Science Set Free from Reductive Materialism ? Rupert Sheldrake on Morphic Resonance Fields

In the “values clarification” tradition it is recommended that values (and beliefs) “be chosen freely, after thoughtful consideration, and among alternatives.” In that spirit I would like to offer an alternative worldview to scientific materialism and reductionism for your consideration.  Rupert Sheldrake articulates such an alternative view in such books as Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation, and Science Set Free . Here’s some biographical information followed by several reviews of “Science Set Free.” This book and the worldview it represents is at counterpoint to the two books referenced to Peter Watson in my previous blog. It’s important to offer “equal time” for different worldviews. This information is gathered from Amazon Books.

Rupert Sheldrake

Biography

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and ten books. He was among the top 100 Global Thought Leaders for 2013, as ranked by the Duttweiler Institute, Zurich, Switzerland’s leading think tank. He studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he was a Scholar of Clare College, took a double first class honours degree and was awarded the University Botany Prize (1963). He then studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow (1963-64), before returning to Cambridge, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry (1967). He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge (1967-73), where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society (1970-73), he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University. While at Cambridge, together with Philip Rubery, he discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport, the process by which the plant hormone auxin is carried from the shoots towards the roots.

From 1968 to 1969, as a Royal Society Leverhulme Scholar, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he was Principal Plant Physiologist and Consultant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life, published in 1981 (new edition 2009).

Since 1981, he has continued research on developmental and cell biology. He has also investigated unexplained aspects of animal behaviour, including how pigeons find their way home, the telepathic abilities of dogs, cats and other animals, and the apparent abilities of animals to anticipate earthquakes and tsunamis. He subsequently studied similar phenomena in people, including the sense of being stared at, telepathy between mothers and babies, telepathy in connection with telephone calls, and premonitions. Although some of these areas overlap the field of parapsychology, he approaches them as a biologist, and bases his research on natural history and experiments under natural conditions, as opposed to laboratory studies. His research on these subjects is summarized in his books Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (1994, second edition 2002), Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (1999, new edition 2011) and The Sense of Being Stared At (2003, new edition 2012).

In his most recent book (2012), called The Science Delusion in the UK and Science Set Free in the US, he examines the ten dogmas of modern science, and shows how they can be turned into questions that open up new vistas of scientific possibility. This book received the Book of the Year Award from the British Scientific and Medical Network.

In 2000, he was the Steinbach Scholar in Residence at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. From 2005-2010 he was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge University. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut, and a Fellow of Schumacher College in Devon, England.

He lives in London with his wife Jill Purce. They have two sons, Merlin, a graduate student in Plant Sciences at Cambridge University and a research fellow at The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Cosmo, a musician.

 
Editorial Reviews: Science Set Free
By Peter White on September 4, 2012

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase

“We all have assumptions that frame how and what we know; without them we couldn’t think at all much less discover a cure for Alzheimer’s. But assumptions can take on a life of their own and choke off the pursuit of knowledge; especially vulnerable are those who sit atop powerful hierarchies for long periods of time. The medieval Church required astronomers to assume that the earth was at the center of the solar system. Science overthrew such groundless imperatives but today seems unable to disenthrall itself from its own long and tautly held assumptions. In “Science Set Free,” Rupert Sheldrake names ten of these assumptions and explains, without raising his voice, why science needs to have another look at each one.

“His arguments make sense to me. For example, the first assumption Sheldrake takes on is the hypothesis of materialism: the idea that only matter and energy exist and that the cosmos is a machine with no original purpose and a bleak entropic future. Under this assumption, held as an unassailable dogma by science, existence is purposeless, consciousness is an illusion, we have no free will, and God is out of the question. These are not small issues.”

Science Set Free takes us through the history of materialist theory, showing how it emerged in the Renaissance in a religious context, acquired self-confidence in the deism of the Enlightenment, and in the 19th and 20th centuries attained megalomania, leading to the notions of reality mentioned above. Sheldrake rejects materialism and depicts nature as an organic whole with boundless evolutionary potential. His arguments are based on the sound science in which he is grounded as a Cambridge and Harvard-trained biologist; but what I admire especially is that he is also a man of “scientia sacra,” which reveres the poetry and beauty of life and knows that there is more to knowledge than measurement.

By Pete Sargasso on October 3, 2012

“SCIENCE SET FREE is an excellent work, well worth the reading. Here are ten reasons why.
1. Good writing. The sine-qua-non of all good books… and the test is that once started it is hard to put down.

2. Personal. One can feel the engagement of the writer in the prose. He is there in light touches of humour: but more importantly, he is there in his conviction, in his willingness to share data and in his reporting of the way his work has been marginalized – not because it is wrong- but because it challenges some of the current assumptions of Science.

3. Coherent Structure. All the chapters follow the same pattern, and this gives the book a special kind of unity. Each chapter begins with a question followed by a historical analysis of how that question has been answered in different epochs, and leading to an up-to-date analysis of the available data.

4. Superb bibliography. Enough reading here for a lifetime.

5. Breaks new ground. No one can tell where research will lead, but an openness to fresh ideas is necessary for progress.

6. Educational. Whether one agrees with Sheldrake or not, SCIENCE SET FREE serves as an introduction to many areas of scientific research. Where the jargon of science is necessary to avoid confusion, he explains not only the meaning of a given term, but its etymology. That is a courtesy to the reader and greatly facilitates understanding.

7. Interdisciplinary. The text moves easily from scientific research to conclusions from ancient and modern philosophy. Also, it is not restricted to one science but ranges from physics to botany, to the experiences of shamans, to telepathy, and yes, to religion somewhat…. Hence we gain a comprehensive picture.

“His arguments make sense to me. For example, the first assumption Sheldrake takes on is the hypothesis of materialism: the idea that only matter and energy exist and that the cosmos is a machine with no original purpose and a bleak entropic future. Under this assumption, held as an unassailable dogma by science, existence is purposeless, consciousness is an illusion, we have no free will, and God is out of the question. These are not small issues.“Science Set Free” takes us through the history of materialist theory, showing how it emerged in the Renaissance in a religious context, acquired self-confidence in the deism of the Enlightenment, and in the 19th and 20th centuries attained megalomania, leading to the notions of reality mentioned above. Sheldrake rejects materialism and depicts nature as an organic whole with boundless evolutionary potential. His arguments are based on the sound science in which he is grounded as a Cambridge and Harvard-trained biologist; but what I admire especially is that he is also a man of “scientia sacra,” which reveres the poetry and beauty of life and knows that there is more to knowledge than measurement.

By Robert McLuhan on September 5, 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, but 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.

Rich’s Comment: Sheldrake’s holistic theory of  morphic resonance fields and emergent systems has affinities with the worldview of “panpsychism” and Alfred North Whitehead’s “process panexperientialism.” Similar authors include Ervin Laszlo (Quantum Shift in the Global Brain), Christian de Quincey ( Radical Nature, Radical Knowing), David Ray Griffin (Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem}, and Fritjof Capra (The Hidden Connections, The Web of Life), among many others.
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