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The End of MaterialismReview - The End of Materialism
How Evidence of the Paranormal Is Bringing Science and Spirit Together
by Charles T. Tart
New Harbinger, 2009
Review by Vineeth Mathoor
Apr 6th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 14)

Be it an academic or a popular work, any form of literature is not a product going beyond time and space, and has politics of its own. This book by Charles Tart is an attempt to show how materialism fails to explain the nature of human life and its relation to cosmic body by the "so-called scientific" theories. In our attempt to contextualize the book under review, we examine whether Tart is successful in his attempt to show the illegitimacy of materialism or is a simple failure. According to the author, this book is a culmination of five decades of career on altered states of consciousness, parapsychology and transpersonal psychology. The reader would be very much able to understand that Tart changes the concerns of the book frequently at his will without even being bothered about the need to make a comprehensible constancy in arguments. Charles Tart, the author claims in the introduction that the book is a scientific answer to HH the Dalai Lama's questions that, could it be possible for the mind to have an active reality of its own rather than just be a by-product of brain activity? Then in the second chapter the author says that the underlying task of the book is to interpret the possibility of what could be termed scientific spirituality. Interestingly, the author changes the concern of the book again and argues that the book is mainly concerned about the useless and unnecessary suffering caused by a personally internalized scientistic model of humanity that completely rejects the spiritual. This frequently changing concern of the book may confuse the reader about what the book actually deals with, and how serious is the approach. The book treats science and spirituality as two binary, opposing categories to show that now it is the turn of spirituality to show the inability of science. The author's scintillating definition of science and scientism acts as a platform to remind the readers of the dangerous of being a devout follower of scientism rather than scientific.

The book is organized into 20 chapters with an introduction and without conclusion. A possible approach to the book would be to classify it into three parts. The first three chapters deal with what could be termed theoretical arguments connected with the later argument and case studies given in the book, which also serve as prelude to the book. The next thirteen chapters deal with different non-materialist phenomena. Finally, the third part of the book has four chapters, mainly meant to serve the purpose of promoting the claims of the book and they may be treated just as personal arguments and comments to the convinced readers.

The first part has three chapters, and we try to examine the three chapters separately since they constitute the 'main theoretical' side of the book. Chapter one titled "Spiritual Seeking in a World That Thinks It's All Nonsense" is a foul play in its attempt to show the existence of spirituality. By using the philosophical category of 'perception' and modern psychology, along with the materialist idea that philosopher Bertrand Russell, whose influence on science is widely acknowledged, used to hold, this chapter is a very clever  attempt to enrich the idea of spirituality by showing that what we see is not reality and how perception is partial. But the author terribly fails to see that what he argues does not substantiate his claims about the existence of spirituality. Also, the author jumps from one argument to the other even without explaining the bridge between the arguments. Throughout the book, it is a "beating around the bushes" kind of approach which says that spirituality is not recognized because our perception tends us to believe in the non-existence of it. Therefore, for Tart, we don't experience spirituality not because it does not exist but simply because we are not trained to experience it. He brings in the example of seeing bad or good people around us as a product of what we deeply and largely unconsciously believe, to show that spirituality is also a matter of belief. To help people increase their self-knowledge in the contradictions between their semi-conscious or unconscious belief system and their individual passion to seek spirituality, Tart introduces a system of practice that he calls the Western Creed Experiment. The first chapter may remind the reader of any Indian neo-Yogis who reassures his followers after every failure of his yogic or mystic abilities that 'you believe firstly, then you can experience', Tart also follows the same Yogi style. The author is convinced that there is spirit and we don't see because we don't believe that it exists, but he fails to prove it, and turn away to another area by assuring himself that he is optimistic about the people and people may change their attitude to spirituality!

The second chapter ,titled, How Do We Know the Spiritual Is Real?, is again a collection of unrelated paragraphs coupled with descriptions of some personal memories and experiences. This chapter attempts to categorically specify spirituality which in turn gives a very ambiguous definition of what Tart calls spirituality. For him, spiritual refers to a realm of values , experiences, realities and insight that goes beyond the ordinary material world. But what are these values, realities or insights and how they go beyond the 'ordinary material crude world' is not at all explained. The more you believe the better benefits you would get! In the second chapter the author defines spirituality as something higher than materialism. But what is this higher spirituality? His definition of spirituality in the introduction is as life changing primary experiences that happens to individuals. The author is not concerned about what it is. For him it exists and is higher than material possessions. Rich enough is the author's problem with what science can prove the unscientific aspects of the book, Tart cleverly put forward the idea that we can still take a scientific stance towards life, and still legitimately claim that human mind shows properties that can be shown through scientific methods.

