Rupert Sheldrake: Pushing the Boundaries of Science
Dr. Rupert Sheldrake is no ordinary scientist. As a biologist, author, and researcher, Sheldrake has made a career out of pursuing controversial theories that challenge mainstream science. From animal telepathy to morphic resonance, Sheldrake’s ideas exist far outside the scientific status quo. And that’s exactly how he wants it.Sheldrake sees today’s science as dogmatic and rigid, constrained by materialist assumptions. He believes there are realities science has yet to embrace, and he’s determined to investigate those frontier domains – even if it means putting his scientific reputation on the line.Love him or hate him, Sheldrake forces us to question long-held scientific orthodoxies. Let’s examine his career, theories, and legacy as a scientist who never stops pushing boundaries.
Early Life and Influences
Sheldrake grew up in a Methodist family in Newark-on-Trent, England with parents who were both involved in public service. After attending boarding school, he studied at Clare College, Cambridge, earning degrees in biochemistry and cell biology.During his time as a graduate student, Sheldrake became disillusioned with the mechanistic worldview he saw as pervading the sciences. He began exploring philosophy and experimenting with psychedelic drugs as part of his own journey to make sense of reality.Sheldrake was particularly influenced by the writings of Henri Bergson, the French philosopher who believed science overlooked the fundamental nature of life. Sheldrake came to view nature as alive, organic, and developing purposively rather than mechanistically.These ideas would go on to shape Sheldrake’s radically different theories about life and consciousness.
Morphic Resonance Theory
While studying plant hormones at Cambridge, Sheldrake developed his concept of morphic resonance. This theory posits that natural systems inherit a collective memory from previous iterations, which guides their development.Sheldrake believes morphic resonance occurs through morphic fields, which contain an inherent memory derived from past similar systems. In his 1981 book A New Science of Life, Sheldrake suggested morphic resonance explains things like animal instincts, crystal formation, and biological development.The scientific community widely panned Sheldrake’s theory. Leading biologists like Richard Dawkins considered morphic resonance to be completely unfounded metaphysics with no evidence to back it up.Sheldrake stood by his theory as a testable hypothesis, but the intense backlash essentially made him a scientific pariah. Nonetheless, Sheldrake continued his experiments, determined to keep an open mind rather than defend rigid dogmas.
Investigating Animal Cognition
In the 1980s, Sheldrake focused his research on animal cognition, specifically on phenomena like:
- Dogs anticipating their owner’s return
- Humans detecting when they’re being stared at
- Animals exhibiting telepathic connections
Mainstream scientists tended to dismiss these topics as pseudoscience, but Sheldrake saw them as worthy of empirical investigation. His studies suggested animals do display some mysterious perceptual abilities, which he believes point to mental connections beyond pure materialism.Sheldrake’s conclusions were heavily criticized, with skeptics charging him with experimental errors and making exaggerated claims. But Sheldrake stood by his findings as evidence of phenomena currently unexplainable by conventional science.
Sheldrake expanded his theory of morphic resonance over the years, rebranding it as a theory of “morphogenetic fields” – fields of information that guide the development of organisms.Sheldrake believes these fields are responsible for biological forms and coordinated behavior in nature. He continues to advocate that mainstream biology cannot fully explain embryology, instinctual behaviors, ecosystem balances, and other phenomena without recognizing morphogenetic fields.Most biologists remain unconvinced by Sheldrake’s concept, dismissing it as an unnecessary abstraction without predictive power. They insist biological development can be explained through genetics, epigenetics, and complex molecular signaling without invoking mysterious fields.
Science Set Free
In 2012, Sheldrake published Science Set Free, a book that directly confronts what he sees as the dogmatic “scientific worldview” that dominates modern culture:
- All reality is material or physical
- The mind is inside the brain
- Memories are stored as material traces
- Matter is unconscious
Sheldrake argues this philosophy has become an oppressive “science delusion.” He advocates an expanded science that embraces consciousness, non-material realms of existence, and a view of nature as alive rather than mechanical.As expected, most scientists characterized Sheldrake’s book as misguided New Age thinking riddled with pseudoscience. They insisted their materialist view of reality is well-supported by evidence, not a cultural construct masquerading as objective science.
