A thorough treatment from an atheistic perspective, with numerous examples but few original hypotheses.

CHASING DAVIS

AN ATHEIST'S GUIDE TO MORALITY USING LOGIC AND SCIENCE

Luce sets out to explain why only science and logic are reliable guides for morality.

With his debut philosophical treatise, Luce enters the arena of the “new atheists”—Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and others. While those writers have tended to focus on a narrow theme within an atheistic framework, Luce tackles religion, morality, history, law, social convention, autobiography and more. He begins, like Hitchens in God Is Not Great (2007), by sharing his personal history of growing up in Davis, Calif., where he first felt “that to be at peace with oneself only required one be in harmony with whatever it was that was going on around one.” The author’s quest in his book is partly to regain that sense of peace as an adult, to “chase Davis.” It was also as a child that Luce first doubted the moral teachings of religion. In addition to explaining why he is an atheist, Luce provides a detailed review of what he sees to be the failings of traditional moral guideposts—religion, philosophy, government and law. He explores a wide array of issues within each of these areas and offers numerous examples for his propositions, which bolsters his argument that only science and logic are trustworthy guides. Luce adds a few original ideas to the “new atheism” debate, most notably the intriguing yet unproven conjecture that humans require a certain amount of space in order to get along and that violating this requirement has made the entire species “insane.” His critique of religion is wide-ranging but tends to treat religion merely as a set of premises. This approach has merit but ignores the complexity of how religion is practiced and experienced. Likewise, his critique of philosophy focuses on a few classic philosophers but ignores major atheist thinkers from Hume to Sartre, to whom his book is indebted. He also characterizes the views of philosophers as merely belief systems, a peculiar attack on the field that developed both logic and science.

A thorough treatment from an atheistic perspective, with numerous examples but few original hypotheses.

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1469732312

Page Count: 694

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2012

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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