Discussions between Mark Vernon and Rupert about science as a belief system.

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  • The Meaning of Rituals (23 min)
  • Human life is full of rituals, from shaking hands to venerating relics. But how do rituals work, how do they convey meaning? In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how rituals connect us with people who have done them before, using Rupert's concept of morphic resonance. Rituals build up the collective memory and, be they religious or secular, are one means by which we can access an aspect of life that lasts over time. The conversation explores how rituals bring the sense of the past into the present, touch us in embodied as well as imaginative ways, and convert spaces into sacred places. They explore examples from the foundational rituals of social groups to the rituals of psychotherapy which can bring back memories of the past.

  • Secular Buddhism (26 min)
  • Until relatively recently, Buddhism was a specialist interest in the west. Now, secular forms of Buddhism, in the shape of mindfulness meditation, are even available on the NHS. One of the leading advocates of secular forms of Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor, is in search of the historical Buddha, arguing that many of the beliefs of traditional Buddhists, such as reincarnation, are unnecessary accretions. In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what is lost when Buddhism is stripped of its devotional and metaphysical elements? Might the historical Buddha be found? And can there really be a materialist form of Buddhism, which is nothing if not a training in that most materially inexplicable feature of existence, consciousness?

  • Why is There Something Not Nothing? (28 min)
  • This ancient question has resurfaced in modern science and atheism. The discovery of the Big Bang as a beginning for the universe in the 20th century was a complete surprise, igniting a debate about what caused everything, space and time, to spring into being. The hint that a cause beyond science is implied has been picked up by prominent atheists who have tried to supply scientific accounts of "nothing" from which the universe - or a multiverse - could emerge. But they don't achieve their goal. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how the ancient discussion of the relationship between something and nothing can profoundly inform the contemporary contemplation.

  • Cycles of Civilisation (29 min)
  • History shows that civilisations rise and fall. So where is the west in this cycle? Can the widespread sense of pending crisis - be it economic, environmental or political - be understood in relation to the ideas of Oswald Spengler, Owen Barfield or David Fleming? And can signs of new vitality, vision and participation be found, as if the crisis may also be the birthpangs of a new spirituality and consciousness? Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how a sense of connection and disconnection, excitement and fear, can be traced back to the thought of Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal. They ask where its possible to discover soul.

  • Family Constellations (26 min)
  • In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how we are not individuals but rather are more like nodes in networks. We are connected across living systems of families, organisations, cultures and spiritual traditions. The discussion focuses particularly on family constellations therapy, a way of examining how blocks and difficulties in life can be related to elements that we have taken on board from others. Rupert examines how this idea of inherited unconscious memory reveals what he has investigated as morphic fields. Mark asks how what is revealed in constellations workshops can be related to insights that can be traced back through psychotherapy to Plato and before. (Details of Mark's next constellations workshop can be found on his website markvernon.com).

  • On Dreams (26 min)
  • In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Shedrake and Mark Vernon discuss dreams - discerning dreams, precognitive dreams, telepathic dreams, dreams as accessing the unconscious. They explore how to develop practices of paying attention to dreams, and what they might show - personally and spiritually. And they ask whether taking dreams seriously inspired metaphysics and philosophy, via the tradition of incubation, practiced by figures including Parmenides.

  • The Unconscious (26 min)
  • In 1915, 100 years ago this month, Sigmund Freud published a paper in which he described what he had discovered in his psychoanalytic patients: that there is an aspect of the human psyche of which individuals are typically profoundly unaware, namely the unconscious. His explorations set in motion a broad and fascinating path of investigation that gripped other key 20th century figures such as Carl Jung, and with which we are still engaged today. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss this dynamic aspect of human life and how the unconscious relates to ideas from the soul to morphic fields.

  • Choral Evensong (23 min)
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss choral evensong, a beautiful evening service sung by choirs in hundreds of churches and cathedrals throughout the English-speaking world, not only on Sundays but in some cathedrals, Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and Chapels Royal every day. Admission free. A new website gives all details of services in Britain and Ireland: choralevensong.org

  • Beyond Physicalism (29 min)
  • There is a growing new mood in science. The grip that scientific materialism has had on the scientific imagination is beginning to loosen. This is the philosophy that all things in the natural world can be reduced to the material level. But it seems as if the many everyday experiences that individuals have, in particular being conscious, which can't be accounted for by physicalism are forcing the possibility of considering alternatives. In this dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon consider what might be happening, how such a shift would make a difference in areas from health to parapsychology, and what might happen next.

  • What the Greeks Can Teach Us (27 min)
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss ancient Greek philosophy in the latest of the Science Set Free podcast series. They explore how the ideas and way of life of the Stoics, Platonists and others can help us today bridge supposed divides between science and spirituality. They also look at how Christianity adopted and developed older perceptions of reality and what this means for modern therapies and insights. The conversation is prompted by the publication of Mark's new book, The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy.

  • The Atheist Experiment (26 min)
  • In his book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, Nick Spencer tells the story of atheism as one of protest and politics, rather than simply as an argument about the existence of God. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what history can tell us about atheism as a way of life, as an account of being human, and what the future of atheism might bring.

  • The Sound of Silence (26 min)
  • Practises of silence are integral to religious and wisdom traditions, so why are they so important? What is silence anyway, and does any science back up the intuitions and experiences? Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon pursue the transformative potential of silence in this Science Set Free podcast.

