as A Spiritual Practice
by Imants Baru_s
Imprint Academic, Exeter, UK, 2007
155 pp. Paper, $29 USD
Reviewed by Rob Harle
Baru_s, much to his credit, has dared
to go where many others would not even
dream of going with this book. In a sense,
he takes on the whole scientific establishment
and challenges them to break out of the
dominant paradigm of "scientism" and once
again start practicing true science. Baru_s
sees true science as a process where investigators
attempt to solve an existing problem by
starting out with an open mind, then proceed
using all the methods at their disposal,
and subsequently report the findings,
whatever they may be, and however much
they are counterintuitive or contradict
the status quo. Much of modern science
does not do this.
It is not only scientists that are criticised
in this book but virtually all of us who
have not achieved some form of transcendence.
Using the description that Plato contrived
of individuals in the cave, Baru_s has
this to say: "I think the point of this
analogy is that our ordinary interpretation
of the world is seriously wrong. We are
the walking dead busy deciphering the
whisperings of the shadows. We are the
mentally ill suffering from a mass psychosis"
Science As A Spiritual Practice
is a slim book at just 155 pages. It is
arranged in three sections. The first
section, Beyond Materialism deals
with the problems and untenability of
materialism and to a lesser extent physicalism.
Baru_s suggests that if scientists would
seek self-transformation, they would have
a much better chance of understanding
reality. The second section, Access
To Inner Knowledge, argues that through
states of altered consciousness, brought
about by various means such as meditation,
drug ingestion or various other spiritual
practices, scientists could gain insights
to the problems they are trying to solve
via their newly realised inner knowledge.
The third section, Seeking Transcendence
looks at how by engaging in scientific
practice, especially mathematical work,
the practitioner may bring about transcendence.
Baru_s discusses the claims of Franklin
Wolff having achieved transcendence and
also the philosophy of Wolff.
With the exception of parts of the third
section, when the discussion becomes a
little complicated by rather arcane mathematical
concepts, the book is easy to read and
understand. I found Baru_s constant
use of "her" extremely irritating, this
first-wave feminist convention, effective
as it was at the time, is now passé.
The use of the third person pronoun "their"
or "they" draws far less attention to
the actual writing style. The book has
a good Index and exceptionally comprehensive
Bibliography and reference section.
This brings me to my main criticism of
the book which is its superficial treatment
of a vast amount of material including
DMT drugs, channelling (mediumship), teleportation,
enlightenment, remote viewing, mystical
states, trances, savants and so on and
on. It is not that Baru_s is necessarily
wrong in his presentation of these phenomena,
nor that he is flippant in their treatment,
it is simply in a book of this size it
is impossible to discuss any of them in
depth. The book should have been at least
twice the size and concentrated in detail
on only a few of the many possible aspects
associated with achieving transcendence.
This would have presented a more convincing
solid case for science and the spiritual.
After all, this book is pitched partly
at scientists who generally dismiss superficial
"popular" style writing out-of-hand.
Baru_s is widely read and appears highly
knowledgeable about his subject, and if
nothing else this book will serve as a
guidebook for further detailed reading
via the index and then the extensive reference
section. The last sentence in the book
pretty well sums it up, "Thus, this book
is not an answer but a challenge. How
can science be used as a spiritual practice?"
(p. 126). I only hope the very scientists
that should read this book dont
put it down prematurely as the possible
rewards for themselves and the results
of their investigations for the rest of
us are immense.