BOOK REVIEW: Be As You Are ed. by David Godman

Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana MaharshiBe As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi by Ramana Maharshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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In the early days of yoga, before there was Power Yoga or Yin Yoga — or even Hatha Yoga or Raja Yoga, there were three approaches to yoga. Bhakti yoga was devotional yoga, the yoga of the believers who pursued the path through worship. Karma yoga was the yoga of action: practiced by doing selfless deeds. Jnana yoga, often said to the hardest, was the path of knowledge, and it involved intense study and – in particular – introspective study of the jnani’s own mind. Sri Ramana Maharshi was one of the most well-known Jnana yogis of modern times (he lived from 1879 to 1950.)

This book presents Sri Ramana’s teachings in a question and answer format. The editor, David Godman, begins each chapter with an overview of Ramana’s views on the subject at hand, and he then launches into the Q&A exchange that makes up most of each chapter. The preludes are beneficial not only because they set up the topic, but also because they help separate Ramana’s core beliefs from the way he occasionally explained matters to non-jnani’s or those who weren’t ready to grasp what he believed was the fundamental teaching. (There’s a fair amount of, “Until you realize the self, X is true, but after you achieve self-realization Y will be true.)

Sri Ramana’s central teaching is that the jnani must actively inquire about the nature of the true self (a practice called atma-vichara, or self-inquiry.) As such, the book is organized as a guide to building a practice of self-inquiry.

The book’s 21 chapters are divided among six parts. The first part investigates the self as Sri Ramana refers to it. This isn’t the individual self that one is normally referring to in common speech. Part II is entitled “Inquiry and Surrender” and three out of the four chapters, herein, discuss the process of self-inquiry. Three chapters may sound like a lot, but this practice really is the core of jnana yoga. These chapters not only explain how self-inquiry is done and what it’s supposed to achieve, they also contrast the practice with others that bear a resemblance to atma-vichara, such as reciting “Who am I?” as a mantra, as well as, neti-neti — an exercise in negation in which one considers all the things that aren’t the self (e.g. “I am not my body.” “I am not this thought,” etc.)

Part III is about Gurus and transmission of teachings. It takes on such questions as: is a Guru necessary, and what constitutes a Guru (i.e. must it be a living human? Can it be a book?) The second chapter in this part is about sat-sang, which may be literally translated as “sitting with the guru,” but refers to a kind of transference that flows from being together.

Part IV is on meditation and yoga. Sri Ramana differentiates self-inquiry from meditation, though superficially they seem to be similar activities. He discusses dharana (concentration) and mantras in these chapters as well. One inclusion that may seem unrelated to the general theme is chapter 12, which is about the four-stage model of life called the asramas (student, householder, hermit, ascetic.) The chapter on yoga is about the eight limbs of yoga described by Patanjali, and their relevance to the practice of Jnana yogi. It should be noted that Ramana downplays the importance of these practices to the jnana yogi (a.k.a. Jnani) with the exception of pranayama (breathing exercises.)

Part V discusses samadhi, siddhi (supernormal psychic powers that some yogis believe can be achieved), and other challenges and phenomena that may be experienced during one’s practice of self-inquiry. While superpowers sound cool, Sri Ramana (as well as Patanjali) warned against he pursuit of these abilities as they become distractions from obtaining self-realization.

That last five chapters are grouped under the title of “Theory.” These chapters deal in the big “meaning of life” kind of philosophical questions. Much of these chapters consist of Ramana telling the interviewer to stop over-intellectualizing about obscure philosophical matters and start asking oneself who is asking the question (in other words, get back to self-inquiry and forget about abstract navel-gazing.) At any rate, the questions include: was the universe created, and – if so – how? is reincarnation real? what is the nature of god? is karma real? is free will real? etc. They are fascinating questions, and Ramana offers a few intriguing ideas, but mostly discounts the value of philosophizing.

There are no graphics in this book, but there is a glossary, notes, and a bibliography.

I found this book to be thought-provoking. At times it can be a bit repetitive. The key point that Ramana sought to get across is (in theory, not practice) straightforward. At times it seems like the questioner is badgering the witness because he doesn’t like the answer, such as when Godman wants Sri Ramana to elaborate on the nature of suffering and the need for compassionate acts. Ramana keeps telling Godman to just go back to self-inquiry and all will take care of itself. That said, Sri Ramana offers some fascinating thoughts, and generates beautiful food-for-thought.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to know more about jnana yoga or to get a different take on the philosophy of yoga in general.

