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This book is an interesting, if largely speculative, foray into what might be some possible scientific explanations for phenomena which have been considered magical or mystical throughout the ages. Kaplan, a science writer, explores topics ranging from the mystical qualities associated with ravens, prophecies based on bird migration patterns, the use (intentional or not) of hallucinogenic substances to inspire visions of the divine, divination through the examination of entrails, enchantments, spells, potions, the sense of a presence of a higher power and near-death experiences. Some of these speculations are more plausible than others.
Kaplan is a pure materialist and takes the approach, which may seem condescending to persons of faith, that any apparent validity of such phenomena must have a scientific explanation and he sometimes goes pretty far out on a speculative limb to make his point. He makes no allowance for the possibility that there may some things which science cannot, and will not ever, be able to explain--that there may be different ways of "knowing" than through the scientific method. I love science and do not think we should ever stop asking questions about how our world works, but I think there is more than a bit of hubris in the unquestioning assumption that science, and our understanding of it, is the only path to truth.
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