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Ways of KnowingReview - Ways of Knowing
Science and Mysticism Today
by Chris Clarke (Editor)
Imprint Academic, 2005
Review by A. P. Bober
Sep 7th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 36)

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.

 

 

References

 

1. Lorimer, David, ed. Science, Consciousness and Ultimate Reality. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2004. Reviewed in Metapsychology April 2005

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 Heilige").

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: Longmans, 1883.

 

 

 

© 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.


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