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5 Books About the Mental Side of Yoga


5.) Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi: This book, which is presented in Q&A format, explores Sri Ramana’s approach to Jñāna yoga, and explains atma-vichara, the exercise of self-enquiry that Ramana proposed was the key to self-realization.

 

4.) Supernormal by Dean Radin: Okay, this is an unconventional choice for the list but bear with me. (I mostly included it because I like to have an under-the-radar entry in these lists, and this seems like one that could have been missed readers of works on yoga.) Radin is a paranormal researcher who, in this case, has investigated the topic of siddhi, which are the controversial powers that Patanjali discusses in the third section of The Yoga Sutras, but which many deny are real.

 

3.) Sure Ways to Self-Realization by Swami Satyananda Saraswati: This is the Bihar School of Yoga guide to meditation, and it covers both yogic meditation methods and those from other disciplines (e.g. Buddhism, Taoism, Western / scientific [e.g. biofeedback], etc.) By “meditation,” here I mean more than dhyana. This book uses the word in a broader and more colloquial sense that includes some practices that are normally considered pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) or dharana (concentration.)

 

2.) Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati:  Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) is a sustained hypnogogic state — i.e. the state of mind on the edge between wakefulness and falling into sleep. It is used both as an intense relaxation exercise as well as to access the subconscious to plant seeds therein.

 

1.) Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: (Sutras by Patanjali with commentary by B.K.S. Iyengar): This isn’t — strictly speaking — only about the mental side of yoga, but, in the Sutras, Patanjali makes clear that yoga is a tool to advance mental calm and clarity. There are many translations and commentaries available. Commentaries are useful because the 196 sutras are extremely sparse. Iyengar’s book is probably one of the most approachable translation / commentaries for a modern reader.

5 Non-Yoga Video Channels that Are Great Resources for Yoga Teachers

As I’ve been expanding my pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) practice, I’ve found myself searching beyond traditional yogic sources of information at times. It turns out that there are several disciplines from which valuable tidbits of information about breath can be gleaned, including: martial arts, freediving, and physiology.

As I was on a freediving site (shown below, #5) learning some lung capacity expanding exercises, it occurred to me that it might be beneficial to do a post of some of the sources of information that I’ve found useful that wouldn’t necessarily be stumbled upon by those looking for information on yoga.

5.) Adam Freediver: This enthusiastic and whimsical Aussie freediving champion offers fascinating tips on respiration — many of which are of use out of the water as well as in.

4.) Physical Therapy Video: Bob and Brad, Physical Therapists, offer advice and exercises that may be helpful for students with hyperkyphosis (excessive back rounding), duck foot (excessive external rotation of legs), or a number of other common postural / bodily challenges.

3.) SOLPM (The Science of Learning Power Move): This site offers progressions and capacity building exercises that will help one with challenging exercises, e.g. handstands, that most people can’t do without a gradual building up. As with the Adam Freediver channel, not all of the videos are relevant, but a number of them are.

2.) Crash Course:: This witty educational channel presents excellent graphics and a light-hearted and watchable commentary by Hank Green (one of the Vlog Brothers.) The Anatomy and Physiology Series is particularly relevant, but there are select videos in other series — such as Mythology — that one may find illuminating.

1.) TED Talks: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably familiar with TED, but you may not be aware of the breadth of topics they’ve covered, including meditation, biomechanics, yogic philosophy, breathing, and more.

Honorable Mentions:
Calisthenic Movement: Like SOLPM, this channel can help build up some of the challenging maneuvers, such as handstands, but you may also find out something useful about more rudimentary exercises, such as planks.

ASAP Science: This science channel that uses line-drawn graphics has some interesting and informative videos on topics such as meditation, hypnosis, and nutrition.

BOOK REVIEW: Conversations on Consciousness ed. by Susan Blackmore

Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be HumanConversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human by Susan Blackmore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Blackmore gathers together interviews from a veritable who’s who of consciousness experts from neuroscience, philosophy, physiology, psychology, and physics. While the interviews are in part tailored to tap into the special insights of the given expert, a consistent series of questions is asked of each of the interviewees. Each expert is asked what they think is challenging about consciousness, what they think about the feasibility of philosopher’s zombies (a popular thought experiment about an individual who seems to behave like an ordinary human but who has no conscious experience), what they think about the existence of free will, what happens to consciousness after death, and what got them interested in the subject. This makes it easy for the reader to see not just differences in thinking across disciplines, but also different schools of thought within disciplines. There’s enough variety to make for intriguing reading. There is also a mix between individuals who have experience with meditation (e.g. the interviewer) and those who don’t, and so it’s interesting to compare views of those with such insight to those who study consciousness entirely abstractly.

