Barry, it is funny that you asked about pictures in windows;-) in
Cambridge because I have, I hope, just begun a dialogue on creativity with
a Prof. at Cambridge (see below) while I live, it happens near Oxford.
- A jain monk decided to go on a walk for peace, -from the middle of India
to New York. It would take him nearly four years. After a while he came to
the border of a new country and some people came rushing out, eager to
wish him well and to speak with him, there had been no media coverage and
he'd told no-one.
" In George Orwell's Animal Farm, the horse called 'Boxer' always had the
same answer to difficulty: "I will work harder," he said. At first his
well intentioned diligence inspired everyone, but gradually, his hard work
began to backfire in subtle ways. The harder he worked, the more work
there was to do. What he didn't know was that the pigs who managed the
farm were actually manipulating them all for their own profit. Boxer's
diligence actually actually helped to keep the other animals from seeing
what the pigs were doing" (Senge, The Laws of the Fifth Discipline)....(to
them;-) And then there are the dying billions and suffering millions who,
for a simple 'want' of what Bohm called a 'faster and finer form of
attention than (this) confusion' do go, ever so quietly, mad.
-in this one thing, all the discipline
Of manners and of manhood contained;
A man to join himself with th'Universe
In his main sway, and make in all things fit
One with that All, and go on, round as it is;
Not plucking from the whole his wretched part,
And into straits, or into nought revert,
Wishing the complete Universe might be
Subject to such a rag of it as he;
But to consider great Necessity.
"- I was taken to a half ruined building in the Sabra area at least half a
mile from ----- despite the white flags and the red crosses shells rained
down on that hospital, decapitating people sitting in their beds, killing
them with blast debris, slicing them apart with glass shards. All the staff
save two of the bravest had fled. Now the wounded insane were tending the
insane. They did so for five days without respite, cut off by the battle. An
insane woman came up to me, thinking I was a French doctor. She was carrying
a spastic child. She kept saying, " Where shall I go Sir?, Sir, what shall I
In the wards CHILDREN had been tethered to their beds, pushed into the middle
of the room for protection against blast and debris. Now they lay in pools of
their own excrement, which were covered in flies, while the sisters
desparately tried to get round the hundreds of patients. One of them took me
to the most helpless and uncomprehending of THEIR children, the safest place
in the hospital, a windowless small internal room. The sight was appalling,
as of two or three litters of new born rats on the floor (except) They were
children with severe congenital defects. They were blind, incontinent,
deformed, sometimes mongoloid, writhing in their own secretions. - One
elderly and dignified patient came up to me and inquired, "How did this
happen? Have the sane no conscience?"
Don McCullin, British war photographer. -- Cyprus, Vietnam (Tet offensive and
the battle for Hue), Biafra, Cambodia, East Pakistan, Northern Ireland,
Uganda, Nigeria, East Beirut, Tehran and Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, El Salvador,
of Angels and angle joinings now.
Reading the poetry of Donne requires a little knowledge of angels. St Thomas
Aquinas had taught him that angels while the centre of a great paradox, while
almost imaterial they were incredibly powerful, somewhere between God and man
yet unknowable, able Judy to adopt (just;-) enough of the body of 'pure air'
for us to not see them, but feel their influence;-) around.
Can there be a science of metaphysics? The question was posed by Immanuel
Kant in 1781 with his monumental cathedral of a book, The Critique of Pure
Reason. Deeply embedded within the towering spires and vaulted arches of its
frame---with its ornate tracery of axioms and foliated scrollwork of concepts
within concepts repeating like Cantor sets to infinity---was to be found, for
the patient reader, Kant's answer: there can never be a science of
metaphysics because science, by its very nature, is concerned with a
recondite analysis of tangible things within the world of space and time.
