Rational mysticism : dispatches from the border between science and spirituality

by John Horgan

Hardcover, 2003




Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.


"How do trances, visions, prayer, satori, and other mystical experiences "work"? What induces and defines them? Is there a scientific explanation for religious mysteries and transcendent meditation? John Horgan investigates a wide range of fields - chemistry, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, theology, and more - to narrow the gap between reason and mystical phenomena." "As both a seeker and an award-winning journalist, Horgan consulted a wide range of experts, including theologian Huston Smith, spiritual heir to Joseph Campbell; Andrew Newberg, the scientist whose quest for the "God machine" was the focus of a Newsweek cover story; Ken Wilber, prominent transpersonal psychologist; Alexander Shulgin, legendary psychedelic drug chemist; and Susan Blackmore, Oxford-educated psychologist, parapsychology debunker, and Buddhist."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Farree
My review of Rational Mysticism (including a rant on fundamentalism).

Just say "SO" (Little quote from Harry Shearer...):

So here’s the deal. I have been reading in comparative religions, mysticism, UFOs, Occult and paranormal phenomena since, basically, 1967. (Jeez. Almost 50 years).

John Horgan, in this book, puts the idea of enlightenment in this way: Basically, enlightenment can’t be understood (to which I say, “yep. Sho’ you right.”) But then he goes on to say that there are two possible ways to enlightenment. To wit: either you believe that it is realizing the ‘oneness’ of the self and the universe, or else it is being sceptical about the ‘oneness’ of the self and the universe.

It seems to me that Horgan (Mr.? Dr.?) has made the mistake of thinking that belief is required for enlightenment. To which I go, “Huh?” See, enlightenment has nothing at all to do with belief. Enlightenment is a state that it is possible for any human to reach, but the first step to getting there is to abandon belief. The universe does not conform itself to the belief systems of human beings. Enlightenment is a state of seeing (as Horgan seems to understand), and seeing what IS does not require belief.

What belief is for is modelling systems. This is the ladder. Set up a system and test it. If it rings true, there is most likely a problem. Find the problem and correct the belief system. Repeat. Belief is not a static principle. It is merely a way to keep track of where one is while advancing to the state of oneness with the universe.

I always operate from the principle that if an elderly scientist says something is possible, he is very probably right. If he says something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. (Arthur C. Clarke)

To any fundamentalists who might see this (Rant on fundamentalism starts here):

All I would like is freedom from fundamentalists (of whatever stripe). I think of fundamentalism as a religion separate from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and all the others. Fundamentalists belong to the religion that is based exclusively on fear and lies. They lie about what religion they are, they lie about what the holy texts say and what they mean, they discriminate against anybody who doesn't believe their lies and they kill people because they see them as threats to their religion.

What sane religion is practiced in this fashion? Fundamentalism is a twisted, psychotic parody of religion that pulls people in by brainwashing them and convinces them through fear that any crime is justifiable if it furthers the belief system.

I say Fundamentalism is a separate religion from all the religions that seek truth, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I say all Fundamentalists belong to the same religion: the one that is like a wolf in sheep's clothing. The one that disguises itself as something other than it is. The one that is based on lies and fear and that kills people in the name of belief.

I say Fundamentalism is faith-based evil. It is part of the axis of terrorism.
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LibraryThing member mbattenberg
While I enjoyed the book, I am not sure the title accurately describes the contents.
LibraryThing member godinpain
I don't know if he's found the border of science and spirituality, but he's honest about that. The end was beautiful.
LibraryThing member stonester1
I've always been interested in the mystical side of reality, as I do believe that is the larger aspect of reality, our material realm of particles, energy and forces merely being the particular conditions of this plane. From dreams to deja vu to OBEs and other paranormal phenomena point to this aspect of reality. IMO, science has been hinting at points where this aspect of reality teases at our material realm, but will never truly point the way. That is not to dismiss science, just to recognize it's limitations, at least how it and the assumptions of those who practice it stand at this present time.

Interestingly, Mr. Horgan as a science writer and former correspondent for Scientific American, if not fully in this camp, does have sympathies towards it. But it is clear that mystical experiences that he has had in his life don't permit him to shut the hard material door completely on these things. Further, his conversations with people has pushed his door of consciousness open a little wider. In this book, he explores the mystical side of reality from the viewpoints of many different sorts, including theologians, philosophers, scientists, purveyors of psychedelics, etc. He is frustrated that there are no easy, concrete, easy to pinpoint answers in this quest. IMO, that is the point of the spiritual quest, to find the answer for yourself. If they could be just handed to you by someone else, it would defeat the purpose. And to be sure, Mr. Horgan's recounting of his own quest makes for some really great reading.
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