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Rupert Sheldrake

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Rupert Sheldrake
photograph
Born(1942-06-28) 28 June 1942 (age 71)
Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire[1]
NationalityBritish
Education
OccupationBiochemist, parapsychologist, writer
EmployerThe Perrott-Warrick Fund (2005–2010)
Website
www.sheldrake.org
Alfred Rupert Sheldrake (born 28 June 1942)[3] is an English author and lecturer, best known for his idea that "memory is inherent in nature."[4][5][6][7] From 1967 to 1973 he was a biochemist and cell biologist at Cambridge University,[5] after which he was principal plant physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics until 1978.[8] Since then, he primarily has worked on developing and promoting his concept of "morphic resonance" which posits that "natural systems, such as termite colonies, or pigeons, or orchid plants, or insulin molecules, inherit a collective memory from all previous things of their kind".[4] He says that morphic resonance is also responsible for "telepathy-type interconnections between organisms".[9]
Sheldrake argues that science has become a series of dogmas rather than an open-minded approach to investigating phenomena,[10] and has suggested that scientists are susceptible to "the recurrent fantasy of omniscience".[5] He questions such foundational principles and facts of modern science as the conservation of energy and the impossibility of perpetual motion devices.[10][11]
Other scientists have labelled morphic resonance a pseudoscience, citing a lack of evidence to support the concept and its inconsistency with established scientific theories. Critics have also expressed concern that his books and public appearances attract popular attention in a way that undermines the public's understanding of science.[a] Despite the response to his work from the scientific community, Sheldrake has attracted some public support.[27] Among his proponents is Deepak Chopra[28] who sees Sheldrake as a "peacemaker" who "wants to end the breach between science and religion".[29]


Background

Sheldrake was born in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire,[1] to Doris (née Tebbutt)[30] and Reginald Alfred Sheldrake (1903–1970) on 28 June 1942.[31][32] His father graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in pharmacy[33] and was also an amateur naturalist and microscopist. Rupert Sheldrake credits his father with encouraging him to follow his interest in animals, plants[9] and gardens.[34]
Although Methodists, Sheldrake's parents sent him to Worksop College, a Church of England boarding school.[1] Sheldrake says,
I went through the standard scientific atheist phase when I was about 14.... I bought into that package deal of science equals atheism. I was the only boy at my high Anglican boarding school who refused to get confirmed. When I was a teenager, I was a bit like [Richard] Dawkins is today, you know: 'If Adam and Eve were created by God, why do they have navels?' That kind of thing.[5]
At Clare College, Cambridge he studied biology and biochemistry, and after a year at Harvard, continued at Cambridge to gain a PhD in biochemistry for his work in plant development and plant hormones.[5][9]

