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Zen Physics: The Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation Paperback – Mar 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Canada / Non-Fiction (March 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060173521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060173524
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #571,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

With the catapult of logic, astrophysicist Darling (Equations of Eternity) lobs a barrage of scientific data against death's door. But he-and we-never quite gain access to the ultimate mystery. The title notwithstanding, Darling's prime ammo is psychology, not physics, and Zen enters his plan only in the endgame. His main thrust involves presenting cases of amnesia, multiple personality disorder and other afflictions, as well as facts of the brain-mind connection, to demonstrate that our sense of self is not steady, as is generally supposed, but fluid, even temporally discrete. Darling then announces a not quite convincing and emotionally unsatisfying theory of "reincarnation" based on this ever-changing self, in which successive incarnations of "me" retain no personal link from one to the next. With great elegance, he next uses findings of quantum physics to show that consciousness is primary to matter. This contradicts Western scientific orthodoxy, but Darling makes a strong case. Both the fluid self and the primacy of matter accord with Buddhist principles, which is where Zen comes in. Oddly, though, Darling's idea of reincarnation seems to veer from Zen basics, as it eliminates the possibility of conscious reincarnation. Likely, readers will finish this bold brief sensing they've peeked through death's keyhole, but have not opened the door. U.K., translation, first serial, dramatic rights: Patricia Van der Leun.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa99ae510) out of 5 stars 14 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9977138) out of 5 stars Infectious ideas: consciousness and the illusion of death April 5 2000
By Dennis Littrell - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this exciting book David Darling makes a number of startling observations, most notably that it is our ego-sense or our "consciousness" that makes us afraid of death. On page 104 Darling writes, "the prime biological function of the self is to be afraid of death." This is an ancient idea straight from the Upanishads, incorporated in the Bhagavad Gita and found in Buddhism as well as in yogic theory and practice. It is also an important idea in evolutionary psychology where consciousness or the sense of the individual self is just a trick of the species mechanism to make us fear death (among other things).
Unlike the scientific purveyors of evolutionary psychology, Darling sees us surviving death in another consciousness, although he assures us we will not be aware of our previous consciousness(es). He sees consciousness as something we all share with my consciousness being no different than yours, and in fact, it is the same thing and so can easily be taken up. We are "reincarnated" in this special sense. Darling says, on p. 180, "It is not a case of you becoming one person and me becoming someone else in the traditional sense of transmigrating souls. We have to see that `being you' is just a general phenomenon. There is no actual, objective link that determines who you will become. You will not become anyone. There is just a continuously experienced condition of you-ness." In yoga this is maya, the veil of illusion that continuously shrouds our perception.
Another nice quote is on page 176: "What the brain really does is to sample extremely narrow aspects of reality through the senses and then subject these to further drastic and highly selective reinterpretation." (See Norretranders's The User Illusion (1991) for a similar expression.) Darling's point is that the brain, as William James said in his famous quote about "the doors of perception," restricts our ability to see the world objectively. We see the world only as our system needs to see it to survive. Or, to quote Darling, (p. 180) "The brain effectively pinches off a little bubble of introverted awareness and stores and manipulates information relevant exclusively to the survival needs of the individual so created." Our sense of ourselves as individuals is, as the yogis teach, a delusion fostered on us by the evolutionary mechanism to help us cope with living on this animal plane.
Here's another idea that relates to the subjectivity of our view: If a spaceship should fall into the sun, we would see it as "burning up." To another consciousness, it might be seen as getting "tremendously excited" or "wonderfully transformed" or to a third consciousness, even "securing a place in the sun" so that it might be launched into space when the sun explodes, reproducing and spreading out. The whole point is, our bias and our expectations create our view of what is happening-indeed our expectations create our universe.
Some years ago I was excited with the idea that my consciousness is eternal, that my ideas will never die even after the universe has grown cold, nor will the unique organization of my brain cells and the pattern of their connections ever die, since it is the information they contain that is really "alive." Theoretically, I could be reconstructed and return, perhaps in a hundred billion years. Of course, that suggests the question, would I want to? and begs the observation, So what? since it is natural to feel that my "consciousness" (a kind of ghost in the machine) would not survive the reconstruction.
Darling contends (p. 175) that "consciousness can never be divorced from matter" (and vice-versa) and that the universe and everything in it has both "an objective and a subjective nature." He adds, "`Things' have no reality independent of their location in experience; they require the intimate involvement of mind to be given substance."
If we only experience consciousness when "alive," we could be dead for billions of years and alive for a few decades, on and off alternately, and we would only be aware of being alive. Sound familiar? In this sense we are immortal.
Although all this seems to be just playing with words and offering no solace to those in the thrall of the fear of death, it is not so. Regard the Gita, where it is written, we do not die. Our deaths, like our births and like our sense of self are very powerful illusions that only understanding can dispel. Darling's book is a very readable effort in that direction.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9971f00) out of 5 stars Exceptionally well written, profoundly clear and logical Dec 8 2001
By Kerouacky - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was browsing through a local used book store and found myself face to face with this gem of a book. I read the sleeve and felt stongly enough to buy it on the spot, not knowing at the time that it would very well be the best, most well written book I had come across in years. Darling has aquired a profound insight into the process of death and the many misconceptions we have about it. He systematically walks you through the scientific process of death as well as other scientific phenomenon and lets you see for yourself that there isn't a huge mystery behind it all. Darling doesn't give you the answer to "the great question", but points you in the correct direction with style. I'm sorry to see that it is currently out of print. I highly recommend to anyone reading to search for this treasure!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa9971fb4) out of 5 stars Profound, well organized, memorable Aug. 1 2000
By MJB - Published on
Format: Paperback
I bought this book a couple of years ago while on a business trip, only to read it this year. I found it carefully lays out the scientific basis of death, and the loss of consciousness which results. It then proceeds to apply a Zen perspective in a clear and careful manner. I came on-line to buy it for a friend, and I am sad to learn it is out of print. I value my copy all the more. I am very lucky to have found it, and would recommend it to anyone.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa99aacc0) out of 5 stars A brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness Jan. 2 2007
By Jason Fisher - Published on
Format: Paperback
I find myself agreeing in large part with James Luscombe's review -- the book doesn't deliver on what it's promised. This may be Darling's fault, or his publisher's, but the fact is: we don't have anything close to the promised ruminations on "the science of death, the logic of reincarnation" here. Darling does survey many of the more interesting questions in the domain of philosophy of mind, but if that's what you're looking for, I'd recommend Daniel Dennett instead.

