Rupert talks philosophy, spirituality and society with Mark Vernon, psychotherapist, writer and scholar of ancient philosophy.
- 66 - Animals That Talk 32 min
- 65 - Billionaires, Brains and Belief 29 min
- 64 - Panpsychism 38 min
- 63 - Light 30 min
- 62 - Artificial Intelligence 30 min
- 61 - The Day of the Dead 34 min
- 60 - Pseudo-science 34 min
- 59 - Revelation 27 min
- 58 - The Flip, A discussion of Jeffrey Kripal’s book 28 min
- 57 - David Bohm: his life and ideas 28 min
- 56 - Sacred Spaces 28 min
- 55 - Subtle Energies and Healing 31 min
- 54 - Eco-confessions 32 min
- 53 - Imagination and Unfolding Reality 37 min
- 52 - Trinities 29 min
- 51 - The Evolution of Religion 30 min
- 50 - Big History and the Need for Meaning 31 min
- 49 - The Front Line of Parapsychology 31 min
- 48 - Living in An Age of Spiritual Crisis 35 min
- 47 - Celtic Christianity And Nature 25 min
- 46 - Psychedelics 28 min
- 45 - Pilgrimage 24 min
- 44 - Subtle Bodies 28 min
- 43 - What is Hell? 33 min
- 42 - Spiritual Evolution 28 min
- 41 – Consciousness in the Age of Machines 28 min
- 40 - Magic 28 min
- 39 - The Virtues of Enlightenment 28 min
- 38 - The Jordan Peterson Effect 28 min
- 37 - The Old Testament 32 min
- 36 - How To Be A Vedantic Christian 31 min
- 35 - Science and Spiritual Practices 28 min
- 34 - How to Pray 31 min
- 33 – Belief in Angels 35 min
- 32 - Original Participation 29 min
- 31 - Who Was Jesus? 28 min
- 30 - Atheist Church 25 min
- 29 - The Essence of Christianity 29 min
- 28 - Is the Sun Conscious? 26 min
- 27 - The Meaning of Rituals 23 min
- 26 - Secular Buddhism 26 min
- 25 - Why is There Something Not Nothing? 28 min
- 24 - Cycles of Civilisation 29 min
- 23 - Family Constellations 26 min
- 22 - On Dreams 26 min
- 21 - The Unconscious 26 min
- 20 - Choral Evensong 23 min
- 19 - Beyond Physicalism 29 min
- 18 - What the Greeks Can Teach Us 27 min
- 17 - The Atheist Experiment 26 min
- 16 - The Sound of Silence 26 min
- 15 - Anatheism 26 min
- 14 - What Happens When We Die 23 min
- 13 - Common Prayer 24 min
- 12 - The Spirituality of Popular Science 25 min
- 11 - Spiritual Senses 23 min
- 10 - God and Mindfulness 18 min
- 9 - Transparent Minds 32 min
- 8 - What Is Spirituality? 27 min
- 7 - The Hidden God of Atheism 32 min
- 6 - What Does Christianity Get Right? 30 min
- 5 - The Evolution of Consciousness 27 min
- 4 - The Spiritual Uses of Science 27 min
- 3 - Is Materialism Inherently Atheistic? 25 min
- 2 - Can Materialists Have Free Choice? 18 min
- 1 - Science as Faith 22 min
Why do matters as seemingly unconnected as children’s stories and shamanic encounters feature talking animals? This episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, with Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, is prompted by the book, Roland In Moonlight by David Bentley Hart. It relates long conversations between the Eastern Orthodox philosopher and his pet dog, generating fascinating thoughts on all sorts of liminal experiences, from telepathy to panpsychism. How might a re-enchanted world appear to us in the future? What does that have to do with ancient perceptions and modern science? Rupert and Mark discuss matters from pets to symbiosis, and the way that the living world participates in divine life.
Could bliss be transmitted by a Happy Helmet? Are the fantasies of the super-wealthy secretly shaping our lives? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss a new novel, Double Blind, by Edward St Aubyn. It is a story of ideas, including issues previously explored in these dialogues, from the nature of consciousness and the revelations of psychedelics, to the missing heritability problem and the replication crisis. St Aubyn has richly addressed our moment with its environmental and existential concerns. His characters explore matters of paramount important as they effect real lives. His book invites us to ask ourselves about the worldviews we hold and the ways in which our imaginations reach out for tomorrow.
