Course Overview

Both Judaism and cognitive science try to answer the same questions: Who are we? How do we behave? Why do we act the way we do? When we examine those questions through both scientific and religious lenses, we can learn how to become better people, make more effective decisions, and develop a more accurate understanding of ourselves and our world.

Over the last several decades, the field of cognitive science (the study of the brain) has sparked significant inquiry. Yet the topics it examines, such as awareness, memory, self-control and happiness, are subjects that Judaism has been exploring for thousands of years.

This five-week course seeks to integrate science with religion, studying both the latest work on cognitive science and several ancient Jewish texts to see how we can improve both ourselves and how we act. We will see that even though neither the Torah nor Rabbinic literature had access to fMRIs or double-blind scientific studies, human nature has not truly changed over the last several thousand years. Therefore, Jewish insights into what it means to be human are still deeply relevant to our lives.

Book Recommendations

If you are interested in finding out more about Judaism, cognitive science, or their interaction, these are a few of my favorites:

On Cognitive Science

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnenman

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer

How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

Caveman Logic: The Persistence of Primitive Thinking a Modern World by Hank Davis

Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique by Michael Gazzaniga

On Awareness, Consciousness and the Self

The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us by David DeSteno and Peircarlo Valdesolo

Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind by Robert Kurzban

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel Siegel

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

On Memory

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers by Daniel Schachter

On Choices

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape our Decisions by Dan Ariely

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

On Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Anceint Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin Seligman

On Science and Religion

Our Religious Brains: What Cognitive Science Reveals about Belief, Morality, Community and Our Relationship with God by Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger

Judaism, Physics and God: Searching for Sacred Metaphors in a Post-Einstein World by Rabbi David Nelson

The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning by Jonathan Sacks

Science and Religion in Quest of Truth by John Polkinghorne

The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

Thank God for Evolution: How The Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World by Reverend Michael Dowd

God, Soul, Mind Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Reflections on the Spirit World by Michael Graziano