Top critical review
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An extensive tour through the depths of the Human Mind
on 30 January 2014
In this book, Stanislav Grof proposes that traditional science has neglected and dismissed the capabilities of the human mind beyond the understanding of the Newtonian paradigm (the philosophical and scientific world view that the impersonal, clock-like workings of atoms, as prescribed by natural laws, determine everything else). This is reflected in Psychology and Psychiatry as they limit the human experience to the phenomena we can perceive throughout our lifetimes with our (sober) senses.
He illustrates findings conveying the idea that consciousness is not a product of neurobiological processes in the brain, but the source of all existence. According to Grof, and in alignment with C G. Jung's ideas of the collective subconscious, our individual consciousness connects us with other human beings, but also all life forms, nature, history beyond our biographical experiences and the universe as a cosmic intelligence at large.
Non-ordinary states of consciousness allow us to gain access to these worlds and Grof argues that they connect recent scientific findings with the wisdom of ancient human societies, and further provide solutions to the most pressing problems of today's society.
In doing so, the book roughly consists of three parts:
1. Introduction to discoveries in Science leading to a new world view.
2. Extensive description of Grof's theory around peri-natal experiences (relating to the events in the womb before and around childbirth) and their effects on the psyche of adults, for example psychological disorders.
3. Descriptions of extraordinary phenomena accessed via non-ordinary states of consciousness, such as experiencing the consciousness of other people, life forms or spirits beyond space and time, past life and UFO encounters, shamanic healing, communication with the dead etc.
I have three points of criticism:
(1) It appears as if Grof intended to collect as many descriptions of extraordinary phenomena as possible to give weight to his message. However, they too often stay superficial and lack original sources.
(2) The different parts of the book are not sufficiently connected throughout the book: For example, the definition of a Holotropic Mind did not become entirely clear to me as he didn't connect the described phenomena with the discoveries of quantum physics (like holograms) in the first part of the book.
(3) Some of Grof's arguments I also found weak, for example pp. 185/186 "It is unthinkable that so many cultures would continue conducting rain ceremonies for centuries without some statistically significant success rate". It is a very well proven psychological phenomenon that people's tendency to repeat behaviour is higher when they reach what the want only some of the time (see intermittend reinforcement under [...]
Beause of the above, I only give three stars. Nevertheless, I found the book pleasant to read, very interesting, insightful and thought-provoking. Furthermore, it needs to be said that it lies in the nature of the topic that traditional descriptions and models fall short, and Grof deserves a lot of credit for his theoretical framework of pre- and perinatal psychology.