Life and career

Sheldrake became a fellow of Clare College,[35] working in biochemistry and cell biology with funding from the Royal Society Rosenheim Research Fellowship.[36] He investigated auxin, a phytohormone which plays a role in plant vascular cell differentiation,[37] and published a number of papers related to the topic.[38][39] A 2012 profile in The Guardian described the Sheldrake of that era as "one of the brightest Darwinians of his generation".[5] His development with Philip Rubery of the chemiosmotic model of polar auxin transport has been described as "astonishingly visionary".[40] Their work in the 1970s was confirmed in the 21st century.[40]
Sheldrake says he ended this line of research when he concluded,
The system is circular, it does not explain how [differentiation is] established to start with. After nine years of intensive study, it became clear to me that biochemistry would not solve the problem of why things have the basic shape they do.[37]
Having an interest in Indian philosophy, Hinduism and transcendental meditation, Sheldrake wanted to live in India.[9] He resigned his position at Clare and went to work on the physiology of tropical crops in Hyderabad, India as principal plant physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) from 1974 to 1978.[8][9] There he published a number of papers on crop physiology[41] and co-authored a book on the anatomy of the pigeonpea.[42] Sheldrake left ICRISAT to focus on writing A New Science of Life, during which time he spent a year and a half in the ashram of Bede Griffiths,[9][43] a Benedictine monk.[1] Published in 1981, the book outlines his concept of morphic resonance,[9] about which he remarks,
The idea came to me in a moment of insight and was extremely exciting. It interested some of my colleagues at Clare College – philosophers, linguists, and classicists were quite open-minded. But the idea of mysterious telepathy-type interconnections between organisms and of collective memories within species didn't go down too well with my colleagues in the science labs. Not that they were aggressively hostile; they just made fun of it. Whenever I said something like, "I've just got to go and make a telephone call," they said, "Ha, ha, why bother? Do it by morphic resonance!"[9]
After writing A New Science of Life he continued at ICRISAT as a part-time consultant physiologist until 1985.[8][9] During his time in India Sheldrake reports "being drawn back to a Christian path" and currently identifies as Anglican.[1]
Since 2004[44] Sheldrake has been a visiting professor at the Graduate Institute in Bethany, Connecticut,[43] where he was also academic director of the Holistic Learning and Thinking Program until 2012.[45] From September 2005 until 2010, Sheldrake was director of the Perrott-Warrick Project for psychical research[35][46][47].
Sheldrake is married to Jill Purce, and they have two sons.[43]

Selected books

Sheldrake's books have received both positive and negative reviews, with some reviews being extremely negative regarding the scientific content of his work. In 2009, Adam Rutherford, deputy editor of Nature, criticised Sheldrake for avoiding the peer-review process expected for science and suggested that Sheldrake's books were best "ignored" by scientific journals.[23] Nonetheless, Sheldrake has been called "engaging [and] provocative"[48] as well as "required reading for New Agers".[49]

A New Science of Life

In Sheldrake's A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Morphic Resonance (1981) he proposed that through "morphic resonance" various perceived phenomena, particularly biological ones, become more probable the more often they occur, and therefore biological growth and behaviour become guided into patterns laid down by previous similar events. As a result, he suggested, newly acquired behaviours can be passed down to future generations − a biological proposition akin to Lamarckian inheritance. He generalised this approach to assert that it explains many aspects of science, from evolution to laws of nature; in Sheldrake's formulation, laws of nature are merely mutable habits, evolving and changing since the Big Bang.[50]
John Davy wrote in The Observer that the implications of A New Science of Life were "fascinating and far-reaching, and would turn upside down a lot of orthodox science" and would "merit attention if some of its predictions are supported by experiment".[51]
Sheldrake also wrote a piece for The Guardian[52] in which he argued that morphic resonance explained William McDougall's experiments on rats, in which the inheritance of acquired characteristics had apparently been demonstrated. Sheldrake concluded that "the hypothesis of formative causation is unlikely to be widely accepted unless it has a considerable body of evidence in its favour. But if experiments... begin to yield results which support it then... there would be good reason to pursue it further. Clearly its implications would be revolutionary."
In subsequent books, Sheldrake continued to promote his morphic resonance hypothesis; several of these books, including a revised and expanded edition of A New Science of Life, published in 2009 in the United States under the title Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation, present experimental evidence that he says support his hypothesis.[53]
Morphic resonance is rejected by numerous critics on multiple grounds. These include the lack of evidence for the hypothesis[22][23][24][25] and the inconsistency of the hypothesis with established scientific theories.[16][26] Morphic resonance is also seen as lacking scientific credibility for being overly vague[17][18][20][54] and unfalsifiable.[17][18][24] Further, Sheldrake's experimental methods have been criticised for being poorly designed and subject to experimenter bias,[26][55][56] and his analyses of results have also drawn criticism.[18][57]

"A book for burning?"

