Profile for Kieran Fox > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Kieran Fox
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,799
Helpful Votes: 48

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
Kieran Fox (Alam al-Mithal)
(REAL NAME)   

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
pixel
Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi'ite Iran
Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi'ite Iran
by Henry Corbin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 47.02
14 used & new from CDN$ 44.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Profound but very difficult and uneven, Aug. 9 2011
This (the first of Corbin's books that I've read) is certainly an intriguing volume. After taking a couple of classes on Islamic civilization, history and religion, I thought I had at least a decent grasp of what Islam was about. Apparently not! Corbin's translations here open up whole new vistas on Sufism and Islam (at least for the ignorant, such as myself). To hear the same tired stories and dogma about Islam and Mohammed repeated so often and then to come across a work such as this is quite an experience.

First of all: one star off for Corbin's impenetrable introduction. Although in some ways it helps to set the stage, I find it hard to believe that anyone but Corbin and perhaps a few experts in this field could really follow what he is talking about. Perhaps the translator is at fault here, but I doubt it - since the (double!) translations of the original texts themselves tend to be crystal clear and very enjoyable to read. Corbin's lengthy introduction (nearly half the book), however, is so weighty and confusing that it nearly deterred me from reading the texts that follow - which would have been a big mistake.

The texts are highly varied (in length and quality - curiously, the more recent authors, mostly late 1800's, become in my opinion far less interesting and more dogmatic, or so it seems) but all point to what Corbin calls the 'Imaginal Realm', which is a bit difficult to describe, but is generally explained as halfway between pure ideas and material reality; that is, a world of mental images, spaces, objects, and so on. To someone (such as myself) very interested for a long time in dreams, lucid dreaming, astral projection, etc., the correspondences are very intriguing. As another reviewer pointed out, there is a similarity here to the shamanic descriptions of traveling to 'higher worlds' and for me many of the first-person accounts of travel to the Imaginal Realm were very reminiscent of lucid dreaming experiences. The later texts to focus more on how this Realm explains how a 'bodily' Resurrection can take place, a tortured argument I found not only unconvincing (and boring), but rather dogmatic.

Overall however this is an eye-opening book that will introduce you to a beautiful and fascinating side of Islam most people never seem to come across (and which, unfortunately, seems greatly in decline today). Intriguing! Very highly recommended, especially, to dreamers who want to see an ancient religious take on the dream world.

Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism
Between the Gates: Lucid Dreaming, Astral Projection, and the Body of Light in Western Esotericism
by Mark Stavish
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.16
23 used & new from CDN$ 14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simultaneously profound and moronic, Aug. 9 2011
This book is kind of a case study in imbalance.

On the one hand, there is a lot of interesting information in this book, which introduced me to many meditations/visualizations from the Christian/Jewish/Hermetic traditions that I'd never heard of before and had imagined were basically confined to the Eastern traditions (such as meditating on, and then requesting teachings from, a tutelary angel or deity in some form). There are also many admonitions and much advice about the spiritual path - its difficulty and dangers - that seem to genuinely come from a man who is earnest and has walked that way.

Then, on the other hand, the author seems a little confused. The book jumps all over the place and confuses/conflates so many traditions and languages it can be mind-boggling at times. While the meditations are often interesting and worthwhile (in my humble opinion anyway), Stavish seems to take at face value the claims of astrology, alchemy, Qabala/Kabbalah, Tibetan Buddhism, gnosticism, and on and on. Stavish seems to be in that weird place where absolutely every practice from every tradition can somehow be corralled into his own Hermetic viewpoint. The result is the mashing-together of many, many disparate and frankly incommensurate traditions and viewpoints, glossed over by Arbitrary Capitalization and repeatedly pointing out that one won't understand such 'correspondences' until one is further advanced along the path.

Add to that the horrendous copy-editing (assuming such was ever done?) and the endless grammatical mistakes and you have a book that is worth reading but needs to be taken with a grain (or a thousand) of salt. Still, worth sifting through for the sometimes fascinating practices contained within.