The discussion of alternative worldviews, from various forms of materialism to types of idealism, has exploded in recent years, and the notion of panpsychism is in the middle of the debate. In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the different types of panpsychism being proposed, from more conservative forms that are linked to materialism, to older types that have been advocated by figures from AN Whitehead to Aristotle. They ask about the place of time and space in different views of reality, and tease out the connections to consciousness and eternity. Models including emergence and information theory rise, as well as the role of the brain, as they wonder about the direction in which this rich conversation is heading.
We naturally talk about seeking the light at the end of the tunnel, or hoping to be enlightened. But are such phrases that reference light more than metaphors? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how light is both physical and spiritual, and note the remarkable harmony between scientific and mythical ways of exploring light. They ask about the links between light and intelligence, as discussed by figures from Plato to Dante, as well as how our inner lives, say when we dream, include light. Rupert reflects on his time in the ashram of Bede Griffiths, and Mark recalls remarks made by Roger Penrose. It turns out that the way we talk about the experience of light is hugely suggestive of the nature of reality. There are good reasons light is so closely associated with the divine.
Artificial intelligence is rarely out of the news. But what is it? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon take a lead from the breakthrough by Google in the prediction of protein folding, which Rupert has studied for decades. Whether this success reveals any deeper understanding of nature leads to a discussion of different types of intelligence, such as emotional and spiritual. They consider what is lost when AI dominates the imagination, and obscures aspects of reality that are embodied, and those that reach beyond, such as pure consciousness.
Watch on Youtube
Most, perhaps all, cultures have moments of the year for fostering links with those who have died. In the western Christian world, the days of the dead are Halloween, All Saints and All Souls Day. In this Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask about the significance of this time. They take a lead from the Pixar film, Coco, which conveys this liminal zone with striking nuance and sophistication, and go on to ask about the meaning of praying for the dead, as well as relating to the legacy of ancestors in practices such as Constellations. The links between the living and the dead, as explored by writers including Dante to CS Lewis, are also illuminating, as is psychedelic and near death experience research, which encounters hellish, purgatorial and paradisal states of mind. Ritual and wisdom can nurture healing, and a deeper sense of the meaning of this life as a preparation for more life, now and in the life to come.
Watch on Youtube
The accusation of pseudo-science is often made against those involved in the New Age, and sometimes rightly so. But as Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss in the latest episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, there is a lot more to the sneering and ridicule than meets the eye. They explore how science itself might morph into pseudo-science, which is perhaps a reason that scientists can be so nervous of novel ideas. They look at the origins of science's authority in the modern world, and the power of an impression of scientific rigour, whether or not justified. They discuss various disciplines in particular, from physics and biology, to economics, psychology and astrology. We need to be able to discern what merits the label “scientific” and what does not, especially in a time of pandemic, ecological and political fear.
Watch on Youtube
World religions and inspired individuals alike say they are the recipients of divine revelation. But what might that mean? In this new episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the nature of revelation. They explore how revelation is a means of channelling and connecting with insight and intelligence in the domains of both religion and science. They ask how different revelations can be discerned and developed. The question of how revelation might be cultivated arises, as does the meaning of contemporary psychedelic revelations. Then there is issue of how revelation relates to what it is to be human. Might we be co-creators with the life within which our life is embedded?
Watch on Youtube
Did you know Albert Einstein advocated telepathy research or that Marie Curie attended seances? In this edition of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss, The Flip, a new book by Jeffrey Kripal. The title refers to the range of experiences, from precognitive dreams to NDEs, that “flip” individuals from a mechanistic and materialist worldview. They become much more open to possibilities such as panpsychism and idealism. Kripal’s contention is that flips are common and, were they talked about, they would change culture. But would they? The conversation ranges over the links between psychic phenomena and spiritual experiences, to whether there are better ways of discussing psi beyond the perennial issue of proof? Is panpsychism an adequate way forward? And what is the meaning of the flips that people undoubtedly have?