In September 1981, Nature published an editorial about A New Science of Life entitled "A book for burning?"[5][17] Written by the journal's senior editor, John Maddox, the editorial said
...Sheldrake's book is a splendid illustration of the widespread public misconception of what science is about. In reality, Sheldrake's argument is in no sense a scientific argument but is an exercise in pseudo-science... Many readers will be left with the impression that Sheldrake has succeeded in finding a place for magic within scientific discussion – and this, indeed, may have been a part of the objective of writing such a book.[17]
Maddox argued that Sheldrake's hypothesis was not testable or "falsifiable in Popper's sense", referring to the work of philosopher Karl Popper. He said Sheldrake's proposals for testing his hypothesis were "time-consuming, inconclusive in the sense that it will always be possible to account for another morphogenetic field and impractical".[17] In the editorial, Maddox ultimately rejected the suggestion that the book should be burned.[17] Nonetheless, the title of the piece garnered widespread publicity.[2][23][25] In a subsequent issue, Nature published several letters expressing disapproval of the editorial,[58][59][60][61] including one from physicist B. D. Josephson, who criticised Maddox for "a failure to admit even the possibility that genuine physical facts may exist which lie outside the scope of current scientific descriptions."[58]
In 1983, an editorial in The Guardian compared the "petulance of wrath of the scientific establishment" aimed against Sheldrake with the Galileo affair and Lysenkoism.[62] Responding in the same paper, Brian Charlesworth defended the scientific establishment, describing Sheldrake as an "eccentric figure" and commenting that "the ultimate test of a scientific theory is its conformity with the observations and experiments" and that "vitalistic and Lamarckian ideas which [The Guardian] seem to regard so highly have repeatedly failed this test".[63]
In a letter to The Guardian in 1988, a scientist from Glasgow University referred to the title "A book for burning?" as "posing the question to attract attention" and criticised the "perpetuation of the myth that Maddox ever advocated the burning of Sheldrake's book".[64] In 1999, Maddox characterised his 1981 editorial as "injudicious", saying that even though it stated that Sheldrake's book should not be burned, "Sheldrake's publishers were nevertheless delighted with the piece, using it to suggest that the Establishment (Nature) was again up to its old trick of suppressing uncomfortable truths." An editor for Nature said in 2009 that Maddox's reference to book burning backfired.[23]
In 2012, Sheldrake described his experiences after publication of Maddox's editorial review as being "exactly like a papal excommunication. From that moment on, I became a very dangerous person to know for scientists."[5]

The Presence of the Past

In his next book, The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature (1988), Sheldrake expanded on his morphic resonance hypothesis and marshalled experimental evidence which he said supported the hypothesis.[4] The book was reviewed favourably in New Scientist by historian Theodore Roszak who called it "engaging, provocative" and "a tour de force".[48] When the book was re-issued in 2011 with these quotes on the front cover, New Scientist remarked, "Back then, Roszak gave Sheldrake the benefit of the doubt. Today, attitudes have hardened and Sheldrake is seen as standing firmly on the wilder shores of science", and added that if New Scientist were to review the re-issue, the book's publisher "wouldn't be mining it for promotional purposes."[65]
David Jones, reviewing the book in The Times, criticised it as magical thinking and pseudoscience, saying that morphic resonance "is so vast and formless that it could easily be made to explain anything, or to dodge round any opposing argument... Sheldrake has sadly aligned himself with those fantasists who, from the depths of their armchairs, dream up whole new grandiose theories of space and time to revolutionize all science, drape their wooly generalizations over every phenomenon they can think of, and then start looking round for whatever scraps of evidence that seem to them to be in their favour". Jones argued that without confirmatory experimental evidence, "the whole unwieldy and redundant structure of [Sheldrake's] theory falls to Occam's Razor".[20]

The Rebirth of Nature

Published in 1991, Sheldrake's The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God[66] addressed the subject of New Age consciousness and related topics.[67] A column in The Guardian said the book "seeks to restore the pre-Enlightenment notion that nature is 'alive'", quoting Sheldrake as saying that "indeterminism, sponaneity and creativity have re-emerged throughout the natural world" and that "mystic, animistic and religious ways of thinking can no longer be kept at bay".[68]