I won’t list all the authors, but they include: David Chalmers (who famously coined the term the “hard problem” of consciousness, which is one of the most widely discussed ideas in the book), Francis Crick (of DNA fame who later shifted focus), Daniel Dennett (a well-known philosopher), V.S. Ramachandran (a neuroscientist famous for work on phantom limbs and behavioral neurology), and Roger Penrose (a physicist who believes that quantum mechanics may prove crucial to figuring out consciousness.)

It’s a straightforward book. There’s an Introduction by Blackmore and then the 20 or 21 interviews (one “chapter” is a married couple – Pat and Paul Churchland — whose insights are presented together.) The only back matter is a glossary, which is quite in-depth and which helps to clarify the many confusing concepts from various disciplines. There are a few cartoon drawings that lighten the tone, but serve no essential purpose.

I enjoyed this book and found it thought-provoking. It’s quite old at this point – having come out in 2005 – but since consciousness is so intractable, it’s not like any of the questions have been cleared up. (If it were a book on AI, I’d probably say it was worthless at this point, but not this book.) I’d recommend it for anyone looking to understand the lay of the land with regards thinking about consciousness.

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POEM: Thought Bubbles

Source: Spiff via Wikipedia

 

Silence the jittery critter.
Ride the dullness down
to where images bubble.

In that blurry dimness
one feels their logic,
but shine the mind’s light
and all sense shatters —
scattering,
dissolving into shadows
without a trace.

Leaving only the dull ache of betrayal
that, as in a dream,
something so absurd and fragile
could feel so wise.

BOOK REVIEW: Sure Ways to Self-Realization by Swami Saraswati

Sure Ways to Self RealizationSure Ways to Self Realization by Satyananda Saraswati
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book is one-stop shopping for the yogic meditator. The first half of the book explores many of the most common yogic practices of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) in step-by-step detail. The second half of the book situates yogic meditation in a global context of meditation by introducing various techniques of meditation and mind science seen around the world. This allows the reader to compare and contrast the yogic approach to that of other systems — be they closely related systems such as Buddhism or Jainism or more remote ones such as hypnosis or moving meditations like dance or the martial arts.

I found this book to be incredibly useful. While there are mountains of books on yoga, there are relatively few that shine a light on the practices of the mind, and among those that do only very few are nonsectarian. Many books look at meditation solely as a spiritual practice and a few others present it exclusively as a secular scientifically grounded practice. This book skillfully bridges between, and does its level best to get the accounts of different systems right. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few oversimplifications or minor misunderstandings here and there, but the good overshadows them by far. It should be noted that even within the domain of yoga, many authors warp concepts such as jnana yoga and tantric yoga to fit their worldview or sect instead of reporting on how practitioners of those systems would see them. This book seemed to me to be much fairer than many in this regard.

The book consists of an Introduction and seven chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 discuss tools and aids used in meditation. The primary difference between the two chapters is that the first looks at traditional aids such as mantra, mandalas, and symbology, and the second discusses more modern scientific aids such as biofeedback, drugs, and sensory deprivation tanks.

Chapter 3 is one of the largest (more than a quarter of the book) and it explores the many yogic meditation techniques, including: antar mouna, japa, ajapa japa, chidakasha dharana, yoga nidra, prana vidya, trataka, nada meditation, jnana yogi meditations, kriya yoga techniques, and tantric techniques. While the later discussion of non-yogic approaches generally includes instructions for basic exercises, the descriptions in this section are much more detailed, and some include variations on the primary practice.

Chapter 4 is about the same length as chapter 3, and it investigates many of the other systems of meditation from around the world. These include religious systems such as those in: Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, various sects of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, the mystical branches of Christianity and Islam (Sufi,) and Native American animist traditions. It also includes secular systems such as hypnosis and autogenic therapy.

Chapter 5 delves into how movement of the body is used as an anchor point in meditation in yoga, on pilgrimage, in Tibetan Buddhism, in Zen Buddhism, in the martial arts, in dance, and in sports. This is where I saw those few of the aforementioned minor oversimplifications and misunderstandings (e.g. referring to all martial arts under the rubric “karate.”) However, I greatly appreciated that the authors included discussion of this important topic, and so I can’t say that there was anything that detracted from my enjoyment of coverage of the topic.

