In the Enlightenment ideal, science was a path to knowledge that would transform humanity for the better. Science and reason were the vanguard. These were, and still are, wonderful ideals, and they have inspired scientists for generations. They inspire me. I am all in favour of science and reason if they are scientific and reasonable. But I am against granting scientists and the materialist worldview an exemption from critical thinking and sceptical investigation. We need an enlightenment of the Enlightenment.
- Rupert Sheldrake
Science and religion has had a schizophrenic relation with each other over the centuries. In the annals of history of science, it is taught that Galileo’s challenge to the church (and the common person’s) heliocentric view of the universe that placed the earth at the center was a turning point of modern science. After this point, science decoupled itself from the state and stood on its own authority, relying on reason rather than dogma, even if it came from such an authority as the church.
To this day, Galileo’s persecution is upheld as a lesson in the dangers of mixing state, religion and science. Yet today, paradoxically, we see that recent discoveries in many fields of science is pointing us back towards a union of science, and spirituality, in ways far deeper than ever imagined by our predecessors. That this is so is in fact, not surprising. For science deals with the outer, the tangible and the measurable while spirituality deals with the inner, the intangible and the immeasurable. These coexist in each and every human being in the dualism known as the mind/body problem. In philosophy, David Chamler coined the expression “The Hard Problem” to denote this seemingly insoluble problem of how consciousness could ever arise from matter. The Hard Problem is simply a modern version of the crisis between science and spirituality.
Yet it is not so much a problem between science and religion as it is a battle between truth and dogma – whether that dogma is in the form of religious dogma or scientific dogma.
The deepest part of spirituality that finds common union with science is (human) awareness. One could argue that modern civilization is the result of our ability to be aware of appearances and to manipulate symbols which are a part of the experiences we are aware of. Language and thought allow us to create abstract categories which we use to represent and divide an inseparable world. This symbolic ability allows us to create mental models of the world and to imagine realities that do not yet exist. Yet when we turn science to examine the inner space of our mind, we immediately run into a problem of immense proportions – for how do minds investigate themselves without succumbing to an inherent logical circularity?
Can the combination of our normal scientific toolset of common language, experimental observations, mathematical formulation and rational logical thought ever produce a satisfactory answer to the question of what awareness itself is? How can we ever escape the inherent circularity of awareness studying itself?
This constant interplay between our “inner” visions of the possible and the “outer” appearances of reality is what gives rise to our industrial technological society; human imagination manifests in the physical forms of our human-made world. Any single thing that humans have ever built began its life as a dream – a dream of building a structure, a dream of flying, a dream of talking to others at great distances without wires, or a dream of harnessing the energy in nature to do work for us. Dreams meet with nature through science and from science technology gives birth to our ability to transform the environment.
Every generation there seems to be overconfident scientists who claim that there are no more fundamental discoveries to be made in nature – only to be proven wrong a short time later. The patterns found in nature appear to be inexhaustible, as does the technological applications that arise from them. Yet when it comes to the study of consciousness, current science seems to have reached a hard limit. The study of awareness is profoundly different from the study of any other fields of science because in most fields of study of science, the toolset the scientist uses is unquestioned. With awareness, ALL of the scientists tools are questioned and the circularity is exposed. With neuroscience, science appears to be directly confronting problems of a most fundamental nature which it has managed to skirt until now.
Science meets Religion – again
It is for this reason that scientists are venturing further into areas once considered separate from science. When science does that, there is a great opportunity to become more universal but it comes at a price and is accompanied by the inevitable growing pains. This modern movement which finds science searching for deeper meaning by exploring spirituality is, in fact nothing new. It is a return to the worldview of the world as a sacred place created by some unknown power – a view once held by many of the founding fathers of modern science such as Sir Issac Newton, Rene Descartes or Robert Boyle. It is revealing to note that Issac Newton himself considered his work in science as playing a secondary role in life; his primary role was the search for God. God was seen as the “intelligent engineer” who designed the perfect laws of nature and his mechanistic theory was a human creation whose purpose was to reveal the astounding patterns God created to the human mind. Seen from this perspective, it is clear that the motivation of some of the most fundamental theories of science were deeply spiritual in nature.
