on 26 September 2014
'The Science Delusion' was published on 1 January 2012 in the UK. I remember queuing up at a talk given in London by the author book to launch his book, only to discover that all the seats had been sold out and they couldn't let me in; I should have booked a ticket in advance. I was disappointed; as a member of the Scientific and Medical Network, I knew from previous presentations given by Rupert Sheldrake for the SMN, that he is an engrossing speaker with a wide range of interests. So I had to settle for downloading 'The Science Delusion' as an e-book rather than getting an autographed hard cover as I hoped. Nevertheless, it turned out to be such an interesting read that I finished it in next to no time and it came as no surprise to me that 'The Science Delusion' was selected as SMN book of the year in 2013.
Published in the US on 4 September 2012 as Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery, this book summarises much of Sheldrake's previous work and advances a broader critique of philosophical materialism.
Its title apparently mimics that of 'The God Delusion' by one of his critics, Richard Dawkins. However, 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".
In the introduction to 'The Science Delusion', Sheldrake insists that this book is pro-science and that his intention is liberate the field from the dogmas that constrict it. he then goes on to list what he calls the ten core beliefs that most scientists take for granted. These range from the notion that everything is mechanical to the idea that unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory.
Sheldrake then proceeds to challenge every one of these core beliefs in turn. He does this by posing a number of questions as the theme of each of the next ten chapters in which he seeks to elaborate on his central premise that science is predicated on the belief that the nature of reality is already fully understood, with only minor details needing to be filled in. In his opinion, this is a delusion which echoes the classical world view widely held by physicists at the turn of the 20th century before all of these supposed certainties were overthrown by the arrival of the quantum age.
The author develops his critique by arguing that this 'delusion' has reduced science to a series of dogmas grounded in philosophical materialism rather than an open-minded approach to investigating phenomena. He points out that there are many powerful taboos that prevent legitimate scientists inquiry. For instance, Sheldrake questions conservation of energy; he calls it a "standard scientific dogma" and has stated 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 what he calls morphic resonance. Sheldrake also promotes his 'morphic resonance' hypothesis in broader fashion as an explanation for other phenomena such as memory.
Reviews from outside of the scientific community have often been 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". She also stated that Sheldrake's "analogy between natural regularities and habit" could be found in the writings of CS Peirce, Nietzsche, William James and AN Whitehead. In another review, Deepak Chopra commended Sheldrake for wanting "to end the breach between science and religion". 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".
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", but 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 argues there are 'statistically significant' results". Appleyard said "it is certainly highly speculative" and "I simply can't tell whether it makes sense or not".
It is interesting to note that other reviews were less favourable, if not outright hostile. 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". 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"
It is interesting to speculate why do some unorthodox scientific theories attract such vehement ridicule, while others are merely contentious? From adaptive mutation to psi phenomena to water memory to UFOs, from plant consciousness to Sheldrake's morphic resonance, these exceptions to the rule in science point to a transition from the existing materialistic paradigm to one that eventually might embrace them. However, these controversial viewpoints suggest a universe in which intelligence, purpose, and consciousness are not under the exclusive ownership of human beings, thus challenging a key pillar of traditional dualistic thinking. It is hardly surprising therefore that because they pose such an ideological and psychological threat, these theories tend to provoke a backlash that is often more emotional than intellectual. It is worth being in mind that 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. Sheldrake suffered a wound to the leg and has since recovered while his assailant was found "guilty but mentally ill"
Chris Allen is a Technical Author and writer with the following books available through Amazon:
The Beam of Interest: Taken by Storm
Hypnotic Tales 2013: Some Light Some Dark
Call of the Void: The Strange Life and Times of a Confused Person: 1
on 24 May 2014
As an erstwhile physicist, but more essentially a seeker of truth, it has become apparent to me that in many respects the way science is frequently conducted resembles more a faith based religion than open minded objective (or even subjective) enquiry. It has in many ways become as non-cognisant of the underlying assumptions its models rest upon as the certainties endemic in religion 300 years ago and now reigns similarly unchallenged and is likewise tempted to an inflated confidence bordering on arrogance.
The potential for wasted time, effort and resources in this are obvious, though I fully acknowledge the manifest benefits that the technological application of scientific discoveries has brought to the human condition. Bad science will never get us to truth. Good science (requiring the toleration of great uncertainty and the ongoing retention of the awareness of the underlying assumptions and therefore the qualified nature of the conclusions drawn) might get us eventually to ultimate truth and it might then harmonise with what might be called "good religion" i.e. the, as yet, uncovered meanings in some of the mystical material therein. The over-arching requirement that postulated fact should be demonstrable would remain (i.e. the essence of the scientific method would survive) but it is unlikely that it would look like the system of science practiced in the last 300 years. We will have to abandon (further abandon) the "luxury" of perceiving ourselves as outside the field of observation (the experiment, if you like) but that's another issue.
