The Guardian touts Sheldrake again: pigeons find their way home, ergo Jesus

It’s one thing for the Guardian to get two muddleheaded critics of materialism to review Rupert Sheldrake’s new book on woo, The Science Delusion, but it’s another when the paper’s science section writes a laudatory piece about him.  Have a look at Saturday’s piece by Tim Adams, “Rupert Sheldrake: the ‘heretic’ at odds with scientific dogma.” The whole tenor of the article seems to be that the world is hungry for a palliative to science—exemplified by the Demon Dawkins—and Sheldrake’s book is that nostrum:

Sheldrake is a brilliant polemicist if nothing else and he skilfully marshals all the current thinking that undermines these tenets – from apparent telepathy in animals, to crystals having to “learn” how to grow, to some of the more fantastical notions of theoretical physics. On the morning I meet him, his book is sitting near the top of the science bestseller list on Amazon. It has also, unlike most of his previous work – Seven Experiments That Could Change the World, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home – been generally reviewed respectfully. Perhaps it is something in the air.

I just checked Amazon in the U.S. and U.K.: The Science Delusion is at 214,584 at the former and 56 at the latter. So yes, it is selling well over there.

Anyway, Dawkins, who apparently stands for scientism, is dragged in; he must be getting tired of this.

One of the habits in nature that Sheldrake is interested in is polarity, and if he has a natural nemesis then it is Richard Dawkins, arch materialist and former professor of public understanding of science at Oxford. The title of his book seems to take direct aim at Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Was that, I wonder, his express intention in writing it?

“Slightly,” he suggests. But the title was really his publisher’s idea. “It is dealing with a much bigger issue. But Richard Dawkins is a symptom of the dogmatism of science. He crystallises that approach in the public mind, so to that extent, yes, it is a pointed title.”

Although Dawkins is accused of dogmatism, Sheldrake’s thesis is far more ambitious, and far less evidenced:

What we have in common,” Sheldrake says, “is that we are both certain that evolution is the central feature of nature. But I would say his theory of evolution stops at biology. When it comes to cosmology, for example, he has little to say. I would take the evolutionary principle there, too. I think that the ‘laws of nature’ are also prone to evolve; I think they are more like habits than laws. Much of what we are beginning to understand is that they clearly have evolved differently in different parts of the universe.”

Sheldrake talks a good deal of the fact that, as all good Brian Cox viewers know, 83% of the universe is now thought to be “dark matter” and subject to “dark energy” forces that “nothing in our science can begin to explain”.

And he thinks it never will? Even to “begin” to explain? At any rate, the accusation of scientism—or materialism—is explicit.

Despite this, he suggests, scientists are prone to “the recurrent fantasy of omniscience”. The science delusion, in these terms, consists in the faith that we already understand the nature of reality, in principle, and that all that is left to do is to fill in the details. “In this book, I am just trying to blow the whistle on that attitude which I think is bad for science,” he says. In America, the book is called Science Set Free, which he thinks is probably a better title. “They were aware that if they called it The Science Delusion it would be seen as a rightwing tract that was anti-evolution and anti-climate change. And I want no part of that.”

I’m not sure where Sheldrake gets his idea that we already understand most of reality, and the rest is details. Who thinks that? The history of science tells us otherwise: new pardigms are opening up constantly.  Yes, we understand much of reality, but think of all the new things that have arisen just in my lifetime: plate tectonics, The Big Bang, the structure of DNA (not long before I was born, the “hereditary molecule” was thought to be proteins), black holes, string theory, and the possibility of multiple universes.  There are endless wonders, and endless forms most wonderful, still to be found, and that’s the fun of science. Nobody except for Sheldrake and his woo-laden audience thinks that all we’re doing is just “filling in the details.”  In this connection I always think of the statement by evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane:

“Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

But for Sheldrake, materialism is not the way to go here:

Over a period, he found the materialist view of the universe – that matter was all that life consisted of, that human beings were in Dawkins’s term “lumbering robots” – did not accord with his own experience of it. Sheldrake was a gifted musician and “electrical changes in the cortex didn’t seem able to fully explain Bach”. Likewise: “To describe the overwhelming life of a tropical forest just in terms of inert biochemistry and DNA didn’t seem to give a very full picture of the world.”

