The Science Delusion - Rupert Sheldrake

Laura

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Along with my recent article on this same topic:
https://www.sott.net/articles/show/240308-Dark-Ages-and-Inquisitions-Ancient-and-Modern-Or-Why-Things-are-Such-a-Mess-On-Our-Planet-and-Humanity-is-on-the-Verge-of-Extinction

Here are a couple reviews of Rupert Sheldrake's new book "The Science Delusion".

The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake - review

We must find a new way of understanding human beings

Mary Midgley
guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 January 2012

The unlucky fact that our current form of mechanistic materialism rests on muddled, outdated notions of matter isn't often mentioned today. It's a mess that can be ignored for everyday scientific purposes, but for our wider thinking it is getting very destructive. We can't approach important mind-body topics such as consciousness or the origins of life while we still treat matter in 17th-century style as if it were dead, inert stuff, incapable of producing life. And we certainly can't go on pretending to believe that our own experience – the source of all our thought – is just an illusion, which it would have to be if that dead, alien stuff were indeed the only reality.

We need a new mind-body paradigm, a map that acknowledges the many kinds of things there are in the world and the continuity of evolution. We must somehow find different, more realistic ways of understanding human beings – and indeed other animals – as the active wholes that they are, rather than pretending to see them as meaningless consignments of chemicals.

Rupert Sheldrake, who has long called for this development, spells out this need forcibly in his new book. He shows how materialism has gradually hardened into a kind of anti-Christian faith, an ideology rather than a scientific principle, claiming authority to dictate theories and to veto inquiries on topics that don't suit it, such as unorthodox medicine, let alone religion. He shows how completely alien this static materialism is to modern physics, where matter is dynamic. And, to mark the strange dilemmas that this perverse fashion poses for us, he ends each chapter with some very intriguing "Questions for Materialists", questions such as "Have you been programmed to believe in materialism?", "If there are no purposes in nature, how can you have purposes yourself?", "How do you explain the placebo response?" and so on.

In short, he shows just how unworkable the assumptions behind today's fashionable habits have become. The "science delusion" of his title is the current popular confidence in certain fixed assumptions – the exaltation of today's science, not as the busy, constantly changing workshop that it actually is but as a final, infallible oracle preaching a crude kind of materialism.

In trying to replace it he needs, of course, to suggest alternative assumptions. But here the craft of paradigm-building has chronic difficulties. Our ancestors only finally stopped relying on the familiar astrological patterns when they had grown accustomed to machine-imagery instead – first becoming fascinated by the clatter of clockwork and later by the ceaseless buzz of computers, so that they eventually felt sure that they were getting new knowledge. Similarly, if we are told today that a mouse is a survival-machine, or that it has been programmed to act as it does, we may well feel that we have been given a substantial explanation, when all we have really got is one more optional imaginative vision – "you can try looking at it this way".

That is surely the right way to take new suggestions – not as rival theories competing with current ones but as extra angles, signposts towards wider aspects of the truth. Sheldrake's proposal that we should think of natural regularities as habits rather than as laws is not just an arbitrary fantasy. It is a new analogy, brought in to correct what he sees as a chronic exaggeration of regularity in current science. He shows how carefully research conventions are tailored to smooth out the data, obscuring wide variations by averaging many results, and, in general, how readily scientists accept results that fit in with their conception of eternal laws.

He points out too, that the analogy between natural regularities and habit is not actually new. Several distinctly non-negligible thinkers – CS Peirce, Nietzsche, William James, AN Whitehead – have already suggested it because they saw the huge difference between the kind of regularity that is found among living things and the kind that is expected of a clock or a calcium atom.

Whether or no we want to follow Sheldrake's further speculations on topics such as morphic resonance, his insistence on the need to attend to possible wider ways of thinking is surely right. And he has been applying it lately in fields that might get him an even wider public. He has been making claims about two forms of perception that are widely reported to work but which mechanists hold to be impossible: a person's sense of being looked at by somebody behind them, and the power of animals – dogs, say – to anticipate their owners' return. Do these things really happen?

Sheldrake handles his enquiries soberly. People and animals do, it seems, quite often perform these unexpected feats, and some of them regularly perform them much better than others, which is perhaps not surprising. He simply concludes that we need to think much harder about such things.

Orthodox mechanistic believers might have been expected to say what they think is wrong with this research. In fact, not only have scientists mostly ignored it but, more interestingly still, two professed champions of scientific impartiality, Lewis Wolpert and Richard Dawkins, who did undertake to discuss it, reportedly refused to look at the evidence (see two pages in this book). This might indeed be a good example of what Sheldrake means by the "science delusion".