Perhaps the most glaring example of the former (bad science) is the proposition of multiverses to deal with the inconvenient observation of "fine tuning", a suggestion which, by its very nature, is untestable and a crass violation of the principle of Ockham’s Razor, but which apparently has entered the scientific/public consciousness by stealth as if proven fact. In many instances we have become scientifically gullible.
Rupert Sheldrake's "Science Delusion" draws attention to many other areas where similar deceit is being played out, proliferated and held on to over generations. He is particularly good at seeing through and illustrating this confusion, circular reasoning and dogma. Whether or not his hypothesis of "morphic resonance" faithfully describes something real, or is even a useful conceptual construct, somehow paralleling an underlying reality and thus getting us closer to the recognition of it, is something the reader will have to discover for him/herself.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is willing to crack open some of their confidences and coexist with the uncertainty which ensues. Great advances in expanded awareness can (and have) erupt(ed) in such a fertile inquisitorial environment.
on 28 June 2014
One of the best books I have ever read. You can tell that Rupert's thinking is out of the box. I have read this book three times already, I am reading it for the fourth time as every time I read something I missed the last time around. I cannot recommend it enough, it will make you think that's for sure.
on 5 March 2012
As the author of [...] I get dozens of books from writers hoping to either bridge the gap between the two fields, or use one to ridicule and negate the other.
Finally, at long last, after fifteen years, here is the first credible, thoughtful, perceptive and imaginative book by a scientific mind which explains why science is floundering on all fronts, and why its chief proponents seem so strangely detached from reality. It turns out they are! Science has decayed from an intriguing humanitarian investigation, coloured and directed with feeling and intuition - the chief levers by which original discoveries were made - to a dry, unreadable chore in which the self is actually abandoned. As a result, science is losing its credibility at precisely the same rate at which it is chopping up and dispensing with its humanity.
As Sheldrake points out, the scientific habit of presenting experimental activity as if it performed itself, without a thinking being at the helm, is a deceptive front intended to feign impartiality. But because the performer disappears, it causes the audience, too, to wander off disinterested.
This steady reductionism has caused science itself to be left behind by the advancing human mind, like a sandcastle eroded by the tide. The book shows how imaginative and adventurous science COULD be. And it turns out science turns out as an adventure where the human mind itself mingles with reality. This is a book anyone in the sciences should read, today, before that coffee, before they do anything else.
on 11 February 2012
A thought provoking book, from an interesting scientist. Sheldrake is a free thinker, with a first class mind. For what I suspect are ideological reasons, both his research and his ideas appear to get up the nose of dyed-in-the-wool materialists, but I find his willingness to research everyday human experience extremely refreshing. Some of his experiments, like his papers on the dogs 'Jaytee', and 'Kane' seem solid to me, and rather interesting.
Parts of `The Science Delusion' seem plausible to me, other parts rather less so. A disappointing example of the latter is Sheldrake's reference of an article by Lewin (1980) 'Is Your Brain Really Necessary', which he uses to support his statement about a young guy with an IQ of 126 and a first class mathematics degree, with a brain only 5% of normal size (pp194) "His mental activity and his memory were still able to function more or less normally". I came across quite a few other tenuous claims in this book, which is a pity.
However, on the upside, there is also plenty of good solid stuff in here. If you are reasonably open minded, and don't know much about Sheldrake's work, I think you'll enjoy it. It's also comprehensively referenced, so you can check out Sheldrakes's claims for yourself, and make up your own mind.
on 22 June 2014
This is a very meticulously written book bringing forth the limitation of science in professing its ability to explain everything and mainly our lives. Rupert points out that the fundamental assumptions of science like 'conservation of energy' and invariability of fundamental consents is indeed questionable. He also questions the assumption that nature and our lives are mechanical, that everything can be justified through the reductionist approach of breaking of things in their constituents and explaining phenomenons as interaction between these constants.
Further we are taken through more intriguing questions, which might shake our understanding of nature, like, is matter conscious? is nature purposeless? Are minds confined to brains? The discussion to these questions is written is very simple language as well as is written considering even the materialist point of view.
Rupert also argues that, there indeed is a credible evidence for psychic phenomenon in humans and animals which is conveniently ignored by sceptics. He points forth that the current science only funds the materialist research and there is need for investing funds in these more unconventional areas.
on 5 January 2012
For those of us who are suspicious of the claims of materialism it's astonishing, and also heartening, to hear a scientist agree that it's a hidebound ideology, dismiss the belief in determinism as a 'delusion' and call on the 'high priests' of science to abandon their 'fantasy of omniscience'.