Well, of course you have to add natural selection to that mix. The missing ingredient for Sheldrake is, of course, God.  But if you add God (and psychedelic drugs) to the mix, your understanding of the universe doesn’t get any fuller—it just gets fuzzier, with some pretty colors around the edges.

“At around the same time,” he recalls, “I had some exposure to psychedelics, and that opened me up to the idea that consciousness was much richer than anything my physiology lecturers had ever described. Then I came across transcendental meditation, which seemed to give some access to that without drugs.” Alongside that, to his surprise, Sheldrake began to realise that there was “a lot more in my makeup that was ‘Christian’ than I cared to admit. I started praying and going to church.”

Did he pray with a sense of its efficacy?

“Well,” he says, “I still say the Lord’s Prayer every day. It covers a lot of ground in our relation to the world. ‘Thy will be done’, that sense that we are part of a larger process that is unfolding that we do not comprehend.” By the time Sheldrake went to live at the ashram of the exiled Christian holy man, Father Bede Griffiths, he had been confirmed in the Church of South India and was the organist of St George’s, Hyderabad. It was at about that time, “living in a palm-fringed hut under a banyan tree”, that Sheldrake decided to set out his decade’s worth of thinking about memory being a function of time, not matter, shared by all living things, that he called “morphogenetics”.

That reminds me of the old Jim Ringer song with the lyric, “He used to take acid, and now he loves God, but he’s still got that look in his eye.”

What I think we can take from the Guardian article is that we, or at least the Brits, who are buying this book like hotcakes, shouldn’t be so complacent about the triumph of science. There’s a lot of anti-science pushback out there, a lot of hunger for things that science supposedly can’t explain—and that means God and religion.

Though he remains at best a contentious figure, and to some an irredeemable charlatan, Sheldrake sees some evidence that this old opposition is breaking down, that doubt and wonder might be returning to science.

“I think one of the reasons why my book has – so far – been well received is that times are changing,” he suggests. “A lot of our old certainties, not least neoliberal capitalism, have been turned on their head. The atheist revival movement of Dawkins and Hitchens and Dennett is for many people just too narrow and dogmatic. I think it is a uniquely open moment…”

His hope is that there will be a “coming out” moment in science. “It’s like gays in the 1950s,” he suggests. “I think if people in the realm of science and medicine came out and talked about the limitations of purely mechanistic and reductive approaches it would be much more fun…”

But what are those limitations? That we can’t understand why dogs know when their owners are coming home? Give me a break! One Big Mystery Sheldrake drags in this time is pigeon navigation (Darwin, a pigeon fancier, would be appalled).

The other thing that troubled him about scientific orthodoxy might be condensed into a single word: pigeons. As a boy in Newark-on-Trent, Sheldrake had kept animals – a dog, a jackdaw and some homing pigeons. He would place these pigeons in a cardboard box and cycle all morning with them and then release them to marvel how they would always beat him home. Newark happened to be a hub of pigeon racing. “Every weekend in the season, people would bring piles and piles of wicker baskets containing their birds; my father would take me there and the porters would let me help release the pigeons. Hundreds would fly up and circle round, then you would see them form into little groups and head off around Britain, back home. Pigeon fanciers were mostly plain working men, but they were fascinated by this mystery, which they did not understand.”

We still don’t know how pigeons navigate. There have been many suggestions, including using the Earth’s magnetic field, odors, landmarks, the Sun, or a combination of factors. But if we’re going to clear up this mystery, how would Sheldrake suggest we do it?  The only way I see is to do experiments using varying cues (these are hard with free-flying birds), and this of course is just pure materialistic science.  The alternative, which is apparently Sheldrake’s way, is to say “Baby Jesus guides the little birdies home.” That isn’t understanding at all: it’s simply an untestable assertion without an iota of evidence to back it up.