1206 wds• Mary Midgley's The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene is published by Acumen.
 

Laura

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It's time for science to move on from materialism

The rigid 19th-century orthodoxy should be challenged to allow broader interpretations, as Rupert Sheldrake argues

Werner Heisenberg, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, once observed that history could be divided into periods according to what people of the time made of matter. In his book Physics and Philosophy, published in the early 60s, he argued that at the beginning of the 20th century we entered a new period. It was then that quantum physics threw off the materialism that dominated the natural sciences of the 19th century.

Of materialism, he wrote:

"[This] frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concept of mind, of the human soul or of life. Mind could be introduced into the general picture only as a kind of mirror of the material world."

Today we live in the 21st century, and it seems that we are still stuck with this narrow and rigid view of the things. As Rupert Sheldrake puts it in his new book, published this week, The Science Delusion: "The belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a 19th-century ideology."

That's provocative rhetoric. Science an act of faith? Science a belief system? But then how else to explain the grip of the mechanistic, physicalist, purposeless cosmology? As Heisenberg explained, physicists among themselves have long stopped thinking of atoms as things. They exist as potentialities or possibilities, not objects or facts. And yet, materialism persists.

Heisenberg recommended staying in touch with reality as we experience it, which is to say holding a place for conceptions of mind and soul. The mechanistic view will pass, he was certain. In a way, Sheldrake's scientific career has been devoted to its overthrow. He began in a mainstream post as director of studies in cell biology at Cambridge University, though he challenged the orthodoxy when he proposed his theory of morphogenetic fields.

This is designed to account for, say, the enormously complex structure of proteins. A conventional approach, which might be described as bottom-up, has protein molecules "exploring" all possible patterns until settling on one with a minimum energy. This explanation works well for simple molecules, like carbon dioxide. However, proteins are large and complicated. As Sheldrake notes: "It would take a small protein about 1026 years to do this, far longer than the age of the universe."

As a result, some scientists are proposing top-down, holistic explanations. Sheldrake's particular proposal is that such self-organising systems exist in fields of memory or habit. These contain the information required to make the structure.

Fearlessly, he extends the speculation to embrace a range of phenomena that many people experience. Telephone telepathy is one, when you are thinking about someone just as they phone. Or the sense of being stared at. The idea, roughly, is that our intentions can be communicated across mental fields that are like morphogenetic fields. They connect us – though in the modern world, with its ideological and technological distractions, we are not very good at noticing them.

Sheldrake has continually to fight his corner. In the new book, he records an encounter with Richard Dawkins, when the eminent atheist was making his 2007 TV series Enemies of Reason. Sheldrake suggested they discuss the actual evidence for telepathy. Dawkins resisted. "There isn't time. It's too complicated. And that's not what the programme is about," Sheldrake reports Dawkins saying, before himself retorting that he wasn't interested in taking part in another "low-grade debunking exercise". Dawkins reportedly replied: "It's not a low-grade debunking exercise; it's a high-grade debunking exercise."

I admire Sheldrake for his extraordinary good humour, given the decades of abuse he has endured. This manner comes across in The Science Delusion because, at heart, it is a passionate plea for the materialist worldview, finally, definitively, to be challenged.

Whether or not his own theories will stand the test of time is another question. In a paper published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies in November 2011, Fraser Watts examines them at face value and, broadly, finds them suggestive but wanting. For example, Sheldrake conceives of mental fields via the analogy of an amoeba: as an amoeba extends its pseudopodia and touches the environment around it, similarly telepathy and the like would be the result of "mental pseudopodia" extended into the world around us.

The analogy has the benefit of naturalising extrasensory perception, Watts notes. But it also raises problems. For example, how would it be possible mentally "to touch" objects that don't exist, as would happen when contemplating a centaur? Watts concludes: "An adequate account of the mind must encompass both first- and third-person description whereas the idea of a 'field', along with the other spatial descriptions that Sheldrake uses, seem to be exclusively third-person type descriptions." Oddly, this is a strikingly 19th century attitude to have.

Nonetheless, Sheldrake must welcome such serious engagement with his work. He may not be right in the details. But he is surely right, with Heisenberg, in insisting that the materialist world view must go.

• This article was amended on 28 January 2012. The superscript formatting in a quote by Rupert Sheldrake was lost in the production process, leaving it with a reference to 1026 years instead of 1026. This has now been corrected
 

Laura

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Rupert's newsletter from today:

My book was reviewed on Saturday in The Guardian by Mary Midgley, an eminent philosopher. Her review puts it in a wide context: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/27/science-delusion-rupert-sheldrake-review?INTCMP=SRCH

The book was also discussed by Mark Vernon in his Guardian blog http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/28/science-move-away-materialism-sheldrake#start-of-comments

Both these Guardian pieces unleashed a torrent of hostile comments, mostly very poorly informed.


