Sunday, June 27, 2010

Trusting Neuroscience and the Soul @TyndaleHouse @AdamSab

Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, MD, a psychiatrist intrigued me as it lands squarely in the middle of the integration of modern mental health science and spirituality. This is the first book I received from the Tyndale Blog Network for review that particularly lands in my area of expertise (for those who don't know, I'm a licensed psychologist with an undergrad degree in Religious Studies).

What I appreciate about Thompson's work is that it addresses the neuroscientific findings related to relationships, including relationship with God. For those who have studied neuroscience or psychobiology, some of the material is clearly redundant, but I thought Thompson did a very nice job of summarizing the biology of the brain to help people understand the brain's basics. And then he did not simply relegate all of relationships and spirituality to random brain firing.

He acknowledges that there are biological correlates to spiritual experiences. And that does not bother him. I have not seen any satisfying texts that really engage both hard neuroscience and orthodox theology in such a way that Thompson has done. In fact, he has helped me reconcile information from both sides that often seem irreconcilable.

It's not that he really says anything new (after all, "there's nothing new under the sun" :) ), but he combines ideas and makes connections in ways I have not previously encountered. Such connections are the core of creativity and genius.

He does make some overstatements about the ability of techniques to quickly make changes to life. Or at least these are implied, like his subtitle: "Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships." Again, there is nothing new I saw in the book. Rather, it is more of analysis, connecting spiritual practices to biological changes in the brain, which lead to spiritual transformation, and such transformation leads one back to the beginning of more spiritual practices.

I have worked my way very slowly through the book because I wasn't simply willing to read it quickly and for a cursory review. Thompson has made some excellent arguments that will hopefully be the basis for some future blog posts. I may even use the tome in a class or two I may teach...

Again, the content itself is not particularly new; it's the connections. And Thompson engages in excellent process, not willing to ignore the struggles of ambiguity and Truth. In fact, one of the best quotes from his book is right at the beginning, p. 8-9: "When I know that I know something because I can logically prove it, I step away from trust. When I no longer trust, I am no longer open to being known, to relationship, to love." Such a struggle between logic and trust can be manifested in many spiritual and life struggles. It is important to land on the side of trust.

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