God may or may not exist, but the experience of God is undoubtedly real. The human nervous system can produce all the necessary mystical effects—the rays of light, the shining face, the booming voice. At the same time, the brain can generate a sense of reality and total certainty, like pounding drums accompanying a guitar.
The result is a complete and compelling experience of the divine. Nothing supernatural required. No questions asked.
What’s more, a mystical experience can produce real-world results. Suppose that a wicked person hears the voice of God say “Clean up your act!” The wicked person might find hope and be less fearful and more loving. Does it matter whether God’s voice originated in heaven or in the electrical activity of the brain? What more would a real God have to do?
Since we all have the same nervous system, anybody can have this kind of spiritual experience—atheist, believer, whatever. There’s no reason why an atheist couldn’t have a lifelong relationship with the divine and go on being an atheist.
In fact, skeptics might be better equipped for mysticism. They can’t deny the reality of the experience, but they’re always on the lookout for bullshit. The voice of God may say “You are loved” in one breath and “Beware of men who wear red pants” with the next. Regardless of what God says, your brain cranks up the pounding drums of reality and certainty. Without skepticism, you’re screwed.
Fortunately, we’re all natural skeptics just like we’re all natural mystics. Perhaps both are necessary for a full human life.
I’ll be attending the second international Psychedelic Science Conference at the Oakland Marriott City Center in Oakland, CA, from April 19th to the 21st. I’m going to be conducting interviews and doing other research in conjunction with my current book project. If you’re at the conference, please stop by and say hello.
My colleague Victor Stenger has a new book called Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness. It’ll be published in May by Prometheus Books. Chapter 4, The Guru of GUTS, is about TM and the Maharishi Effect. It includes a number of quotes from my work. Prometheus asked me to write an editorial review, which I’m reproducing below. It’ll appear on the book’s back cover.
“Lots of biologists defend evolution against creationism. Unfortunately, few scientists in the physics community speak up about the pseudoscience in their own field. The public understanding of modern physics is seriously out of whack, thanks largely to pop junk like The Secret and What the BLEEP Do We Know?
“These books and movies promote a bogus version of quantum mechanics—the belief that “you create your own reality” by controlling the laws of physics with your mind. They offer instant wealth and happiness, but they deliver medieval superstition. The sad part is that so many scientists are willing to let the public get their knowledge of physics from celebrity quacks.
“That’s why we’re so lucky to have Victor Stenger. He knows quantum theory as well as anybody and, unlike most of his colleagues, he’s willing to step outside the ivory tower and face those who misuse science. In Quantum Gods, Stenger confronts mainstream theologians and New Age gurus—anyone who tries to link physics to mysticism. He takes their theories seriously enough to examine them in detail and he finds that, so far, none of them live up to the standards of scientific truth. As we accompany him on his investigation, he guides us through the most important concepts in modern physics from relativity to string theory.
“The world has needed a book like this for a long time. If you care about scientific literacy, Quantum Gods is not optional.”
The Maharishi Effect is now available on the Amazon Kindle. Details here.
My favorite cartoonist Tom Tomorrow addresses the topic of Republican occultism in the current edition of This Modern World. Notice how the cartoon Dick Cheney explains the low cost of the Iraq war using the New Age mantra “We create our own reality.” Is the Vice President a closet fan of The Secret? Does he believe in the Maharishi Effect? The Will to Power? Objectivism? Scientology? In the end, the results are the same—the Law of Quantum Failure always wins.
I just finished recording an interview about Maharishi’s legacy for the NPR program “Day to Day.” The program will air later today on NPR stations across the country. I don’t have a schedule or station list, so check your local listings. The show’s web site is here.
Along with quantum pseudoscience, there’s another topic I wish I’d covered in more depth in The Maharishi Effect. That’s the role of women in the Transcendental Meditation movement. Fortunately, I got a second chance thanks to the monthly newsletter Women In Higher Education. My article “Maharishi: ‘Delicate Nervous Systems’ Prevent Equity” appears in the March issue. You can check out the WIHE web site here.
To date, over 2,000 people have downloaded my “Quantum Failure” essay. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, although a couple of readers have questioned one aspect of the fictional “Law of Quantum Failure.”
If you’ve read the essay, you may recall my assertion that Quantum Failure applies to believers across the ideological spectrum. The essay was mainly about those who promote new age beliefs—meditating for world peace and such—who I characterize as the “left wing occult.” I mentioned a “right wing occult” in passing, implying that the Law of Quantum Failure would apply to conservatives and neocons as well as new agers and counterculture types. I left the matter hanging there, which prompted one fellow to write:
“It’s not clear how the principle of ‘Quantum Failure’ applies to the neo-cons. They have tried to build their own reality and it’s had bad consequences. But I don’t think they have realized the goals of their enemies.”
This is a fair criticism, which I’ve addressed in a new essay. The title is “Republican Occultism and the Law of Quantum Failure.” It’s available here as a PDF file.
This morning I taped a brief interview for “Last Word,” a weekly program of obituaries on the BBC. The show will air tomorrow, Friday the 8th, on BBC Radio 4 at 16:00 GMT. They repeat the program on Sunday at 20:30 GMT and they have an audio archive of past shows. The Last Word home page is here.
By the way, I think the idea of a weekly obit show is great. Does anyone know if there’s something like that in the US?