This all sounds rather rhetorical, and the title seems to have been chosen as a counterblast to Richard Dawkins. Actually this is as polemical as his language gets; the book certainly has little about religion. For the most part it's a dispassionate expose of materialism's failures, and a plea for scientists to open up to new thinking. Despite his reputation as a heretic, gained from his controversial theory of morphic resonance and his psychic research, Sheldrake has impeccable credentials as a biochemist - Cambridge, Harvard, ground-breaking research and a stint in India helping to develop high-yield crops - that demand respect.
Sheldrake identifies ten core beliefs that scientists take for granted: that people and animals are complex mechanisms rather than goal-driven organisms; that matter is unconscious and human consciousness an illusion; that the laws of nature are fixed; that nature is purposeless; that all biological inheritance is carried via material structures like genes, and so on. Each is the basis of a chapter, in which he draws attention to unresolved tensions, problems and dilemmas. Most scientists think these will eventually be ironed out. However Sheldrake argues they are symptoms of a deeper malaise, and that the failure of the materialist model to make good on its predictions will eventually lead to its demise.
A key idea for Sheldrake is the existence of information fields that act as a kind of universal memory. Once a form or activity has come into being it provides the blueprint for other similar effects, which may then multiply with ease. The classic example is the formation of crystals, for which Sheldrake has elsewhere provided evidence, but in principle he thinks it can apply to anything, from the development of organisms to the acquisition of new skills.
This has implications for cosmology, he believes. Far from being set in stone since the Big Bang, nature's laws should be considered as evolving habits that grow stronger through repetition; the universe is an ongoing creative process, of which human creativity is part. In biology the machine metaphors beloved of materialist thinkers are misleading, he insists. No machine starts from small beginnings, grows, forms new structures within itself and then reproduces itself. Yet plants and animals do this all the time and to many people - especially those like pet owners and gardeners who deal with them on a daily basis - it's 'blindingly obvious' that they are living organisms. For scientists to see them as machines propelled only by ordinary physics and chemistry is an act of faith.
Despite the excitement over gene science in the past two decades, and the $100 billion biotechnology boom that it fuelled, only a very limited genetic basis has been discovered for human disease, he points out. The genes associated with development have turned out to be almost identical in mice, humans, flies and reptiles, offering no insights as to why these forms differ so dramatically.
On the subject of consciousness Sheldrake points out that even materialists can't decide what causes it, which is why there are so many rival theories. He quotes Galen Strawson, himself a materialist, who is scathing about the way fellow philosophers are willing to deny the reality of their own experience - testament to the power of the materialist faith. He approves Strawson's interest in panspychism, the doctrine that all matter is invested with mental as well as physical aspects.
There is just one chapter on psychic research: this covers telepathy and precognition, with especial focus on animal telepathy. (The sense of being stared at is covered in a chapter on consciousness.) There is also a chapter on mechanistic medicine, in which he acknowledges its record of success, but questions whether it is the only kind that works.
This is a superb and timely book. My own academic research has convinced me that psychic phenomena genuinely occur, and that the rejection of it is driven largely by ideology and personal antipathy. That being the case, it's hard to conceive that the materialist model is the whole story. Most scientists will brush off Sheldrake's arguments as a persistence of discredited vitalism, but it may encourage some to be open about the more sympathetic views that Sheldrake claims they often express to him in private.
There's also a need for a book like this that's authoritative, wide ranging and accessible, and that challenges the materialist paradigm for the benefit of a wider audience. That applies especially to young people whose ideas have not yet been shaped by it, and their curiosity tamed and dulled as a result. It would be good to think that their generation may have a greater opportunity to question the prevailing dogmas and perhaps eventually forge a new science, one that describes more closely what humans observe and feel about their world.
(Robert McLuhan is author of Randi's Prize: What sceptics say about the paranormal, why they are wrong and why it matters)
Sheldrake throws a number of completely off the wall ideas at you. It is good to have comfortable assumptions challenged, and many of his ideas are attractive, making the book enjoyable and easy to read. He has a very affable style, is rarely haughty or arrogant, and does not seek to elevate his ideas by using pretentious or pseudo complex language. I enjoyed his company. Many of his criticisms of science contain some truth, and it does no harm to be reminded of the need to remain sceptical of scientific orthodoxy.
Are his conclusions sound though? The scientific orthodoxy he describes is largely a figment of his imagination. I doubt there are many scientists who would sign up to his ten creeds. One of the book's main weaknesses is that Sheldrake continually puts words in scientists' mouths, seemingly with the intent of making them look foolish. Having created an imaginary monster, he spends the rest of the book in quixotic fashion demolishing it.