Metaphysics, on the contrary, is concerned with transcendent intangibles,
such as God, the soul, freedom, and immortality. Theology has never been the
province of science, the primary aim of which is a coniunctio of the
categories of the mind with the impressions of the senses. Metaphysics,
however, confined as it is by the rigid nexus of classical logic, has always
looked askance at the earthly plane as a place for confirmation of the
validity of its "truths."
The question is still relevant today, for some of our most creative
scientists have begun trespassing into the territory of metaphysics, which
Kant had insisted should remain separate from science in order to preserve
the domain of human freedom and religiousness from being absorbed by the
machine of the Newtonian cosmos. Kant knew very well what would happen to
society if its citizens came to believe that free will was an anachronism and
that the events of one's own life were to be regarded strictly as functions
of the impersonal laws of a secularized environment.
Indeed, with the publication of the works of Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Skinner
during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, precisely what Kant had
feared came into cultural manifestation with the unfolding of these various
materialisms. T. S. Eliot's poems "The Waste Land" and "The Hollow Men" have
become emblematic of the spiritual climate of the twentieth century,
particularly since every one of the classical domains of the humanities has
been colonized by the expanding empire of mechanistic science. But now, as
the twentieth century spirals to its finale, it would seem that science is
very much in need of a blast of wind from the pneumatic spirit to set its
stagnant waters in motion once again.
Rupert Sheldrake is one of the few scientists with no reservations whatsoever
about discoursing on those metaphysical topics which engaged the famous
banqueters of Plato's tables, such as the existence of the soul,
reincarnation, or the soul of the world. He is the biologist who made himself
famous with the concept of morphogenetic fields, which he articulated in his
first book, A New Science of Life (1981), as a creative response to the
challenge set by nineteenth-century debates between mechanists and vitalists
over the development of organisms.
In the 1990's, the "organicists" first proposed the idea of morphogenetic
fields as a kind of golden mean between the extremes of mechanism and
vitalism. The models proposed by these thinkers, however, tended towards
Platonism, with their vision of morphogenetic fields as transcendent "laws"
of organization. But Sheldrake's innovation was to see these fields as
themselves evolving along with the forms which they produce.
And indeed for Sheldrake, the "laws" of the universe may not in fact be laws
at all, but rather deeply ingrained habits of action which have been built up
over the many eons in which the universe has spun itself out. Like the
ancient riverbeds on the surface of Mars left behind by the pressures of
flowing water over billions of years, so too, the "laws" of the universe may
be thought of as runnels engraved in the texture of space-time by endless,
unchanging repetition. And the longer particular patterns persist, the
greater their tendency to resist change. Sheldrake terms this habitual
tendency of nature "morphic resonance," whereby present forms are shaped
through the influence of past forms. Morphic resonance is transmitted by
means of "morphogenetic fields," which are analogous to electromagnetic
fields in that they transmit information, but differ in that they do so
without using energy, and are therefore not diminished by transmission
through time or space.
it is not at all necessary for us to assume that the physical characteristics
of organisms are contained inside the genes, which may in fact be analogous
to transistors tuned in to the proper frequencies for translating invisible
information into visible form.
When Sheldrake's first book was published, needless to say, there was great
controversy in the academic journals regarding the value of his hypothesis.
One reviewer in Nature magazine considered that the book would make good
kindling for a fire, at least, if nothing else. Such reactions, however, are
an indication that someone has come up with a perspective containing enough
incendiary potential to melt down the rusted old paradigm and reforge it into
something fresh. One recalls the anxieties of Saturn which impelled him to
devour his children when he learned that Zeus was coming to put an end to his
Sheldrake's first book was followed by his magnum opus, The Presence of the
Past (1988), a philosophical and cultural amplification of ideas presented
academically in the first volume. This was followed by The Rebirth of Nature
(1991), in which he traced the birth, rise, and inevitable senescence of the
materialistic world view that is presently crumbling beneath the onslaught of
such fresh thought worlds as chaos theory, the Gaia hypothesis, cellular
symbiosis, and morphic resonance. Sheldrake's next book, Trialogues at the
Edge of the West (1992), was a series of discussions with friends Terence
McKenna and Ralph Abraham regarding the current state of cosmology.