This subsequent separation between spirituality and science that has resulted from centuries of habituating the mechanistic worldview established by Newton and his contemporaries might very well horrify Newton were he alive today. Yet authentic scientific enquiry will always challenge dogma, even scientific dogma. The unexplained phenomena, especially in quantum mechanics has caused a growing number of scientists in the field to question the very legitimacy of the materialistic view itself. For these researchers, a model based upon consciousness in which materialism arises as a subsequent worldview is more consistent with observations than a materialist paradigm in which consciousness arises as an epi-phenomena.
One example of the debate now going on within scientific circles is exemplified by the controversy that has arisen when scientist Richard Davidson, professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, director at the Mind-Life Instute established by HH the 14th Dalai Lama and a longtime friend of the 14th Dalai Lama, invited the Dalai Lama to participate in the “Neuroscience and Society” program of the Society for Neuroscience meeting in 2005. Over 500 researchers signed a petition in protest (it should be noted, however, that the majority of the petitioners were Chinese researchers, who may disagree politically with the Dalai Lama’s stance on Tibet). The controversy subsided quickly after most scientists attending the talk found it appropriate but this is an indication of the discomfort scientists face as they come up against preconceptions of what science is and what it isn’t.
The history of number systems in the field of mathematics provides an indication of where science may be headed. Since Newton and Leibnez established the calculus, mathematicians were bothered by the fanatastic qualities of infinitesmals. They were forced to address fundamental issues to resolve the vagueness of an “infinitely small quantity”. This led other mathematicians to create the precise concept of a limit. By asking “what is a number?”, mathematicians were led on an adventure that saw researchers investigate how number systems follow developmental pathways where useful rules are preserved while new ones are added to them. In trying to establish infinitesmals, mathematicians were led to a profound questioning of assumptions. Researchers were led to regress backwards to consider foundational issues. This led to considerations of areas outside of number theory itself. Interdisciplinary fields were born as these investigations led to study of logic, linguistics, anthropology, philosophy and neuroscience. One dominant result of this deep soul searching was the establishment of formal systems with axioms – mathematical systems were reduced to meaningless formal game. It has become clear that human beings give meaning to symbols. Symbols have no inherent meaning without a human mind. The thinking capacity of the human mind is what makes humans unique but once we are entangled in thought, wonderful as the limitless discoveries thinking and analysis leads to, there appears to be no ultimate explanatino to explain the act of explaining itself.
Rupert Sheldrake and The Science Delusion
Rupert Sheldrake likens this ability of human minds to imagine many possibilities and then to manifest some of them to the quantum mechanical representation of electrons as clouds and the act of observation collapsing the field of possibilities to exactly one observable one.
In his book The Science Delusion, like revolution-leading scientists before him, Sheldrake is not afraid to look for the truth in controversial areas of science using sound scientific principles and evidence and seriously question much of the existing mainstream scientific views of reality. Since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, the world of science has professed to operate in “an open-minded spirit of enquiry” but this is rarely true in practice. Sheldrake shares his own experiences that any modern research programme is under a good deal of pressure to not produce unexpected or unwanted results. Sheldrake reflects that science has developed a type of elitism whose main function is the protection of establish and outdated ideas – a kind of scientific bourgeois attitude that is harmful to the advancement of true science. The more fundamental the idea being challenged, the more entrenched the protectionism. This peculiar human trait has evolved to do great damage to science itself. This needless restriction of real science runs contrary to the fundamental operating principle of science, open enquiry and may delay important discoveries for years, decades or even longer. It results in the dismissal of important potential areas of investigation based upon biased, non-scientific grounds. Instead of being considered for research, peer review publication and grant funding, these legitimate ideas are relegated to tabloid fodder as their only means of exposure. Serious scientists are therefore pressured into abstaining from research in certain highly important topics for fear of intense ridicule by their peers. This immature nature of human beings is not relegated to the history books, but is living and breathing as we speak.