Seven Experiments That Could Change the World

In 1994 Sheldrake proposed a list of Seven Experiments That Could Change the World, subtitled "A do-it-yourself guide to revolutionary science". He encouraged lay people to contribute to scientific research and argued that scientific experiments similar to his own could be conducted on a shoestring budget.[69]
Sunday Times music critic Mark Edwards reviewed the book positively, arguing that Sheldrake "challenges the complacent certainty of scientists" and that his ideas only "sounded ridiculous... as long as your thinking is constrained by the current scientific orthodoxy".[70]
David Sharp, writing in The Lancet, said the experiments tested for paranormal phenomena with "risk of positive publication bias", and that the scientific community "would have to think again if some of these suggestions were convincingly confirmed". Sharp encouraged readers (medical professionals) to "at least read Sheldrake, even try one of his experiments—but pay very close attention to your methods section". Sharp doubted "a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs... is going to persuade sceptics" and noted that "orthodox science will need a lot of convincing".[71]
Science journalist Nigel Hawkes, writing in The Times, said that Sheldrake was "trying to bridge the gap between phenomenalism and science", and suggested that dogs could appear to have psychic abilities while actually relying on more conventional senses. He concluded "whether scientists will be willing to take [Sheldrake] seriously is... [a question] that need not concern most readers. While I do not think this book will change the world, it will cause plenty of harmless fun."[72]

Dogs That Know Their Owners are Coming Home

Seven Experiments included the seed of Sheldrake's next book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (1999), which covered his research into proposed telepathy between humans and animals, particularly dogs. Sheldrake suggests that such interspecies telepathy is a real phenomenon and that morphic resonance is responsible for it.[73]
Before the publication of Dogs That Know, Richard Wiseman, Mathew Smith, and Julie Milton independently conducted an experimental study with an alleged telepathic dog mentioned in the book and concluded that the evidence gathered did not support telepathy. They also proposed possible alternative explanations for Sheldrake's positive conclusions involving artefacts and bias resulting from experimental design.[57][74]

The Sense of Being Stared At

In 2003 Sheldrake published The Sense of Being Stared At which explored telepathy, precognition, and the "psychic staring effect". It included an experiment where blindfolded subjects guessed whether persons were staring at them or at another target. He reported that in thousands of trials, around 60 percent of subjects reported being stared at when being stared at; around 50 percent (even chance) of subjects reported being stared at when they were not being stared at. Sheldrake attributes this effect to morphic resonance.[75] Several independent experimenters were unable to duplicate these results, with some citing design flaws in Sheldrake's experiments.[24][55][76]

