An engrossing discussion of the limits of modern science and the virtues of ancient spirituality.

TO MY NEXT INCARNATION

HOW SCIENCE LED ME TO SPIRITUALITY

A debut work that combines a memoir with a philosophical essay attempts to reconcile the findings of modern physics with an appreciation of the spiritual dimension of life.

Neil B. Feldman was fascinated by science at an early age, drawn to radios, which made him feel “tuned in on a mysterious and powerful force connecting the world.” That nascent interest eventually blossomed into an intense engagement with contemporary physics. One of the highlights of this volume is the exceedingly accessible synopsis he furnishes of Einstein’s principal scientific achievements, including the theory of relativity. But for the author, quantum theory turned out to be as disconcerting as it was illuminating, since it seemed to imply that the phenomenal world as humans experienced it was ultimately chimerical, and that the impressions delivered by their senses were deceptive. In the ancient lessons of Advaita Vedanta, in particular the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, Feldman discovered a spiritual way to amend the notion that life was but a dream, one that he believed did not dismiss the demands of reason at large or the tenets of physics in particular: “And Vivekananda’s answer did not seem to me to contradict science or reason. On the contrary, by speaking about levels of consciousness as one key behind sense perception, he shed a whole new light on how we experience the world ‘out there.’ ” In consistently limpid prose, the author explains how the key is a certain understanding of consciousness, both an elemental feature of the cosmos and a “real factor in the actual creation of reality."

Feldman succumbed to cancer in 2015 before the volume’s completion—it was finally finished by Judy Scott Feldman, his wife, and Anna E. Feldman, his daughter, based on interviews with the author. This is announced in the first line of the work, which gives the remainder a poignant and even haunting quality, maybe even more so since the book eschews any maudlin sentimentality. The quest to craft a philosophical détente between science and spirituality is an urgent one, presented with impressive meticulousness and rigor, especially for a man who once took their exclusivity for granted. The criticisms of the stubborn limits of science are thoughtfully articulated: “Mainstream physics, however, has for the most part set consciousness aside, and has taken the mysteries of gravity, inertia, and electricity for granted. Why don’t scientists insist on examining what we take for granted?” Still, despite the admirable attempts at painstaking argument, scientific skeptics are unlikely to be convinced by this slim volume; in particular, the contention that the precepts of Advaita Vedanta never contradict, but rather transcend reason is never made sufficiently clear. In addition, the work simply assumes that one cannot simultaneously accept the conclusions of quantum theory and a more phenomenologically intuitive interpretation of lived experience. Finally, the discussion of morality is the analytically weakest part of the book, partly because the explication of the Judeo-Christian tradition is so thoroughly reductive. Nevertheless, the work as a whole is both intellectually stimulating and moving.

An engrossing discussion of the limits of modern science and the virtues of ancient spirituality.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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