Ways of Not Knowing: Distortions of Scientific an Intelligence is the title of chapter three, which in turn is designed to serve the purpose of a shield to help the author's attack on rational questions and doubts on the entire phenomenon of the vital activity of the 'non-material forces' that he calls spirituality. Any good reader can observe that the author is very much fuss about science from the very introduction of the book, and his anxiety of being rejected is over-represented throughout these chapters. However, the author cleverly maintains some popular concepts of science in the book and then attempt to conduct a shadow war on scientific questions. The next two sections in the chapter is particularly important for the fact that they try to prepare the reader how not to be mislead by science, and how to think of the limitations of science. The rigorous criticism that Tart received earlier against his other works is reflected in this book in form of author's categorical attack on Skepticism and Pseudoskepticism. For Tart, the science that accept the clever but shadow hallucinations in parapsychology is scientific skepticism and others are just simply pseudoskepticism without 'any experience or proven track record in the field', and therefore not valid. But, there are rarely some gems that one can get from the book. The discussion on the approach to mind of materialist and non-materialist views is an important section though limited by the scope and nature of its description.

The second part of the book, which consists of chapters from the fourth to the twentieth, deals with personal case studies. While chapter four and five talk about the PSI phenomenon happened to the author himself and PSI in general, rest of the chapters deal issues of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, psychic healing, post cognition and the extended aspects of mind, out-of-body experiences, near-death-experiences, postmortem survival: after-death communications, mediumship: experimental approach to postmortem survival, reincarnation respectively. The basic difference in the second part of the book is that, unlike the first three chapters and introduction where the reader can have [to an extent] objective debates on certain arguments over methodology, theoretical issues of science, scientism , parapsychology, altered consciousness, mind etc , the second part of the book leaves out any such possibilities since they are purely case studies and observations and 'scientific claims' over such phenomenon. Any reader can have two kinds of approaches to the studies- either to believe them completely or to deny. Since these chapters deal with case studies that might have sometimes occurred to some individuals it can't be argued that either they are true or false, and that's the puzzle and weakness of the book. If one does not simply want to doubt the author, then he can enjoy reading a very good description of non-material experiences in the second part, and for the rationalist/skeptic, the possibility of a scientific study on what the author argues remains as a future challenge. The third part of the book consists of four chapters. It is possible to get the core idea behind the book from the study of these four chapters, though is author is subject to constant change of his 'position and concern' of his research which is reflected throughout the book. These four chapters are intend to support the general awareness to become spiritual at an age of high materialism, and advocates the path to spirituality.

The main weakness of the book is that it is not a well researched or a well argued one, though the author spends extensive numbers of pages to argue the other way round. But the book is rich with scientific terms and boxed definitions. One can naturally suspect that the book may be useful to serve the purpose of corporate spirituality by pushing the innocent believer with his 'new scientific reading' into the hall of a multinational business company selling spirituality. The author also terribly fails to explain where science and spirituality meets and where the gray-areas of rationality is identifiable. Instead of his continuous attack on scientism, Tart is extremely unable to show that spirituality is negated rationality not by scientism but scientific experiments. We have ample historical evidence to show that many spiritual claims of the 18th or 19th or even 20th centuries were later proved as simple hallucinations and fraudulent practices by people claimed to have extra-ordinary powers. While it is acceptable that the positivist modern science could not explain all the aspects of life yet, there is no rational point in giving birth to the claim or even in supporting such claims that non-material things exist and they are scientifically examined and accepted. Since the people who claim such phenomenon operate in their own individual capacity , on the other hand, it gives enormous possibilities of exploitations in the name of spirituality either, which has to be examined rigorously for the common cause of a progressive society in every sense. The reader of Tarts book must therefore be extra-vigilant not to get distracted to the path of buying unscientific hallucinations.

 

© 2010 Vineeth Mathoor

 

Vineeth Mathoor, Research Scholar, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

 

 


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Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716