The Science Delusion / Science Set Free

The Science Delusion, published on 1 January 2012 in the UK and in the US on 4 September 2012 as Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery, summarises much of Sheldrake's previous work and encapsulates it into a broader critique of philosophical materialism,[10] with the title apparently mimicking that of The God Delusion by one of his critics, Richard Dawkins. In an interview with Fortean Times, Sheldrake denied that Dawkins' book was the inspiration for his own, saying, "The title was at the insistence of my publishers, and the book will be re-titled in the USA as Science Set Free... Dawkins is a passionate believer in materialist dogma, but the book is not a response to him".[77]
In the book Sheldrake proposes a number of questions as the theme of each chapter which seek to elaborate on his central premise that science is predicated on the belief that the nature of reality is fully understood, with only minor details needing to be filled in. This "delusion" is what Sheldrake argues has turned science into a series of dogmas grounded in philosophical materialism rather than an open-minded approach to investigating phenomena. He argues that there are many powerful taboos that circumscribe what scientists can legitimately direct their attention towards.[10] The mainstream view of modern science is that it proceeds by methodological naturalism and does not require philosophical materialism.[78]
Sheldrake questions conservation of energy; he calls it a "standard scientific dogma", says that perpetual motion devices and inedia should be investigated as possible phenomena, and claims that "the evidence for energy conservation in living organisms is weak". He argues in favour of alternative medicine and psychic phenomena, saying that their recognition as being legitimate is impeded by a "scientific priesthood" with an "authoritarian mentality". Citing his earlier "psychic staring effect" experiments and other reasons, he claims that minds are not confined to brains and remarks that "liberating minds from confinement in heads is like being released from prison." He suggests that DNA is insufficient to explain inheritance, and that inheritance of form and behaviour is mediated through morphic resonance. He also promotes morphic resonance in broader fashion as an explanation for other phenomena such as memory.[10]
Reviews in broadsheet newspapers were often positive. Philosopher Mary Midgley writing in The Guardian welcomed it as "a new mind-body paradigm" to address "the unlucky fact that our current form of mechanistic materialism rests on muddled, outdated notions of matter".[79] In another review, Deepak Chopra commended Sheldrake for wanting "to end the breach between science and religion".[29] Philosopher Martin Cohen in The Times Higher Educational Supplement wrote that "Sheldrake pokes enough holes in such certainties [of orthodox science] to make this work a valuable contribution, not only to philosophical debates but also to scientific ones, too", although Cohen noted that Sheldrake "goes a bit too far here and there".[80]
In a mixed review, Bryan Appleyard writing in The Sunday Times commented that Sheldrake was "at his most incisive" when making a "broad critique of contemporary science" and "scientism", however on Sheldrake's "own scientific theories" Appleyard noted that "morphic resonance is widely derided and narrowly supported. Most of the experimental evidence is contested, though Sheldrake claims there are 'statistically significant' results". Appleyard said "it is certainly highly speculative" and "I simply can't tell whether it makes sense or not".[81]
Other reviews were less favourable. New Scientist's deputy editor Graham Lawton characterised Science Set Free as "woolly credulousness" and chided Sheldrake for "uncritically embracing all kinds of fringe ideas".[82] A review in Philosophy Now called the book "disturbingly eccentric", combining "a disorderly collage of scientific fact and opinion with an intrusive yet disjunctive metaphysical programme".[83]

