I am reading The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham and am finding it difficult to understand the meaning of this highlighted phrase.

The faculty for myth is innate in the human race. It seizes with avidity upon any incidents, surprising or mysterious, in the career of those who have at all distinguished themselves from their fellows, and invents a legend to which it then attaches a fanatical belief. It is the protest of romance against the commonplace of life. The incidents of the legend become the hero's surest passport to immortality. The ironic philosopher reflects with a smile that Sir Walter Raleigh is more safely enshrined in the memory of mankind because he set his cloak for the Virgin Queen.


1 Answer 1


The words can be seen as an older formulation of a question that, among others, fascinates neuroscientists today. For example, the article on the debate Religion and the Brain (December 2009) discusses whether evolution explains why the human brain supports religious belief. It concludes that

The findings we are discussing link religion and the brain, but the brain may be receptive to religious experiences rather than creating them. Whether the brain generates religious belief or serves as a conduit for it remains a complicated question.

According to the cognitive scientist Justin Barrett, one of the brains fundamental modules, the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD),

causes us to attribute agency to the objects and noises we encounter. It’s the reason we’ve all held our breath upon hearing the floor creak in the next room, which we assumed was empty. (…)
HADD is what Barrett calls a non-reflective belief, which are always operating in our brains even without our awareness of them. (…)
Barrett claims that non-reflective beliefs are crucial in forming reflective beliefs. “The more non-reflective beliefs that converge the more likely a belief becomes reflectively held.” If we want to evaluate humans’ reflective beliefs about God, then we need to start with figuring out whether and how those beliefs are anchored in non-reflective beliefs.

(Quoted Do humans have a ‘religion instinct’? by Brandon Ambrosino, BBC Future, 30th May 2019.)

William Somerset Maugham was not a neuroscientist, but like a number of present-day cognitive scientists, he seemed to think that certain characteristics of the brain predispose humans to faith or belief.

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