Legacy and Impact
While many conventional scientists dismiss Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s theories, he has left a legacy of challenging rigid scientific dogmas and exploring the frontiers of consciousness:
- Compelled reevaluation of assumptions about nature of mind and causality
- Brought attention to phenomena like telepathy and psychic perception
- Influenced alternative medicine, eco-psychology, New Age movements
- Published influential popular books on unorthodox scientific ideas
- Pioneered experimental investigations of animal cognition
- Passionately defended scientific inquiry into “heretical” ideas
- Remained committed to integrating science and spirituality
Sheldrake sees a future science embracing realities beyond strict materialism. He continues to advocate this expanded science through his writings and online experiments inviting public participation.While Sheldrake’s ideas remain highly controversial, he has played the role of the scientific rebel, pushing boundaries and challenging orthodoxies. He takes seriously phenomena that many scientists won’t touch, ranging from psychic pets to the power of intention.Love him or hate him, Sheldrake’s provocative theories reveal cracks in the scientific status quo, showing how even “settled” worldviews can turn dogmatic. His career demonstrates that real science stays open-minded and curious – even about ideas that may sound radical or impossible through the lens of established assumptions.
Themes in Sheldrake’s Work
Several key themes arise repeatedly in Rupert Sheldrake’s scientific theories and writings:Challenging Materialism – Sheldrake argues scientific materialism cannot fully explain the realities of life, consciousness, and nature. There must be more than just physical matter and forces.Non-Mechanical Nature – Sheldrake sees nature as active, organic, and developing purposively through fields of information. Not a passive machine operating mechanistically.Collective Memory – Rather than material storage in brains/cells, Sheldrake believes memories are collective, resonating across organisms through invisible fields.Telepathy – Sheldrake takes animal and human telepathy seriously as phenomena hinting at minds extending beyond brains. He sees minds as interconnecting.Psychic Perception – Sheldrake believes certain perceptions like staring detection suggest psychic abilities inexplicable by current science.Consciousness Everywhere – Sheldrake speculates forms of consciousness may exist at all levels of nature, not limited to human brains. Even atoms may have a primitive kind of awareness.Intelligence in Nature – Sheldrake sees wisdom and intelligence permeating the natural world in the way organisms self-organize. He rejects the view of dumb, unconscious matter.Questioning Dogmas – Underlying all Sheldrake’s theories is a commitment to questioning scientific dogmas and seeking truth with an open mind.
Sheldrake’s Defenders and Critics
Rupert Sheldrake has his ardent defenders as well as vocal critics. Here are just a few of the notable figures on both sides of the debate:Defenders
- Deepak Chopra – Calls Sheldrake a “pioneer who is paving the way for the future of the sciences”
- Ralph Abraham – Mathematician sympathetic to Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance
- Bruce Lipton – Biologist who aligns with Sheldrake’s critiques of genetic determinism
- Richard Dawkins – Vehement critic who calls Sheldrake’s work “heresy” and nonsense
- Steven Rose – Neurobiologist who denounces Sheldrake’s theories as magical pseudoscience
- Jerry Coyne – Evolutionary biologist who routinely mocks Sheldrake as a New Age crank
Sheldrake has ruffled many feathers in the scientific community. But he’s found support among those seeking an expanded science embracing topics like consciousness, holism, and spirituality. The debates around Sheldrake’s scientific heresies will undoubtedly continue for years to come.
Sheldrake’s Ongoing Work
Now in his 80s, Sheldrake shows no signs of slowing down. He continues experimental research on topics including:
- Testing the power of intention using subjects in India
- Studying interspecies telepathy between humans and dogs
- Investigating email telepathy with trials in schools
- Exploring the sense of being stared at from different rooms
Sheldrake also gives talks around the world on themes related to science, consciousness, and spirituality. His latest book, The Physics of Angels, explores the idea of invisible conscious entities as a possibility.Despite years of controversy, Sheldrake remains committed to his scientific quest for truths that may lie beyond current scientific understanding. His career demonstrates that real science stays open to mystery, even when new discoveries challenge long-held assumptions.
Rupert Sheldrake has made a career out of fearlessly pursuing scientific theories many consider heretical. While his ideas like morphic resonance remain scientifically marginal, he has played an important role in questioning scientific dogmas and exploring the boundaries between science, spirituality, and consciousness.Sheldrake may be branded a maverick, but he takes seriously real phenomena that don’t fit neatly into conventional science. His provocative theories about animal cognition, biological development, collective memory, and psychic perception reveal cracks in rigid scientific worldviews.At his core, Sheldrake remains radically curious – always pushing the limits of science rather than defending established orthodoxies. He embodies the true scientific spirit of staying open-minded and following evidence wherever it may lead. Even if it leads to places that seem impossible through the lens of current assumptions.Whether Sheldrake’s specific theories prove valid or not, his career demonstrates that real science requires fearlessly questioning assumptions rather than turning them into dogmas. There are always new scientific horizons waiting beyond the borders of current knowledge, no matter how complete we may think our theories are. Sheldrake keeps exploring those borders, relentlessly pushing the boundaries of possibility.