Sheldrake is not afraid to speak his mind on “controversial subjects” such as zero point energy, homeopathic medicine and telepathy because he has the training to defend himself against subtle and biased attacks which are launched by mainstream scientists but which are not based upon sound science. Sheldrake defends the authentic scientific method and argues, as in this Huffington Post piece that “bad science is not unlike bad religion“.
In The Science Delusion, Sheldrake distills 40 years of puzzlement into a framework of 10 major scientific tenets held to be truths, but which are revealed to be assumptions based upon very shaky grounds. Are further paradigm shifts likely to occur within society? If science is to develop further, Sheldrake believes that paradigm shifts are inevitable – the old certainties in economic, financial and political worlds break down all around us, in science the long-established materialist paradigm is also in crisis. Materialist science seemed simple and straightforward. But old-style material reality has now dissolved into multi-dimensional virtual physics; increasing numbers of philosophers and neuroscientists are moving towards panpsychism; and biologists are having to think about ‘systems’ and ‘emergent properties’ that cannot be reduced to the molecular level.
10 Questionable Commandments of Mainstream Science
1. Everything is Essentially Mechanical
From this view, all animals are considered complex mechanisms, rather than living organisms with goals of their own. Even people are machines, “lumbering robots”, to borrow critic Richard Dawkins’s phrase, with brains that are like genetically programmed computers. Sheldrake sets out to enlighten the reader about the actual orgins of the mechanistic theory showing that the founding fathers of science such as Sir Issac Newton, Rene Descartes or Robert Boyle created mechanistic theory to glorify God. The theory was created to externalize the creator, God. God was the “intelligent engineer” who designed these perfect laws in his machines. The mechanistic worldview was intended to be a metaphor but has evolved to be taken literally. In reality, Sheldrake shows that systems at every level are far more natural to understand as living systems with their own goals rather than dumb, mechanical systems without. Living organisms are not automata, a fact that is patently obvious to any cat or dog owner and few readers would regard themselves as a genetically programmed machine in a mechanical universe. Two of his questions he puts forth to materialists are: “Do you think that you yourself are nothing but a complex machine?” and “Have you been programmed to believe in materialism?” Scientists are only materialists in front of other scientists. As soon as they are no longer wearing their science uniforms, they think like the rest of us.
2. All matter is Unconscious
According to this long held scientific assumption, matter has no inner life or subjectivity or point of view. Even human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activity of brains. But, as Sheldrake explains, even proponents as early as Aristotle held that atoms have a dual nature; they have both a mechanical, outward nature as well as a living nature. Sheldrake writes:
In consciousness studies, materialism is being challenged by a new version of animism or ‘panpsychism’, according to which all self-organizing material systems, like electrons, have a mental as well as a physical aspect. In his recent book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel argues that a shift to panpsychism is necessary for any viable philosophy of nature that does not need to invoke God.
3. The Conservation of Energy and other constants like the Speed of Light
Conservation of Energy
Every school child has learned the Law of Conservation of Energy: that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only changed from one form into another – except of course, in the primal singularity of the Big Bang, when the Universe appeared from nothing, violating all of science’s laws. Sheldrake quotes Terence McKenna: “It’s almost as if science said, ‘Give me one free miracle, and from there the entire thing will proceed with a seamless, causal explanation.’”
Today, most physicists believe that only about four per cent of the mass and energy in the Universe is conventional; the remaining 96 per cent is made up of what is called ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, about which nothing is known. Gravitation should be slowing down the expansion of the Universe, but observations made in the mid-1990s showed that it is actually speeding up. The continued expansion of the Universe is now believed to be driven by dark energy, which is reckoned to account for 73 per cent of the Universe’s total mass-energy. In the current model, the amount of dark energy may be increasing, counteracting the gravitational pull that should make the Universe contract, driving its expansion in an apparently continuous process of creation. This should not be possible, but the conservation laws apply only to the four per cent of ‘standard’ matter and energy, not necessarily to the mysterious remaining 96 per cent. In the light of modern cosmology, asks Sheldrake, how can anyone possibly be sure that the total amount of matter and energy has always been the same?
