Book Review: Soul Dust ,The Magic of Consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey. Princeton U. Press, Princeton, NJ. 2011.

Soul Dust ,The Magic of Consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey. Princeton U. Press, Princeton, NJ. 2011.

This book has an unusual way of addressing the issues of whether humans have souls and what souls actually do. The author is a psychologist and expert on consciousness. The focus is no religious, and the author has no belief in the supernatural. He distinguishes between religion and spirituality, and points out that it is nor necessary to accept religion to believe in an afterlife. He cites studies that indicate 95% of humans believe in an afterlife or immortal existence.

In his Introduction, he says, Soul Dust begins with the basic questions like “What is consciousness, awareness and sensations? It becomes a book about the evolution of spirituality and how humans have made their home in…the ‘soul niche.’” He says, it is central to his views that humans will see the reasons for evolution only by looking at the ‘whys” of consciousness. That means to examine issues like the meaning of life and death and why do humans have existence at all.

His answers are, he says, unlike any that science yet offers. “Previous research on consciousness has delivered almost nothing (about) the big questions people ask about the mystery of consciousness. Because of that, “perhaps we can no longer rely on the science we are accustomed to.”
Finally, he asserts that the material world has given human beings magical souls. “Humans have returned the favor and put a magical spell on the world.” His conclusion is that evolution itself continues, and that humans continue to enjoy the benefits of having a “core self” that they are aware of, a sense of “being there” (consciousness), in a contented world of their own making.

The Chapters are really essays on the main concepts that explain how he has come to conclude that human consciousness may be truly unique to humanity. Each chapter title provides a focus on Humphrey’s unusual perspective on the persistent and unanswered questions about how soul, consciousness, and the individual person’s processing of thoughts, feelings and understanding Them.

Chapter One “Coming To, Explained” is actually about how we do it. Chapter Two explains “How Being Like Something” is the way we use words and symbols to express thoughts. Ch. 3 is called Sentition, and is about how senses function. And Ch/ 4, “Looping the Loop” is about the way the brain processes input.

Part II has five chapters: “So What,”-(the importance of this), “Being There.”, “The Enchanted World,” (How writers describe it), “So This Is What I Am,” “Being Number One,. Part Three begins with “Entering the Soul Niche, “ then moves to “’Dangerous Territory.” and the discusses how the soul is involved in “Cheating Death.” The ending is an “Envoi”that explains why the author has not been able to fully explain the Mystery and why it is important for humans to know that “beyond” science is necessary to continue their progress in gaining a better understanding of their souls—and that he hopes a “middle way” between religion and science can be found to continue the search.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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