I was led to this book after reading an article by Steve Taylor, effectively a cut-down version of the book, in Paradigm Explorer, the Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network (https://scientificandmedical.net/ ). The book aims to show that ‘materialism’ doesn’t work, and that science and spirituality can co-exist in a new worldview proposed by the author – ‘panspiritism’.
Steve Taylor PhD is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University and the author of several books on psychology and spirituality. This book, published in 2018, has 264 pages, including an index, notes and bibliography. After the Introduction there are twelve chapters, broken down with sub-headings.
In the Introduction, Taylor sets out his view that you don’t have to choose between religious or materialist views of the world. There is an alternative, ‘post-materialism’, which holds that matter is not the primary reality of the universe. There are several varieties of this, including the one for which he has coined the term panspiritism – “Or you could call it a “spiritual” approach.” This assumes that “the essence of reality…is a quality that might be called spirit, or consciousness”, which is “everywhere and in all things”. This implies that “there are no separate or distinct entities”, as all things share this common spiritual essence. Taylor goes on to explain that he is not criticising science or scientists, just the materialistic worldview which has become entwined with it (‘scientism’), to the extent that many can’t tell science and scientism apart. The rest of the book is devoted to analysing how panspiritism can explain observed phenomena where materialism cannot.
Chapter 1 is titled “The Origins of Materialism: When Science Turns into a Belief System”. After outlining his background and describing some personal experiences, the author examines the tenets of materialism, along with its psychological and cultural roots. He goes on to consider its cultural, existential and environmental consequences, concluding that “we need a different metaphysical system, which can provide us with a healthier and more holistic perspective, inspire us to live more meaningfully and encourage a better relationship with our planet.”
Chapter 2 gives us “The Spiritual Alternative”. “What if the primary reality of the universe is not matter? … The idea that the essence of reality is a non-material, spiritual quality is one of the oldest and most common cross-cultural concepts in the history of the world.” Taylor gives us a more detailed explanation of panspiritism, a new term for an old idea. He distinguishes it from “panpsychism”, an increasingly popular worldview, which suggests that “the most basic particles of matter have some form of inner being”. “Panspiritism does suggest that spirit-force pervades all things, but not necessarily that it imbues then with an inner life.” He goes on to provide support for this view from philosophy, tracing it back to the ancient Greeks, indigenous groups, mystical traditions, poetry and science, including the “founding fathers” of quantum physics. His overall conclusion is that “panspiritism is a much healthier perspective than materialism.”
The next chapters are concerned with showing how various “puzzling phenomena” make more sense from a panspiritist point of view rather than that of materialism. Chapter 3 deals with “The Riddle of Consciousness” – what is it, and what is its relationship to the brain? – while Chapter 4 follows up with “The Primacy of Mind: Puzzles of the Mind and Brain”, ending with a metaphor: “the music of the mind comes through the brain, not from it.” The argument continues with Chapter 5, “How the Mind Can Change the Brain and Body: More Puzzles of the Mind and Brain”. The chapter includes discussions of how meditation and CBT can be shown to affect the brain, the placebo effect, “sham surgery”, hypnotic healing and self-healing.
Chapter 6 takes the argument further by showing that “the mind (or consciousness) is not dependent on the brain, and can even continue in the absence of brain activity.” The chapter title is “The Puzzle of Near-Death Experiences”. The author begins with the experiences with two people that he knew personally, then goes on to describe the general characteristics of NDEs and their aftermath. After examining and rejecting materialist explanations, he concludes that they can easily be explained from a spiritual perspective. He also looks at the implications for an afterlife: “the issue for me is not whether there is an afterlife or not, but how long individual identity continues after death. And the evidence strongly suggests that identity continues indefinitely.”
Chapter 7 is concerned with “Waking Up: The Puzzle of Awakening Experiences”. Taylor defines an awakening experience as “a temporary expansion and intensification of awareness that brings significant perceptual, affective and conceptual changes”. Although these are often regarded as mystical or spiritual experiences, he prefers to regard them as natural psychological phenomena. The chapter discusses triggers, degrees and types, and after-effects of these experiences, then goes on to contrast materialist and panspiritist interpretations. The author concludes by pointing out that it is also possible for awakening to become a permanent state, the aim of a number of self-development systems associated with spiritual traditions.
Chapter 8 is of particular interest here: “Keeping the Account Open: The Puzzle of Psychic Phenomena”. Taylor aims to demonstrate that “it is not at all irrational to accept the existence of psychic phenomena…It is only from the perspective of materialism that psychic phenomena appear to be impossible. From the panspiritist perspective, there is nothing anomalous about them at all.” He distinguishes between soft phenomena, for which there isn’t a lot of evidence (such as UFOs or fairies), and hard phenomena which have been extensively researched – mainly the various kinds of ESP and psychokinesis (collectively referred to as “psi”). In this chapter, he focuses on two types of hard phenomena, telepathy and precognition. He points out this chapter is slightly different from earlier ones, which looked at, for example, hypnosis and the placebo effect; “materialism doesn’t just doubt the existence of psychic phenomena, it vehemently denies them.” This is because psi cannot be explained in materialist terms; its only option is to deny the existence of these phenomena, which threaten its worldview. He gives examples of precognition and looks at various research studies of psi, examining the problems of replication and the file-drawer effect. He goes on to consider whether psi breaks the laws of science: “although psi might contravene some of the laws of traditional Newtonian physics, it is completely compatible with many of the findings of modern physics”, such as the concept of time and quantum entanglement. “Psi phenomena are real…It is only the materialist worldview that deems psi to be “supernatural” or “paranormal”, when it should really be seen as natural and normal.”
Chapter 9 deals with “Complexity and Consciousness: Puzzles of Evolution”. The chapter looks at various problems associated with the theory of evolution – “in particular, the idea that the process is random and accidental”. In summary, “the spiritual view of evolution suggests that there is an impulse in consciousness itself to express itself more intensely within life forms, and to generate more complex forms of life in order to support greater intensities of awareness.”
Chapter 10 is “Why Do Selfish Genes Behave so Unselfishly? The Puzzle of Altruism”. After giving several examples of altruistic behaviour, Taylor looks at materialist explanations, pointing out that “they are really attempts to explain away altruism, or to make excuses for it.” His conclusion is that “there is no need to make excuses for altruism. Instead, we should celebrate it as a transcendence of seeming separateness. Rather than being unnatural, altruism is an expression of our most fundamental nature – that of oneness.”
In Chapter 11 Taylor looks in more detail at “Quantum Questions: Mysteries of the Microcosm”. He considers some of the principles of quantum physics and discusses how they fit in with panspiritism. He concludes that “quantum physics shows that you cannot separate science and spirituality. They cannot exist without each other. They are one and the same.”
The final chapter, Chapter 12, is “The Spiritual Universe: Moving Beyond Materialism”. He suggests that “at the moment a cultural shift is occurring and the metaphysical paradigm of materialism is fading away.” He looks in more detail at the tenets of panspiritism, and his final conclusion is “In addition to explaining the world, spirituality may actually help to save it.”
The book is clearly written in a light, easily comprehensible style. In his Acknowledgments, the author comments that he was trying to write a popular version of Irreducible Mind (“IM”), a comprehensive 800-page textbook which is essential reading if you like the academic writing style. (I have read IM (well, most of it) but I wouldn’t dare to attempt a review; you can find a 31-page one at https://www.newdualism.org/papers/U.Mohrhoff/Mohrhoff-reviews-IrreducibleMind.pdf .) If you can’t face reading an 800-page textbook, Spiritual Science is the next best thing, and I can highly recommend it.