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Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality
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Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  274 ratings  ·  30 reviews
John Horgan, author of the best-selling The End of Science, chronicles the most advanced research into the mechanics—and meaning—of mystical experiences. 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 investigate ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 22nd 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2003)
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John Horgan, erstwhile science writer, invites his reader on a tour of current opinions about mysticism. Taking a journalistic stance - with one foot in a storyteller's motley boot and the other in a gumshoe's sneaker - he is mostly distracted from reflection. As he tells about his experiences writing the book, he displays his reporter's skepticism and disguises his biases as conclusions (to his credit, he also flags those biases with phrases like "to my mind"). He has done his research, down to ...more
Cal Thunder Hawk
This book was recommended to me regarding my interest in pursuing possible solutions to the problems of defining certain features and aspects of Lakhota ceremonial activities, traditionally relegated by Westerners into a dualistic "spiritual" domain, within a materialistic perspective. I am especially interested in those traditional Lakhota ritual practices that involve individual and collective experiences produced without the use of hallucinogenics and diathesis stress.
In trying to get a sense
I loved this conversation. And full of referenced statements
“All these schemes ask us to believe in some sort of supernatural moral accountant who, like Santa Claus, keeps tabs on our naughtiness and nice-ness in order to determine our fate in the afterlife. As William James commented’ Any God who on the one hand, can care to keep a pedantically minute account of individual shortcomings, and on the other hand can feel such partiality, and load particular creatures with such insipid marks of favo
Nick Stengel
I did really want to love this book. Lots of it is fascinating philosophy and I learned a lot about perennialists and such. There is also a fair amount of pharmacology and discussion of the geography of the brain. It is thick with information that sent me scurrying to secondary sources.

That being said, the book fails in it's primary purpose. The science meeting spirituality regularly devolves into discussions of psychotropic drugs and their effects on the brain without ever relating these to the
Linda Anderson
I liked this book. Altho it was a bit heavy on psychedelic drugs and mind altering states, it did have quite a few pearls of wisdom that I could glean from it. I really want to try the sensory deprivation tank. Not to be part of the universe, or to find out whether there is/isn't a god or freewill, but to find that place inside me where I belong; where my center lies.
places too much emphasis on drugs as a source for mystical inspiration when the opposite is true -- the experience under drugs (joined in with their often lurid and sinister side effects) can not be placed in the same category as true mystical experience as described by the great saints, rishis and sages. The author is giving a good effort but gets side tracked on the drug issue, while ignoring the revelations of enlightened masters who eschewed drug use, Pandit Gopi Krishna of Kashmir being one ...more
Ron Krumpos
"Rational Mysticism: Spirituality Meets Science..." is one of the books in the secondary bibliography of my free ebook on comparative mysticism. "The greatest achievement in life" at has been reviewed on Goodreads.
My impetus for reading this book largely came largely from my fondness for the author's superior The End of Science. The title of this book is a bit odd, since it doesn't make any particular case for the rationality of mysticism. The book is an easy read, but some of the gurus it discusses are not even interesting in their oddness. The author seems as fascinated by psychedelics as he does by spirituality, and the reader will likely come away having learned as much about the former as the latter.
Kathy  Petersen
The title, or rather the subtitle, may be misleading. Horgan writes more about science than about spirituality and doesn't identify any borders. Still, he does explore some of the methods of seeking mystic revelations with good, clear prose and a sympathetic but still objective demeanor. His discussion of the altered states entered into by way of certain drugs is interesting, if in my opinion not germane to true spirituality.
Tina Stroh
This book was another eye opener for me. I read it many years ago so I am going on memory.... A journalist interviews several key spiritual leaders of our time and also does his own experiment with ayahausca. He is unafraid to offer his honest impression of the interviewees, unlike magazine writers who want their subject to look "good" most of the time, he is honest and, if I recall, even brutal. I'd like to read it again.
Todd Settimo
A very worthwhile read. Benedictine monk and Zen master Willigis Jäger paraphrasing Karl Rahner said "Men and women of the future will be mystics or they won't be at all."

This book is an invaluable addition to the increasing body of literature which is serving to bring the mystical experience out of the haze of folklore and into the modern discussion; a discussion necessary if Jager's quote is to be heeded.
Mark Salzman novel, Lying Awake "delicately probes - but makes no attempt to resolve- the vexing questions that arise when spirituality collides with science, if a mystical vision can be traced to a brain tumor or some other ailment, does that mean it's false? Or are all mystical experiences delusions, generated not by God, but by our own brains?" p 92
David Parker
I am disappointed with "Rational Mysticism: Spirituality Meets Science in the Search for Enlightenment " by John Horgan. It was so dry that you will have to drink a gallon of cool aid and force feed yourself every page. I think it was too intellectually written. I for one have never been a great fan of pure philosophy.
Liz Shockey
An interesting look at various scholarly viewpoints regarding spirituality and mysticism. Is it possible to achieve enlightenment? Do hallucinogenic drugs help or hurt? What about ESP? Many topics are covered which, so far, have left me feeling somewhat disillusioned, but, also, very well-versed in the science of mysticism.
Very interesting look at the gray area between science and spirituality. As the author states in the beginning, a lot of the book has to do with psychedelics, which isn't what interested me in the book to begin with but made it that much more interesting to read.
Kat Lahr
This book gave a thorough objective view on mysticism in its various forms. I appreciated the ability to read about different theories and opinions. This booked provided a great deal of knowledge regarding different perspectives on spirituality.
I think that this book might have been better titled something like "Drug Trips and Spirituality" granted I likely would not have picked it up. While an interesting book it was not what I was expecting. Don't jdge a book by it's title I guess.
great overview of various philosophies on mysticism, enlightenment, ultimate truth, god/void, etc. lots of fact-checking and scholarly analysis. also, you can't beat a book that is essentially exploring the meaning of psychedelic drug trips.
The author seems a little dense at times, but he is a good interviewer and the cast of "mystics" (and other people) he assembles in this book is remarkably wide-ranging. The book is probably most interesting for its breadth.
The writer keeps this book reasonably personable to both his subjects and himself. It wasn't what I was entirely expecting but it was a good survey of some of the modern western treatments of THE GREAT BRAIN GOD
John Horgan is an excellent science journalist. Always worth reading, especially if you have any interest in mysticism. I wish he displayed a bit more skepticism, but he was reasonable throughout.
Tim Pearson
About how psychedelic drugs compare to meditation etc. to achieve enlightenment. Reasonable discussion of the big questions (i.e., why something vs nothing).
This is the book he actual wanted to write, picks up right where ' End of Science ' leaves off. Interesting if you've been following along with all this.
Ethan Everhart
I don't know if he's found the border of science and spirituality, but he's honest about that. The end was beautiful.
Braden Canfield
My man, John Horgan, goes on a scientific and experiential search for the mystical.
Killed my spirituality kick, but it needed to happen. Great book, much needed realism.
Brendon Connelly
Loved this book. Great bibliography of alternative reading fodder.
Michael Brady
The best single book on this topic I've encountered.
Cindy R
Spiritually engaging, yet scientifically sound.
Alexandra Bolles
Great intellectual, spiritual read!
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JOHN HORGAN is a science journalist and Director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. A former senior writer at Scientific American (1986-1997), he has also written for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Discover, The London Times, The Times Literary Supplement, New Scie ...more
More about John Horgan...
The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age The End of War The Undiscovered Mind: How the Human Brain Defies Replication, Medication, and Explanation Great Irish Reportage Divided We Stand: The Strategy and Psychology of Ireland's Dissident Terrorists

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