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Soul, Psyche, Brain: New Directions in the Study of Religion and Brain-Mind Science Paperback – October 13, 2005
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This undertaking matters: how we see ourselves and our experiences has everything to do with the way in which we treat each other, the other inhabitants of our world and the planet itself. If we allow ourselves to believe the fiction that we live in a meaningless clockwork universe, there is little to restrain the rampant bullying, exploitation and disregard for life that we see all around us. If done well, books like this one can do a great deal to expand our worldview without falling into the traps of materialism or solipsism. And this book is very well done.
The editor - Kelly Bulkeley - teaches Religion and Psychology at San Francisco Theological Seminary and at Santa Clara University in California. His name has become well known in the arena of dream studies: he is a former President of the Association for the Study of Dreams and is the author of several books on dreams.
In Soul, Psyche, Brain he has enlisted a number of experts to contribute essays that address the relationships between neuroscience, religion and human nature.
The book highlights some important new developments in neuroscience that are generally not well known outside the field. Some may have a great many implications for cognition, consciousness, spirituality and link between the mind and body. Each has many practical implications, not only for how we see ourselves, but also for the neuroscience of ethics, morality and the law.
The contributors include religious scholars, psychologists and a physicist. The resulting dialogue and discussion is an excellent example of what can be achieved by a high level multidisciplinary exchange by people who know their own field, as well as comprehending the nuances of others' areas of expertise. It is also striking how far we have come form the days when many authors tried to reduce profound spiritual and mystical experiences to neurological puzzles or some half-understood interpretation of theoretical physics.
Since the contents of the book are not yet available on the Amazon website, and the pre-publication chapter list is slightly different from the one in the book, here is a brief breakdown of the chapters and contributors. Kelly Bulkeley begins with an excellent overview, followed by twelve chapters:
1. Genes, Brains, Minds: The Human Complex: Holmes Rolston III
2. Brain, Mind, and Spirit - A Clinician's Perspective, or, Why I Am Not Afraid of Dualism: James W. Jones
3. Psychoneurology Dimensions of Anomalous Experience in Relation to Religious Belief and Spiritual Practice: Stanley Krippner
4. Sacred Emotions: Robert A. Emmons
5. Where Neurocognition Meets the Master: Attention and Metacognition in Zen: Tracey L. Kahan and Patricia M. Simone
6. From Chaos to Self-Organization: The Brain, Dreaming, and Religious Experience: David Kahn
7. Converting: Toward a Cognitive Theory of Religious Change: Patricia M. Davis and Lewis R. Rambo
8. Cognitive Science and Christian Theology: Charlene P.E. Burns
9. Overcoming an Impoverished Ontology: Candrakirti on Buddhism and the Mind-Brain Problem: Richard K. Payne
10. Religion and Brain-Mind Science: Dreaming the Future: Kelly Bulkeley
11. Religion out of Mind: The Ideology of Cognitive Science and Religion: Jeremy Carrette
12. Brain Science on Ethics: The Neurobiology of Making Choices: Walter J. Freeman
Each chapter has a self-contained reference list, and there is a decent index.
There are many nuggets in this book, but a few of my favorites: Sacred emotions; Attention and metacognition in Zen; Dreaming and religious experience: Candrakirti and the mind-brain problem. I particularly liked the last of these: Candrakirti wrote a famous commentary on the thought of the Buddhist sage Nagarjuna, but I have not seen much about his work that is quite as clear as Richard Payne's essay in this book.
For anyone interested in the interface between the brain, consciousness and spirituality, there is a great deal of exceptionally interesting material in this book, and I recommend it highly.
Richard G. Petty, MD, author of Healing, Meaning and Purpose: The Magical Power of the Emerging Laws of Life