Another challenging work from the founder of Project Reason, this time an attempt to separate spirituality from religion.
Neuroscientist Harris (Lying, 2013, etc.) argues that the conventional sense of self—a feeling that there is an “I,” a center of consciousness sitting somewhere behind the eyes—is false and that spirituality consists largely of ridding oneself of this illusion. The author recognizes that the term “spirituality” comes with loaded meanings, but here he uses it to refer to the transcendence of self. Early on, Harris describes his book as “a seeker’s memoir, an introduction to the brain, a manual of contemplative instruction, and a philosophical unraveling of what most people consider to be the center of their inner lives: the sense of self we call ‘I’…my goal is to pluck the diamond from the dunghill of esoteric religion.” The author’s many narrative strands intertwine throughout the book. The memoir portions tell of his explorations into Eastern meditation practices and of his experiences with psychedelic drugs. His how-to-meditate directions are simple and straightforward (for further guidance, readers are directed to his website), and his experiments with consciousness-altering drugs are both revealing and startling. Most challenging are the chapters on the brain and the nature of consciousness. Since the author is primarily a philosopher and a scientist, not a lifestyle counselor, readers expecting a user-friendly how-to manual on becoming more spiritual will no doubt be perplexed and disappointed, but they will come away having been warned about unethical gurus and bad drugs. Only the chapter on near-death experiences, which deftly slices and dices Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (2012), is out of place, reading rather like a book review that Harris has been seeking to get published.
A demanding, illusion-shattering book certain to receive criticism from both the scientific and the religious camps.