascinating subject of temptation – where it comes from, how to resist it and why we all tend to succumb from time to time. With each chapter inspired by one of the seven deadly sins, neurobiologist Jack Lewis illuminates the neural battles between temptation and restraint that take place within our brains, suggesting strategies to help us better manage our most troublesome impulses with the explicit goal of improving our health, our happiness and our productivity – helping us to say 'no!' more often, especially when it really counts.
Lewis (Sort Your Brain Out), a neurobiologist, explores the brain activity behind the seven deadly sins of Christianity in this diverting but messily organized work of popular science. Each sin receives its own chapter exploring its treatment in a variety of world religions (Christianity receives the most thorough examination), accompanied by relevant insights from neuroscience research. For instance, in the chapter on "wrath," he discusses the part of the brain involved in aggression, as shown by cases in which "a tumor pressing up against the amygdala was implicated in extremely violent conduct." Some of these scientific tidbits are intriguing and surprising, but they seem chosen for those qualities rather than to lay out a systematic argument. Lay readers would benefit from plain English about the geography of the brain; references to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the like quickly become meaningless. After examining the sins, Lewis devotes a chapter to steps one might take to harness brain behavior to act more ethically, but the ideas seem like the result of brainstorming more than refined and well-considered suggestions (fight "wrath" with Botox injections?) People new to reading about neuroscience will be entertained, but those wanting to delve more deeply into the subject should look elsewhere.