In the end, Sheldrake holds out the invidious possibility that there’s some sort of afterlife for believers in woo like himself, but not for atheists!

“I’ve always thought death would be like dreaming,” he says, “but without the possibility of waking up. And in those dreams, as in our dreams in life, everyone will get what they want to some degree. For the atheists convinced everything will go blank, maybe it will.” He trusts in a more colourful future for himself.

The only things that leaven this dire puff-piece are the readers’ comments, which seem pretty uniformly against Sheldrake’s thesis.  A sample of those comments:

“Sheldrake sees some evidence that this old opposition is breaking down, that doubt and wonder might be returning to science. What are we supposed to make of rubbish like this? Doubt and wonder are the wellspring of science and never left, thanks.

***

Christ not Ruper “Morphnance” Sheldrake again.

Is he paying you to push his profile in your paper or something?

Could we not have some opinions from some scientists instead – y’know people who might have at least some idea what they’re on about and who might provide a mildly more interesting insight into the world and its workings than gazing at goat’s entrails?

***

You really shouldn’t let anyone but your science bloggers write science articles, otherwise you just get mess like this.

A transparent attempt to provoke a bunfight, very little substance or depth. [JAC: I'm not familiar with the British term "bunfight." Is it like a food fight?]

***

Sounds thicker the more you read about him. I wish they were made to define science before banging on about it so much. So much dislike what is ultimately the realm of researching, testing and understanding.

The most likely people to admit they’re wrong as scientists. That’s the job, that’s the study. You test everything, there’s not a preferred answer, just a quest for knowledge. So where does ‘delusion’ come in? Testing, following evidence and being open to changing opinion based on new evidence and so on. Delusional???? It just seems a contradiction when talking about science.

Purely aimed to market himself as some anti-Dawkins and sell some books, but it’s instantly set itself up as a poorly thought out argument merely from the title.

Never ceases to amaze me how many go with ‘science thinks it knows everything’ or science is arrogant, when the very notion of science is going into areas we don’t understand, researching what we don’t know. Science = curiosity. Science isn’t a person, it’s a process, it’s education. The only arrogance comes from those claiming knowledge based on no evidence and refusing to alter their opinion regardless of research etc. Not all religious people, not at all, but many, are particularly those attacking this ‘science’ creature they’ve created, are just depressingly narrow-minded, incurious contradictory morons. No offence.

71 Comments

  1. BilBy
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    F*kn pigeons! How do they work?!
    I’m glad you quoted some of the comments – they cheered me up after reading the Grauniad puffpiece

    • orlando
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      Sheldrake – the evil twin of Deepak Chopra.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        I thought Chopra was the evil one.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

          If they are identical twins aren’t they equally evil?

        • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          At least Chopra has the excuse of being stupid.

    • jonjermey
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      Pigeons go out, pigeons come back – you can’t explain that!

  2. Matthew Cobb
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Yes, the comments are great. They savage the ‘dark matter/dark force’ woo that Jerry quotes, and point out that Sheldrake is lying when he quotes the Nature editorial that allegedly says his (previous) book should be burned. The gullible Guardian journalist didn’t think to do the elementary fact-checking. As Adam Rutherford, who has read the book, said in another thread “A book to be ignored.”

  3. Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    no god or gods that is the truth. Someone always tries to get on the gravy train to write a book to make money contradicting evolution. I have seen evidence of evolution not of an imaginary god, of whom there are many myths about. I am near the end of my life and know that after seeing so many wars and mindless killings in the name of religion I know when I die I die and dthen there is nothing but my genes will carry on in my family that survive me.

  4. Alektorophile
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Really? “The Science Delusion”? How imaginative. Yet another “flea” to add to the pile.

    I agree on the comments: reading them restores one’s faith in humankind. How much more interesting would such an interview be, if the readers were to ask the questions and not some clueless journalist…

  5. AndreSchuiteman
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    My own suspicion is that Rupert Sheldrake’s mind is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

  6. GBJames
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    “He used to take acid, and now he loves God, but he’s still got that look in his eye.”