Public and media appearances


Rupert Sheldrake in 2008 at a conference in Tucson, Arizona.
Sheldrake has received popular coverage through newspapers, radio, television and speaking engagements.
An experiment involving measuring the time for subjects to recognise hidden images, with morphic resonance being posited to aid in recognition, was conducted in 1984 by the BBC popular science programme Tomorrow's World.[53] In the outcome of the experiment, one set of data yielded positive results and another set yielded negative results.[84]
Sheldrake was the subject of an episode of Heretics of Science, a six-part documentary series broadcast on BBC 2 in 1994.[85] On this episode, John Maddox discussed "A book for burning?", his 1981 Nature editorial review of Sheldrake's book, A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Morphic Resonance. Maddox said that morphic resonance "is not a scientific theory. Sheldrake is putting forward magic instead of science, and that can be condemned with exactly the language that the popes used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reasons: it is heresy."[84] The broadcast repeatedly displayed footage of book burning, sometimes accompanied by audio of a crowd chanting "heretic".[84] Biologist Steven Rose criticised the broadcast for focusing on Maddox's rhetoric as if it was "all that mattered". "There wasn't much sense of the scientific or metascientific issues at stake", Rose said.[86]
Sheldrake debated biologist Lewis Wolpert on the existence of telepathy in 2004 at the Royal Society of Arts in London.[87] Sheldrake marshalled evidence for telepathy while Wolpert argued that telepathy fit Irving Langmuir's definition of pathological science and that the evidence for telepathy has not been persuasive.[88] Reporting on the event, New Scientist said "it was clear the audience saw Wolpert as no more than a killjoy... There are sound reasons for doubting Sheldrake's data. One is that some parapsychology experimenters have an uncanny knack of finding the effect they are looking for. There is no suggestion of fraud, but something is going on, and science demands that it must be understood before conclusions can be drawn about the results".[87]
In 2006, Sheldrake spoke at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science about experimental results on telepathy replicated by "a 1980s girl band", drawing criticism from Peter Atkins, Lord Winston, and Richard Wiseman. The Royal Society also reacted to the event saying, "Modern science is based on a rigorous evidence-based process involving experiment and observation. The results and interpretations should always be exposed to robust peer review."[89]
In April 2008, Sheldrake was stabbed by a man during a lecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The man told a reporter that he thought Sheldrake had been using him as a "guinea pig" in telepathic mind control experiments for over five years.[90] Sheldrake suffered a wound to the leg and has since recovered,[90][91] while his assailant was found "guilty but mentally ill".[92]
In January 2013, Sheldrake gave a TEDx lecture at TEDxWhitechapel in East London roughly summarising ideas from his book, The Science Delusion. In his talk, Sheldrake claimed that modern science rests on ten dogmas which "fall apart" upon examination and promoted his hypothesis of morphic resonance. According to a statement issued by TED staff, TED's scientific advisors "questioned whether his list is a fair description of scientific assumptions" and believed that "there is little evidence for some of Sheldrake's more radical claims, such as his theory of morphic resonance". The advisors recommended that the talk "should not be distributed without being framed with caution". The video of the talk was moved from the TEDx YouTube channel to the TED blog accompanied by the framing language called for by the advisors. The move and framing prompted accusations of censorship, to which TED responded by saying the accusations were "simply not true" and that Sheldrake's talk was "up on our website".[93][7]
Sheldrake appeared on the BBC World Service in November 2013 raising concern that his Wikipedia article presented an "extremely distorted view" and that the Wikipedia editors responsible were "committed materialists" and "militant atheists" aiming to "push their own agenda".[94] The Huffington Post has republished a blog entry by Deepak Chopra, a Sheldrake supporter, arguing that "the credibility of Wikipedia may be at stake..." because "Sheldrake's Wikipedia entry... is largely derogatory and even defamatory, thanks to a concerted attack by a stubborn band of militant skeptics."[28] In response, University of Chicago Professor of Biology Jerry A. Coyne wrote in The New Republic that Sheldrake "is not being persecuted" and that Wikipedia editors are "just trying to ensure, as per Wikipedia policy, that Sheldrake's pseudoscience is not presented as credible science".[95]
The attention Sheldrake receives has raised concerns that it adversely affects the public understanding of science.[17][18][23][6] Scientists have accused Sheldrake of self-promotion,[17][18][23] with one commenting, "for the inventors of such hypotheses the rewards include a degree of instant fame which is harder to achieve by the humdrum pursuit of more conventional science."[18]

Interactions with other scientists

Sheldrake and David Bohm published a dialogue in 1982 in which they compared Sheldrake's ideas to Bohm's implicate order.[96] In 1997, physicist Hans-Peter Dürr speculated about Sheldrake's work in relation to modern physics.[97]
Sheldrake's work was featured in a faux research paper written by Alan Sokal and submitted to Social Text.[98] In 1996, the journal published the paper as if it represented real scientific research,[99] an event which columnist George F. Will described as "a hilarious hoax which reveals the gaudy silliness of some academics"[99] and which has come to be known as the Sokal affair.

