The clash between science and religion has generated more heat than light, and yet our search for meaning in life is relentless, and a sense of the sacred remains a universal part of the human experience. Matter and spirit must thus engage in dialogue rather than in feud, as the American physicist and writer Alan Lightman argues in his new book, The Transcendent Brain.

Lightman seeks to reconcile transcendent experiences with scientific materialism and begins the book with a personal story of a close encounter with a pair of juvenile ospreys that left him with “a feeling of being part of something much larger than myself.” He then switches modes and declares: “I’m a scientist and have always had a scientific view of the world—by which I mean that the universe is made of material stuff, and only material stuff.”