I try really hard to remain diplomatic when it comes to my skepticism of both religion and new age mysticism. This is mostly because those who believe are allowed to announce and discuss their belief systems ad nauseam (even when they may themselves be unaware they are even doing it); however, the second an atheist calls bullshit, we are accused of being “militant” and “just as dogmatic as anyone else.”
I will save my thoughts on organized religion for another day, however. This book in particular actually focuses on the world of psychic phenomena. Whether you are a dyed-in-the wool skeptic like me, someone who rides the fence, or a believer in psychic phenomena with an ounce of curiosity about actual scientific explanations, this book will not disappoint.
The author, Richard Wiseman, tackles several popular topics in the realm of things mystical. There are sections on out of body experiences, fortune telling, talking to the dead, ghosts, and more. In each section, he discusses real world examples of each of the phenomena. Rather than preach at or disparage the reader, he simply employs rational logic to explain what the reader may believe is “creepy” or unexplainable.
The real achievement of the book is its accessibility to lay readers. Wiseman manages to keep the book fairly engaging even when discussing science experiments and psychology. His method of introducing a certain phenomena or “magic trick” and then coming back to it later with an explanation–rather than explaining it immediately–builds curiosity and anticipation, and the pay-offs are usually worth it.
I would have liked to see a bit more detail given to the psychology underlying these phenomena; the author is clearly going for a broad approach to lay readers, but does an adequate enough job of keeping the book engaging that he could have delved more deeply without abandoning anyone. The anecdotes break up any possible monotony (especially the story of the talking mongoose), so the science would not have seemed intrusive at all. A heavier discussion of the science would have given even more weight to the book’s overall vision, which is to dispel the myth that these phenomena are supernatural, or even unexplainable.
Overall, the book is an enjoyable read. It will give non-believers a bit more ammunition in their bullshit-dispelling arsenal; it will give believers enough insight to do some additional searching on their own, perhaps strengthening their own faith.
So go read it!