Wager with Lewis Wolpert

Sheldrake and developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert have made a scientific wager about the importance of DNA in the developing organism. Wolpert bet Sheldrake "a case of fine port" that "By 1 May 2029, given the genome of a fertilised egg of an animal or plant, we will be able to predict in at least one case all the details of the organism that develops from it, including any abnormalities." Sheldrake denies that DNA contains a recipe for morphological development. The Royal Society will be asked to determine the winner if the result is not obvious.[100]

Joint experiment with Steven Rose

From 1987-88 Sheldrake contributed several pieces to The Guardian's "Body and Soul" column. In one of these, Sheldrake claimed that the idea that "memories were stored in our brains" was "only a theory" and "despite decades of research, the phenomenon of memory remains mysterious"[101]. This provoked a response by Professor Steven Rose, a neuroscientist from the Open University, who had previously been somewhat supportive of Sheldrake and critical of Maddox, and who had offered to help Sheldrake test the morphic resonance hypothesis. Rose revealed that Sheldrake had "declined the lab offer on the grounds that he was too busy actually to run the experiments himself, instead embarking on a vigorous publicity campaign for his strange hypothesis". Rose argued that for a scientific theory to be accepted it must be "solidly based in fact, unify seemingly diverse and inexplicable data, make sense of puzzling observations and provide new scope for prediction, experimentation and test" and contended that "morphic resonance meets none of these criteria. To even begin to justify inventing it, Sheldrake has to invent puzzles and mysteries where none exist".[25]
Rose further criticised Sheldrake for being "a researcher trained in another discipline" (botany) for not "respect[ing] the data collected by neuroscientists before begin[ing] to offer us alternative explanations", and accused Sheldrake of "ignoring or denying" "massive evidence", and arguing that "neuroscience over the past two decades has shown that memories are stored in specific changes in brain cells". Giving an example of experiments on chicks, Rose "egregious errors that Sheldrake makes to bolster his case that demands a new vague but all-embracing theory to resolve. Not merely is there nothing for morphic resonance to explain; an idea so woolly and ill-articulated could not usefully explain anything even if there were the sort of crisis Sheldrake claims"[25].
Sheldrake responded to Rose's article, claiming that there was experimental evidence that showed that "memories can survive the destruction of the putative memory traces"[102]. Rose subsequently responded to Sheldrake, asking Sheldrake to "get his facts straight", explaining the research and concluding that "there is no way that this straightforward and impressive body of evidence can be taken to imply that memories are not in the brain, still less that the brain is tuning into some indeterminate, undefined, resonating and extra-corporeal field"[103]

Experiment and result

Sheldrake and Rose subsequently agreed to and arranged a test of the morphic resonance hypothesis using chicks. They had originally proposed to publish the results together. However, they did not do so. Sheldrake published his paper, concluding that "From the point of view of the hypothesis of formative causation, the results of this experiment are encouraging" and called for further research[104].
Rose published separately, claiming that morphic resonance was a "hypothesis disconfirmed"[18]. He also made further criticisms of morphic resonance, and claimed that "the experience of this collaboration has convinced me in practice, Sheldrake is so committed to his hypothesis that it is very hard to envisage the circumstances in which he would accept its disconfirmation"[18]. Professor Patrick Bateson FRS, indepedently analysed the data and offered his opinion that Sheldrake's interpretation of the data was "misleading", and the effects seen were due to experimenter effects.[18]
Sheldrake responded to Rose's paper describing it as "polemic" and "aggressive tone and extravagant rhetoric" and concluding that "The results of this experiment do not disconfirm the hypothesis of formative causation, as Rose claims. They are consistent with it."[105]