The penultimate chapter is a catch-all for miscellany not covered earlier in the book. It includes meditations for kids (who require a very special approach, I can attest.) It also has a section on meditation on death, which I believe to be an immensely important topic for helping people shed their fear so they can get the most out of their lives. The other two sections are on nature and sensory meditations, respectively. The last chapter is short and discusses samadhi as the goal of meditative practice.

There are only a few graphics in the book, mostly symbology, but there is a glossary and a bibliography.

I would highly recommend this book for yoga practitioners and those who have a broad interest in meditative and mind science practices.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Healer Within by Roger Jahnke

The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques To Release Your Body's Own Medicine *Movement *Massage *Meditation *BreathingThe Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques To Release Your Body’s Own Medicine *Movement *Massage *Meditation *Breathing by Roger Jahnke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book examines how four techniques – movement, massage [specifically, self-applied], breathing exercises, and meditation — can be used to facilitate a robust immune system and to stimulate the body’s innate healing capacities. Jahnke, as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, specializes in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM,) but he acknowledges that these activities aren’t the exclusive domain of that system. The book is designed to be one-stop shopping for an individual seeking to build their own self-healing practice either as preventive medicine or as a part of one’s treatment regimen for an ailment or infirmity.

The thirteen chapters of the book are divided into five parts. The first two chapters form the book’s first part, and they discuss the body’s innate healing capacity and the literature on the roles of mind and self-applied activities on health outcomes.

Part II forms the heart of the book, and it consists of chapters three through seven. Chapter three offers insight into the process of building a personal practice from the four key activities including guidelines for how to organize disparate parts into a whole and how to fit it into one’s life overall. The other four chapters provide examples and techniques for each of the four components of the system: gentle movement (e.g. qiqong), self-applied massage, breathing exercises, and meditation and deep relaxation techniques.

Part III expands on the issues touched upon in Chapter 3. That is, it explores in greater detail the nature of building and deepening a personal practice.

Part IV, entitled “The Way of Nature,” provides a philosophical context for a global self-healing movement and describes how a community can be built around this endeavor. There are three chapters in this section. The last part consists of only one chapter and it describes a potential future self-healing regime. Throughout the book there is a recognized that, while modern medicine is invaluable, it’s also developed a dysfunction by undervaluing the role of the body’s innate healing factor, while not only removing the patient from of the driver’s seat but also stuffing them in the trunk as a sort of cargo in the health and healing process.

The book has line drawings to help clarify the techniques. There are several pieces of back matter (an appendix, a bibliography, and a resources section) to help make the book more useful. [The appendix is a little strange and unfocused for an Appendix. It’s almost more of a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version for someone who wants to get to brass tacks, but it does offer some interesting insight into how a community built around these ideas has formed.]

I found this book to be informative and believe it offers a great deal of valuable insight into how to not only develop one’s own preventive medicine activities, but also how to situate those activities within a community of like-minded individuals. I thought the author did a good job of presenting scientific evidence for building a self-healing practice while not becoming too bogged down technical detail and offering a way of thinking about it for those who look at such activities in more metaphysical or spiritual terms. I’d recommend this book for anyone who is considered engaging in health enhancing activities.

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5 Reasons to Practice Yang Style 24 Form

With slight variations, this taijiquan (tai chi chuan) sequence is alternatively called: Yang Style 24 Form, the Yang Style Short Form, Beijing Standard Form (occasionally Peking Standard Form), or Simplified 24 Form. Here are some reasons to give it a try.

 

5.) Widespread: It’s the single most popular taiji form in the world. This means, if you’re the gregarious type, you can join groups in parks all over the world.

4.) Balance: It’s good for your balance and you don’t want to fall and break a hip.

3.) Moving Meditation: It’s a great way for fidgety individuals to work up to meditation. All the meditation without having to stay perfectly still.

2.) Scalability: It’s scalable to fitness level. Because taiji is popular with older people, many modifications have been developed for those who aren’t ready for the classical expression of the form.

1.) Gentleness: There’s virtually nothing to go wrong — as long as you “know thyself.” i.e. There are no contraindications, at least for the simplified form.

BOOK REVIEW: Taoist Yoga & Chi Kung by Eric Yudelove

Taoist Yoga and Chi Kung- For good health,better sex,and longer life.Taoist Yoga and Chi Kung- For good health,better sex,and longer life. by Eric Yudelove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book was originally released under the title: “100 Days to Better Health, Good Sex & Long Life.” It offers a 14 week qi gong practice that proposes to improve health, sex life, and longevity. It’s presented as a step-by-step explanation of the practice aimed at those who intend to carry out the practice—as opposed to those who are looking for a more general explanation or overview.

