Bright, absorbing look into a mystifying source of inspiration, the kind that often uncaps a wellspring of ideas and...

A crisply written study of how and why eureka moments can power intellectual breakthroughs.

After having written about modern-day stoicism, sculling, the deflection of brickbats and human desire, Irvine (Philosophy/Wright State Univ.; A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt—And Why They Shouldn’t, 2013, etc.) now turns his attention to the interior flashbulbs that have supplied historical icons like Albert Einstein and Gustav Mahler, as well as our own modern-day geniuses, with significant epiphanies. While Irvine admits these insightful “aha moments” are indeed mysterious in nature, they are universally experienced and covetously perceived. The author diligently examines this phenomenon, showing how the unconscious mind is often responsible for the development of creative and productive ideas. He scours five unique domains where inspiration is essential: religion, morality, science, mathematics and art. He deftly explores each of these areas, analyzing how this “rush of discovery” can transform and thus validate one’s laboratory research or creative endeavor. Irvine also examines the sensation of the aha moment, its psychology and related neurological aspects, as well as varied theories as to its frequency and the roadblocks preventing these kinds of epiphanies from having a significant impact. The author examines his own experiences with hypnagogia (the transitional, often hallucinatory state from wakefulness to sleep), compares divine visions versus hallucinations, and amusingly includes noted contrarian journalist Christopher Hitchens when intersecting inspiration and morality. His surveys of historical events where aha moments have come into play have also been thoughtfully researched. In the book’s acknowledgments, Irvine humorously thanks and endorses his muses, rationalizing that “it’s hard to go wrong if you keep an open mind.”

Bright, absorbing look into a mystifying source of inspiration, the kind that often uncaps a wellspring of ideas and potential.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0199338870

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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