On his blog, Sheldrake writes:
In physics, there has been a major shift away from the observable towards towards the virtual. Since the beginning of this century, matter and energy as we know them have been demoted to 4 percent of the universe. The rest consists of hypothetical dark matter and dark energy. The nature of 96 percent of physical reality is literally obscure. Meanwhile, the observable physical realm is floating on a vast ocean of energy called the zero-point energy field or the quantum vacuum field, from which virtual particles emerge and disappear, mediating all electromagnetic forces. Your eyes are reading these lines through seething virtual photons as your retinas absorb light, and as nerve impulses move up the optic nerve and patterns of electrical activity arise in your brain, all mediated by corresponding patterns of activity within the vacuum field within and around you.
Even the mass of an obviously physical object like a rock arises from virtual particles in hypothetical fields. In the Standard Model of particle physics, all mass is ultimately explained in terms of the invisible Higgs field, which has a constant strength everywhere. The Higgs boson is supposed to create a cloud of virtual particles in the Higgs field around it, and these virtual particles interact with other quantum particles, giving them mass.
Contemporary theoretical physics is dominated by superstring and M theories, with 10 and 11 dimensions respectively. These theories are untested and currently untestable. Meanwhile, many cosmologists have adopted the multiverse theory, which asserts that there are trillions of universes besides our own. These are interesting speculations, but they are not old-paradigm materialist science. Reality has dissolved into the physics of the virtual.
The Constancy of the Speed of Light
Sheldrake brings up doubt about the constancy of another variable: the speed of light. It may not be as constant as we have been led to believe. “When I investigated this some years ago,” Sheldrake says, “I came to realise that although the speed of light is assumed to be constant and precisely known, there is evidence to suggest otherwise. The speed of light is measured regularly, in university laboratories all around the world, and each comes up with slightly different results. The final figure is arrived at by a committee of expert metrologists who average the ‘best’ results and arrive at a consensus. But this is not based on all the results they are supplied with; some are discarded, either because they differ too much from what is expected or because their source is not considered totally reliable.”
Measurement of the speed of light began in the early 20th century. Initially, there were considerable variations, but by 1927 the experts had agreed on an “entirely satisfactory” speed of 299,796km (186,300 miles) per second. The following year, this mysteriously dropped by around 20km (12 miles) per second. The new speed was recorded all around the world, with the ‘best’ values closely matching. This lower speed remained constant from about 1928 to 1945, then in the late 1940s it went back up again. It was suggested by some scientists that this might indicate cyclical variations in the speed of light.
“Now we may never know,” Sheldrake laments, “because the problem was eventually solved by locking the speed of light into a closed loop. The metre is now defined by the speed of light – which is defined in metres. So if the speed of light really does vary in the future, the metre will vary with it, and we shall have no way of telling! I took this up,” he goes on, “with some of the experts. I visited one – he actually had a sign on his door saying Chief Metrologist. When I inquired about the 1928 to 1945 variation he muttered, ‘Oh you know about that, do you?’ He admitted it was a little embarrassing that so many respected scientists had made faulty measurements during that period…
“‘But this is interesting!’ I said. ‘What if there really were variations? Shouldn’t it be investigated?’ He looked at me aghast. ‘Whatever for? The speed of light is a constant!’ The Universal Gravitational Constant also varies,” adds Sheldrake, “but they’re a bit more open about that.”
