Credible, groundbreaking, happy next step for science.
400 pages, ★★★★★
Rupert Sheldrake has a talent for captivating his audiences. His soothing, eloquent lectures mesmerise and astonish those who listen. Watch him introduce his book below:
He also has an impressive academic background: a PhD from the University of Cambridge, and a fellowship at Harvard University. He has written ten books, given countless lectures and published dozens of academic papers in peer-reviewed journals. He’s a well-respected scientist.
His theories, however, are not considered ‘mainstream’. This book challenges ten fundamental (and groundless) assumptions in modern science:
- Everything is essentially mechanical. Dogs, for example, are complex mechanisms, rather than living organisms with goals of their own. Even people are machines, “lumbering robots”, in Richard Dawkins’s vivid phrase, with brains that are like genetically programmed computers.
- All matter is unconscious. It has no inner life or subjectivity or point of view. Even human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activity of brains.
- The total amount of matter and energy is always the same (with the exception of the Big Bang, when all the matter and energy of the Universe suddenly appeared).
- The laws of nature are fixed. They are the same today as they were at the beginning, and they will stay the same forever.
- Nature is purposeless, and evolution has no goal or direction.
- All biological inheritance is material, carried in the genetic material, DNA, and in other material structures.
- Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of brains. When you look at a tree, the image of the tree you are seeing is not ‘out there’, where it seems to be, but inside your brain.
- Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death.
- Unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory.
- Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.
Sceptics would say that to refute these assumptions verges on “pseudo-science” or “mysticism”. Supporters would say that because the claims in this book are backed by strong evidence, these theories are more scientific than mainstream science itself.
Sheldrake is most famous for developing the theory of Morphic Resonance. This theory states that the presence of existing forms in the universe (e.g. biological fields that guide biological development, behavioural and mental fields that organise animal behaviour and mental activity; social and cultural fields that organise societies and cultures) makes similar forms easier to create in the future. Information about the existence of these forms is carried across the universe instantaneously, rather like the mysterious linkage between a pair of entangled photons, or the (possibly-)particle-less effect of gravity.
One of the implications of Morphic Resonance is that all “constants” are actually capable of change. In this book, Sheldrake proves that many scientific constants have changed over time. Most notably, the speed of light, c, decreased by 20 m/s between 1928 and 1940, and increased again in the late 1940s. The gravitational constant, G, has also fluctuated by over 1%. While most mainstream scientists agree with the data, none of them can provide a plausible explanation for this phenomenon.
Morphic Resonance also predicts that the boiling points of new, artificial compounds should increase as the solid forms become more stable with time (solids and liquids have more ‘form’, or less entropy, than gases). Substances that have already existed for a long time (such as water) will show no change in boiling point over time. Sheldrake has an astonishing wealth of historical data to support this theory, and his results are published in the new edition of his book, A New Science of Life.
This book makes attempts to rescue science from its pessimistic, materialist path and revert it to a happier, more comforting, and possibly more scientific one. I agree 100% with Sheldrake’s thesis that the ten assumptions above have coagulated into unquestionable dogma. I also agree 100% that holders of established “scientific” beliefs and are rejecting any challengers to the status quo, which undermines the very essence of science, which is to look at the evidence. I have no idea whether the theory of Morphic Resonance is correct, but I do know that it would be incredibly unscientific to deny it without any evidence, as some of the critics (e.g. Richard Dawkins) have done.
Sheldrake’s argument is very convincing, in no small part because it is delivered by a man as eloquent and captivating as Sheldrake himself. I recommend introducing this book, and its context, to all science students. Despite what the critics claim, It’s more scientific than a lot of “science” literature out there. Even if you disagree with this book, you’ll at least learn the persuasive power of a well-written argument by reading it. ★★★★★