Watch on Youtube
A new film, Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm, has just been released for free online. In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss its excellent telling of the dramatic life and revolutionary insights of this deep scientific thinker. Rupert first met Bohm in 1982 soon after the publication of his book A New Science of Life precipitated a negative reaction from the militant materialists; the editor of the leading scientific journal Nature tried to excommunicate him. Bohm had a similar experience forty years earlier with the quantum physics community. Mark and Rupert talk about what Bohm drew from Krishnamurti, and how the formalisms of quantum theory are influenced by psychological and spiritual perceptions. They also explore the ways in which Bohm’s notion of an implicate order resonates strongly with that of morphic fields, and discuss Bohm’s engagement with the ideas of Owen Barfield, about whom Mark has written. They highly recommend the film.
Watch on Youtube
Cathedrals are increasingly welcoming novel explorations of their tremendous interiors. In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the powerful experiences that come with feeling free in sacred spaces. They look at how to access the sense of presence they hold, from lying on the ground to sitting in silence, noting that how you approach a building or shrine affects the spiritual qualities revealed. It’s also about the rediscovery of invocation and ritual, gesture and stance, and how they yield different dimensions of reality. This can happen without words, too, in subtle forms of search. The Coronavirus and lockdown only underlines the blessings received by visiting sacred places. They also ask how sacred places can be made at home.
Watch on Youtube
Psychotherapies that work, though with no agreement about how they work, are becoming mainstream. For example, EMDR is widely used in the treatment of trauma. So what can be said about their efficacy and what, if anything, do they have to do with subtle energies, morphic resonance, quantum phenomena or even the soul? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon dialogues, Mark Vernon asks Rupert Sheldrake how his theory of morphogenetic fields might relate to various types of therapy and healing. They consider how certain explanations can appear “hand wavy” and how to be more discerning when discussing these things. It turns out that there is good evidence that a variety of such therapies work, but how they work is not understood. So arguably it is better to avoid pseudo-scientific explanations and let the treatments, and their efficacy, speak for themselves.
Watch on Youtube
Climate change has become the climate crisis, even climate emergency. In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake begins with an observation to Mark Vernon. He’s noticed how people are increasingly feeling the need to confess their carbon use and he wonders what that means. The thought develops into a conversation about living with the anxiety of our times where we can’t but help take part in eco-hostile activities. But maybe this is a necessary stage. Eco-confessions could help us to become more aware of our lives and the world around us. They might even be a crucial step towards the freedom required for us to re-envision the world and cosmos as enchanted if we can be less preoccupied with guilt and more open to renewed vitality and wonder.
Watch on Youtube
Many today struggle to perceive spiritual reality. But might we be passing through a stage in the evolution of human awareness? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss a recent conference that addressed this question. It was inspired by the ideas of Owen Barfield, whom Mark has written about in his new book, A Secret History of Christianity. Barfield argued the task is not just to recover old ways of perceiving nature and the divine but requires a radical transformation of ourselves that can be troubling and even tragic. Rupert and Mark ask about the role of service and discerning the imagination in this process and how we might learn to relate afresh to consciousnesses and intelligences in the world around us. All the talks from the conference are available online at www.markvernon.com/evolving-consciousness
Watch on Youtube
Aristotle called three a perfect number. We offer three cheers of praise. Christians envisage God as triune. In this new episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask why three is associated with completion, creativity, dynamism and divinity. Their discussion ranges over the patterns of three that are revealed in nature; the relationship between being, consciousness and bliss; the links between a third position and transformation in psychotherapy. The discussion was prompted by a Cambridge University conference, New Trinitarian Ontologies, which featured leading theologians such as Rowan Williams and David Bentley Hart.
Watch on Youtube
The origins of religion lie deep in the story of human evolution. But as Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss in this new episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, the scientific study of our encounter with other worlds is changing. It has been proposed that humans believe in gods because punishing presences keep individuals in check, but that's discredited. New research is turning back to an older idea that our ancestors developed the ability to enter altered states. It’s fascinating partly because new evidence puts spiritual questing in the driving seat of human evolution. It also takes us back to reflections made by Darwin that qualities like beauty are active right across the animal kingdom.