Even when Darling does get close to discussing death and reincarnation, his arguments are unsatisfying. At least, to me. In essence, he says that our state of being prior to birth is analagous to that after death, and therefore we shouldn't fear returning to that state. Well, this is small consolation to me! I find myself remembering what Vladimir Nabokov wrote: "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour)."

The book raises some interesting questions, but fails to come together as any sort of cohesive (to say nothing of definitive) work on the stated subject.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa99aac6c) out of 5 stars Good writer, poorly written book Aug. 7 2006
By James H. Luscombe - Published on
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading this book, and I was sorely disappointed. The book is actually a very interesting, thought-provoking read until page 115, the end of Part I. After that (Part II), it splinters into a disconnected set of essays. The book is neither about Zen nor Physics, although both are cursorily mentioned in Part II. The subtitle of the book - The Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation - is simply false advertising. Part I of the book (You and Other Stories) is a well-written exposition of our ideas of ourselves, our brains and our memories, drawing upon current research in brain science. Part I is well worth reading. I kept waiting for the author to "close the loop" with the stated goals of the book. It never happened. Part II of the book feels rushed and disconnected, incoherent compared with Part I. Another criticism of the book is the lack of references. The author cites many interesting works and quotes - it would not be difficult to provide references. The author can be a good writer, poetic even, but you get the impression he is often recycling paragraphs, all largely saying the same thing.