Outcast of Science

Though we posted it in the news briefs last week, I wanted to bring attention to this profile of scientific 'heretic' Rupert Sheldrake in The Guardian. It is, I think, a nice little insight into the life and thinking of a particularly fascinating man, without getting too deeply into the arguments about his research and theories:

Sheldrake is the same age as Dawkins – 70 this year – and though their careers began in an almost identical biochemical place, they could hardly have ended up further apart. If Sheldrake's ideas could be boiled down to a sentence, you might borrow one from Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Richard, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…"

"What we have in common," Sheldrake says, "is that we are both certain that evolution is the central feature of nature. But I would say his theory of evolution stops at biology. When it comes to cosmology, for example, he has little to say. I would take the evolutionary principle there, too. I think that the 'laws of nature' are also prone to evolve; I think they are more like habits than laws. Much of what we are beginning to understand is that they clearly have evolved differently in different parts of the universe."

The comments below the article are another matter. Which ironically perhaps illustrate Sheldrake's criticisms of 'scientific fundamentalism' better than even he can.


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Inannawhimsey's picture
Member since:
14 April 2009
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14 weeks 5 days

you might want to check out Robert Anton Wilson's book "The New Inquisition", written in 1986. It might be worth a post by you.

All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

daydreamer's picture
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21 February 2009
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I thought those comments were good, though as you say a little shallow.

The first statement always makes me think of the reply
'Yes, but what I am interested in is that there are not more dreams in my philosophy than there are things in heaven and earth', surely a reasonable part of any attempt to actually reduce the myriad possibilities of the imagination down to the best modern attempt at correlating language with reality.

The second bit is entirely un-controversial as hypothesis, and hence not really any description of Sheldrake at all. You could swap the name to Krauss or deGrasse Tyson and it wouldn't change anything (except perhaps universal laws as habits). The notion of different universal patches or different universes having different rules is pretty standard now, the application of genetic ideas and biological evolution is less so and it is Sheldrakes notion of morphic fields that places him well on the outside - its nothing to do with changing universal constants in different patches or universes, thats just normal theoretical physics (as is even the analogy of biological evolution to universal patches correlating with descendant blackholes within multiverses).

alanborky's picture
Member since:
29 January 2009
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3 years 30 weeks

Greg decades ago I watched a chat show hosted by the late great Tony Wilson of Factory Records and Hacienda Club fame and they where discussing such eldritch arcana as Astrology.

Wilson says to this old crotchety professor who's insisting on pulling rank and assuring the audience they should all simply take his word for it and stop debating because there's absolutely nothing to Astrology "But've you actually studied it yourself?"

"Good god no!" exclaims the professor all but choking on his own bile "I've had colleagues who looked into it and it has a funny way of making people say there might be something in it!"

Wilson tosses his clipboard into his lap and looks to'ards the camera with an exasperated expression on his face his bare palms held out before him as if saying to the producer can't we for once have some experts who actually know what they're denouncing!

Even if Sheldrake's theories're adjudged wrong by history he'll be viewed as a great scientist because is 'downfall' was he dared to actually looks at anomalous data and test it on its own terms rather than disregards it because it didn't fit the latest theories.

The great crime held against him of course is his use of anecdotal data but ALL data's anecdotal unless you've verified it for yourself - THAT'S NOT JUST A SCIENTIFIC FACT IT'S THE ESSENCE OF THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD! - otherwise you're only ever taking someone else's word for it.

And the great cosmic joke of it all is if you read all those Evolution books of Darwin's they've put online they're not only brilliantly written in ordinary almost contemporary language but each one of them from beginning to end's anecdote after anecdote after anecdote.

Because Darwin's not interested in mathematical theories or brilliant lab studies: to him the essence of science's the accounts of real people like himself in real fields breeding real pigs and real plants in the real world reporting back on real pigeons flying in real skies or real finches setting up home on real islands.

I tell you not only'd Darwin find most of what passes for Science these days as mere mathematical conjurations but he'd've respected Sheldrake as a real up to his tits in mud and shit scientist even if he mightn't've agreed with his theories.