RATIONAL MYSTICISM: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality

John Horgan, Author . Houghton Mifflin $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-618-06027-6

Science author Horgan (The End of Science) tackles modern metaphysics from a critical perspective in this entertaining New Age travelogue, combining interviews with leading spiritual scholars like Huston Smith and Ken Wilber with visits to research centers where scientists study people's brainwaves while they meditate. Instead of accepting or rejecting the experts outright, Horgan assumes they might have something useful to tell us about spirituality, then respectfully challenges them to determine what that message might be. In some cases, Horgan has to put in extra effort to find something he can criticize, but his willingness to share his doubts and attractions with readers gives the book a refreshingly personal feel. Extending the candor, he applies the same rigorous interrogation to himself, sharing how his own spiritual views have been shaped by, among other things, experiences with psychedelic drugs as a young adult and a recent group experimentation with the South American hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca. (You'd be hard pressed to find many other science books with a sentence like "As Stan murmured reassuringly, his eyeballs exploded from their sockets, trailed by crimson streamers.") Here and there, the book drops tantalizing hints of a gnostic universe created by a neurotic God terrified of being alone, but it never fully loses the rationalist framework Horgan uses to avoid succumbing to spirituality's alluring excesses. 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. (Jan. 22)

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 292 pages - 978-0-618-44663-6
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