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Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spiritualityby John Horgan
Synopses & Reviews
John Horgan, author of the best-selling The End of Science, chronicles the most advanced research into the mechanics—and meaning—of mystical experiences. How do trances, visions, prayer, satori, and other mystical experiences work”? What induces and defines them? Is there a scientific explanation for religious mysteries and transcendent meditation? John Horgan investigates a wide range of fields — chemistry, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, theology, and more — to narrow the gap between reason and mystical phenomena. As both a seeker and an award-winning journalist, Horgan consulted a wide range of experts, including theologian Huston Smith, spiritual heir to Joseph Campbell; Andrew Newberg, the scientist whose quest for the God module” was the focus of a Newsweek cover story; Ken Wilber, prominent transpersonal psychologist; Alexander Shulgin, legendary psychedelic drug chemist; and Susan Blackmore, Oxford-educated psychologist, parapsychology debunker, and Zen practitioner. Horgan explores the striking similarities between mystical technologies” like sensory deprivation, prayer, fasting, trance, dancing, meditation, and drug trips. He participates in experiments that seek the neurological underpinnings of mystical experiences. And, finally, he recounts his own search for enlightenment — adventurous, poignant, and sometimes surprisingly comic. Horgans conclusions resonate with the controversial climax of The End of Science, because, as he argues, the most enlightened mystics and the most enlightened scientists end up in the same place — confronting the imponderable depth of the universe.
"[An] entertaining New Age travelogue....[Horgan's] willingness to share his doubts and attractions with readers gives the book a refreshingly personal feel....The result is a title with crossover appeal: believers can point to Horgan's willingness to grapple seriously with their tenets, while skeptics can find ample support for the argument that it's all in our heads." Publishers Weekly
"It's hard to be entertainingly irreverent and deeply earnest at the same time, but John Horgan pulls it off in Rational Mysticism as he searches for answers to the biggest questions: Why is there suffering? Is lasting fulfillment possible? What happens after death? Do we live in a benign, even purposeful universe or a cold, indifferent one? His quest brings him in touch with sages, boundary-stretching scientists, and the occasional crackpot whose psychedelic experiments may have gone on too long. All are appraised with Horgan's patented wit and pungency, and with a fine balance of skepticism and sympathy. You may disagree with some of these people, but you'll finish this engrossing book with new data to bring to old, deep questions." Robert Wright, author of Non-Zero and The Moral Animal
"This book is as much a personal quest for mystical enlightenment as it is a thought-provoking pilgrimage to the growing interface of science and spirituality. Horgan's odyssey is both intellectually courageous in confronting the 'big' questions and personally adventurous....Beautifully written, it is an informative and compelling read." Lester Grinspoon, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, Harvard Medical School, co-author of Psychedelic Drugs Revisited
"A wonderful book. A modern Odysseus, John Horgan sails through unmapped, dangerous waters to bring back tales of personal enlightenment and the scientific understanding of what it may mean in terms of brain biology." Robert Pollack, Professor of Biological Sciences, Director, Columbia University Center for the Study of Science and Religion
Book News Annotation:
Horgan (a former senior writer for Scientific American) presents a book that profiles psychiatrists, psychedelic drug advocates, scientists studying mysticism, theologians, and others in order to reflect on the nature of religious experience and whether science can explain or recreate such experience. Maintaining a skeptical attitude towards science and mysticism, he discusses his own experiences on psychedelics, neuroscientific investigations into the experience of prayer, and similarities between "mystical technologies" such as yoga and LSD. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In Rational Mysticism, acclaimed journalist John Horgan embarks on an adventure of discovery, investigating the ways in which scientists, theologians, and philosophers are attempting to formulate an empirical explanation of spiritual enlightenment. Horgan visits and interviews a fascinating Who's Who of experts, including theologian Huston Smith; Andrew Newberg, explorer of the brain's "God module"; Ken Wilber, a transpersonal psychologist and Buddhist; psychedelic pharmacologist Alexander Shulgin; Oxford-educated psychologist and Zen practitioner Susan Blackmore; and postmodern shaman Terence McKenna. Horgan also explores the effects of reputed enlightenment-inducing techniques such as fasting, meditation, prayer, sensory deprivation, and drug trips. In his lively and thought-provoking inquiry, Horgan finds surprising connections among seemingly disparate disciplines, not the least of which is a shared awe of the nature of the universe.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 269-272) and index.
Both a seeker and an award-winning journalist, Horgan investigates a wide range of fields--chemistry, physics, psychology, radiology, theology, and more--to narrow the gap between reason and enlightenment.
About the Author
John Horgan, a former senior writer for Scientific American, is the author of the acclaimed End of Science and Undiscovered Mind. His articles have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Science Magazine, and a wide range of other publications. His work has won awards from the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Science Writers, among others. With both a B.A. and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University, Horgan has lectured at McGill University. He lives in New York State with his wife and two children.
Table of Contents
Contents Introduction: Lenas Feather 1 1 Huston Smiths Perennial Philosophy 15 2 Attack of the Postmodernists 36 3 The Weightlifting Bodhisattva 55 4 Can Neurotheology Save Us? 73 5 The God Machine 91 6 The Sheep Who Became a Goat 106 7 Zen and James Austins Brain 124 8 In the Birthplace of LSD 141 9 Gods Psychoanalyst 160 10 The Man in the Purple Sparkly Suit 177 11 Ayahuasca 195 12 The Awe-ful Truth 214 Epilogue: Winter Solstice 234 Acknowledgments 239 Notes 241 Selected Bibliography 269 Index 273
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