    I must look this song up.

    • BilBy
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      I think it must be Nick Cave with a lyric like that

    • Uommibatto
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

      Speaking of songs, and psychedelia, when I read this part of the story: “I had some exposure to psychedelics, and that opened me up to the idea that consciousness was much richer than anything my physiology lecturers had ever described,” I thought of The Byrds’ song “5D”: “And I opened my heart to the whole universe/And I found it was loving/And I saw the great blunder my teachers had made/
      Scientific delirium madness.” Rather similar sentiments, don’t you think?

  7. Occam
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    The Guardian files this infertile manure under Science > Controversies in Science. It is a guinea pig classification.
    Let me explain. As Wikipedia has it, “Despite their common name, these animals are not in the pig family, nor are they from Guinea.”

    In French, the guinea pig is known as a “cochon d’Inde”, ‘pig from India’.
    François Cavanna, a well-known satirist, coined a proverbial observation:

    Upon closer investigation, the ‘cochon d’Inde’ is not a cochon, and it does not originate from India.
    Only the d’ is authentic.

    So with Sheldrake: It is not science, it is not controversy, it is just ‘in’. Let’s hope that someone at The Guardian was handsomely paid for this shameless advertisement. Crookedness would be preferable to the abyssal stupidity of featuring it for free.

    To end on a cheerful note: Google reminds us that today would be the 80th birthday of François Truffaut. If “The Wild Child” is shown or aired anywhere, go and watch it. It has infinitely more to say about the mindset of an Enlightenment experimental scientist, and about old-fashioned humanist values and dilemmas, that someone like Sheldrake could ever grasp.

    • J
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Excellent wordplay – I think you summed it up nicely!

    • Draken
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Guinea pig classification. Must remember.

  8. TJR
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Some scientists sometimes overplay the importance of their particular research.

    Some scientists sometimes underplay the caveats and limitations to their work.

    Therefore Jesus.

  9. J
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    “Much of what we are beginning to understand is that [physical laws] clearly have evolved differently in different parts of the universe”

    Excuse me, did I read that correctly? When did we start to understand this & what made us do so?

    • Strider
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Sheldrake asserted it so it must be true!

  10. Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I was blissfully unaware of the Blessed Sheldrake until I had a close encounter of the third kind with said gentleman just over a week ago. You can read an account of it here: http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/what-if-rupert-sheldrake-were-available-right

    I have to say “The Science Delusion” is an apt description of whatever affliction he happens to be suffering from. I would not want to be too hard on the poor fellow as he did manage to say a couple of things that made sense. I had the unique opportunity of obtaining a signed copy of his book at a cut down price, but, since it would not have felt like saving £5 so much as wasting £15, I declined the offer.

  11. Ray Moscow
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Sheldrake has been calling for these ‘experiments that could change the world’ for many years now, but I don’t see that he’s actually done any of them. Or if he did, he didn’t like the negative results.

    I read some of his ‘Dogs’ book and one he did with liberal theologian Matthew Fox, The Physics of Angels. It’s a bit sad when the theologian is out-wooed by the ‘scientist’.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      “could” is such a weasel word.

      /@

  12. Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Non-Sequiturian arguments for “Goddidit:”

    “Tide comes in, tide goes out; you can’t explain that.” — Bill O’Reilly

    “Pigeons find their way home. You can’t explain that.” — Rupert Sheldrake

    I contemplate such and don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

  13. Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Pet peeve: I’ve never forgiven Sam Harris for saying nice things about Rupert Sheldrake in The End Of Faith. Has Harris ever retracted any of that?

  14. eric
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    The science delusion, in these terms, consists in the faith that we already understand the nature of reality, in principle, and that all that is left to do is to fill in the details

    Funny, I always hear science pundits saying this – e.g., philosophers and journalists – not actual scientists. This strawman is decades if not centuries old. Just to give one recent example, John Horgan (a science journalist) wrote “The End of Science” back in 1997, and his prediction was just the last in a long line of similar predictions that we’d reached some sort of end.

