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If it's helpful shorthand, think of
this book as "Science, Consciousness and Reality Part II" (1.)
in the publisher's stable. That's good or bad depending what religion and
fidelity to the terms of a title mean to you. The two differ in that Science
enjoys greater editorial unity owing to a conference most of the authors
attended. The back cover of Ways says contributors are from
"disciplines as diverse" as "music, psychology, mathematics, and
religion," when, in fact, even the " 'hard'-scientist" editor's
quantum-logic paper ends with our conversing with "the being of the
unified cosmos Ouranos" as a "him." The Contents promise
the reader such additional topics as creativity, mystical experience,
physiology, mythology, physics, and ecology. The degree of explication of the
title's three main terms is an issue. The first page of text considers various
meanings of "knowing," so the book seems seriously to pursue that
concept. The book seeks to underscore, p. 2, that "many ways of knowing
need to be recognized alongside each other," none having a privileged
position, thus "[making] the world safe for [religion]," which, p. 3,
for me (2.) Clarke mistakenly identifies with "mysticism" by
referring to two contributors whose statements about it "usually lie
outside established religious systems. . . ." He also tends, as most
writers do from convenience, to reify the modern worldview -- "the
approach of science" (p. 3), "science sees" (p. 6).
In the first section dealing with
the "social context" Boyce-Tillman posits numerous contraries based
on "objective" versus "subjective" knowings. Her general
theoretic overview invites many empirically based strictures. Implying, for
example, that the "extended family" does not exist today, since she
feels it needs to be "re-established," p. 29, she misses the point
that the nuclear family can only be produced and maintained in an (extended)
lineage. Positively, Hildegard's "three wings" of wisdom she nicely
ends with reminds me of Plato's "three horses" moving through
"appetite" to "aspiration to an 'ideal'." Holt mistakenly
accuses shamans of inducing "psychotic" states, p. 37, a condition
without demonstrable content. At his best he promotes a
humanistic-psychological realization of the self through art. I appreciated
this as I remembered the time I brought sculptor's clay for the denizens of a
psychiatric group home to play with as they soon revived a childlike sense of
joy. I could identify with his experience recalling the artful linguistic
metaphors others made in typical synesthetic-"poetic" statements such
as "I love to taste your language" or "When you taste someone's
language you get to live in them." (One woman at the old Pontiac State
hospital mystified a green psychological intern saying "I was sleeping in
your eyes"!) On pages 54-5 Elam comes closest, though typically freighted
with Western religion, to "defining" "mysticism" as a kind
of unitive self-creation in a book that falls short of the stated task of doing
so. She unfortunately uses Rudolph Otto's (3.) frankly fear-of-father term
"numinous" while providing quotes from real people, one of whom, p.
59, well states that mysticism "is not a retreat." It can be an
inner-directed, practical re-orientation to the world, as with Teresa de Ávila.
The next section starts with the
psychologist Watt's providing virtually nothing either mystical or
"neuro" beyond fuzzy, doctrinaire theory. "Where's the
beef?" The neurologists d'Aquili and Newberg (4.), with similar biases,
have done much better. Finally, Isabel Clarke, in a mystifyingly suggestive
paper, tries, like her husband in the section preface, to make something more
of "propositional" versus "relational" than split-brain
psychology. It doesn't fly.
Next the transpersonalist Ferrer is
shoe-horned into a physics-logic section he doesn't belong in. He is addicted
to the Theurgic Upper Case and uses terms like "spirit" with no
concern about specifying meaning, despite his obviously deep knowledge of
Eastern psychotherapeutic philosophies, as I view Taoism and Buddhism.
Fortunately he denies equivalence between, e.g., "Tao" and Western
divinities, while non-theistic mystic "liberation" is beyond him. The
fact that outflowing expansion beyond the included ego makes self-centeredness,
p. 111, dissolvedly irrelevant he does not know. Finally, he places communion
with the "other" contradictorily against "inner experiences,
grandiose visions, or metaphysical intuitions" not knowing that less
meaningful "unitive" experiences ultimately don't "stick."
Bomford, in turn, at least attempts, p. 131, a "definition" of
mysticism. However, the "connections" made among Blanco's
"symmetric logic," Bion-Klein, and mysticism are thin at best.
(Wilfred Bion's recent "mystic proclivities" are almost certainly
misapprehended. His "basic-assumption pairing" become Turquet's
"oneness" is a failure of "rational [therapeutic] work,"
and Klein might pooh-pooh mysticism as "good-breast" wish-fulfillment.)
