on 28 January 2015
This is a remarkably poor book considering it is written by a contemporary 'philosopher- journalist' with a PhD in Metaphysics. Admittedly it has to perhaps be accepted more an exercise in journalism than anything else, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that approach, but the subject he is covering is more complex and worthy of deeper thought and consideration than he gives it in the 300-odd pages here, and if you are looking for a considered, intellectual analysis of the concept of Immortality within the human psyche and it's culture, you won't find it here.
He approaches the subject from a firmly secular, materialistically rooted position which again is fair enough if that is the base of his ideological worldview, but as so often with writers wedded to the metaphysical ideology of materialism he promotes that ideology with sweeping statements and a dismissal of alternative views with amateur blandishments- or when the going gets particularly tough- ignoring outright the scientific evidence that counters his position. To be generous this may be ignorance on the author's part, but I suspect it is more to do with a need to support his own materialist agenda than anything else. Nor can the book be excused as an exercise in journalistic polemic- Cave doesn't even seriously challenge views [and evidence] opposing his own, he just ignores it.
It has to be said the worst section in the book- and the most central one to his argument so that's the one I'll address specifically- has to be the 'Soul,' because of course if there is such a state of being, the basic tenet of this book that the concept of Immortality is a cultural invention, doesn't hold up. However in 60-70 pages Cave makes so many undergraduate mistakes about the nature of the brain and consciousness, it's quite astounding. He makes sweeping statements to dismiss the hard evidence for a dualistic nature of consciousness [developed by many eminent scientists for the best part of 125 years, particularly in the area of quantum mechanics- so the author can't claim it is all recent, kooky leftfield stuff below his intellectual radar] and a complete ignorance of the firmly scientifically rooted and empirically based studies and subsequent findings regarding reincarnation, out-of-body experiences and apparitions alone. In this he is of course in good company- Dawkins et al do exactly the same- but that's no excuse.
I was in the end to be honest utterly staggered by his skewered, and often deeply ignorant presentation of the issue. Bear in mind for example that only 3% of natural scientists believe ESP- the existence of which shows Mind and Body are separate phenomena- is an impossibility and over half believe the evidence for it [ESP] is strong, and so a materialist Theory of Everything is far from complete, and unlike the message of this book, hardly a scientific fait accompli. Except of course, in the minds of many contemporary philosophers and psychologists, who are wedded still to now outmoded classical Newtonian physics and remain stubbornly, completely out of step with 20th and 21st century developments. Time to catch up guys.
Most of the rest of the book isn't much better and I'd be making this review much longer than it already is if I picked over all the other intellectual shortcomings apparent here, but I'll just say I was very disappointed, I had expected more. The only conclusion I can come to, reading this effort, is that the physicalist/materialist argument is on its last legs these days, as proper research, consideration of other arguments and a proper sceptical position- that is, one where healthy doubt and questioning is exercised, not dogmatic denial and wilful ignorance- seems to be now jettisoned in favour of poor journalistic presentations which this book is unfortunately a perfect example.
The plain and simple fact is that there is a wealth of solid scientific evidence that the brain does not produce consciousness but is more a conduit for it and that there is solid scientific evidence, empirically tested through the scientific method, that consciousness survives physical death and although we do not know in what shape or form that takes, it is more than reasonable from the current evidence to postulate that this is in the form of a 'soul.' Nor is this evidence gathered anecdotally by religious fanatics, but the best of it, by rational secular scientists and researchers. Reading this book however, you wouldn't get even a hint of the existence of that evidence. The concept of `immortality' is therefore much more than a mere cultural construct. So if dear reader you have got this far in this review, look further than the severe limitations of this very slight book, and discover more, because there's a wealth of proper, counter evidence out there.