  15. Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    It’s one thing for the Guardian to get two muddleheaded critics of materialism to review Rupert Sheldrake’s new book on woo, The Science Delusion, but it’s another when the paper’s science section writes a laudatory piece about him.

    I long ago concluded that the main goal of articles appearing in newspapers is to sell more newspapers. Considerations such as truth are at most secondary.

    • Aj
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 2:22 am | Permalink

      I think it’s rather worse than that.

      These days the adverts from the Guardian online are apparently a bigger earner than the sales of the print edition.

      So they’re not really worried about people no longer buying the paper and have an increased incentive to put out any old tendentious rubbish; which mostly just annoys their readers and triggers pointless argument and flaming in the comment section.

      That’s why they appear to be turning into a left wing version of the Mail.

  16. Tulse
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    He dropped acid, lived on an ashram, and thinks he’s got profound insights into the world.

    The ’60s called, and they want their hippie back.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I went to India once to find myself but when I got there, I’d left.

    • Strider
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      +1

  17. Nick Evans
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    bunfight = a heated argument about nothing important. Like a couple of kids squabbling over who’s had the bigger slice of cake.

    • TJR
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Or sometimes a literal fight with buns. There is a cafe in Prague where you can buy the stale buns that customers didn’t eat and they let you throw them at the other customers.

      The second time I went there I heard a group of British lads coming in behind me and thought that they would inevitably pay for the bunfight, as indeed they did.

      Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the cafe, but its quite a smart fin de siecle sort of place.

  18. Dominic
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Non-scientist general staff reporter Tim Adams, sucked in by Sheldrake’s woo? Now there’s a surprise!

    By the way, I am sure that a reasonably large number of homing pigeons get ‘lost’, or sufficiently pissed off about being dragged about the countryside on races to not bother to fly back & be, er, cooped up!

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.squidproject.net/pdf/17_Dubbin_Davidson_Lost.pdf

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Actually they’re pretty reliable. You can make quite a good living selling the same pigeons over and over again at village markets, not that I would ever do such a thing!

      • Draken
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        I’ll trade your pigeons for my bridge.

      • Marella
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Anyone foolish enough to pay money for pigeons deserves all they get! ;-)

      • Dominic
        Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:17 am | Permalink

        Interesting. Tthough that whatever system they use, it is not 100% reliable, and perhaps other factors come into play. I am thinking of what we call ‘character’ in humans. The homing instinct is one among many instincts that will be competing in the pigeons – reproduction, food, etc. The expression of these varied levels of urges/instincts/competing traits in people are what give us our individual characters. In some the lard instinct (!) will be strong so they will put on weight. In others there is the urge to exercise. Perhaps it is all about dopamines…?

  19. AnthonyK
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Yes, I too read the article and sighed. I’ve only just become aware of Rupert Sheldrake and his insubstantial fancies, so long ignored by scientists. I mean, all of science is wrong – and Rupert Sheldrake correct – because dogs seem to know when their owners are coming home, or that some people have a sense of being stared at?
    What tosh. I find it ironic that pseudo science like this is in fact incredibly reductionist itself, in Sheldrake’s case reducing the “evidence” for a whole new universal consciousness to parlour tricks. In fact, from what I’ve read, his whole book can be reduced to “boo hoo, scientists ignore my nonsense.”
    That’s because there’s no freaking evidence for it, dunderhead. And you, sir, are no Professor Dawkins.
    Incidentally, I don’t think that Tim Adams, the journalist who wroted this puff piece, is any kind of science journalist, far less a scientist. They have generally declined, or not been offered, the chance to review the book: it seems to be the faithheads who get the gig, ever eager to kick the caricature of science that they think we believe in.
    I imagine someone, somewhere has done a skillfull takedown of this shite (Bernard Hurley’s post above is pretty good), but I’d love to read a skilfull evisceration – besides what I’ve read here, of course.