Clarke's paper "summarizes" the book so far. He burlesques relativism
as saying that "all [perspectives] are equally valid," p. 147,
substituting pie-slices "pluralism," for example, for the more
sophisticated "relationism" of Karl Mannhein (5.). Schrödinger's cat,
p. 156, is dead or alive depending on your affecting the outcome by looking in.
Quantum mechanics cannot be explored here, but to Clarke I'd say that merely by
positing "particles" versus "waves" creates the artifactual
views that make "action at a distance" between them impossible ex
hypothesi despite the (methodological) "invisibility" of matter
that's 99.9999% "empty space." Nor do we need to invoke either the
"morphogenetic resonance" qua "Contextual Godot" of
anthropologist Rupert Sheldrake or Jung's "acausal connecting
principle" of "synchronicity." In a final distressing note,
Clarke uses, p. 145, a home-made phrase
purporting to be Latin, "Homo sapiens [est] propositionalis Graecae."
The last half won't make it as some odd, substantive genitive of character or
nature; nor would correction to propositio Graeca work, since the first,
Linnean, half was no doubt invented long after the Greeks or their Roman
copycats. Perhaps in that context he means "Humankind as a Greek 'propositioner'," but
without his translation a serious reader could only be distracted. Initially
refreshed by the experiential report of Andrews, I soon grew soporific at the
obligatory "white light," the confusion of mystical experience as
[nonexistent] "trance," as well as chagrined by the apparent
involvement of two of the contributors, including the editor, in the
Theosophical Society. (Probably not knowing the meaning of "bang" on
this side of the pond she slips into unintentional (?) humor, pp. 170-1, in her
interpretation of an "orgasmic" experience.)
The final part is the
Götterdämmerung of section-making. Clarke's preface repeats Douglas-Klotz's
view of Wilhelm Reich as a "humaninst," alongside Maslow, rather than
as the creative Freudian he is, unless orgone-box explosions qualify as
mini-peak-experiences. And he, or the publisher, puts Douglas-Klotz's informed
Sufi material alongside ecologists in a juxtaposition of incongruities. This
scholar's paper makes unconvincing connections with Reich, whose breathing
techniques are merely typical of any meditative discipline, and Maslow, who
used nominally lazy, shotgun terminological references rather than fashion
precise comparisons. The key "e-word" appears once, p. 188. The
Abrams article, peppered with crisp writer's phrasings, ambivalently deals with
the ecological world from "real" earthly communities all the way to
quantum astronomy as well as with that of Pie in the Sky When You Die. In that
connection he says that, p. 203, atheists "find their lives and thoughts"
impacted by heaven-believers. Had he known, or wanted to, he could have freely
included what must be in public domain the nineteenth-century atheist mystic
Richard Jefferies' (6.) rich evocations of the English countryside through a
lifetime of feeling and metaphorizing. At best any consideration of mysticism
here is implicit as from a Buddhist here-and-now orientation. Who knew
consistent though ethereal discussion of mysticism would be held for the last
dozen pages in the Primavesi article that starts with a "feminist"
kudos of earth's fruits more valuable than gold?
The editor concludes with some
reflections in which he puts down knee-jerk fundamentalism throughout the
world. Who knew the "Battle of Lepanto" we learned about in high
school would haunt us from Kosovo to Iraq in continual confrontations of the
market-hungry crusaders and the medievalist saracens.
The criticisms, explicit and
implicit, of the degree of rigorous treatment of the basic terms of the title
provide ample information for the likely "liberal" religious reader
to decide if this book is for him.
1. Lorimer, David, ed. Science, Consciousness and
Ultimate Reality. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2004. Reviewed in Metapsychology
2. See a partial list of misunderstandings re
"mysticism" in my review of Gerald G. May's A Psychiatrist
Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spririt at this site.
3. Rudolf Otto. The Idea of the Holy ("Das
4. d'Aquili, Eugene G. and Andrew B. Newberg. The
Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience. Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1999.
5. Mannheim, Karl. Essays in the Sociology of Knowledge,
Essays in Sociology and Social Psychology, and especially Ideology
and Utopia (New York: Harcourt, 1936) for his four-fold conception of
ideology (p. 77).
6. Jefferies, Richard. The Story of My Heart. London:
© 2005 A. P. Bober
A. P. Bober has
studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on
existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet
philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical"
view. His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group
developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of
knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with
publications in the first two fields. Currently he is writing a book on
mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neurophysiology.