In his explorations for a better understanding of consciousness, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake challenges the mechanistic dogma of contemporary mainstream science. He has recently released a new book, Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery, which addresses the ideas that have become dogmas in modern scientific thought, exposes their weaknesses, and offers intriguing solutions for a way forward.Gabriel Roberts: Dr. Sheldrake, you are known for raising the public’s awareness about morphic fields. What are they and what’s the evidence to support them?
Rupert Sheldrake: Morphic fields are the fields that organize the shape or form of living organisms, like plants and animals. They are like the invisible plans that shape them. The idea of morphic genetic fields, or short form shaping fields, was quite well known in biology for a long time, over 90 years. That is not an original point of mine, it’s a pretty mainstream idea. The key part of my theory is that there is a kind of memory in the field, and that each organism draws on the collective memory and in turn contributes to it. The evidence for that is the mysterious memory effects that occur in living things. For example, if you train rats to learn a new maze trip in New York, then rats all around the world should be able to learn the same trick more quickly just because the rats had learned it already in New York. And there is actual evidence from experiments at Harvard, in Australia and in Scotland that this effect really happens.
How do morphic fields releate to the other discoveries you write about in your new book Science Set Free? In the book, you discuss the Higgs Boson and the significance that it may have. What’s the correlation?
Well this doesn’t have much to do with the Higgs Boson, which is a theory in physics about how things get their mass. But what the Higgs Boson does do is remind us of how little we understand about the fundamental nature of matter. After all, the Higgs Boson is supposed to explain why anything has mass. We take for granted the fact that things have weight. If you buy a pound of fruit, it weighs a pound. We take weight and mass completely for granted. And yet it turns out it’s completely unexplained in physics, and depends on this Boson that was detected elusively just a few months ago. Even then it leaves many questions unanswered.
One of the points I make in Science Set Free is that we actually understand so much less than we usually assume we do. In relation to genes and inheritance, for example, people thought that the genome project would explain the vast majority of heredity. It turns out to explain only about 5 to 10 percent in most cases, and there is now a crisis in the heart of biology called the “missing heritability problem.” It’s not in the genes. I think that’s because it’s in the morphic resonance of the collective memory I was just speaking about.
That’s interesting, because when I read that part of the book I kept thinking of people looking for their keys in the wrong pair of pants.
Yes. I mean frankly, the whole of biology, for decades now, is based on this assumption that it’s all molecular and genetic. I share in my book Science Set Free that hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested on the assumption that this genetic view of inheritance is the whole truth, or almost the whole truth. It turns out it’s not, and there’s been a vast waste of money — public and private money — on this project which has been a disastrous failure, as the Harvard Business school shared in a recently report.
What kind of reaction have you received to the things you’re bringing up? In your book, you lay out what the problems are, how science had turned into dogma, and you offer some solutions. What are the main scientific presumptions that have been turned into dogmas?
In my book I deal with ten different dogmas. One is that the total amount of matter and energy is always the same. Another is that nature is mechanical, or machine-like. Another is that heredity is all carried in the genes. These are three of the ten dogmas I address.
I said something just now about heredity and the genes, but take matter and energy, that the total amount is always the same, except at the moment of the Big Bang, when it all appeared from nowhere — that’s the usual assumption. Well, it turns out that physicists have discovered that there is a huge amount of so-called dark matter and dark energy. We don’t have a clue what they are, but they now make up 96 percent of reality, and they’ve been added over the last 30 years. Now if the total amount of matter and energy is always the same, is the total amount of dark matter and dark energy always the same? No one has a clue. Actually, the total amount of dark energy seems to be increasing as the universe expands.
You know, the whole thing is in shambles, really. What we all learned at school and thought of as fixed laws turns out to relate to only to 4% of the matter and energy in the universe. And we don’t know the relationship between that 4% with the rest.
I found that in many recent comments about the Higgs, scientists used the word “magic” to suggest, “Well, we put these things in here and just like magic it pops back out!” Which reminded me of the Terence McKenna quote,”Science just asks for one small miracle and then they’ll be sure to take care of the rest.” That was quite amusing.
That’s a great quote of Terence’s. Yes, that’s it. Science requests, “Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.” And the one free miracle is the appearance of all the matter and energy in the universe and all the laws that govern it from nothing at a single instant.
That’s just a small miracle.
You’ve experimented a good deal with the sense of being stared at. This sort of thing seems so simple to the average person, and yet a scientific materialist might say, “That’s just nonsense.” Is this another example of the dogma you refer to?
One of the ten dogmas I discuss in Science Set Free is that the mind is inside the head. The assumption of materialism is that the mind is nothing but the activity of the brain, therefore it is all inside the head. That means that when you look at somebody, your image of that person is inside your head, it’s not out there in any way. So when you look at somebody, you shouldn’t be able to affect them.
Yet almost everybody has the experience of knowing when you are being looked at from behind, when you turn around and someone is looking at you. Or you look at somebody and they turn around. So that suggests the sense of being stared at is real. It’s found all over the world. I’ve interviewed surveillance officers, private detectives and so forth, and they all take it completely for granted. It’s taught in the martial arts; you can train this ability and get better at it. I’ve done lots of experiments, and so have many other people, that show this is indeed a real phenomenon.