  20. Mary
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I stopped reading once the author proudly claimed his religiosity. I prefer to ignore people like this; most times, they have NOTHING interesting or truthful to say. With that being said, I do understand and appreciate your efforts Jerry.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Quite.
      I find genuinely expressed religious notions as a very reliable diagnostic of a disordered mind.

  21. Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Sheldrake was a gifted musician and “electrical changes in the cortex didn’t seem able to fully explain Bach”.

    This annoys me. Well of course electrical discharges in the cortex don’t fully explain Bach… they’re at widely separated levels of brain function — it’s obviously (isn’t it?) too great a leap.

    It’s just like saying quantum theory doesn’t fully explain genetics… but there is a chain of explanations from QT through nuclear physics, atomic and molecular physics, chemistry, biochemistry, DNA, … 

    How on earth are you going to describe the all the levels of abstraction that leads you to that explanation except through scientific investigation?

    And, of course, scientists like Daniel Levitin* are doing just this… (for Bach, not genetics!)

    /@

    * Possibly not the most important, but one whose book I’ve read!

  22. M31
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    These types of authors (and they really are a type) love to invent phrases that ‘prove’ the ‘fact’ that ‘science’ can’t ‘explain’ everything, such as the one about Bach, and “To describe the overwhelming life of a tropical forest just in terms of inert biochemistry and DNA didn’t seem to give a very full picture of the world.”

    But if you read the sentence it falls apart. First of all “inert biochemistry” is an oxymoron unto itself. If you had to describe biochemistry you’d be pretty accurate if you said ‘the study of things that are really really really not inert’.

    Then the straw man that a slice of a particular science fails to give a ‘complete picture’.

    Then, you know, I think it actually is DNA that describes the overwhelming life of a tropical forest. OK, geology, weather patterns, plate tectonics, blah blah blah but when you think of a tropical forest don’t you think of plant diversity, animal diversity, exploitation of every possible niche including way up in the tree canopy, and so on. Why is it like that? BECAUSE OF DNA AND ITS EVOLUTION YOU IDIOT.

  23. horrabin
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    There was a PBS series in 1993 called “A Glorious Accident” that had separate interviews with Sheldrake, Dan Dennett, Oliver Sacks and Steven Jay Gould, followed by a round table discussion. Sheldrake brought up those damn pigeons again and something he called ‘habits of nature’ (as opposed to laws of nature, which I guess were just too materialistic for him). At one point Sheldrake said we should be open to the concept of the sun having consciousness. The expression on Gould’s face was priceless.

    • eric
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I’m open to it. Just tell me what evidence you have for it.

      Folks like Sheldrake don’t understand that “open to” an idea does not require we be “credulous of” it.

  24. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    “I still say the Lord’s Prayer every day. It covers a lot of ground in our relation to the world. ‘Thy will be done’, that sense that we are part of a larger process that is unfolding that we do not comprehend.”

    Oh, the humility of the truly arrogant.

  25. Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Bunfight:

    Among other definitions, “…a heated altercation, but one that the describing observer feels is of no importance…”

    “Two similar expressions are known from the middle of the nineteenth century: crumpet-scramble and muffin-worry.”

    http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-bun2.htm

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      I was under the impression that a crumpet-scramble was an altogether different thing.

      • Nick Evans
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        And a muffin-worry would probably get you arrested nowadays. It’s political correctness gone mad.

  26. Karen
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I got in trouble at the part about crystals having to learn to grow. Beyond that, my boots just aren’t high enough to wade through the cow pasture.

  27. Scientismist
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The science delusion, in these terms, consists in the faith that we already understand the nature of reality, in principle, and that all that is left to do is to fill in the details.

    No mystery what Sheldrake means here.. or rather, mystery is precisely what he wants to inject. The scientistic bugaboo is material naturalism. “Scientism” used to mean holding a scientific theory as sacred, and even persecuting dissenting heretics (as under Lysenko). Now it means accepting the fact that, no credible exceptions to material explanations having been found, materialism, far from being a faith or dogma, has become part of the best working theory for the “nature of reality” that we have.

