The Future of the Body:
Explorations into the Further Evolution of Human Nature
by Michael Murphy. Jeremy P. Tarcher.
Michael Murphy, co-founder of the Esalen Institute, writes about human potential with the clarity of a scholar and the energy of an activist. The Future of the Body, epic in scope and many years in the making, is his up-to-the-moment summation of the state of human evolution, with special emphasis on evidence of extraordinary human abilities.
Some commentators have compared Murphy’s book to William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, and amazingly this comparison may not be much of an overstatement. It’s been a century or so since James’ work was published, and as Murphy clearly demonstrates, a great deal has been discovered since then. He covers a tremendous amount of ground in nearly 800 pages, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this book survives as a relevant text well into the next century.
Murphy reminds us that “exceptional abilities develop most fully in cultures that prize them,” and he ranges far and wide, across disciplines and cultures, in search of powers and abilities that surpass our usual definitions of “normal.” As one might expect, he draws often from the wellsprings of Eastern yogic and martial arts traditions, but he also guides us with great artistry through the best of the West, reminding us that our culture is in its own way an equally rich repository of wisdom. Murphy’s lavishly footnoted compilation of scientific and anecdotal evidence in support of a wide array of powers is truly breathtaking.
This book is strikingly unique in its emphasis on two areas with which the author has great familiarity: sports and Catholicism. Murphy sees sports as a kind of Western yoga, musing in one passage that many of the great American athletes would likely have become yoga adepts had they been born in a place like India.
Many years back, Murphy first brought to public attention the metaphysical aspect of sports. His writing on figures like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie, who speaks with great lucidity on what are essentially paranormal states of mind accessed through deep immersion in high-level athletic competition, was well ahead of its time. Brodie and other kindred spirits appear in inspiring cameo roles in The Future of the Body.Regarding Catholicism, I was not fully aware of the rigorous procedures of documentation which have been pursued for many centuries within the Church, as part of its continuing effort to determine which purported miracles are to receive official recognition. Murphy provides a great deal of impressive evidence on “charismatic phenomena recognized by Catholic authorities,” including stigmata, telepathy, bilocation, and much more.
The Church not only accepts the existence of these paranormal abilities, but has developed detailed no-nonsense research protocols with which to organize the winnowing process. Few will read the chapter on “The Charisms of Catholic Saints and Mystics” without recognizing that we humans have abilities scarcely imagined by minds self-limited to the domain of the rational.
Michael Murphy has brilliantly performed a mammoth task, researching and cataloguing a vast amount of fascinating material. No brief review can come close to touching on all the major areas of emphasis. To his credit, he allots about equal time to the realms of body, mind and spirit, affirming that the three are indivisible. Every public library in the nation should have at least one copy of this book. If yours doesn’t, donating a copy would be an excellent community service.