Like many people nowadays, I was raised to be religious and, as a child, pretty much bought into the whole thing. It was my beloved grandmother who took me to Sunday school and then church, and if someone who loved me that much thought this was the way to look at the world, it was good enough for me!
Then my grandmother died, I became a teenager, and, like many teenagers, became very sensitive to the apparent hypocrisy of adults. They didn’t practice what they preached! More importantly, I became fascinated with science and read widely in it, and saw numerous instances where science and religion clashed, with science much the winner of these various battles. And yet, in my very extensive teenage reading, I discovered that there was a very small, neglected field of science, psychical research, later giving rise to the more specialized version of it termed parapsychology, which had strong evidence that some of the things talked about in the spirituality behind religions had a factual basis.
Most of the people I knew with a childhood religion background similar to mine solved their developing conflicts between science and religion by going to one extreme or the other. Materialistic science was right, religion was wrong, all nonsense. Or, their religion was right, science was wrong or irrelevant to evaluating their religion. Or, religion could be thought about on designated holy days and science forgotten on those days, otherwise it had no place in practical life.
I was lucky coming across the idea in the psychical research literature that the methods of science – observe, theorize, test the results of your theoretical predictions, and share all of these steps with intelligent colleagues – which transcend the particular findings of science at any given time, could begin to be applied to religions, or, more accurately, to the spiritual experiences behind religions, and give us a clearer idea of what might have some reality basis and what was indeed superstition and possibly pathological. I’ve been lucky in having a career spanning more than half a century in which I’ve been able to carry out various studies and contribute some knowledge within that framework. I’ve done lots of technical experimentation to clarify various points, and thought a great deal about the implications of various psychic phenomena for spirituality, and a few years ago presented an overview of those findings in my book “The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together.” I did this in a rather general way in that book, though, concentrating on the scientific findings that showed that you could not completely reduce the human mind to brain functions, as materialism claims, and that there were phenomena like what we call telepathy or clairvoyance which gave support to the idea that the human mind transcended mere physicality.
Dean Radin’s new book, “Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities” gets much more specific and concrete that my own book, because he works within the framework created by the extraordinary recent popularity of various forms of yoga. He deals very specifically with many of the sidhis, unusual powers that are claimed to be possible results of practicing yoga, and shows where science supports them, where it doesn’t support them, and where we don’t have much evidence for or against some of them.
I originally thought I would just scan his book, since I know a fair amount about both yoga and Buddhism (which came from the same roots as yoga and shares many of the same beliefs and practices) and especially about the scientific areas of psychical research and parapsychology, but Radin’s book is so well written, and so relevant and specific in so many places that I ended up reading the whole book.
The bottom line is this: if you’re seriously interested in whether there is anything to spirituality beyond the material world, this is must reading. You don’t have to be a dedicated follower of yoga or any other particular religion or spiritual path, and, indeed, you may well be one of those many Americans who, when asked about their religion, claim that they are “spiritual,” but not “religious.” If you have had spiritual experiences that are meaningful to you, but suffered from the pressure to deny their reality because of the prevailing scientistic materialism that is falsely identified with science in our time, you will find a great deal of relief in this book. As I concluded in my “The End of Materialism,” the actual evidence of scientific psychical research let’s us conclude that it is reasonable to be both spiritual and scientific, you don’t have to go to one or the other extreme. Yes, there’s still an enormous amount of scientific research that needs doing to get more specific about these things, you still have to exercise as much discrimination as possible when you hear various claims, but I rate this book as one of the best contributions to examining the reality basis of spirituality that I’ve ever read!