    As I recall from reading some of Sheldrake’s stuff 20 years ago or more, his notion of the laws of physics being the “habits” of a universal consciousness stem at least partly from the fact that some complex molecules can crystallize into more than one pattern. But after one such crystallization has happened, it is hard to get the alternative structure to form. The conventional explanation is that tiny seed crystals start to spread in the environment; but champions of mystery, like Sheldrake, prefer to believe that the universe as a whole has a non-material conscious memory. Systematically fooling themselves seems to be a favored “alternate way of knowing” for self-styled modern critics of scientism.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Yup. Insisting that scientists think they have it “all figured out” or nothing is left but “details” is the panicky code for Naturalism — a working theory which has no need to entertain the “possibility” that the universe resembles a human-like Mind. It’s all about how you connect things. Real wonders and discoveries like “plate tectonics, The Big Bang, the structure of DNA … black holes, string theory, and the possibility of multiple universes” pale in insignificance against the exciting possibility that maybe the cosmos revolves around us and our personal concerns.

      The fleas who sniff at “scientism” remind me of nothing so much as teenagers who throw off a course on astronomy in favor of a book on astrology. Black holes and string theory? Who cares? Now here it says that the movements of the planets and stars will tell me who I should marry and whether my dreams will come true. Ooooo …. this is deep stuff. Finally, science becomes interesting and relevant. It’s all connected in the right way.

      • GBJames
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        Ha! You had me for a second there, Sastra!

  28. Mandrellian
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, FFS, when is the Groaniad going to drop its hate-boner for Richard Dawkins? Every other week there seems to be some mouth-breathing pseudo-hippie/godbot sycophant lining up, coconut in hand, ready to have a shy at science and/or (usually “and”) Dawkins, as if he’s the only scientist who ever wrote a book anyone bought (seriously, these people need to lighten up or at least spread their fire around). I mean, really, “science doesn’t know everything”? That’s your carefully-considered contribution to the discourse? As Dara O’Brian reminds us, that’s the entire point: if science did know everything did, it would stop. But hey, humour me: show me something tangible and instructive that clasped-hand sky-asking has revealed about the world (other than the craven depths of stupidity, ignorance and fear that our species is capable of) and I’ll start listening to you.

    Either the Groan is trying too hard to court lefty readers with this odd focus on non-science and Dawkins or its editorial board has some kind of issue with atheists or with atheist dictator-for-life Il Duce Dawkins himself.

    It’s heartening to see reader comments like those included by Jerry though – if they’re anything to go by, this approach isn’t winning them many friends.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      * Dara Ó Briain

      You’re welcome. /@

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      It may be that old malady that afflicts the arty-farty literary crowd who staff newspapers:

      Science-Envy.

  29. jonjermey
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’m convinced. I’m all set to drop my materialistic ‘scienceism’ for one of the alternative world-views based on mystic woo and pronouncements from the pulpit. I just have one question:

    How do I choose between them?

    • sasqwatch
      Posted February 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Easy. There are NO wrong choices.

    • tushcloots
      Posted February 7, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Follow the money!
      ‘Course you can always just make up your own and write a book.

    • Posted February 7, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      If you take Pascal’s wager seriously you will choose the one with the worst Hell.

  30. Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Sheldrake knows how to push our buttons and get attention.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      If he hadn’t turned up just over a week ago to a series of talks I normally go to, I would still be blissfully unaware of his existence. Didn’t push any of my buttons, I’m afraid, I just thought he was a bit of a clown. What did surprise me was the number of doting admirers h brought along with him.

  31. Diane G.
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  32. tushcloots
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Special Relativity eplains that time cannot be seperated from space, period. The guy is a loon, why bother?