In 1995, Sheldrake's little gem Seven Experiments That Could Change the World
was proposed as a do-it-yourself guide to science, in the spirit that some of
science's great ideas have come from amateurs and dilettantes outside the
formal academic world (Leeuwenhoek was a janitor; Mayer was a surgeon; Mendel
was a monk). Sheldrake presents a series of experiments in which he invites
the reader to participate in the investigation of such unexplained phenomena
as pets who know when their owners are coming home, the strange homing powers
of pigeons, or the phenomenon of phantom limbs.
Most recently Sheldrake has collaborated with theologian Matthew Fox on two
sets of dialogues, Natural Grace and the Physics of Angels, in which the
ongoing conversation between science and spirituality finds fresh
incarnation. A new set of discussions with Abraham and McKenna is on the way,
to be entitled Trialogues at the Edge of the Unthinkable.
In the following interview, Sheldrake and I discuss his ideas about aging,
the existence of the soul, reincarnation, ghosts, telepathy, and angels. For
despite Kant's insistence on keeping the two spheres separate, it is
important to know what the changing perspectives of science have to say about
traditional spiritual beliefs. The elementary ideas of the human
imagination---gods, spirits, the category of the holy---have been ubiquitous
throughout the development of human evolution, and there is no reason to
think that the death of orthodox Christianity at the hands of an increasingly
arrogant mechanistic science means that these ideas are merely vestigial
relics from man's "superstitious" past. On the contrary, as Carl Jung often
pointed out, modern man's lack of contact with these ideas has left him
vulnerable to all sorts of political, social, and economic hysterias which
have plagued the course of the twentieth century with one catastrophe after
JE: Joseph Campbell (102) once suggested that the idea of morphogenetic
fields reminded him of the Hindu concept of maya---the field of space-time
that gives birth to the forms of the world. You wrote your first book, A New
Science of Life, while living in an ashram in India. Do you think that the
content of your book was influenced at all by a resonance with the traditions
of Indian thought?
RS: Well, I think it probably was, but the basic idea of morphic resonance
and morphic fields came to me while I was in Cambridge, before I went to live
in India. The main influence on my thinking about morphogenetic fields came
from the holistic tradition in developmental biology, where these fields are
fairly widely accepted.
The main influence on my idea of an influence through time---the morphic
resonance idea---in fact came through Henri Bergson in his book Matter and
Memory, where he argues that memory is not stored in a material form in the
brain. I realized that Bergson's ideas on memory, which were to me completely
new and incredibly exciting, could be generalized, and it was really through
reflecting on Bergson's thought that I came to this idea.
However, when I went to work in India in an agricultural institute, I went on
thinking about these ideas, and indeed they had much in common with Indian
thought. I discovered, when I was first thinking about these things in
Cambridge, that many people there simply couldn't understand what I was going
on about---particularly scientists---and thought the idea was too ridiculous
to be worth taking seriously. When I arrived in India and discussed it with
Hindu friends and colleagues, they took the opposite approach; they said,
"There's nothing new in this, it was all known millennia ago to the ancient
rishis." So, they found the ideas perfectly acceptable; the only thing was,
they weren't particularly interested in extending them into a scientific
I worked for five years in an agricultural institute before I went to live in
the ashram to write my book. And I dare say, the climate of Indian thought
was a very fertile one for me. It enabled me to go on thinking about these
ideas in a much more favorable environment than if I'd been doing it in
Cambridge. But the germs of these ideas, the roots of my own thought, are in
Western philosophy and science rather than Oriental philosophy. So, it's a
kind of convergence.