Big histories are big sellers. Noah Yuval Harari, David Christian and Felipe Fernández-Armesto are among the authors attempting to tell a deep story of the universe and humanity. In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask how they work and what’s at stake. Mark is particularly interested in this question as his new book, A Secret History of Christianity, adopts a different worldview to show how spirit and soul drive life. The conversation ranges over fascinating questions from the nature of information and emergence to what, given the current sense of crisis, we hope for the future.
The evidence for psi is dismissed by sceptics with increasingly dogmatic assertions. But that's no surprise because the data in support of phenomena from telepathy to pre-sentience is now openly discussed in leading science journals. The real question, at the forefront of research, is how these experiences can best be understood? In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss various possibilities. They draw on the proposals aired at a recent seminar attended by the leading theorists, including Rupert himself. They explore the ideas of practising physicists and biologists working the area, and move onto questions from the nature of time and consciousness to the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead.
The depth of the environmental crisis is becoming clearer. Social crises are around us, too. But do these realities stem from a deeper spiritual crisis? In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss whether we’ve become uncoupled from the foundations of life, which are not just biological and social but spiritual. They discuss how this loss shows itself in difficulties ranging from mental health to social cohesion. They ask how a society that doesn’t have a sense of the spiritual becomes unreal, as if our desires can be fulfilled solely in material ways. They explore how a spiritual crisis distorts the sense of being human, but how it also offers a prime opportunity to recover and regain an energising sense of what it means to be alive.
Anxiety about the natural world is high and with good reason. Surprisingly, perhaps, the earliest days of Christianity in the British Isles have something vital to teach us. In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon take a lead from a new book, The Naked Hermit: A Journey Into the Heart of Celtic Britain, by Nick Mayhew-Smith. It makes several arresting claims. For example, the early missionaries, before the Synod of Whitby, engaged in a deep dialogue with the indigenous druids and pagans of these islands to forge a new engagement with the natural world under its Creator-God. They realised that in dark caves, icy waters, mountaintops and sacred groves, the divine could be found and that a lost paradise was scarcely a touch away. So what has this Celtic vision of life in all its fullness got to teach us today? Could Christianity regain the sense that nature shares the yearning for God? Might this ancient vision become a crucial resource for a time facing environmental degradation and possible collapse?
Many people today seek an expansion of mind through the use of psychedelics. So what other worlds, intelligences and entities are being encountered and sought in such experiences? In this Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss psychedelics and spiritual paths. They ask why they are of such interest now. They explore the effects they have and how these relate to other altered states of consciousness, from dreams and divine encounters to inspired visions. They ask how these experiences can be transformative, and whether they can be accessed in other ways. What dangers might be encountered, both psychological and spiritual, and what can be learnt from ancient mystery traditions and the ecstatic journeys charted by writers from Plato to Dante?
Millions of people around the world make pilgrimages. In a supposedly secular Europe, the spiritual practice is booming too. In this latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the revelatory experiences that people have when engaging with shrines and megaliths, temples and springs in this way. They talk about the evolutionary origins of pilgrimage and its roots in the living consciousness of places. They ask what it feels like to embrace these ancient pathways today and how anyone can very simply, very powerfully make pilgrimage an astonishingly expansive part of life.
Many wisdom traditions say that the physical body is just one order of embodiment in the natural world. Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss ‘subtle bodies’ as dimensions of reality. They explore the terminology developed by Rudolf Steiner and ask how it relates to notions such as the dream body. They relate these ideas to those of Aristotle’s ancient notion of the soul, as well as Rupert’s own theories of morphic fields. The conversation ranges over the unconscious in psychotherapy, speculations in science about panpsychism, and phenomena such as angels.
Some preachers threaten hellfire, whilst others quench the flames with divine love. In this Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, following a suggestion of a regular listener, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what sense can, today, be made of hell. Is it primarily a psychological state, in which people are locked up by distress? Is it a region of reality that some people, many people, or perhaps all people are at risk of travelling too? Does experience now shape the experience of the hereafter? How does the hell of the Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions relate to the hell realms charted in Eastern philosophies? And what does it have to do with purgatory, and with paradise?