  33. smaddox
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Two things:

    1. Crystals don’t ‘“learn” how to grow’. If they did, polycrystalline silicon solar cells (the vast majority of solar cells) wouldn’t be possible. What he’s probably confused about is the difficulty of growing large single-crystal boules of material. In reality, the process of crystallization, even the need for a seed crystal to grow large single-crystals, is readily understood with quantum mechanics (or phenomenologically using only posited chemical bond energies). It is, however, an incredibly complex topic. Lucky for Sheldrake, it happens to be of particular practical utility since large semiconductor crystals are so useful.

    2. In relation to ‘memory being a function of time, not matter’… I find this quite ironic since time itself, particularly the directionality of time, can only be understood by invoking the existence of matter and the level of order (or disorder) in its arrangement (known as entropy). Basically the past is different from the future because the past is in a state of low entropy, and the future is in a state of high entropy. Being as such, both memory and time are a function of matter. The reason we remember the past and not the future is because the very process of forming and recalling memories requires raising the amount of entropy in the universe.

  34. Andrew Metcalfe
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    Susan Blakemore,in the Guardian back in 2009, summed up the appeal of Sheldrakes’s woolly woo, and his failure in the evidence department!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/04/morphic-paranormal-science-sheldrake

  35. Sergio Asunción
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    First of all, thank for the review. I was looking forward to know more about this author, since I read an article in a fairly serious magazine, hinting that Sheldrake’s theses seemed backed by certain evidence.

    Since I have not read his books (or Deepak Chopra’s, for that matter), I can not give my opinion about the author’s ideas and argumentations. However, I would like to point out that, in daily language, we tend to use the term ‘science’ for diverse elements (one of the commenters equaled it to “curiosity”): Reason, the scientific method, the current corpus or laws and theories… But the term also concerns certain reputation or prestige that emanates from social consensus and that I do not think has to be threatened by a review of alternative ways of approaching knowledge.

    I consider this ongoing debate between the roles and statuses of science and religion could be very fruitfuil -at any rate, it is likely to go on in the near future. So I would just suggest to pay attention to the way we are engaging in it, recognizing that desire, belief and reason are all universal, and the different ways one approaches knowledge are reasonable under certain light.

    In short, if we make sure that the tone is respectful, this dialogue should actually enlight all the participants and may even be enjoyable instead of painful!

  36. Michael Shell
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I think this article is a bit unfair saying that Sheldrake is promoting ‘woo.’ I think that is a buzz world from James Randi. I think Sheldrake has some interesting points even though it might be a bit of a stretch accusing of all scientists of being dogmatic. Dark Matter and Dark Energy are not ‘woo’ they are complete mysteries and it is completely plausible to say that strange things like telepathy could be attributed to them. At least Sheldrake is educated and is trying to make an effort to do experiments on these theories. Please pour your derision on the real ‘Enemies of Reason’ such as people who are so delusional that they don’t want to objectively test their beliefs. I personally found Sheldrake’s book thought-provoking.

    • Posted March 10, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Hmm… what kinds of thoughts did it provoke?

      Sheldrake’s pet idea, moronic resonance, is pseudoscientific woo, pure and simple. It is not a scientific hypothesis in the same way that intelligent design is not a scientific hypothesis: It lacks explanatory power (except in the sense that “Fred did it” is an explanation; there is no description of the mechanism by which it – ostensibly – works) and it makes no testable (ie, falsifiable) predictions.

      /@


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Jerry Coyne responding to Rupert Sheldrake’s latest bit of mindless blather in The [...]

  2. [...] Originally Posted by eveshi Rupert Sheldrake: the 'heretic' at odds with scientific dogma | Science | The Observer Hi eveshi, Jerry Coyne debunked that article in the guardian, you can read it here: The Guardian touts Sheldrake again: pigeons find their way home, ergo Jesus Why Evolution Is True [...]

  3. [...] have been over-estimated. [Update 3 Dec 2012: I just noticed two other articles on Coyne's site – this review of Sheldrake's book, and this recent [...]

  4. [...] to materialism and avoiding the numinous and spiritual (you can find some of my posts here, here, [...]

  5. […] http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/the-guardian-touts-sheldrake-again-pigeons-find-t… […]

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