New York: Deepak Chopra Books, 2013. 369 + xxiii pages, paper, $14.
Scientific explorations of human potential often focus on technological and chemical enhancements to the human body, leaving the cultivation of our natural capabilities as mere hints of what can be altered through artificial means. In Dean Radin's latest offering, Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities, the veteran psychical researcher brings us back to the self as the starting point for investigation. He comes up with surprising evidence that a journey inward may reap more rewards than anything that conventional science can offer us.
Radin has three previous works under his belt, but this is his most provocative book yet, delving into the deeper implications of psychical research for self and society. Supernormal explores some of the exciting conclusions that can be drawn from the extensive peer-reviewed research and tears apart the misconceptions and misrepresentations that are common in the skeptical subculture. Radin doesn't tease us with a weak-kneed appraisal of what can be understood from over a century's worth of accumulated data. Instead he makes a full-scale assault on commonly held assumptions that limit us from embracing the radical possibilities of human existence.
While Radin's previous books have covered similar ground, this work, framed around an exploration of the Hindu and Buddhist siddhis (extreme abilities and states of consciousness reported by advanced yogic practitioners), provides a unique connecting point to the cross-cultural dialogues that are being fostered by the Dalai Lama with Western scientists. As Radin points out, these powers are commonly reported in all major religions: "Tales of supernormal mental powers are not unique to the yogic tradition. Most of the same abilities are described in Catholicism as chrisms and in Islam as karamats. In Judaism, nahash or divination may be practiced by a zaddik [holy man] . . . All shamanistic traditions are saturated with such tales." Experiences assigned by academics to the realm of legend, myth, and hagiography may in fact bring us closer to what we are at the very core of our reality.
Supernormal provides a solid starting point for bridging between ancient and contemporary understandings of the world and to evaluate the reality of esoteric and so-called "occult" doctrines. Telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis are all examined in light of their exposition in Eastern sutras as well as in scientific data. We are also treated to examinations of abilities such as bilocation, teleportation, manifestation of physical objects, and other feats that seem to stretch credibility to the utmost limit. While careful in his analysis of each claim, Radin emphasizes that in the traditional sutras, these abilities are not presented as wholly metaphorical but are given as literal powers that can be attained through advanced practice.
Balancing between his scientific examination and the incredible potentials described in works such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Avatamsaka Sutra, or Flower Ornament Scriptures, Radin is able to evoke a wonderful sense of possibility without ever falling into fantasy or gross speculation. He maintains this delicate balance even when he takes us into evidence that the universe's very structure may support something akin to the reality expressed in popular works such as Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. Hence our participation in reality may go much deeper than crude manipulations of the material realm.
Readers familiar with esoteric doctrine will be delighted to find within Supernormal a well-organized apology (in the classic sense) that utilizes Western science to open up the reality of the hidden realms of human potential. Those whose interest lies in more scientific areas will find in the book a powerful means of taking their inquiries into the far-reaching realities that outshine popular materialism and skeptical mythmaking. At the time of writing for this review, Supernormal is currently ranked as the number one best-seller in its category for two weeks in a row by Nielsen BookScan, and is holding a high ranking on Amazon as well, showing that Radin has touched on a deep need within our culture. In doing so, he will hopefully provide one more key to understanding ourselves and our society in a way that can lead to greater growth and fulfillment of who and what we truly are.
David Metcalfe writes the "Psi in the News" column for the Reality Sandwich Web site. Dean Radin will be a featured speaker at the Theosophical Society's Summer National Convention in July 2014.