Last week I went to Ireland for the launch of my book in Dublin. I had a wonderful time there, met some fascinating and very articulate people, drank Guinness in a pub on Baggot Street to Irish fiddle music, and visited the numinous Hill of Tara, which was the seat of the High King of Ireland, in the rain.

Rupert
 

mb

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Laura said:
...Both these Guardian pieces unleashed a torrent of hostile comments, mostly very poorly informed....
Of course -- he is breaking a taboo. Not to mention opposing a pathological agenda (which seems to demand a pathological response).

I have been following Sheldrake, sporadically checking on his work, ever since he spoke at a conference I attended in ~1984. I read his book and appreciated back then the way he posed his morphogenetic field ideas as a testable hypothesis. Unfortunately, when you are violating taboos testability doesn't seem to count for much. Seeing what happened, though, did help me to understand that there is a profoundly unscientific side to science as it is practiced.
 

Buddy

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Thanks for posting on Rupert Sheldrake's work, Laura.

I can practically feel Sheldrake's frustration. As I see it, the fundamental question that needs answering is: how do you take people stuck in a bipolar cognitive schema and show them interconnectedness and relationships? The binary opposition patterns in many languages seem designed to edit out awareness of relationships and continuum.

Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with this mode of thinking. We wouldn't have satellite navigation systems or computer motherboards without it. Why? Because in the realm of electricity and electronics, "not on, not 1, not hot" is just as objectively real, valid and measurable as "on, 1, hot". Not so in the human mind, it seems. There, "not" is subjective. It is infinitely more difficult to measure and validate "not this or that". Even when people pay lip service to the fact, they will still speak as if their "nots" are as objectively real as their "is".

Perhaps people just need to be convinced that there are 'new' ways of knowing and that it's safe to don and shed these in accordance with context?

My 2 cents.
 

JGeropoulas

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Megan said:
his morphogenetic field ideas
A perfect example of the kind of fascinating ideas that can emerge from open minds willing to conceive "what is" (vs. closed minds willing to see only "what is pre-conceived").
 

SeekinTruth

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Megan said:
Laura said:
...Both these Guardian pieces unleashed a torrent of hostile comments, mostly very poorly informed....
Of course -- he is breaking a taboo. Not to mention opposing a pathological agenda (which seems to demand a pathological response).

I have been following Sheldrake, sporadically checking on his work, ever since he spoke at a conference I attended in ~1984. I read his book and appreciated back then the way he posed his morphogenetic field ideas as a testable hypothesis. Unfortunately, when you are violating taboos testability doesn't seem to count for much. Seeing what happened, though, did help me to understand that there is a profoundly unscientific side to science as it is practiced.
That's it in a nutshell. The reactions are so similar no matter what taboo is being broken.
 

mkrnhr

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FWIW I found this presentation by Rupert Sheldrake where he describes a few interresting statistical experiments, including telepathy (animal and human): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnA8GUtXpXY
 

Approaching Infinity

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mkrnhr said:
FWIW I found this presentation by Rupert Sheldrake where he describes a few interresting statistical experiments, including telepathy (animal and human): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnA8GUtXpXY
Interesting. There's no evidence of telepathic connections between pet and owner with reptiles. Just with mammals and birds, who form emotional connections with their owners...
 

Nienna

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Approaching Infinity said:
mkrnhr said:
FWIW I found this presentation by Rupert Sheldrake where he describes a few interresting statistical experiments, including telepathy (animal and human): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnA8GUtXpXY
Interesting. There's no evidence of telepathic connections between pet and owner with reptiles. Just with mammals and birds, who form emotional connections with their owners...
Also, interesting, at least to me, is that he has "honest skeptics" coming up with the same results he has had. Makes it kind of hard for "dishonest skeptics" to refute the findings that way.
 

SeekinTruth

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Nienna Eluch said:
Approaching Infinity said:
mkrnhr said:
FWIW I found this presentation by Rupert Sheldrake where he describes a few interresting statistical experiments, including telepathy (animal and human): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnA8GUtXpXY
Interesting. There's no evidence of telepathic connections between pet and owner with reptiles. Just with mammals and birds, who form emotional connections with their owners...
Also, interesting, at least to me, is that he has "honest skeptics" coming up with the same results he has had. Makes it kind of hard for "dishonest skeptics" to refute the findings that way.
Yes, I had very similar thoughts when I watched it yesterday. Thanks for sharing the link mkrnhr. By the way, there's some other video presentations that come up on the side that might be interesting too -- both by Sheldrake and Dean Radin (whom he mentions as another researcher in this area in the presentation). I watched one of Radin's in the same Goolge TechTalks series called "Science and the taboo of PSI" which was also very interesting.
 

