At lunchtime today I stopped by the excellent local bookstore Labyrinth Books, looking to see what was new. In the science section, I noticed a pile of copies of Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness. As with the rest of the many “physics and consciousness” books I’ve seen over the years, I spent a few minutes looking at it to see if there was any evidence of something different or interesting about this one. Apparently not, so I was about to file it in the large category of things best ignored, when I decided to check to see who had published the book.
I was shocked and dismayed to see that the publisher is Columbia University Press, where the book is part of the Columbia Series in Science and Religion. Two of the other eight books in the series are by the same author, B. Allan Wallace, including one entitled Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground. In defense of Columbia University Press, the people there don’t actually seem to be reading these books or their promotional material for them, since the blurbs for Buddhism and Science at the CUP site and on Amazon include
“[A] fascinating and captivating book. Without a doubt it will be the definitive text on Holbein’s famous painting for some time to come.”
—Aparna Sharma, Leonardo Reviews
which comes from a review of The Ambassador’s Secret: Holbein and the World of the Renaissance, which just happened to be in the same issue as a review of Buddhism and Science. [Note added: I’ve heard from someone at CUP who tells me that this will be corrected]
Wallace’s background in physics consists of an undergraduate joint major in physics and philosophy of science at Amherst. He’s the author of many other books, including some on Buddhism and physics such as Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind. He has a web-site here and is founder and president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies.
Here and here you can read some samples of Hidden Dimensions, and make up your own mind what you think. As far as I can tell it’s pretty generic material of this kind, full of crackpottery invoking quantum mechanics, extra dimensions, etc. etc. It’s more or less in the same vein as What the Bleep, but with more of a Buddhist and less of a self-help angle.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Columbia University Press that is promoting Wallace’s ideas. He also gave the keynote address at a symposium here last year on Mind and Reality. You can watch an interview with him standing not too far from my office here.
I really was intending to avoid writing this kind of critical blog posting for a while. After enraging lots of philosophers, I fear that now I’ll enrage lots of Buddhists, in particular by having no interest in wasting time discussing Wallace’s ideas. But I’m profoundly embarrassed that the institution where I work is promoting this sort of thing, so thought I better publicly say so. This all appear to be the responsibility of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion, which has recently been made part of the Earth Institute, run here at Columbia by economist Jeffrey Sachs. Like pretty much all of the many institutions out there devoted to bringing science and religion together, it has received funding from the Templeton Foundation.