A psychiatrist uses his personal experiences and stories from many different times and cultures in an attempt to redefine the public perception of psychic phenomena.
In this debut treatise on unexplainable events, Matas starts with an account of his own brushes with death and how they affected his worldview. His goal is to persuade readers that paranormal activity, such as extrasensory perception, prophetic visions, and spirits, is real, and he does so through example. Along the way, he draws from sources from across Western civilization, including Albert Einstein’s well-known description of quantum mechanics as “spooky action at a distance.” The breadth of his references is remarkable, but it’s overwhelming how he addresses so much rich subject matter so quickly. At one point, for example, he head-spinningly jumps from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy to thoughts of experts in physiology and aerospace engineering in the space of a single page. Matas does go a step further in this book than most proponents of the paranormal, however, by acknowledging its many critics. But he also asserts that righteous skepticism runs up against two problems. First, he says that scientists can’t ever completely “prove” a theory—they can merely show it to be consistent with all the data they have at the moment. So Matas argues that science can only show that the supernatural is either very unlikely or very hard to detect. Second, he expresses the belief that premonitions, near-death experiences, and hallucinations are integral to the human experience. When skeptics ignore or reject them, he says, they deny the lived experiences of many people around them. In his history of the paranormal in media, Matas describes his premonition of the twist end to the 2016 film Arrival in a two-line couplet that he wrote 30 years before—a kind of cosmic reminder that time is nonlinear. However, compared to the grandiosity of the previous mysticism in the book, this mundane point falls flat; there’s just something incredibly unsatisfactory about the idea of the cosmos speaking through blockbuster movies.
An ambitious project that buckles under the weight of its own complexity.