With clarity, insight and terrific real-world testimonies, an Episcopal priest with a medical degree in psychology examines the phenomenon of transcendence.
Beginning with a thorough explanation of the requirements that make an experience truly transcendent, Alling then proceeds to delineate scientific studies of personality, genetics and neurochemistry that reveal and explicate the activity of the human brain during transcendental moments. In the book’s last third, a philosophical discussion of the conflict between faith and science–and between what is physically real versus what is spiritually possible–the author argues that new science studies strengthen rather than contradict the relevancy of religion and faith. The qualities of an authentic transcendental episode, all of which usually occur simultaneously, include powerful feelings of euphoria, a profound sense of being separated from one’s body and an awareness that the episode is indeed significant and meaningful. As Alling effectively illustrates, such mystical events can occur passively, in which an individual is overcome without intention, or actively while pursuing a skill such as in sports, the arts or the practice of a specific ritual. Scientists have recently discovered that before these astounding moments transpire, the chemistry of the brain alters, intensifying the experience. The level of dopamine increases, leading to feelings of pleasure, craving and ecstasy, as does the amount of serotonin in the neurochemistry of the brain, causing an elevation in mood. Furthermore, geneticists have identified a specific self-transcendency personality trait as well as a specific gene (VMAT2), whose presence contributes to the ability to focus inward, maintain deep concentration and empathize with others, a few of the requirements for transcendence. Alling, reconciling his religious beliefs with his scientific impulses, argues that these recent discoveries prove the richness of spirituality rather than explain away the unknowable possibilities of faith. Despite the technical nature of the prose, the author’s arguments are cogent, and he bolsters his case by connecting abstract ideas to specific, concrete examples and case studies.
A fascinating look at the dazzling nature of transcendence.