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Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality Hardcover – January 22, 2003
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From Library Journal
A former senior writer at Scientific American investigates the physics of mystical experiences like prayer, fasting, and trances.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"[I]nformative, critical . . . fascinating and disturbing." Library Journal
"[A] great read, full of amusing vignettes and thoughtful reflections." --Stephen Mihm The Washington Post
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What I thought was its greatest weakness was a tendency toward narrow-minded intellectualism. I was drawn to this book because as a mystic I feel strongly that my practice and outlook should be grounded in disciplined rationality and critical analysis. The way I put it is that I believe that every mystic can benefit from having a well-calibrated bulls***detector. But for me, rationality is just a starting point. When it comes to mysticism, there are deeper ways to explore reality.These involve using faculties that can be cultivated through practice. The author seemed to be limited in his understanding by a lack of years of serious mystical practice himself. His analysis is often a bit glib and shallow at places. He seemed most interested in finding quick answers and some kind of a short cut--some "mystical technology"--that would take him to deep truths. He tended to intellectualize aspects of mysticism that are much more subtle and nuanced.
I am a great believer that science and mysticism should be friends. Neither should set themselves up as a final arbiter of truth, but instead should carry on an ongoing conversation characterized by mutual respect and keeping each other honest. For example, not being a scientist myself I try to be respectful of the limitations of my knowledge. Being a big fan I read a lot of science books, yet I know that while I can follow many of the conceptual distillations science writers provide, I don't speak the native language--i.e advanced mathematics--that would allow me to really understand and carry on analysis myself. A lot of smart people like Horgan tend to believe because they understand English they understand fully what mystics are saying. To his credit he did ask a lot of questions, but a lot of times his questions were reductive or he seemed have his thumb on the scale on the side of science as the final arbiter. His concepts of "enlightenment" and "attainment" are good examples. The kind of "attaining" he wrote about implied an ego-driven pursuit and his notion of "enlightenment" seemed to be the spiritual equivalent of winning the Mega Millions. In the end many of his critiques ended up being critiques of his own limited conceptions.
Still, the interviews are really interesting, and many of his reflections are deeply thoughtful, heartfelt and meaningful. He raises a lot of good questions and makes many valid critiques. As I said, I liked this book.
I still find myself going back to this book to see where I need to follow up with more readings on the subjects and authors that are covered here.
I recommend it to anyone at any level.