A Review of Sheldrake’s “The Science Delusion”

BOOK REVIEWS (ACRHIVES): The Science Delusion is Rupert Sheldrake’s latest book. I found this book to be an excellent and very readable presentation of some of the problems facing frontier science. All in all it is a great read. It’s a definite five stars in my book.

Let me begin with the only major criticism I have with the book: the title. The name “The Science Delusion” is obviously a response to Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. I think it is the title more than anything which has offended many in mainstream science, or those members of the public who have a strong atheistic or skeptical mindset – i.e. those who like to read Dawkins’ books. (Edit: I note with delight that the American edition, which has just come out several months after I wrote this review of the British edition, has been entitled: Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery. Maybe they read my review on Amazon 😉 .

An article about Sheldrake’s book in The Guardian online attracted some savage criticism, bordering on hatred. It was clear from many of the comments that many of the critics have never read The Science Delusion or any of Sheldrake’s other books, simply because their criticisms were so far off the mark. One poster simply wrote “What the fuck is this shit, and what is it doing in The Guardian?” Another comment lambasted Sheldrake for being a non-scientist writing about science, and having never conducted experiments. In fact Sheldrake has a PhD in biology from Cambridge, and has designed and conducted some of the most ingenious experiments imaginable. His telephone telepathy experiments are simply ingenious in their simplicity.

My point here is that the title appears to have set up Sheldrake and The Science Delusion as being anti-science. In fact, as Sheldrake himself argues, he is neither. The book simply addresses key issues in the philosophy of science. Its key target is the philosophy of materialism, and the rigid scientism which so often emerges from it. There is nothing that says that science has to conduct itself within a worldview where materialism is a founding ideology, and where the machine universe is its founding presupposition.

So there are better titles that could have been chosen.

Instead of being anti-science The Science Delusion pries open ten founding presuppositions of scientific materialism – each with a chapter of its own – and identifies key problems within all of them.

1. Is Nature Mechanical? 2. Is the Total Amount of Matter and Energy Always the Same? 3. Are the Laws of Nature Fixed? 4. Is Matter Unconscious? 5. Is Nature Purposeless? 6. Is All Biological Inheritance Material? 7. Are Memories Stored as Material Traces? 8. Are Minds Confined to Brains? 9. Are Psychic Phenomena Illusory? 10.  Is Mechanistic Medicine the Only Kind that Really Works?

At the end of each chapter Sheldrake asks several open questions to materialists. Each question is designed to gnaw away at the delusion that these founding principles of scientism are part of an immovable bedrock; instead Sheldrake attempts to loosen their iron grip on unthinking practitioners and advocates of science by implying that each of them is more uncertain than is often taken for granted.

Rupert Sheldrake makes reference to his hypothesis of morphic resonance periodically throughout the book. This hypothesis states that nature/life operates within fields of intention which operate ‘above’ the simplistic reductionism/genetic fixation which dominates so much of mainstream and popular science. Whether morphic resonance will pass the test of time remains to be seen. But the success of the book does not rest on the validity of the idea of morphic fields. This is not a book seeking certainty. Instead it seeks to acknowledge the ambiguity which lies behind business-as-usual science and education.

I agree with Sheldrake that morphic resonance fits the evidence better in certain fields of enquiry, especially in terms of the nature of consciousness. There is simply too much data and evidence that is currently dismissed or explained away as “paranormal” in mainstream cognitive science (it doesn’t fit our worldview, so we can ignore it). The extended mind – mind which is not merely contained in localized skulls, but is entangled with others minds and the environment – simply must be accounted for. It is too important a part of life, nature and the human condition to be dismissed any longer.

I find The Science Delusion to be very thought-provoking and entertaining. It is, I believe, a book that should be read by all science students – and in fact anybody with a high school education. Readers may not agree with all of it, but the questions it asks are too important to be ignored.

Marcus

Sheldrake, Rupert (2012-01-05). The Science Delusion . Hachette Littlehampton.

 

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