by Rupert Sheldrake
Contemporary science is based on the claim that all reality is material or physical. There is no reality but material reality. Consciousness is a by-product of the physical activity of the brain. Matter is unconscious. Evolution is purposeless. God exists only as an idea in human minds, and hence in human heads.
These beliefs are powerful, not because most scientists think about them critically, but because they don’t. The belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a nineteenth-century ideology.
This book is pro-science. The sciences will be regenerated when they are liberated from the dogmas that constrict them.
[A note from me, not from the book. When I read the following basic beliefs of science, I was shocked. A whole lot of people on this earth don’t share this worldview. I was shocked because of all the resources, minds and money, that are being wasted in an attempt to prove something that isn’t true. I’m reminded of the fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes (naked), a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” Now, back to the overview.]
Together, the following beliefs make up the philosophy or ideology of materialism, whose central assumption is that everything is essentially material or physical, even minds. This belief system became dominant within science in the late nineteenth century, and is now taken for granted.
The delusion that science has already answered the fundamental questions chokes off the spirit of inquiry.
Here are ten core beliefs that most scientists take for granted. They are then restated as a question, since the core of science is based on inquiry. Finally, a new possible way to view the core belief is proposed.
1. Everything is essentially mechanical. People are machines with brains that are genetically programmed computers.
The Question: Is nature mechanical?
The mechanistic theory is based on the metaphor of the machine. But it’s only a metaphor. Living organisms provide better metaphors for organized systems at all levels of complexity, including molecules, plants and societies of animals, all of which are organized in a series of inclusive levels, in which the whole at each level is more than the sum of the parts, which are themselves wholes at a lower level. The entire universe is more like a growing, developing organism than a machine slowly running out of steam.
2. 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 activities of brains.
The Question: Is matter unconscious?
Some philosophers have explored the idea that all self organizing material systems have a mental as well as physical aspect. Their minds relate them to their future goals and are shaped by memories of their past, both individual and collective. Minds choose among possible futures.
3. The total amount of matter and energy is always the same (with the exception of the Big Bang, when all matter and energy of the universe suddenly appeared.)
The Question: Is the total amount of matter and energy always the same?
Modern cosmology supposes that dark matter and dark energy now make up 96 percent of reality. No one knows what dark matter and energy are, how they work or how they interact with familiar forms of matter and energy. The amount of dark energy seems to be increasing as the universe expands. All quantum processes are supposed to be mediated through the quantum-vacuum field, also known as the zero point field, which is not empty but full of energy and continually gives rise to virtual photons and particles of matter. Could this energy be tapped in new technologies?
4. The laws of nature are fixed. They are the same today as they were at the beginning, and they will stay the same forever.
The Question: Are the laws of nature fixed?
The idea that the “laws of nature” are fixed while the universe evolves is an assumption left over from pre-evolutionary cosmology. The laws may evolve. Fundamental constants may be variable and their values may not have been fixed at the instant of the Big Bang. There may be inherent memory in nature. Evolution may be an interplay between habits and creativity.
5. Nature is purposeless, and evolution has no goal or direction.
The Question: Is nature purposeless?
All living organisms show goal-directed development and behavior. In physics, goal directed behavior is modeled in terms of attractors. Both evolution and progress can be interpreted in terms of attractors, with influences working backyard in time from future goals.
6. All biological inheritance is material, carried in the genetic material, DNA, and in other material structures.
The Question: Is all biological inheritance material?
Genes are overrated since they do not “code for” or “program” the form and behavior of organisms. The inheritance of development and behavior may depend on organizing fields that have an inherent memory.
7. 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.
The Question: Are minds confined to brains?
Our minds are extended in every act of perception, reaching even as far as the stars. What we see around us is in our minds but not in our brains. When we look at something, in a sense our mind touches it.
8. Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death.
The Question: Are memories stored as material traces?
Repeated failures to find memory traces fit well with the idea of memory as a resonant phenomenon, where similar patterns of activity in the past affect present activities in minds and brains.
9. Unexplained phenomena such as telepathy are illusory.
The Question: Are psychic phenomena illusory?
Most people claim to have had telepathic experiences. Numerous statistical experiments have shown that information can be transmitted from person to person in a way that cannot be explained in terms of the normal senses.
10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.
The Question: Is mechanistic medicine the only kind that really works?
Modern medicine has been amazingly successful. Because of its materialistic prejudices, it ignores mental influences. Many psychological, emotional, social and spiritual factors affect health and disease. An inclusive, integrative medical system is likely to be cheaper and more effective than an exclusively mechanistic system.
Scientists are often imagined to achieve a superhuman level of objectivity. However they are obviously human beings with ambitions, hopes, fears and other emotions.
In most fields of science, researchers publish only a small proportion of their data, giving plenty of scope for the selective presentation of results, and scientific journals introduce a further source of bias through their unwillingness to publish negative findings.
Although the objectivity of science is a noble ideal, there is more hope of achieving it by recognizing the humanity of scientists and their limitations than by pretending that science has a unique access to truth.
Much remains to be discovered and rediscovered, including wisdom.