The Heart of Buddhist Meditation: Satipatthna: A Handbook of Mental Training Based on the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness
The Heart of Buddhist Meditation: Satipatthna: A Handbook of Mental Training Based on the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness
by Thera Nyanaponika
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
9 used & new from CDN$ 8.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An inspiration, April 21 2011
This book has been reviewed in-depth by a number of highly competent critics on this page already, so I won't attempt the same. But I do want to say that the heart of this book is an inspirational and indeed beautiful account of Buddhist meditation, subtly and expertly interwoven with personal accounts of (presumably) the author's own meditation experiences. It is at once detailed and precise in defining its terms and the scope of contemplative inquiry, and a highly enjoyable read.

The second part of the book features many (usually short) translations from various Buddhist texts on meditation, the vast majority taken from Theravada/Pali (that is, old school) sources, with a few Mahayana discourses thrown in as well. I take off one star here (not for the first part, which is fantastic) simply because I found the selection of translations rather poorly chosen, overall. Not that they're bad per se, but I feel the Buddhist corpus has so much more to offer, and taken out of context as little one-liners, many of the otherwise valuable messages in these various texts come off as mere platitudes.

Overall though, I could see immediately why this book is considered a classic, and I recommend it to anyone with more-than-superficial interest in Buddhism generally, and in particular Theravada views on vipassana/satipatthana/mindfulness meditation.

Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization
Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization
by Bhikkhu Analayo
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.91
26 used & new from CDN$ 17.53

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening, if an academic discussion is what you want, April 21 2011
The form of meditation discussed in this work is generally known these days as 'mindfulness' meditation, or in other circles (e.g., the Goenka crowd) as 'vipassana' (often translated 'Insight' meditation). Analayo has written a wonderful treatise on this ancient form of Buddhist (or perhaps pre-Buddhist, as you'll see) form of practice. But to avoid disappointment, you must know what this book is and is not.

It is not really a practice manual in any strict sense, although of course many practical insights can be gleaned from its pages. It is not something most people will ever finish reading through, although it is very worth reading. It is not written for the casual reader of popular books on Buddhism, though I feel it is essential for anyone who wants a deep understanding of early Buddhist meditation and philosophy.

What this book is (in my estimation): a highly detailed, densely academic discussion of meditation as viewed by the earliest Buddhist practitioners (the sources cited are almost exclusively from the Pali cannon) and/or the Buddha himself, to the extent that you consider the Pali sutras an accurate rendition of his teachings. Certainly there are modern meditation teachers' thoughts thrown in as well, and even citations of relatively recent neuroscientific work on meditation, but by and large this seems to be Buddhist meditation from the orthodox perspective.

There is nothing wrong with that at all, and I found it a very eye-opening read, if a rather long haul. The discussions are quite dense and the distinctions made, subtle; what I ended up doing was reading 10-15 pages of this book each morning after meditating and with a cup of tea. There is a lot going on in this book and it's well worth reading it slowly and digesting each chapter or section before moving on. There is an immense amount worth highlighting, as well, and coming back to later.

I'm conducting research on meditation and the brain for my Masters at the moment, and it was invaluable to me to have a detailed, scholarly, rational discussion of meditation, along with very precise definitions of many Pali terms - and Analayo's book provided just that.

One final note: ignore the occasional negative review here that suggests that such 'academic' discussions of meditation and enlightenment are counterproductive if your goal is the actual experience itself. The history of Buddhism is rife with scholar-saints, and Buddhism itself has been an intensely academic, scholarly religion since its very inception (as witnessed, e.g., by the memorization of the entire Pali cannon by the sangha!). There is no (necessary) conflict here between scholarly study and contemplative practice, and in fact I have always found the two reinforce one another very strongly.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
by Scott A. Huettel Allen W. Song Gregory McCarthy
Edition: Hardcover
10 used & new from CDN$ 164.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Great intro, April 21 2011
I am a first-year Masters student in Cognitive Psych. and just getting into using fMRI as my method. As no course was offered on fMRI techniques, I borrowed this book from my supervisor and read through it on my own. I have to say it is an exceptional introduction to fMRI, even if you've already read a lot of fMRI-based research papers. This book gets into the nitty-gritty details of the physical basis of the fMRI signal, the biological basis of the hemodynamic response, and then proceeds nicely into an in-depth look at different methodologies, preprocessing, statistical analysis, selective reviews of various fields of research, and common blunders that you don't want to make when designing your own multi-thousand-dollar fMRI study (which they all tend to be). In short, it gives you almost everything you need to know when just starting out in fMRI, and an excellent base to build on with future research and interaction with colleagues using the same methods.

I can't recommend it enough to anyone new to fMRI who wants a good grounding in the field. Before I read it I felt like I knew nothing about my own field; now I feel confident designing and executing my own first fMRI project.

Recommended for all grad students focusing on fMRI (or super-ambitious undergrads). Kudos to Huettel, Song and McCarthy.

Statistical Methods in Education and Psychology (3rd Edition)
Statistical Methods in Education and Psychology (3rd Edition)
by Gene V. Glass
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 219.12
14 used & new from CDN$ 69.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About as interesting as stats will ever get.., Nov. 30 2010
I'm not terrible with math by any means, but I can't say I've ever enjoyed it or its bast*rd cousin, statistics. This textbook was the required reading for my graduate statistics course in Psychology that I'm just finishing now, and I have to say that these past few months, supplemented well by this book, was as interested as I have ever been in stats - and I think this is saying a lot.

As someone else here pointed out, this text takes a very conceptual approach and tries very hard (and I think often successfully) to explain to you what exactly is going on with these various statistical tests and methods, why they are done in such a way, the mathematical and indeed practical tests which show that they are useful, and so on and so forth. I remember doing almost all of these tests as an undergraduate at some point or other, but I never had any real notion of what they meant or why I would do one versus the other - all I wanted to see was a little asterisk pop up in my software, denoting that the test was significant and I could revel in my results.

This book (and my class, which follows the book very closely), however, has really given me a much better grasp of the real strengths, and serious shortcomings, of all the core statistical techniques used in Psychology. I can hardly recommend it as voluntary reading, but if you are stuck with this as a textbook for a class I think you should actually rejoice. A semester going through this stuff and you will likely understand statistics in a deep and meaningful (if not very mathematical) way. I have to concur with the authors (and my professor) that the mathematical side, though obviously crucial, is less and less relevant to researchers themselves. Only a maniac would sit down and compute these values by hand nowadays; in many cases this is impossible anyway, or would take hundreds of hours. The fact is that almost everyone is going to use software to perform these tests regardless - so the least we can do is make sure that the tests are understood well theoretically by researchers. This book will give you just such an understanding.

One star off because it is fairly obtuse at times; it is ludicrously expensive for such an old book that has barely been updated in decades (my copy came with a floppy disk containing the practice data sets, for crying out loud!); and occasional typos/computational gaffs throughout.

Aristotle: On Sleep and Dreams
Aristotle: On Sleep and Dreams
by David Gallop
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 42.80

3.0 out of 5 stars Needs more Aristotle, less David Gallop, Nov. 30 2010
This book is a translation of Aristotle's three most important (arguably?) works on sleep and dreams, alongside the original Greek: De Somno et Vigilia (On Sleep and Waking), De Insomniis (On Dreaming), and De Divinatione per Somnum (On Divination through Sleep) - yes, indeed it's confusing that these Ancient Greek works are known by their Latin titles - one of history's hiccups.

Philosopher/historian David Gallop has done us a valuable service by collecting these three works into a single slim and readable volume, but all the merits of this book lie in Aristotle's own words, not Gallop's. Unfortunately, Aristotle's work comprise a tiny minority of this work (about 25 pages), whereas nearly a hundred pages are devoted to Gallop's rambling notes, comments, qualifications, etc. Some are useful, and I guess this is simply the genre, but much of it is simple repetition of what Aristotle has clearly stated and is unnecessary. The introduction (50 pages!) plods along in an intensely dry, academic, pedantic (I hope that's not a doubly redundant description) tone. Worst of all is that Gallop attempts to tie Aristotle's theories in with 'modern' dream science and the study of REM sleep; unfortunately, he chooses as comparisons the works of Freud, Francis Crick (of double helix fame) and N. Malcolm - even were these authors' ideas not largely out-of-date and discredited even at the time of this book's publication (1990), they are quite possibly three of the most moronic theories about dreams ever put into print. As a result these (lengthy and ponderous) sections fall completely flat, as Gallop vainly dissects minute points in arguments shown to be moot long ago. Gallop may be an expert in Greek and on Aristotle, but he seems to know almost nothing of the modern science of sleep and dreams, apart from those few sources cited above.

On to Aristotle: certainly there is a fair bit of chaff here, and even some unintentional howlers in the philosopher's explanations for some things, but by and large the most striking thing is how modern and scientific his musings on sleep and dreams are. In fact, I'm tempted to say Aristotle's discussion is a considerable cut above many contemporary 'theories' of dreaming, especially among the 'New Age' and, come to think of it, even Freud's tortured meanderings. Aristotle correctly identifies many features of sleep and dreams, such as that the body drops in temperature during sleep, that sleep and dreaming are apparently common to almost all animals, that lucid dreaming is possible, that the essence of dreams is that the central apparatus which usually processes sensory data is active without the constraint of external stimuli, while meanwhile the faculty of judgment or reason is attenuated (almost exactly the modern scientific understanding, except that Aristotle thinks this central organ is the heart, not the brain - but give the guy a break!). He also preempts (by about 2500 years) Freud's alleged 'discovery' of day residue: that things sensed/perceived during the preceding day or so tend to reappear in modified form in dreams.

If you're really interested in sleep and/or dreams, I'd recommend taking a look into this book - but I don't think it's worth buying, by any means (especially considering how expensive even used editions appear to be online). All three of Aristotle's works translated here are freely available online (just do a search for the titles I mentioned above), and Gallop's lengthy notes add very little to the discussion and could easily be done without. If your library has this, though, it's always nice to read things on paper.

Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights
Discovering the Vedas: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights
by Frits Staal
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.27
17 used & new from CDN$ 15.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but scattered, Nov. 30 2010
This book begins very well and no doubt the author is a scholar of immense learning and integrity, but eventually the book flounders in poorly explained speculations.

The opening is very well done, featuring a concise and insightful history of early India, speculation on who exactly were the famed 'Aryans' who allegedly wrote the Vedas, including state of the art linguistic techniques for tracing the historical movements of peoples which I found really fascinating. He them summarizes, in a chapter each, the four Vedas traditionally recognized as genuine (which I take to mean: considered "revealed" or of divine origin in some capacity, anyway). Up to this point the book is a great introduction the ancient India in general and the Vedas in particular.

From here it starts to get more and more scattered, and the bizarre language used becomes more and more apparent. Staal boasts early on in the book of being fluent in 5 or 6 languages (if memory serves me the author is Dutch), and while generally grammatically correct, the English is intensely bizarre at times - I read voluminously, but I found that over and over again I had to re-read sentences - not because of their lofty thoughts or complexity, but simply because the phrasing was so alien and unlike anything a native English speaker would write. Don't get me wrong, his English is still great, but if you read the book you will probably discover this for yourself and it can be frustrating at times.

But this is a minor criticism. The major thing that keeps this a 'good' book when it could have been great is, perhaps ironically, Staal's overabundance of enthusiasm for his subject. As the book progresses, he just can't help jumping from his own adventures and research in India, to speculations about the Aryans, to updating us about theories of bird song and how they may relate to what mantra really is, to a painstakingly detailed linguistic analysis of one phrase of one mantra - and so on. Staal may know what he's talking about, but I doubt almost anyone else does. And once again, I don't think this is because his theories or insights are too complex (though one could certainly argue I'm just too dim to follow along) - the problem, rather, is that Staal is that excitable professor you once had in university, completely in love with his subject and unable to fully channel that passion into a focused and cogent presentation of the material itself, much less his own boundary-pushing thoughts on the matter. This is probably the most forgivable and indeed admirable flaw a scholar could possess - but it remains a major one, and does not make for very good or clear reading through much of the book.

Still, there is a fair bit of great stuff in here and before it goes off track, the opening section is great. Recommended with the above qualifications.

Discourse Summaries
Discourse Summaries
by S. N. Goenka
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.68
30 used & new from CDN$ 2.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Only summaries, it's true - but what talks!, Nov. 24 2010
This review is from: Discourse Summaries (Paperback)
As another reviewer pointed out, this collection of lectures is 'merely' a summary of the discourses Goenka gave during a 10-day course and which are given via video or audio recording at hundreds of 10-day courses every year, all over the world. It's also true that if you've taken a course, you've heard these words before, and if you haven't taken a course, you should simply make the time somehow and go do one to try it for yourself. Although actually it IS more than just a summary, as this edition at least features a comprehensive glossary of Pali terms as well as translations to English of many of the key quotations of the Buddha that Goenka uses during the course, including references to the appropriate Nikaya of the Pali cannon (a nikaya is one of three (short, middle and long discourses of the Buddha) divisions of the Pali cannon, which is the oldest collection of 'canonical' or 'orthodox' teachings attributed to the Buddha, which includes not only the Buddha's discourses but also a detailed monastic ethical code, and a highly advanced psychology - it is a daunting and enormous work, and if you've ever looked into it you'll agree that specific references to particular verses are much appreciated!).

All that said, this book is a wonderful companion and handbook to keep with you afterward and, I assume, beforehand. Reading it now, more than a year after my first 10-day course, it is a beautiful refresher and reminder, and having the ideas and outlines of the technique collected in one place, with total clarity and no wasted words, is invaluable in my opinion. It is only about 100 pages, a quick read, but very earnest and deeply felt - just reading it gave me an intense dedication to practice I haven't felt since I finished my 10-day course itself. The book virtually oozes optimism and practicality. Although in line with another reviewer I recommend taking a course, rather than reading this book, as an introduction to vipassana and/or Goenka's particular style of teaching the technique, I really can't imagine how you could go wrong with this book, regardless. Considering the absolutely nominal cost, I highly recommend anyone interested in meditation and Buddhism in general, or vipassana and Goenka in particular, pick this up immediately.

Altered Egos: How the Brain Creates the Self
Altered Egos: How the Brain Creates the Self
by Todd E. Feinberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 24.26
23 used & new from CDN$ 1.74

3.0 out of 5 stars Well done but overly ambitious, Nov. 24 2010
To present an overview of some of the more spectacular examples of neurological disorders, to define and elaborate on a notion of the 'self' or 'I', and to weld together a solution for the mind-body problem (now become, for many scientists, the mind-brain problem), all in 150 pages, is a very tall order. Todd Feinberg takes a stab at it in this book, and though I found it highly readable and very thought-provoking in places, I found it unbalanced and the 'theory' or solution to the mind-brain problem entirely unoriginal.

