Zen Physics: The Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation Paperback – Mar 1996
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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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
The question I have is ,if we are person destroyed ,( memories burned to dust) with the death of the brain, what in heavans name is experience, love, relationships and higher level human consciousness all about? It seems rather odd if there be a God or a Universal consciousness as Darling tries to prove throughout the book, that it could be absolutely without memory, purpose, direction, ability to integrate past,present, future.
How from a tabula rasa containing nothing spon creation of something? If this Universal mind has no intellect and no will and no memory of anything from where did everything in our World come from. Its like saying here is this "HOLY" cow without a memory, creates purposeless cow-flops which die and return to dust. The cow has no memory of their creation or their experience. The cow God just drops them off and lets enthropy take over, until they turn to dust.
I think and sense there is more to the story of reality than Darling has proposed, but I did enjoy his attempts to link quantum mysteries with mind and Zen philosophy.
I also think in certain places Darling draws conclusions about the mind from too biased and materialist grand stand.
For example, Sperry's split brain experiemnts are intriguing, but the idea of a single mind receiving input from two senory or computer hubs, the left and right brain cannot be ruled out.
If I receive two or more radio signals at once I too might behave as the split brain person ( one mind, trying to integrate different signals) What if one station tells me the cat is dead and the other the cat is alive. I might well in one moment say its dead and the other its alive. If God is intellectless, mindless and memory less (HE/SHE)
can be no better than a vast empty vessel. Why or how would such a vessel ever generate a World as full of personhood and experience as this?
Howwever, that does not take anything away from the wisdom and value of this book. It may have been just me that had to work to full grasp what he was saying because I daydreamed through some parts of the book. It was not the informatron but the writing style. Great educational material but not good entertainment - which can be okay for this type of spiritual book. Still worth reading and adding to your collection.
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