In his own ideas, Sheldrake is a Christian mystic. He seems strongly attracted to the supernatural , and to religion. The religious theme is so prevalent throughout that you could view this as much a book of religion as a book of science. After his theory of `morphic resonance' is set out, I read many pages wondering what observations this theory was meant to explain. Not until two thirds of the way through did this become clear: many of his ideas support religious concepts such as the immortal soul, life after death, fate, and the power of prayer (see page 210 and page 340). While he claims to be `freeing the spirit of enquiry', Sheldrake too is captive to his own agenda, just like the scientists he criticises. He is very selective with his facts and ignores masses of evidence where it does not fit in with his own beliefs. When confronted with an unknown, he is too ready to accept a supernatural answer rather than to continue the hard work of enquiry and research.
The chapter on telepathy and animal intuition was the one which contained most evidence to back its ideas, and I was surprised to find this the most interesting part of the book (I qualify this by saying that I would now like to read a second observer's analysis of the same evidence).
In the end though he arrives at some breathtakingly barmy conclusions, of which my favourite was that money should be diverted from conventional medical research into investigating the power of prayer!
For all its faults, it is worth remembering that there is no monopoly on good ideas, and this book is nothing if not thought provoking.
on 16 April 2013
Rupert Sheldrake never disappoints in his books and lectures. In this book he questions the ten most prevalent axioms of science and using reason logic, and evidence brings into light how they are more dogmatic beliefs than forgone conclusions. He discusses how the science has been hijacked by a mainstream of materialist atheism, which ignores, ridicules, dismisses and condemns any research, evidence or free thought that the universe and consciousnesses are anything but mechanistic matter and its illusory byproduct. I find Rupert an erudite and warm communicator, not in the slightest full of himself, prepared to question his own assumptions as well as those assumptions indoctrinated into us and consequently a pleasure to consider.
on 10 January 2012
Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist with a distinguished track record as fellow of Clare College Cambridge where he served as Director of Studies in cell biology before heading up the Perrott-Warwick Project to investigate human abilities at Trinity College, Cambridge. He has published over 80 peer reviewed scientific papers and ten books. He studied natural sciences at Cambridge University where he got a double first in botany and biology. He then spent a year a Harvard studying the history and philosophy of Science before returning to Cambridge to take a Phd in biochemistry. His scientific credentials are sound, which makes the questions he poses in The Science Delusion worth considering. Having studied the science of living things for all of his academic life he has noticed that there is an interaction between consciousness and the structure of reality which fits uncomfortably alongside the reductionist assumptions of neo-darwinist school of materialist biologists, led by Prof Richard Dawkins. The neo-Darwinists believe that life is simply a complex, but accidental, automation. It consists of chemical and physical interactions between purposeless particles and self-awareness is nothing more than a post hoc rationalization of predetermined outcomes ruled only by chance. The main thrust of their thesis is that life is a pointless and purposeless accident.
As a physicist I have long known that my intent when devising a quantum experiment can have a considerable impact on the results I observe, even to the extent of creating a past for an experimental particle which had a multiple range of possible histories until I decided to observe it. I am also aware that I can force instantaneous action on quantum entangled particles over vast distances in total defiance of the relativistic speed limit of light. As Sheldrake points out there is not one scientific approach to understanding the nature of the universe, there are three. For the very large we have Relativity, for the very small we have Quantum Mechanics and for the human sized we have Newtonian Mechanics, and these three systems do not agree. Once we get down to the level of single atoms and sub-atomic particles then quantum probabilities take over, but the moment we string together wires four atoms wide and 1 atom deep then the rules of Newtonian objects (Ohms Law) applies and the system become determinist.
The problem Shedrake identifies for the neo-Darwinist school is that they are seeped in Newtonian thinking and fail to notice the role of the conscious observer in relativity and quantum mechanics. As a result they have created what is in effect an atheistic religion with its own dogmas and creeds. Sheldrake sees the issues of conscious purpose which arise when trying to reconcile the three viewpoints of science and in this book poses ten probing questions to address the boundaries between these conflicting areas of scientific knowledge. These range from asking life is simply a complex, mechanism of dead matter, through whether memories are storied and retrieved from in quantum fields (he names these fields as morphic fields), rather than as material traces in brain matter to sweeping questions such as are the laws of nature fixed or do they evolve by interactions with conscious observation? The book is a carefully argued investigation of the main articles of faith of the neo-Darwinist materialist religion and musters considerable evidence to suggest that their view is nowhere near a full explanation of universe. He also puts forward a series of challenging questions which offer ways of testing the currently accepted assumptions about hidden mysteries of nature and science in order to open up understanding of the greater mystery of the function of consciousness. He closes his discussion with these powerful words.
"The realization that the sciences do not know the fundamental answers leads to humility rather than arrogance and openness rather then dogmatism. Much remains to be discovered and rediscovered, including wisdom."
Although he is addressing issues at the forefront of modern physics Sheldrake is eminently readable and clear in his writing. A most enjoyable book which will challenge you to think again about the nature of conscious life.