On the difference between spirituality and religion

Nicholas Humphrey at London Book Fair 2012
During my visit to the London Book Fair, I interviewed Nicholas Humphrey for the BookBaby eBook release of the 20th anniversary edition of his great work A History of the Mind.

In this clip, he discusses how religion is parasitic on the human impulse to spirituality. Humphrey considers “spirituality” to stem from the “mind-body problem” which still dogs science and philosophy: how can our qualitative experiences be produced solely from the material substance of the brain? The fact that our sensory functions provide us with such rich experiences give rise to the notion that we have a “soul” as the seat of experience.

Every day, we awake to amazing sensations, a new universe we create within ourselves which is essentially unshareable – and the idea that we’re focal singularities of consciousness gives rise to the feeling of “spirituality” – that we’re special because we’re hosts to internally generated, out-of-the-world phenomena.

Humans are therefore profoundly individualist, and they discover the importance of selves through private experiences which they can glory in, develop, and feed, as a bubble of consciousness which no one else can enter. And when we attribute similar experiences to others, it changes our relationship to the world in ways which are hugely productive. So the notion that we have “souls” has transformed society – leading us to empathize with others whom (we assume) also feel as the centers of their own private experience.

For Humphrey, those impulses have been subjugated and captured by religious systems , which are parasitic on human spirituality. The real problem of having a “soul” which matters so much to us is that we invest so much in it. Our experience is that this “soul” disappears every night, but we’ve always had it come back. A primary driver of human achievement is the illusion – and mistake – that it will go on forever.

Here’s the clip:


It’s a joy to be releasing the 20th anniversary edition of Nicholas Humphrey’s A History of the Mind through BookBaby.  I had the great pleasure of writing the forward for the book and interviewing him at the London Book Fair this year.

It’s available on Amazon, Apple, B&N –




– and dozens of other retailers.  Get it!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *