Humans have always sought ecstatic experiences – moments where they go beyond their ordinary self and feel connected to something greater than them. Such moments are fundamental to human flourishing, but they can also be dangerous.
Beginning around the Enlightenment, western intellectual culture has written off ecstasy as ignorance or delusion. But philosopher Jules Evans argues that this diminishes our reality and denies us the healing, connection and meaning that ecstasy can bring.
He sets out to discover how people find ecstasy in a post-religious culture, how it can be good for us, and also harmful. Along the way, he explores the growing science of ecstasy, to help the reader – and himself – learn the art of losing control.
Jules’ exploration of ecstasy is an intellectual and emotional odyssey balancing personal experience, interviews and readings from ancient and modern philosophers that will change the way you think about how you feel. From Aristotle and Plato, via the Bishop of London and Sister Bliss, radical jihadis and Silicon Valley transhumanists, The Art of Losing Control is a funny and life-enhancing journey through under-explored terrain.
You can buy the book here.
‘A captivating exploration of humanity’s journey to self-transcendence’. Prospect magazine
‘Compelling…Evans’ sensitivity as a thinker, like his skill as a story-teller, is never in doubt.’ The Guardian
‘Bursting with fiery intelligence.’ The Psychologist
‘An original and outstanding investigation into a poorly understood but central experience in all our lives. Jules Evans is brave, honest and wise – a great companion and guide on a fascinating journey’. Caspar Henderson, author of A Book of Barely Imagined Beings.
Here’s a discussion I took part in on Start the Week around the ecstatic, here’s a discussion on medieval and modern ecstasy on Radio 3’s Free Thinking, and here’s a conversation with Sam Leith about the book on the Spectator podcast.
Here are the full versions of some of the interviews I’ve done that feature in the book:
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi on flow and ecstasy.
Philosopher Roger Scruton on whether high culture is a substitute for religion.
Author Philip Pullman on transcendent experience (also features the spiritual experiences survey I did).
Musician and artist Brian Eno on surrender in art and religion.
Musician and artist David Byrne on ecstasy and catharsis in rock & roll.
Musician Sister Bliss on house music as a church for the unchurched.
Stage illusionist Derren Brown on hypnosis and spiritual healing.
Alpha evangelist Nicky Gumbel on encounters with the Holy Spirit.
The former Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, on Christian contemplation and ecstasy.
Psychedelic researcher Robin Carhart-Harris on psychedelics and the unconscious.
An interview with religious scholar Ann Taves on the history of ecstasy in western culture.
Here’s a survey I did on people’s dreams, which found that most people reported occasionally having ‘big dreams’ which helped them adapt to life-crises.
Here’s a survey I did into sex and spiritual experiences, which found most people reported experiences of ego-dissolution during sex.
Here’s a podcast I did on non-verbal ecstasy in rock & roll.
Here’s a podcast I did with the author Geoff Dyer about peak experiences.
Here’s a talk I did on Radio 3 way back in 2013 about how a near-death experience prompted my interest in the ecstatic.