From Chris Brauer's Blog, 14th January 2006
You can tell by the way he theatrically rolls up his sleeves when finished with the lecture and ready for questions. He secretly loves the controversy.
Two men in crumpled jackets settle deep in their chairs in the third row and can be overheard: "we've come to refute him". A young couple playfully join in the fun near the back: "Am I staring at you? ... Yes? ... No? ... Am I staring at you? ... Yes? ... No?"
Enter the world of Morphic Resonance -- the theory that all species draw upon a collective memory -- and you enter the world of Dr Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist with a bulging academic resume and one of the world's most influential paranormal researchers.
The basic theory follows up on Carl Jung's notion of a collective unconscious, but extends it beyond humans to all living matter. Dr Sheldrake believes that memory is inherent in nature and that the brain emits morphic fields of mental activity, not unlike the way magnetic or gravitational fields extend out from the surface of objects. The fields of our minds extend out from our brains and we are in constant contact with the sum of all this activity, we simply don't often recognize it.
Through morphic resonance, the patterns of activity in self-organizing systems are influenced by similar patterns in the past, giving each species and each kind of self-organizing system a collective memory. This memory manifests itself in habits, not laws which are inherently human, and a natural selection of habits occurs over time resulting in not just biological but social, cultural, mental and cosmic evolution.
Dr Sheldrake's rigorous intellectual defense of these theories, most recently in a convened session at Goldsmiths College, University of London as part of the Whitehead Lectures on Cognition, Computation and Creativity, makes it more difficult to dismiss than traditional paranormal fare. Tune into his debate with Professor Lewis Wolpert at the Royal Society of the Arts in 2004 for a sample and see if you'd like to go head-to-head with the Harvard/Cambridge scholar.
But a lot of resistance remains to the metaphysical, not traditionally scientific, grounding of Morphic Resonance. Probably the most famous scientific application has been Dr Sheldrake's studies of people being stared at and how we are aware of this phenomena without traditional sensory input.
He finishes his Whitehead lecture giving a robust history of western thought from the greeks to present. His description of global scientific/philosophical history is engaging and descriptive. The world is in the midst of a huge clash between the "two tectonic plates" of understanding, those who see the world as always changing and those who see it as always staying the same. "Every government in the world" has followed on Thomas Hobbes and self-interested cooperation. A few hands dart up and others are more slowly raised from the audience of assembled academics.
"So you obviously don't believe in life on other planets or surely we would know all they know through morphic resonance and would therefore have nothing to learn?"
"Very good question." ... Rupert Sheldrake takes off his jacket and rolls up his sleeves ...