Liberty

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Thank you for sharing the video link mkrnhr, look forward to watching Dean Radan's on an other day.

I was on the computer the other night and felt like I was being watched from behind, I turned round to find the rabbit was sitting on the window sill watching me intently. The window sill is about 80cm from the ground so quite a height for a rabbit to jump. This was the first time he had done this, but it has now turned into a regular event when he wants to come in. :)

Also interested to know why this happens with mammals and birds, but not reptiles? What makes us more emotionally connected to mammals and birds as opposed to reptiles. Is it that all cold blooded animals are on a different wave length, so no reception?

Sheldrake does mention that when we go to sleep we go blank and that when we dream we have a projective activity within our brain. I have been reading in The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss about sharing dreams with people that you are close to which sounded similar to the telepathic entanglement. I was a little surprised as a friend and I had a synchronised dream the other night, identical content viewed from our different angles and our timings of waking were identical :zzz:.
 

Approaching Infinity

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Liberty said:
Also interested to know why this happens with mammals and birds, but not reptiles? What makes us more emotionally connected to mammals and birds as opposed to reptiles. Is it that all cold blooded animals are on a different wave length, so no reception?
Reptiles lack a myelinated vagus nerve, and a developed limbic system, which are characteristic of mammals and which allow us to form emotional bonds. In other words, they feel no emotions. So yeah, I guess you could say they're on a different wave length. Kind like psychopaths.
 

ScioAgapeOmnis

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I just sent Rupert an email (to the contact on his website sheldrake.org). He conducted an experiment to see if the "field" extends from the future into the past (he had positive results when people were guessing who is calling at this very moment, but no luck when trying to guess who will call in the future). Here's my email:

Hi Rupert,

My name is ... and I support and appreciate your work. I have a suggestion to adjust one of your experiments that did not yield a positive result.

You talked about conducting experiments to see if the field extends in "time" as well as it does in space, but the data came back random with no indication that the receiver is connected to the field of the future sender. I would suggest not using a randomizing function for those experiments in the future, use it in the past. In other words, have the computer pick the callers/emailers/whatever first, so by the time you ask someone to "guess" who is going to call, the choices have already been made and will not change.

If you use a computer program to randomly pick who will do the calling/emailing/whatever in the future (using the randomizer at the moment of the call), this approach creates a truly "random" future because the random choice generator is different every time you use it. And the difference between the future and the present is that there is no "one" solidified reality in the future yet, so you may not be able to predict what the randomizer will come out with later on, creating multiple equally "real" and equally probable futures all trying to beam their "answers" into the present with equal force. When someone in the present makes a guess regarding who will call in the future, they are receiving the "field" from all those randomized futures, and since "in the future" it's equally likely that the computer will pick one person to call vs another, all those probabilitie exist. The fact that when you're actually randomly choosing a specific person to call in the future and experience that particular reality does not mean all the other randomly chosen realities aren't also occured.

When conducting these experiments in the present the caller and callee share the same reality. When conducting the experiment beaming from the future back, the callee is receiving the field from multiple possible realities. So you want to ensure that there is only one "future" (at least when it comes to who is going to be the calling), which means don't use the randomizer in the future - solidify the choices in the past or the present, so that by the time the future rolls around, although the choices are random, they can be known/predicted in the past, it's just ONE reality beaming back from the future into the present/past.

At least that's a thought that occured to me, and who knows where that thought came from, it just might have some merit. I'd be most interested in seeing the results of the adjusted version of the future experiments :)

Sincerely,
...
 

Liberty

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Thanks AI

Approaching Infinity said:
Liberty said:
Also interested to know why this happens with mammals and birds, but not reptiles? What makes us more emotionally connected to mammals and birds as opposed to reptiles. Is it that all cold blooded animals are on a different wave length, so no reception?
Reptiles lack a myelinated vagus nerve, and a developed limbic system, which are characteristic of mammals and which allow us to form emotional bonds. In other words, they feel no emotions. So yeah, I guess you could say they're on a different wave length. Kind like psychopaths.
I also found this thread very interesting.
http://cassiopaea.org/forum/index.php/topic,25009.msg292219.html#msg292219
 
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