Top critical review
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on 29 January 2007
Lyall Watson has apparently written better books than this, but this is the one that made him mega-famous and is still the one that friends kept pushing me to read. Eventually I got around to it, and was extremely disappointed.
The trouble is that Watson's PhD and credentials as a practising scientist give him an air of authority, which misleads many readers into thinking that he's making coherent arguments when in fact he's being wildly speculative. His method goes like this: he gives an account of an experiment that, he says, appears to prove the existence of some supernatural phenomenon, like ghosts or psychokinesis. He then covers his ass by saying that the results of the experiment are maybe not as conclusive as all that. Then he says that IF the conclusions were true, the implications would be staggering - and he then goes on to talk about the implications as though they were real, and as though the experiment did indeed prove what he says it proves.
He also makes sweeping generalisations that on closer analysis turn out to be either trivial, tautological or meaningless - such as his opening remarks to the effect that everything on the planet is part of 'one life'. This is true insofar as everything on the planet that's alive, is alive; but does it really mean anything more than that? It certainly doesn't get us anywhere; for example, it doesn't begin to address the hard questions of how we're to behave towards other life forms. Does it mean anything to say that a human being is as alive as a human immuno-deficiency virus? Should malignant viruses have as much right to life as people?
I also think that his fascination with the supernatural is a bit childish when so much of the ordinary things we take for granted are in fact so little understood. The means by which babies acquire language, for example, are still very much (but not totally) a mystery, and that affects all of us - whereas ghosts and PKE are things most of us will never come into contact with. Watson's freakshow is actually less interesting than the things around us every day.
Ultimately, I think that the bad reasoning and empty assertions rob this book of value. Watson's books may or may not encourage an interest in the natural world, and insofar as they do, some people would say that that's a good thing. But I don't think so. Insofar as this book encourages people to believe that pseudoscience is more interesting than science, it's a threat to clear thinking.