  • Anatheism (26 min)
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss whether atheism is a phase that many people go through, one widely recognised within spiritual traditions, a transition period in which ideas about God are discarded so that a deeper perception of the divine emerge. They wonder whether the same thing happens at a cultural level and so whether contemporary atheism is itself a phase leading to more vital conceptions of God.

  • What Happens When We Die (23 min)
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss our postmortem experience by thinking about what we know of being alive. Might dreams tell us something about what happens when we die? Is the notion of the subtle body an indicator of life after death? How do the living relate to the dead, and how might the way we live our lives shape our experience after death?

  • Common Prayer (24 min)
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the value of spiritual practices undertaken with others, or as it is known in the English Christian tradition, the value of common prayer. They explore what is lost when the so-called 'spiritual but not religious' generation assumes spiritual practice is an essentially individual pursuit, and what needs to happen in order for collective traditions to become accessible once more.

  • The Spirituality of Popular Science (25 min)
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how the communication of science routinely exploits notions of wonder and beauty, and what this might tell us about how science opens onto wider dimensions of reality. Does science fiction similarly suggest that science is grappling with aspects of reality that it can't itself contain? Why is the experience of wonder and, further, the so-called supernatural so popular with the public? What is the hidden metaphysics embedded in popular science, and so perhaps in science itself?

  • Spiritual Senses (23 min)
  • St Thomas Aquinas thought that we have spiritual senses as well as the familiar bodily senses. Are there aspects of human nature that have been lost or suppressed in the modern world? In what ways do people still experience the presence of God? And how can we recognize and cultivate these spiritual abilities?

  • God and Mindfulness (18 min)
  • More than 100 Members of Parliament in the UK have been trained in mindfulness meditation, and such practices are now prescribed within the National Health Service. Traditional spiritual techniques have been secularized, and are promoted for the value in health and mental wellbeing. Do they open people up to experiences of greater spiritual realities, or are the effects all inside the person's body?

  • Transparent Minds (32 min)
  • Anthropologists have found that all over the world people believe that their minds are transparent to gods, saints, ancestors or other spirits. This is also true within the Christian tradition. As Europe became more secular in the 18th and 19th centuries, the idea that minds were transparent was secularised in novels, with the novelist having a view of the inner workings of other people's minds. And now our emails, phone calls and activities are under continuous surveillance, making this ancient belief a technical reality.

  • What Is Spirituality? (27 min)
  • Invoking a presence beyond our self for guidance and inspiration is a fundamental practice of spirituality. The word spirit is derived from its Latin ancestor: spiritus, "breath or wind." To be in-spired means for something to be breathed into you. In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark discuss a variety of spiritual practices.

  • The Hidden God of Atheism (32 min)
  • In the latter half of the 19th century, many intellectuals shifted from believing in a God to a philosophy of materialism. However, within the materialist worldview, aspects of God still remained in the form of transcendent, universal and changeless laws, along with universal energy. In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark shed light on the God hidden within atheism.

  • What Does Christianity Get Right? (30 min)
  • Modern science started in the seventeenth century during the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. Science was seen by some of its proponents as a "third way" of reaching ultimate truth, and many people today believe that science has superseded religion. But what does Christianity get right? In this dialogue Mark and Rupert explore some of the positive aspects of the Christian tradition.

  • The Evolution of Consciousness (27 min)
  • Bookstores worldwide are stacked with books about mindfulness, spirituality, and transpersonal studies. A new consciousness seems to be evolving. But in various periods in the past, for example in medieval Europe and Tibet, many people were engaged in spiritual practices. How is the abundance of spiritual practice today different? In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark explore this new garden of awareness.

  • The Spiritual Uses of Science (27 min)
  • With the advancements of science, most notably in the realm of quantum physics, scientific concepts are increasingly used to make broader spiritual points and give the discussion more weight. But are writers on spirituality extrapolating far beyond what science can bear? If not, what does science actually contribute to spirituality? In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark discuss the realm where science and spiritual traditions meet.

  • Is Materialism Inherently Atheistic? (25 min)
  • Materialism is the doctrine that claims the ultimate reality is matter, and many people believe that this theory disproves the existence of God. But need a materialist be an atheist, or need an atheist be a materialist? Developments in contemporary science have radically changed our understanding of matter. In this dialogue Mark and Rupert disentangle materialism from atheism, showing that a more sophisticated and contemporary form of materialism could include a spiritual dimension.

  • Can Materialists Have Free Choice? (18 min)
  • According to the materialist philosophy that still dominates the sciences, there is no free will. The human mind is nothing but brain activity, and the brain is a genetically programmed computer. So can materialists have free choice, including the choice to believe in materialism? If they can, it would suggest the mind is more than just brain activity. In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark explore this question and discuss recent research on free will.

  • Science as Faith (22 min)
  • Science is a method of inquiry. It involves free-thinking, hypothesis testing, paying attention to evidence and proceeding in a reasonable fashion. But for many people, science has become a belief system, rather than a method of inquiry. In this dialogue, Mark and Rupert explore the nature of this quasi-religious faith, and discuss how the sciences can be liberated from this dogmatic spell.


Mark Vernon is a British writer, who contributes regularly on the BBC. His web site is www.markvernon.com

Thanks to Seth Yannes for the summaries.