cover image The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science

The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science

Alan Lightman. Pantheon, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-31741-9

Science and spirituality converge in this probing examination of humanity’s connection to the divine. Physicist Lightman (Probable Impossibilities) contends that “some human experiences are simply not reducible to zeros and ones” and draws on philosophy and science to suggest that materialism and spirituality are compatible. He digs into the history of both perspectives, noting that 18th-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn believed a soul must exist to integrate the different parts of the human body into a cohesive experience and that, on the other end of the spectrum, Roman philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus argued “everything that happens in the world... originates from the movement and properties of physical atoms, not the gods.” Reconciling these opposing views, Lightman broaches the possibility that spirituality could be evolutionarily beneficial, with the need to feel part of “something larger than one’s self” impelling early humans to cooperate and the appreciation of transcendent beauty stemming from beauty’s role in sexual attraction. The prose is reflective and lyrical, and Lightman’s arguments succeed in walking the fine line between honoring spiritual experiences without lapsing into pseudoscience. Thoughtful and intellectually rigorous, this treatise impresses. (Mar.)