Dr Miguel Farias is a Reader in Cognitive and Biological Psychology at the University of Coventry. His primary research explores the biological roots and psychological impact of beliefs and spiritual practices, including meditation. He uses a combination of experimental methods from social psychology to personality theory and cognitive neurosciences.
What led you to become a psychologist and have a particular interest in beliefs and spiritual practices?
Becoming a psychologist: When I was growing up I had the vague intuition that there was much brokenness in humans and that this was, in part, caused by how we thought about the others, ourselves and the world. Through part of my childhood, I had been exposed to utopian socialist ideas of how a better world could be built. That, obviously, didn’t come to fruition. When I went to university, I hoped psychology would help me make sense of all this and give me the tools to make a difference. What a big disappointment I was in for!
Interest in beliefs and spiritual practices: All world religions are interested in the idea of a radically transformed self. And how to make sense of suffering. Then there is the aesthetical side: as a child I was exposed to Catholicism and popular Buddhism, both very sensorial and colourful. I love that vibrant side of religion; it feels as if all of live is there, it encompasses birth, marriage, and death. The more austere side of religion strikes me as very counter-intuitive (think of the awful Swedish bishop in Bergman’s ‘Fanny and Alexander’).
What was the most exciting moment of your career?
Writing a popular science book, ‘The Buddha Pill’. It felt both strange and wonderful to see it translated into other languages, including my native Portuguese, and published in Portugal.
If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?
What one thing should scientists do to interact with more people outside their specialist field and engage with the public?
Go on tours of ‘scientific cafes’ or ‘science pub talks’.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Play music with others. Read novels. Cook.
Is there a book you’ve read and would like to suggest us?
‘The book of disquiet’ by Pessoa. An absolute delight. I am always quoting from it. The opening sentence reads “I was born in a time when the majority of young people had lost their faith in God for the same reason that their elders had had it: without knowing why’.