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Leaps of Faith January 7, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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It is not often that I will, within this blog, gives book recommendations.  I will even more rarely do so for people you likely have heard of.  But I will make an exception right now, because I have just finished a fantastic book by a wonderful writer and thinker named Nicholas Humphrey.

This is a newer edition than the one I have

The name of the book is Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation. (Apparently, the British version is entitled Soul Searching: Human Nature and Supernatural Belief).  (Amazon link)

I will not try to summarize or extensively review this wonderful book, for I would not do any justice to Humphrey’s style, intellect, nor his seemingly limitless knowledge of literature, science, and the intersections of both.  He talks about religion and faith, but most of the book is dedicated to the question of parapsychology in general, asking questions of soul, Psychokinesis, and ESP.  His writing is erudite and his use of language is both playful and profound.  His insight into the questions of the soul and its believed (by most people) powers are brilliant, coming at you from an angle I had not seen before reading this book.

The edition I have has a puff on the back by Daniel Dennett, but apparently the newer editions (I found mine at a used book store in East Atlanta–a great little store called Bound to Read Books) has a new forward by Dennett (which I, perhaps obviously, have not read).  The fact that Richard Dawkins has done an interview with Nicholas Humphrey does not, in retrospect, surprise me.

In fact, in many ways this book, which was written in the mid 1990’s, is the cultural predecessor  to many of the so-called new atheist books that began to be published 10 years later.  It is dealing with many of the same issues (the supernatural, the soul, arguments for why belief in such things is not justified) as many more recent books (and some older ones, of course), and it is clear that Humphry has had some influence on at least Dennett and Dawkins, if not other comparable social commentators.

I highly recommend this wonderful book to anyone and everyone, especially if you believe, or think it is good or respectable to believe, in the paranormal.  I also look forward to reading more of his work in the future, as he has books on consciousness as well, which is a topic which interests me as well.

I will leave you with this:

"An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump," by Joseph Wright of Derby

The painting is generally regarded as having been intended as a commentary on the scientific Enlightenment.  But I suggest we might more pointedly take it to be a picture of the vanity of the paradise promised by religion and the paranormal.  For it is they, not science, which if they had their way would pump from the world the elements on which life has taken wing.  They, not science, which by blurring the distinction between life and death, destroying the grounding of one mind in one body, confusing issues of personal responsibility, and undermining privacy, would rob the world of the oxygen of individuality on which all things bright and beautiful–natural and cultural–have relied for their creative energy

(From page 224)

For full context of this quote, you will have to read this book.

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