JE: You see evolutionary history as a tension between the two forces of
habit---or morphic resonance---and creativity, which involves the appearance
of new morphic fields. But in the case of mass extinctions you suggested once
that the ghosts of dead species would still be haunting the world, that the
fields of the dinosaurs would still be potentially present if you could tune
into them. Would you mind commenting on how it might be possible for extinct
species to reappear?
JE: Karl Pribram suggests that memories are spread throughout the brain like
waves, or holograms, and you go further in suggesting that memories may not
be stored in the brain at all, but rather that the brain acts as a tuning
device and picks up memories analogously to the way a television tunes in to
certain frequencies. Furthermore, you've suggested that if memories aren't
stored in the brain at all, this leaves the door open for the possibility of
the existence of the soul. Can you explain how your ideas on the existence of
the soul fit into this paradigm?
RS: Well, we should clarify the terms here. The traditional view in Europe
was that all animals and plants have souls---not just people---and that these
souls were what organized their bodies and their instincts. In some ways,
therefore, the traditional idea of soul is very similar to what I mean by
morphic fields. The traditional view of the soul in Aristotle and in St.
Thomas Aquinas was not the idea of some immortal spiritual principle. It was
that the soul is a part of nature, a part of physics, in the general sense.
It's that which organizes living bodies. In that sense, all morphic fields of
plants and animals are like souls.
However, in the case of human beings, the additional question arises as to
whether it's possible for the soul to persist after bodily death. Now,
normally souls are associated with bodies. And the theory I'm putting forward
is one that would see the soul normally associated with the body and memories
coming about by morphic resonance. If it's possible for the soul to survive
the death of the body, then you could have a persistence of memory and of
consciousness. From the point of view of the theory I'm putting forward,
there's nothing in the theory that says the soul has to survive the death of
the body, and there's nothing that says that it can't. So this is simply an
open question. But it's not one that can be decided a priori.
JE: So your theory that information can be transmitted by these nonmaterial
morphic fields makes theoretically plausible a paradigm in which phenomena
such as telepathy or ESP can be understood. Can you explain how your paradigm
makes sense out of this type of phenomena?
RS: Well, if people can tune in to what other people have done in the past,
then telepathy is a kind of logical extension of that. If you think of
somebody tuning in to somebody else's thought a fraction of a second ago,
then it becomes almost instantaneous and approaches the case of telepathy. So
telepathy doesn't seem to be particularly difficult in principle to explain,
if there's a world in which morphic resonance takes place.
I think that some of the other phenomena of parapsychology are hard to
explain from the point of view of morphic fields and morphic resonance. For
example, anything to do with precognition or premonition doesn't fit in to an
idea of influences just coming in from the past. So, I don't think this is
going to give a blanket explanation of all parapsychological phenomena, but I
think it's going to make some of it at least, seem normal, rather than
JE: In your book Seven Experiments That Could Change the World, you point out
that the expectations of experimenters have a great deal to do with the
outcome of their experiments. And you even suggest that they might influence
their experiments through psychokinesis or telepathy. Would you mind
discussing how that might work?
RS: Yes, it's well known that, in psychology and in medicine, the
experimenter's expectations can and do influence the outcome of experiments,
which is why people use blind experimental techniques to try and minimize
this effect. The second point is a new one that I've just discovered by doing
a survey of the literature and scientific practice of laboratories from
different branches of science. And this reveals that in the physical sciences
and in most of biology, people never do blind experiments. There's no
protection, whatever, against possible experimenter effects. It seems to me
quite possible that experimenters could be biasing the way they record their
data. And I would be very surprised if that doesn't happen in conventional
But I think something more surprising and alarming might be happening, as you
suggest, namely, a possible psychokinetic influence over the actual
experimental system. Scientists would be completely unprepared for this if it
were happening; they'd take no precautions against it. The culture of
institutional science dismisses it as impossible. So, there would be a great
vulnerability to this effect, if it's going on, and it might be happening
quite commonly in science.