The book offers a systematic presentation of the 14 week / 100 day practice. It’s divided into two parts. The first is a short explanation of Taoist concepts as they pertain to health building practices, and particular emphasis is given to the concepts of chi (energy / breath), jing (body), and shen (mind.) That emphasis is valuable as each of the chapters (i.e. the description of each week’s practice) is outlined according to these three concepts. So, each week there is a new breath practice, new bodily practices, and a new meditation or visualization practice. That said, these practices build on each other—i.e. starting with very basic activities and either adding to them or shifting to more complex variations.

The sections on breath and mind are fairly straight forward and mostly involve one practice each per week. Those practices become quite complex over the course of the book, but it’s one practice per week. This is in contrast to the middle section that has three or four subsections of activities per week. The middle section on Jing, or body, includes subsections on making sounds, self-massage, “sexual kung fu” (exercises intended to tone the reproductive system and prevent chi “leakage”), and the movement exercises that one might most closely associate with qi gong (chi kung.)

The book has many graphics in the form of line drawings used to clarify anatomy or how one is to visualize the practices. There is a glossary to help explain both Chinese terms and terminology in English that is specific to qi gong. There is also a two page bibliography that includes many works by one of Yudelove’s teachers, Mantak Chia, but also including works by individuals from other lineages and systems.

I have practiced through week eight. One may find the parts of the practice vary in their usefulness, but there doesn’t seem to be any harmful practices and there are many from which one will benefit. I’d recommend the book if one is looking for practices—as opposed to background. The explanations are systematic and the overall practice is well-organized. It’s not the kind of book that is much of a pleasure to read for reading’s sake. Much of the book is lists and bullet points of step-by-step explanation.

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BOOK REVIEW: Supernormal by Dean Radin

Supernormal: Science, Yoga and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic AbilitiesSupernormal: Science, Yoga and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities by Dean Radin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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With this controversial book, Dean Radin presents the scientific evidence for an array of psychic powers, but he frames the discussion in terms of yogic siddhis. “Siddhi” is a Sanskrit term for an ability that isn’t seen among the general population–at least not reliably so– and for the most part these “accomplishments” correspond to the categories discussed in parapsychology (i.e. telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, and clairvoyance.) [Note: As mentioned, this is a controversial book. I will attempt to provide as unbiased a review as possible. I am generally skeptical, but don’t believe in poo-pooing the study of subjects because they offend my skeptical sensibilities. Furthermore, I try to keep an open mind because: 1.) there is no scientific consensus about what consciousness is or how it works, 2.) quantum biology is a subject in its infancy and we may yet learn there is more quantum “spookiness” going on in the brain than we think. 3.) for all I know we are in an simulation and then it’s all a matter of programming.]

The yogic emphasis doesn’t change the book much from the pop psych literature review of parapsychology studies it would otherwise be, except to necessitate background information on yoga and siddhis. However, this emphasis may or may not have opened up a huge additional readership. Outside of a fringe, siddhis aren’t much in vogue among yoga practitioners these days. Among modern day yogis and yoginis, there are some who believe in them and some who think they’re throwbacks to an era of superstition, malnutrition, and wishful thinking. However, even among the former, siddhis are generally considered a distraction. The advice of most of the great yogis has been to not get lost in the pursuit of such powers because chasing siddhis can derail one from one’s ultimate objective (e.g. liberation.) Still, if even a small fraction of yoga practitioners take an interest, that’s a fairly large readership.

So what exactly is the controversy? Obviously, there are many divergent demographics with differing views on the topic. For hardcore skeptics, parapsychology is right up there with alien abduction, bigfoot /yeti sightings, and the anatomy of the Loch Ness monster with respect to being a legitimate topic for scientific study. On the other hand, there are believers who are offended by the mere notion of studying such phenomena with science, and who say such investigations are an assault on their beliefs.

But that’s not a very interesting controversy—i.e. there are some people who won’t believe in such abilities no matter what the evidence, and others who will believe in them no matter what science has to say. So let’s chop off the hardcore skeptics and hardcore believers and ask what the controversy is as it pertains to those of us who consider evidence when drawing conclusions.