The constancy of the speed of light is regarded as sacrosanct among physicists. When alleged ‘faster than light’ neutrinos made world news last summer, the celebrated Professor Brian Cox explained the issue in layman’s terms for BBC radio. Adamant that the speed of light is a “universal speed limit” that can never be exceeded, he came up with a neat analogy. If an aeroplane were to travel from London to Australia at this absolute maximum speed, there would be no way of making the journey any faster. Apart from, he added, digging a tunnel through the Earth and taking a shortcut. So you see, declared Cox cheerfully, the neutrinos are not necessarily travelling any faster than light – they may be simply taking a shortcut through another dimension! To a non-physicist, it seems surprising that experts find it easier to accept a universe of multiple dimensions (which is possible, but only theoretical) than to question scientific dogma.
4. The laws of nature are fixed
To this, Sheldrake has developed his famous theory of Morphic Resonance described on his website here. From Rupert’s website:
During the time I worked at ICRISAT I continued to think about morphogenetic fields and the way in which they evolved and were inherited. From 1978 to 1979 I took time off to write a book about morphogenetic fields and morphic resonance, which was published in 1981,
A New Science of Life; The Hypothesis of Formative Causation.
Much of my work in the following years was concerned with following up these ideas and was summarised in my main theoretical work,
The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature, published in 1988. In late 1980s and early 1990s I explored a variety of experimental approaches for the investigation of unexplained phenomena that might help to enlarge our scientific view of the world, summarised in my book
Seven Experiments That Could Change the World: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Revolutionary Science, (1994).
One of the seven experiments concerned unexplained abilities of animals, and I published a series of papers on the unexplained powers of animals.
See papers on Unexplained Powers of Animals
I summarised much of this research in my book
Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999).
Also, since the late 1980’s I have been doing research on the sense of being stared at, which has wide implications for the nature of vision and of minds, and this research was described in a series of papers
See papers on The Sense of Being Stared At .
This research is summarized in my book,
The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (2003).
See Morphic Fields for a general introduction to the theory.
5. Nature is purposeless, and evolution has no goal or direction
6. All biological inheritance is material, carried in the genetic material, DNA, and in other material structures
Despite the confident claim in the late twentieth century that genes and molecular biology would soon explain the nature of life, no one yet knows how plants and animals develop from fertilized eggs. And following the technical triumph of the Human Genome Project, first announced by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in June 2000, there were big surprises. There are far fewer human genes than anticipated, a mere 23,000 instead of 100,000. Sea urchins have about 26,000 and rice plants 38,000. Attempts to predict characteristics such as height have shown that genes account for only about 5 percent of the variation from person to person, instead of the 80 percent expected. Unbounded confidence has given way to the ‘missing heritability problem’. Investors in genomics and biotechnology have lost many billions of dollars. A recent report by the Harvard Business School on the biotechnology industry revealed that “only a tiny fraction of companies had ever made a profit” and showed how promises of breakthroughs have failed over and over again.
7. Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of brains
Physicists and philosophers alike are confounded by the Hard Problem: how is it possible for material brains to produce immaterial consciousness? The question seems doomed to be insoluble because they are two such different entities.
8. Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death
Since the 1890s, a vast amount of research time and money has been spent on this fascinating question based upon the implicit assumption that memories are stored in traces somewhere in the human brain. To this day, no traces have been found. Typically, laboratory animals are taught to perform some task, then parts of their brains are surgically removed; later, they can still remember what they have been taught, despite in some cases having hardly any brain left at all. Sheldrake explores the evidence in great detail and puts a very convincing case. One of his arguments against physically-stored memory is that: “Memories can persist for decades, yet the nervous system is dynamic, continually changing, and so are the molecules within it.” So how could memory be stored in the brain so that it is not lost by molecular turnover? Sheldrake cites recent experiments in which cater-pillars were taught to avoid a stimulus. After undergoing two larval moults and metamorphosis within the pupæ, the resultant moths still remembered what they had learned as caterpillars.