JE: Your recent books Natural Grace and The Physics of Angels, co-written
with Matthew Fox, are explorations into the interface between science and
spirituality. There have been other important scientists---such as David Bohm
and Fritjof Capra---who have also taken an interest in crossbreeding science
and spirituality. In what ways do you see these two areas of discourse
intersecting and what kinds of cultural hybrids do you see resulting from
RS: There are many areas of potential intersection. snip I'm more interested
in the ongoing creativity, which is expressed in the evolutionary process,
and the evolutionary process must have an inherent creativity, and we know
that our universe is creative at all levels, physical, biological, or mental,
cultural, and so on. So, what is the source of this creativity? Well, it's
really a metaphysical question and materialist science has no other
suggestion than chance, which really means that it's unintelligible---we
can't think about it. However, this does overlap with traditional areas of
theological and spiritual enquiry. Therefore this is one area of discussion.
Another is the nature of the soul, the psyche, consciousness, which science,
until very recently, has had almost nothing to say about but which is
obviously of crucial importance to our understanding of ourselves and of
nature. And as I show in my book with Matthew Fox, there are yet further
areas, such as the question of prayer and how it works. If people praying for
things to happen on the other side of the world have a statistically
measurable effect on what does happen, you've got a kind of action at a
distance, which is in the purview of science to investigate. And this is
precisely what people who pray claim can happen. So I think there are quite a
number of areas of fruitful discourse and enquiry. And I think that as
science breaks out of this narrow mechanism that has been its straitjacket
for so long, approaching a more holistic view of nature, then much more
possibility of fruitful interaction occurs between science and the spiritual.
JE: You mention that your new book, The Physics of Angels, was inspired by
the similarity of St. Thomas Aquinas's descriptions of angels as without mass
or body, and the modern view of science that particles of light photons also
have neither mass nor body. Can you elaborate on the significance of this?
RS: Well, when Matthew Fox and I were first talking about angels together,
this was one of the points we raised. We both found it quite fascinating. I
think that Aquinas was trying to think as logically and as rationally as he
could about what it would mean to be a being with no mass which could yet
move and act. If you think in those terms, I suppose you come to rather
similar conclusions as people like Einstein and other pioneers in the present
century, when they were thinking about relativity and quantum theory. You're
sort of driven to very similar conclusions. Einstein's photons of light have
remarkable parallels to Aquinas's discussions of the movements of angels. And
I think it's because they were starting from similar premises. And thinking
in a similarly logical way about the consequences.
Quest Magazine Interview
>From Cellular Aging to the Physics of Angels: A Conversation with Rupert
Interviewed by John David Ebert
Last year I created a painting, predominantly blue, three torn fragments of
paper in some respects 'rag like' and with brush marks like bandages flying
around in a storm of some violence. I think I titled it "How We become
Angels" it is full of what look like faces or visages;-) and at the bottom of
the composition is a strange knotted figure like and angel that is wrestling
with itself. As the composition ascends the figure become less corporeal both
literally and metaphysically. It is by no means;-) a pretty image. It is like
a portent. It reminds me very much of what the Jewish scholar once wrote to
Klee of Klee's picture Angelus Novus regarding the 'Angel of History' and the
storm that is blowing in paradise. I have already perhaps overstayed my
welcome, so I will not plough my fields and recover from the dark soil there
that writing now. But Barry if you want to see the picture and the 'Angel of
History' I can send them to you at the speed of light. Later,;-) faster than,
but right now, as fast as;-)
I would love to be able to tell you in this one post about what I am learning
via Peter Beamish and many others throughout history, past present and future
envisioned but I canknot;-)
Last week I held a 'real child', someone else's that they gave me to hold for
a whole (while). I looked into her eyes and saw it all.
Here is part of a poem from John Donne to all ~
"My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plaine hearts doe in faces rest,
Where can we finde two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dyes, was not mixt equally;
If our loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.
He seems and say's dear friends; there is but one world and you must learn to
love it, even the 'pigs' and the 'rats'.
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