This book was assigned for a grad seminar in Cognition that I'm taking and served as a launching pad for discussions of various disorders alongside scholarly papers, and the relation of disorders in specific subsystems to higher cognitive processes and indeed the 'sense of self', and in this capacity it served really well. Even though in many ways my program's (Psychology/Neuroscience) bread and butter is strange disorders resulting from unlikely brain lesions, Feinberg threw quite a few new ones at me I'd never heard of, such as people who have the specific disorder of not being able to recognize their own face in mirrors or other reflective surfaces - but only their own! In that respect too, it was great for getting an overview of some of the very bizarre disorders that can affect people and how these relate to sense of body, personal goals, etc.

Where I began to lose some admiration for the book is in its strange pacing. The first third reads like straight case studies of odd disorders. In the second third Feinberg starts drawing on mythology and popular folklore and contrasting these beliefs (such as that of the Doppelganger or the shadow) with perceptual disorders due to brain damage, sometimes with great insight, sometimes - not so much.

I was still with him until the final section of the book, where these aspects are essentially dropped and he tries to come up with a solution to the age old mind-body problem in about 30 pages. The really interesting parts in here are actually the quotations from many eminent psychologists and neuroscientists of the past, such as those of Charles Sherrington and William James. These pointers alone have convinced me that the history of my field is severely overlooked in our education - we learn all the names, dates, and major discoveries - but it has certainly been a 'discovery' for me that many of these thinkers were also great writers and highly insightful people who had much to say about life, the world, and the spirit beyond their thoughts on neurons and perception (which, pardon my cynicism, seems a lot less true of the field today).

Feinberg's own contribution here, though, falls flat. It is basically a harking back to elementary systems theory: complexity, emergence, nested hierarchies, etc. These are all wonderful ideas and vital areas of study, but pointing out, ad nauseum, that the 'self' is a nested hierarchy and irreducibly personal, doesn't contribute much to the discussion. He takes William James to task for suggesting that the self, if anything, is but a constantly-flowing stream (as asserted by Buddhists as well, though Feinberg seems unaware of their ideas on these subjects) and has no permanent core or 'I'. Early on I got the creeping feeling that Feinberg's exploration of the concept of the self was really a vindication of his own certainty of the existence of a soul. Unsurprisingly, he says almost as much in this final section - "The soul of each brain is indeed a unique, one-of-a-kind thing," Judeo-Christian dogma shining brightly. He embraces a strange kind of pseudo-dualism, claiming that he is indeed a materialist and that the mind cannot possibly be anything nonphysical - but that it can't possibly be physical either. Out of the blue, he starts talking about Artificial Intelligence and roundly declares that a computer, not being 'alive' (though in fact we have no good definition of life, nor an agreed upon boundary between the animate and inanimate) can never be 'conscious' and have a self (or soul, we realize Feinberg is really saying). Not only could AI never approach human levels of consciousness - the humble frog, in fact, will FOREVER be more conscious than any AI ever could be, regardless of its capabilities or claims about itself. Why? How could that be? "It is more likely that the particular material substance of our brains is essential to the quality of our consciousness." What "particular material substance" would that be? Carbon? Oxygen? Iron? What about some Parkinson's patients, for example, who now have pea-sized computer devices implanted into their brains and wired into their neurons, directly replacing the function of their deteriorated dopamine neurons??? You can even update the software on these neural implants over wi-fi, so that no further invasive surgery is necessary! These people are, undeniably I think, 'part computer' - and they don't seem to have lost 2% of their souls, or what have you. If the brains of conscious beings MUST be made of neurons and glial cells, how can this be explained? Monotheistic dogma, of course!

Feinberg's vitalist and (I dare say) Creationist leanings in this last section are a disturbing and saddening ending to an otherwise insightful and eclectic book. I'm reminded of a book by Jeffrey Schwartz (The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force) which follows a very similar trajectory: excellent, excellent review of the history and discovery of neuroplasticity (far more engrossing than this, actually, and this was pretty good) followed by a bone-headed final section trying to explain free will and the mind with hackneyed and vague interpretations of quantum physics.

All said though this is still worth a read in terms of the neurology, but get your philosophy of mind elsewhere.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7