Sheldrake maintains that memories are stored somewhere outside of the brain and retrieved by morphic resonance. So could these memories – and perhaps ideas – be accessed by others? It is conceivable. Newton and Leibniz, for instance, both simultaneously invented Calculus. When Sheldrake was writing A New Science of Life, he was very aware that others must be working on the same idea, so he thought he’d better get on with it. Sure enough, there were two or three. One of them, Nicholas Greaves, was not a scientist but an estate agent who had just had this idea come into his head and felt he must express it. His version is called ‘Duplication Theory’. When Sheldrake met with Graeves, they both discovered that they had ideas that were very similar.
9. Unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory
From Rupert’s website:
My research on telepathy in animals (summarized in my book Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home and published in detail in a series of papers (listed here) led me to see telepathy as a normal, rather the paranormal. phenomenon, an aspect of communication between members of animal social groups. The same principles apply to human telepathy, and I have investigated little explored aspects of human telepathy, such as telepathy between mothers and babies, telephone telepathy (thinking of someone who soon afterwards calls) and email telepathy. I have designed several automated telepathy tests, some of which can be carried out through this website.
The website provides opportunities to contribute to the research on Telepathy with both Offline
and Online Experiments
The experiments can be carried out by individuals, by groups, or in the classrooom. Simple instructions are provided and there areNotes for Teachers and Group Leaders
10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works
(Source: Fortean Times)
Why Should it Matter?
Science was once seen as a way to glorify the sacred. This worldview, held by the founding fathers of science has been lost as the mechanistic theories they so painstakingly established for the purpose of making known the amazing patterns created by the “master engineer” became so wildly successful that the original motivation has been lost. Our entire society has become mechanistic and devoid of the sacred, even though it is always surrounding us.
This disconnection is more profound than most people realize because without the view of the sacred which science was meant to bring, scientific knowledge can be abused. When we look at the world we have created for ourselves, at our dysfunctional industrial technological society, we can see this truth everywhere. We see science misused for profiteering. Corporations leverage scientific knowledge to create products they can sell to enrich themselves – often at the expense of people and the environment.
Often, not enough research is done and harmful products are released for public consumption. A recent example of this is the recent discovery of the correlation between violence and lead poisoning. Other times, corporations know technology is harmful and they knowingly produce it anyways. Perhaps the ultimate abuse of scientific knowledge is the global military industrial complex and their ongoing research to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Moral obligation arises from a worldview of the sacred. It arises not as force and coercion but as compassion which creates a duty and responsibility within scientists to handle their knowledge wisely so as to reduce suffering for living beings. When science becomes an abstraction in which scientists can detach their practice from the larger sacred world (which is the very source of their discipline), they also absolve themselves of any moral obligations. This cannot help but to lead directly to the ability for elements of society to abuse knowledge. Indeed, ours is a society that is rife with technological creations that represents abuse of scientific knowledge in an endless variety of ways. Our dysfunctional socio-economic system is based on a dysfunctional scientific/technological system which allows for the abuse of scientific knowledge for the benefit of a few. There can be no stronger reason why science needs to be re-established in a paradigm of the sacred.
Some scientists claim that science and morality are two different fields and eel it unfair to be restricted in any way to do pure research. Science seeks to find truths about nature but morality is also based upon truths. Morality is the guidance for actions that do not bring about suffering and it is also related to the truth. For when we are not aware of the deeper truth of what life is, we become lost and we can bring suffering to others. Those who live closer to truth, manifest more compassion. Those who live further from the truth manifest more selfish behavior. Science is but one strand of the total truth which all human beings seek. Therefore, it is not excluded from our overall goal in life.
Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. Biography
Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and ten books. A former Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he was a Scholar of Clare College, took a double first class honours degree and was awarded the University Botany Prize. He then studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow, before returning to Cambridge, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry. He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University.
While at Cambridge, together with Philip Rubery, he discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport, the process by which the plant hormone auxin is carried from the shoots towards the roots.
From 1968 to 1969, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he was Principal Plant Physiologist and Consultant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life.
From 2005-2010 he was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College,Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, near San Francisco, and a Visiting Professor and Academic Director of the Holistic Thinking Program at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut.
(Source: Rupert Sheldrake’s website)