"Many consider his theory of morphic fields one of the most fruitful since the Origin of Species"
– Richard Tarnas
In this ten minute introduction to a talk by Dr Rupert Sheldrake, Richard Tarnas, Professor of Philosophy at California Institute of Integral Studies, and author of The Passion of the Western Mind outlines Sheldrake's qualities as an open-minded scientist.
It's a real honor to be able to to welcome and introduce our speaker tonight. Rupert Sheldrake is one of the most clear-thinking and revolutionary scientists of our time.
He's now published over 80 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals including Nature and ten remarkable books starting with that great breakthrough work on A New Science of Life and then going on to The Presence of the Past and The Rebirth of Nature and Seven Experiments That Could Change the World and now Science Set Free which had the British title The Science Delusion. (It would be interesting to hear Rupert talk about the shift in title from the US from the UK to the US.)
He was a fellow of Clare College at Cambridge University and a research fellow of the Royal Society and he's now a member of many scientific societies such as the Society for Experimental Biology and the Cambridge Philosophical Society.
Many consider his theory of morphic fields one of the most fruitful since the Origin of Species, one of the most fruitful for biology certainly but also for other fields such as psychology.
James Hillman, another kindred spirit, has proposed what he calls an acorn theory for better understanding the narrative arcs of a human life. He says just as the acorn holds implicit within itself the pattern for the growth and the maturation of the oak tree, and draws towards what it needs in order to actualize its potential, so also does the individual human being.
Each of us from this point of view is shaped by a unique individual energy, a daimon as he would call it, a calling that's expressed in many different ways throughout the lifetime. And it draws towards it those childhood experiences that are necessary for what is to come. Like Louie Armstrong happening to be given a trumpet as a New Orleans waife when he's a child I think and we see how this process gets more and more evident as the person actualizes what was potential and fulfills their life work.
And I think we can see this process at work in Rupert Sheldrake's life. From the start as he surrounded himself, when he was very young as a child, with a host of animals, from caterpillars and tortoises to pigeons and his dog. And his father was an herbalist and taught him botany and through his microscope showed him the wonders of nature. And while still young Rupert collected plants and read books on Natural History and even by the time he was 12 he knew he wanted to become a biologist. And then he went on to Cambridge where he studied the sciences there but then also then went on to study philosophy and history of science at Harvard and now I think we can say that Rupert is really one of the the most influential and splendidly controversial scientists of our time.
He is a Socrates among the Athenians upsetting their unconscious dogmatic assumptions. He arouses their ire precisely because they uncomfortably sense that he is seeing something that they are not, and that they haven't, and this destabilizes their certainties. And not only their specific certainties but also their larger underlying frame of reference, and this is very very very challenging. He suggests that their fixed earth might be moving, that their unchanging laws of nature might be ever-evolving habits and over and over again in many areas of research he suggests that there might indeed be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their materialist philosophy.
He points out that the mechanistic perspective that continues to underlie the mainstream scientific worldview is secretly anthropomorphic, that term that modern science is most obsessively interested in removing from its cognition. And yet within the heart of its mechanistic perspective is hidden this anthropomorphic assumption, for as Rupert points out there are in fact no machines in a state of nature. All machines are human-made just as is the metaphor imposed on nature by the mechanistic theory.
May I say just one more thing before giving the lectern over to Rupert, to place tonight's presentation in context, I think there's no more crucial task today for thoughtful individuals in our precarious civilization than to reach towards and then help disseminate a larger and deeper perspective, to see our world and our place in it with new eyes and thus to transform our culture's world view in the course of the great modern development.
A tremendous shift took place, particularly centered around the enlightenment, so that we moved from a civilization in which the center of gravity in defining our worldview was religion, as the principal power that was affecting our cultural vision, and the strategies that moved our way of life. And it moved in the course of the modern era to one in which science held that role, that science became in a way not only the most powerful force in shaping our cosmology, our worldview, but also it became a new faith in a way, a faith in modern reason that could shine it's light on the world and like the Sun illuminate everything, objectifying the cosmos, seeing it as an object, objectifying the earth and seeing it as an object and thereby empowering the human subject all in one move.
But this extraordinary confidence, this luminous powerful confidence in modern reason, came with a shadow as all light does, a shadow in this case of hubris, of exaggerated assurance, of superior knowledge and certainty, a cutting off of sources of knowing that other cultures and other ages have developed and honored as necessary for any authentic engagement with reality.
Our world today, which is so fraught with the consequences of modern civilization's reductionist assumptions, deeply needs what Rupert Sheldrake has brought to the table of scientific discussion: the precision of his thought and articulation; the breadth of his expertise and his erudition; the calm equilibrium with which he engages what is surprisingly often been fierce hostility. All these represent a model of intellectual excellence and courage for all of us.
Rupert Sheldrake is perhaps as well-suited as anyone living today by training by sensibility and by courage in battle to engage this crucial task. He is a Lancelot in our round table as we seek to recover the sacred mystery of our cosmos.