The root of the controversy can be stated rather quickly and clearly. Here it is: the effect size is small but statistically significant. What does that mean? Say this study asks a subject to determine which of five randomly selected shapes has been chosen using nothing but his / her mind. Using pure guessing, one would expect to be right 20% (i.e. 1/5th) of the time. If a person happened to get 32% right in a given trial, that means nothing because small samples don’t give one a convergence towards a mean value. (i.e. Intuitively, you know that if you flip a coin 10 times and get 7 heads, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. If you repeat that 10-flip set 10,000 times, and still get 70% heads, then you probably have a trick coin or something else odd is going on.) So the issue is that even when experimenters repeat the experiment over and over again such that the average value should converge on 20%, it doesn’t. It stays at, say, 30% (exact effects vary but it’s on this order.)

At this point the reader might be thinking of all the factors that could result in this effect (i.e. cheating [insider or outsider], subconscious observation of facial expressions, random selection that is biased, etc.) Well, so have the scientists. In any study, one wants to account for alternative explanations to the utmost. Over the years, researchers like Radin have put all manner of protections in place from quantum random number generators to booths with extreme sound-proofing and Faraday cages (prevents radio signals from transiting.) Still they get this small positive effect that can’t be explained by alternative explanations.

There is also the issue of the filing drawer problem, which Radin devotes considerable space to discussing. It’s the idea that when drawing conclusions from many similar studies, one must accept that there may be many unpublished studies that sit in file drawers because they didn’t produced negative results. These filed / unpublished studies could negate the outcome of the body of studies of that nature. While this remains an open criticism, there is mathematics for determining how many negative studies would have to be turned up to make the results insignificant. Radin argues that the numbers calculated strain credulity.

So this “small but statistically significant effect” is generally agreed upon by all, excepting conspiracy theorists. Now we get to the controversy, which is how to explain this effect. Skeptics run the gamut from hot-blooded haters who claim that it’s all just a scam perpetrated by hoaxers with tenure, to more diplomatic challengers who provide thoughtful, plausible, and non-nefarious explanations for what they believe are false results. Said objections include file drawer problems, statistical “crud factor” (an observed effect in which large sample size studies can show a significant correlations between any two random variables—i.e. everything is correlated with everything else to some degree), and outlier effects.

The latter is a particularly revealing controversy. Say your study results in this 30% instead of 20% effect, and there’s one subject in the study who (over many trials) got the shape right 80% of the time. If you’re a skeptic, you call that an outlier and you want to cut it out of the study because it may be causing part, most, or all of the effect you see. Your assumption is that that this outlier could be anything from a data entry error to an outright cheater, but it’s obviously not a gifted psychic. If you’re a believer, not only do you want to keep that result, you want to find that person and study them to find out if the result was a one-time fluke, or if you have some rare, gifted person.

The book is arranged into three parts. The first part offers background on yoga and siddhis. The second part is the heart of the book and it presents an overview of results from studies of precognition, telepathy, psychokinesis (both of animate and inanimate objects), clairvoyance, and the effect of meditation on these abilities (which also shows a small positive effect, i.e. the general population outdoes probability by a little bit and experienced meditators outperform the general population by a little bit.) The last section is just a couple chapters about the future of parapsychology.

I found this book to be interesting and thought-provoking. Radin comes across as a reasonable investigator who is willing to accept that there is a lot of duplicity going on out in the world, but yet when one uses the methods of science one obtains results that would be generally accepted as successful across the social sciences. At times he does go on anti-skeptic rants. On the other hand, one can imagine his frustration in dealing with individuals unwilling to pin down how much higher the bar must be for parapsychology results over results in more mainstream topics. I think Radin’s greatest mistake was in discussing levitation. Besides at a quantum level, the effects of gravity are well-understood and non-negotiable. While our lack of understanding of consciousness leaves wiggle room to at least consider some unusual happenings, levitation seems a non-starter. Fortunately, as it hasn’t been studied, Radin just presents a couple historical anecdotes and moves on (while—to be fair–acknowledging the fundamental risk in relying on anecdotes.)

I’d recommend this book. I can’t say it swayed my belief on the topic, which tends skeptical, but it did inform my confusion. (It should be pointed out that not all these abilities are equally reviled by science. Precognition is the most fundamentally opposed because it seems to violate the fundamental cause and effect nature of the universe at our scale and larger [as opposed to the quantum level were all sorts of weird happenings transpire.]) I do agree with Radin that there shouldn’t be taboos in science in which scientists are afraid to study a subject of interest because the prevailing notion is that it probably doesn’t have merit. If there weren’t scientists with the cojones to study “crazy stuff” we’d no doubt be far behind our current understanding of the world.

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