Book Review: 20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson (University of Virginia)

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I found this book to be problematic. Let me explain:

On the one hand, I’m quite convinced that something anomalous was going on in at least a few of these cases. I also admire the sincerity, professionalism, scientific approach, and documentation of the author. He continually assesses the possibility of fraud as well as the opportunities for the case studies to have gained information through conventional (non-paranormal) means. In short, this is an erudite, convincing, systemic, and scientific approach to these matters. It is also highly convincing of something unusual taking place.

Where I stumble, though, is the implicit metaphysics in play by the author in his conclusions. While I agree in the indications of non-normal events, I simply cannot subscribe to the metaphysics of those that pursue these cases. In talking (as he does) about re-incarnation, mediums, possession, etc., the author falls into the metaphysics of the 19th century spiritualists. Namely, that there is some type of Cartesian world where souls inhabit bodies until they depart. Then, these souls might show up again in another body or at a seance. To me, that worldview (while common in the West) seems rife with philosophical inconsistencies and poorly conceived presuppositions. Continue reading

Book Review: Biocentrism

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Lanza’s work is an easy-to-understand look at issues in contemporary understandings of consciousness and reality. In it, he creates a post-quantum mechanics narrative that is heavily influenced by the ideas of Immanuel Kant (whom I don’t think he ever mentions). He strings together ideas in a cogent series of seven principles that read a bit like a proof. It is a great introduction to complex matters that come from the pen of someone who seems pretty good at simplifying items for the sake of readability.

For brevity I’ll compress his 7 principles. In short, our notion of reality always requires an observer and is created by how we have translated the input from our senses. What we view as “red” is actually just waves “out there” until they hit our optic nerve and are converted in our brains to the specific color. Waves exist outside of us but colors only exist in the human mind. This is very straightforward and non-controversial. The same is true of space and time – these categories of perception are not things in themselves but are overlays of the human mind on stimuli from the outside. When we look at the world of quantum mechanics, our brains and categories are faced with findings that are counter-intuitive so are very strange. As a side note, Max Tegmark discusses this point brilliantly in his interview on the Sam Harris podcast athttp://www.samharris.org/podcast/item…. Faced with the issue that we co-create reality based on stimuli from the outside world, Lanza leads to the reasonable conclusion that consciousness and awareness are the center of our view of the galaxy.

For those with a background in philosophy and consciousness studies, I’m not sure there will be anything real new here however it is a clear and concise read on the issues of the day.

Book Review: Aldous Huxley’s Hands

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This book is not a dry biography of Huxley. Instead, it gives a solid high-level background of his life with a special focus on his time spent living in the Los Angeles area and his mixing with a variety of fascinating people (including the author’s father). The focus on this compelling period in Huxley’s life coupled with the autobiographical snippets from the author really make the book a pleasure to read.

Insights into the unique subculture (1950s intellectual\experimental Los Angeles) are colorful while many notable personalities (Heard, Krishnamurti, Hubbard, Janiger, Smith, Leary, the early LA Vendantists, et. al.) appear throughout the pages. It is fun to watch them weave in and out of the book. The Tuesday night get-togethers at the Huxley household could be a book in themselves. The extensive interactions between Huxley, Osmond and Smythies are documented in a readable and enjoyable manner.

This is a good read for anyone interested in the intellectual and cultural times when investigations into psychedelics were earnestly being made by practicing physicians and psychiatrists, noted men of letters, philosophers of religion, and scientific researchers. It takes place in the days prior to the cultural shifts of the 1960s when recreational usage exploded and research of this type could still be discussed and debated – even in national periodicals. It makes you wonder what would have happened if groups like the Merry Pranksters and the team at Millbrook had been a bit more subdued or erudite in their approach to these powerful tools.