We live in an unprecedented age for spirituality. Spiritual practices that were originally confined to relatively isolated traditions are being used and investigated by numerous individuals and an increasing number of scientists. In this latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what this mass undertaking, from meditation to pilgrimage, might mean for the evolution of spiritual sight. How does science illuminate spiritual practices, what’s new about the practices of today, and what role is played by other features of modern life, like a strong sense of the individual and the ego?
It’s clear that our world is profoundly shaped by machines, from motor cars to mobile phones. But what impact do they have upon our awareness? In the latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert and Mark discuss a fascinating new book, In The Shadow of The Machine by Jeremy Naydler. It’s a prehistory of the computer, tracking the way human consciousness evolved in order to conceive of a mechanised world. Sheldrake and Vernon ask what’s been gained and what’s been lost in this process, the ways in which our perception of life and consciousness has been moulded, and how human consciousness might evolve further as the machine metaphor itself "runs out of steam".
What is magic? How does it relate to psi and animism? Is prayer a kind of magic? In the latest Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, the series of conversations previously entitled Science Set Free, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how people have engaged with the spirited economy of the natural world. They ask whether the purposes of magic evolve over time, whether it’s making a comeback in an otherwise secular age, and what its place might be in spiritual life.
In this episode, Rupert and Mark discuss the evolution of ethics, from its deep roots in our nature as social animals to its expansive possibilities for our spiritual potential. They ask how the modern period has changed the discussion of morality, why the cultivation of virtues can be considered a spiritual practice, and how nurturing personal qualities and characteristics is integral to awakening and liberation.
A new generation of celebrity gurus has arrived. The clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, the historian Yuval Noah Harari and the comedian Russell Brand are three prominent examples. They command podcast downloads that run into six figures, their books are at the top of amazon rankings, they stir up controversy. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what their appeal means, what can be made of their various messages, and what this might mean for non-materialist worldviews. Rupert has himself talked with Russell Brand on Under The Skin and he reflects on the experience. Their discussion also ranges over why Jordan Peterson provokes conflict, why Harari’s bleak story of humanity sells, and why Russell Brand is today one of the most visible promoters of spiritual reality.
The psalmist sings that God knew us before we were born. The book of Joshua says God ordered that everything with breath should be destroyed in the land of Canaan. The writer of Genesis affirms that God said creation was good, very good. But the Pentateuch also insists on an eye for and eye, and that parental sins will be visited on their children for several generations. In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the modern meaning of the collection of books Christians call the Old Testament. It includes words of great beauty, on the one hand and on the other, words apparently sanctifying acts of great violence. Can the Old Testament be understood as an account of the evolution of consciousness, or perhaps as a kind of collective unconscious of the Judeo-Christian west? Is it as simple as picking some parts out and dismissing others? What might be made of this seminal collection of texts by those interested in spiritual progress?
We live in a plural age. Many are open to more than one religious or wisdom tradition. They want to draw on, say, Christian as well as Buddhist practices. Or they seek to speak of vedantic insights as well as theistic ones. Indeed, they may well intuit that the one will illuminate and ignite the other. In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon draw on their experience and reading to explore a variety of religious practices and philosophies. There are pitfalls to avoid. There are questions to ask, not least when religions claim to have exclusive access to truth. But ultimately, there is much in this mix that is enriching and should be embraced.
We live in a time when many people are engaging in spiritual practices without belonging to particular religious traditions. Moreover, scientists have built up a substantial body of research that explores their many and various tangible effects. In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, discuss the widespread interest in practices from mediation to pilgrimage, which Rupert investigates in his new book, Science and Spiritual Practice. They ask what the science shows, how such practices can be understood, and where the engagement with spiritual experiences outside of the context of metaphysical convictions might lead.
We live in a secular age, it's said, although research also repeatedly suggests that people still pray. Four out of five Brits believe in the power of prayer, according to some research. Half of Americans pray every day, and nine out of ten have prayed for healing. It seems an entirely natural thing for humans to do. So what are we doing when we pray? In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the ways in which we pray - invocations, petitions, praise, thanksgivings. They explore how meditation fits in with prayer as part of the training in knowing what to ask for, and how prayer can be part of the slow process of aligning oneself with realities outside oneself. Prayer is not going away. It may be a kind of skill. Learning how to pray could be immensely valuable.
