Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

Midweek Mysticism: Books of the year

It’s that time of year again to look at the top books published in 2012, rate them, and consider their value as Christmas presents.

This year the field covers Mysticism, Spirituality, Science and Literature. Here are my top five:

1. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Dr Eben Alexander.

Top of the chart must be neurosurgeon, Dr Eben Alexander’s eye-popping account of the meningitis bugs that ate the human part of his brain and what happened after that.

“My near-death experience … took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off. … According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.”

He made a full recovery and wrote a fascinating account of his experiences when, according to science, he should have been dead. A must-read for anyone interested in the field, whether mysticism or neuroscience.

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2. QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

This is a fine book, immensely readable and admirably covering the ground. At the end, Susan Cain homes-in on the story of Stephen Wozniak, whom you will not have heard of if you are not a nerd.

He was the true founder of Apple Computers — now with a world-beating market capitalisation of $600bn — only teaming up with Steve Jobs after he had designed and built by hand the first prototype of a modern personal computer with keyboard and screen. It was a seminal moment, and he did it at home in his bedroom. Typical.

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3. The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Lion’s World examines C.S Lewis’s children’s book series about Narnia, a mythical world that only youngsters can see at first, but which develops into a broad metaphor for a field of action, an alternative world, dominated by the Christlike Aslan, a giant lion.

The books have their own slightly dotty charm which must be experienced not read about. As indeed does The Lion’s World, which I won’t labour too much. If you know Narnia and like the sound of this, I heartily recommend it.

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4. War of the Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality

Deepak Chopra is a top-notch member of the aristocracy of writers on spirituality. His many insightful books over the years have covered topics as diverse as health, wealth, immortality and spiritual laws for parents. As a medical doctor he is also very much at home writing about science.

War of the Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality is co-authored with cosmologist Leonard Mlodinow, who also co-wrote The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking. Under a series of topics, each author has written a short essay, bouncing ideas off each other. It’s an exhilarating read.

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5. The Science Delusion, by Dr Rupert Sheldrake

The biologist, Dr Rupert Sheldrake in his new book, explains the process of memory with the term morphic resonance. He points out that Ivan Pavlov, famous for his experiments on the conditioning of dogs, proved that this conditioning “could survive massive surgical damage to the brain”, showing that it was not brain-dependent.

Clearly, memories are not made of wired circuits within the skull, but have a non-local source more akin to telepathy than is conventionally understood. This extended mind, as Sheldrake terms it, is surrounding us at all times. We have built-in receptors to filter much of it out, but are mostly unaware of how this works. A worthy book and a fine read.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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Midweek Mysticism: The war of the worldviews

Worldviews

Deepak Chopra is a top-notch member of the aristocracy of writers on spirituality. His many insightful books over the years have covered topics as diverse as health, wealth, immortality and spiritual laws for parents. As a medical doctor he is also very much at home writing about science.

Thus it was with some anticipation that I awaited his new book, hot off the presses, to thud onto my doormat. War of the Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality is co-authored with cosmologist Leonard Mlodinow, who also co-wrote The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking.

Under a series of topics, each author has written a short essay, bouncing ideas off each other. It’s an exhilarating read.

Deepak begins with a characteristic quote from Carl Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks within, awakens.” Who said Jung was not a mystic?

His thesis is that all the great spiritual teachers from Lao-tzu through the Buddha to Jesus taught a very similar mystical message. “They taught that a transcendent domain resides beyond the everyday world of pain and struggle. Although the eye beholds rocks, mountains, trees and sky, this is only a veil drawn over a vast, mysterious, unseen reality. Beyond the reach of the five senses lies an invisible realm of infinite possibilities, and the key to unfolding its potential is consciousness.”

Regular readers of Syntagma will be familiar with these ideas.

However, organised religion has not delivered on the promises it made about the transcendent. He compares it with the new “religion” of science.

“Science long ago showed us a brave new world that requires no faith in an invisible realm.” But overall it has been an unmitigated disaster, despite the convenience of its inventions. For science has run into the same problem as religion. While religion lost sight of its humility before God, science lost its sense of awe, “increasingly seeing Nature as a force to be opposed and conquered, its secrets stripped bare for the benefit of Humankind”.

We are now paying the price of both failures. Stephen Hawking is one of many suggesting that humans will have to board spaceships and set forth to the stars within two hundred years to escape a poisoned, derelict Earth.

A plague on both your houses, Deepak Chopra intimates. “Off we go to spoil other worlds!”

Science is promising to rescue us from itself, he writes. “The worldview that triumphed over religion, and that looks upon life as essentially materialistic, has set us on a path that leads to a dead end. Literally.”

Thankfully, spirituality — mysticism — has not lost its reputation and grows from strength to strength as the only optimistic worldview in sight. It can be expressed in three simple propositions:

1. There is an unseen reality that is the source of all visible things.
2. This unseen reality is knowable through our own awareness.
3. Intelligence, creativity, and organising power are embedded in the cosmos.

Naturally, Leonard Mlodinow’s contributions are much more materialistic and sceptical about the mystic than Deepak’s, and well worth studying as a foil to the spiritual part.

Alas, I don’t have space here to do full justice to either author. I urge you to read it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

War of the Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow is published in England by Rider.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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