Origin and philosophy of morphic resonance

Among his early influences Sheldrake cites The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Sheldrake says the book led him to view contemporary scientific understanding of life as a paradigm, which he called "the mechanistic theory of life". Reading Kuhn's work, Sheldrake says, fixed his focus on how scientific paradigms can change.[9]
Although there are similarities between morphic resonance and Hinduism's akashic records,[106] Sheldrake says he first conceived of the idea while at Cambridge, before his travel to India where he would later develop it. He attributes the origin of his morphic resonance idea to two influences: his studies of the holistic tradition in biology, and French philosopher Henri Bergson's book Matter and Memory. He says he took Bergson's concept of memories not being materially embedded in the brain and generalised it to morphic resonance, where memories are not only immaterial but also under the influence of the collective past memories of similar organisms. While his colleagues at Cambridge were not receptive to the idea, Sheldrake found the opposite to be true in India. He recounts his Indian colleagues saying, "There's nothing new in this, it was all known millennia ago to the ancient rishis." Sheldrake thus characterises morphic resonance as a convergence between Western and Eastern thought, having originated in the West and developed in the East.[4][107]
Sheldrake has also noted similarities between morphic resonance and Carl Jung's collective unconscious with regard to collective memories being shared across individuals and to the coalescing of particular behaviours through repetition, described by Jung as archetypes.[4] However, where Jung had assumed a physical explanation for the collective unconscious, Sheldrake rejects any such explanation involving what he terms "mechanistic biology".[53]
Sheldrake has been described as a New Age author[108][109][49] and is popular among many in the New Age movement who view him as lending scientific credibility to their beliefs,[27][84] though Sheldrake does not necessarily endorse certain New Age interpretations of his ideas.[27]
Lewis Wolpert, one of Sheldrake's critics, has described morphic resonance as being an updated Drieschian vitalism.[16][110]

Full list of books

With Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna:
  • Trialogues at the Edge of the West: chaos, creativity, and the resacralisation of the world, Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co. Pub., 1992. ISBN 0-939680-97-1.
  • The Evolutionary Mind: trialogues at the edge of the unthinkable, Santa Cruz, CA: Dakota Books, 1997. ISBN 0-9632861-1-0.
  • Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness, Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2001. ISBN 0-89281-977-4.
  • The Evolutionary Mind: conversations on science, imagination & spirit, Rhinebeck, NY: Monkfish Book Pub. Co., 2005. ISBN 0-9749359-7-2.
With Matthew Fox:

See also

Notes

  1. Jump up ^ Sources:

References

  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Chartres, Caroline, ed. (June 2006). Why I Am Still an Anglican: Essays and Conversations. Continuum. 
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b Maddox, J. (1999). "Dogs, telepathy and quantum mechanics". Nature. 401(6756): 849–850. Bibcode:1999Natur.401..849M. doi:10.1038/44696. 
  3. Jump up ^ McGrath, K. A. (1999). World of biology. Gale. 
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Sheldrake, Rupert (2011). The presence of the past: Morphic resonance and the habits of nature. Icon Books. 
  5. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h Adams, Tim (4 February 2012). "Rupert Sheldrake: the 'heretic' at odds with scientific dogma". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b c Whitfield, J. (22 January 2004). "Telepathic charm seduces audience at paranormal debate". Nature. 427(6972): 277. 
  7. ^ Jump up to: a b "The debate about Rupert Sheldrake's talk". TED. 19 March 2013. 
  8. ^ Jump up to: a b c Sheldrake, Rupert; McKenna, Terence K.; Abraham, Ralph (2011). Chaos, Creativity, and Cosmic Consciousness. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. pp. 181–182. 
  9. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j Sheldrake, Rupert. "Biography of Rupert Sheldrake, PhD – Part II". Sheldrake.org. Retrieved 28 May 2008. 
  10. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Sheldrake, Rupert (2012). The Science Delusion: Freeing the spirit of enquiry. London: Coronet. 
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  66. Jump up ^ Sheldrake, Rupert (1991). The Rebirth of Nature: The greening of science and God. New York, NY: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-07105-X. 
  67. Jump up ^ Sheldon Ferguson, Duncan (1993). New Age Spirituality: An Assessment. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 204. 
  68. Jump up ^ Schwartz, Walter (7 January 1991). "The rebirth of mother earth". The Guardian. p. 7. 
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  73. Jump up ^ Sheldrake, Rupert (1999). Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home: and other unexplained powers of animals. New York, NY: Crown. 
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  110. Jump up ^ Jonathan Cape (18 June 1986). "The believer and the sceptic". The Guardian. p. 11. 

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