Recent studies suggest that a third of people in the UK believe in guardian angels, and nearly three quarters of Americans believe in such celestial beings. So what is angel belief a belief in? In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the modern sense of angelic presences by setting it alongside insights from medieval and ancient accounts of angel domains, which were extensively developed in both Christian and Islamic spiritual traditions. They ask about the ways in which angels might inhabit the physical cosmos and whether angels can be linked to modern insights about the human mind. Angels turn out to be a fascinating subject for conversation. They inspire all sorts of questions from the nature of matter to the truth of intuition.
How do you experience the cosmos? Did people in the past experience such participation differently? Do mystics enjoy a type of participation that eludes most people? In this episode, Rupert and Mark discuss the notion of "original participation", a phrase coined by The Inkling Owen Barfield, though also known as participation mystique and the "porous self". They ask what might be made of this form of consciousness, how people try to engage with it today in experiences of ecstasy or by reading fiction, and what can be learnt from what seems to have been a commonplace sense of life for our ancestors, though can feel like fantasy or madness in an alienated age.
Jesus saves, it is often said. But what does that mean? Is it an objectionable notion, implying a bloodthirsty God? In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, explore ways in which the significance of Jesus has been interpreted. They ask whether the incarnation is a more important notion, how evolutionary ideas can help unpack the meaning of Christianity's central figure, and how the resurrection of Jesus can be understood. This historical figure, through the intensity of his life, has become a focus for a wide range of archetypal realities.
It's widely recognised that popular atheism is changing fast. It's moving into a more constructive phase after the attacks on religion, inspired by scientism, that characterised the first decade of the new millennium. One of the most interesting new movements is the Sunday Assembly, sometimes called the "atheist church" - though the founders are not keen on that title as it suggests they are against rather than for something. It began about 3 years ago and, in that short time, has spawned over 70 congregations around the world, particularly in the UK and US. In this episode, Rupert and Mark discuss this new development, after Mark made a radio programme for the BBC on the Sunday Assembly. They ask how atheism is changing; how it is embracing dimensions of life such as the ecstatic that have been quite taboo in atheist circles; and what this means for our time.
Now is a good moment to assess the essence of Christianity, to consider what lies at its heart, as we live in a period during which Christianity isn't disappearing but is routinely rubbing shoulders with other religions and none. In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what values and consciousness Christianity has helped develop - partly in response to a series of films Mark has made with The Idler Academy, entitled A History of Christianity in 11 Short Chapters. They ask about Christianity as an inner spiritual and outer social phenomenon; the role it played at the end of the axial age in valuing the individual person; what happened so that it became a world religion; and what Christianity is becoming today.
When you look into the blue sky on a sunny day do you glimpse a ball of nuclear fire or, as the London poet and mystic, William Blake, reported, the heavenly host singing God's praises? It's an old question, revived today by the notion of panpsychism which suggests that the sun might in some way be considered conscious. In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask whether the sun is a psychical as well as physical entity in the solar system, and consider what that might mean for our participation in and connection to the cosmic dimensions of ecological life. Mark draws on Plato's notion that matter is a manifestation of mind, as well as how the sun was honoured in ancient Egypt; and Rupert explores how the sun is regarded in eastern religious practices, to suggest how it might be meaningful to relate to the sun today, as well as enjoy its light and warmth.
Human life is full of rituals, from shaking hands to venerating relics. But how do rituals work, how do they convey meaning? In this episode, Rupert and Mark 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.
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 episode, 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?
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 episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how the ancient discussion of the relationship between something and nothing can profoundly inform the contemporary contemplation.
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.
In this episode, Rupert and Mark 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).
In this episode, 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.
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 episode, Rupert and Mark discuss this dynamic aspect of human life and how the unconscious relates to ideas from the soul to morphic fields.
Rupert and Mark 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
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.
Rupert and Mark discuss ancient Greek philosophy, exploring 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.
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 episode, 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.
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 episode.
Rupert and Mark 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.
Rupert and Mark 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?
Rupert and Mark 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.
Rupert and Mark 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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.