‘I am all in favour of science and reason if they are scientific and reasonable. But I am against granting scientists and the materialist worldview an exemption from critical thinking and sceptical investigation. We need an enlightenment of the Enlightenment.’
Rupert Sheldrake's Official Website and Talk on The Science Delusion
Rupert Sheldrake’s Podcast
Rupert Sheldrake’s YouTube Channel
Podcast on The Science Delusion
The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry (2012)
Rupert Sheldrake
In Summary

A distinguished biologist confronts many of the basic, untested beliefs of science, revealing that the actual evidence often points towards the extraordinary and shatters our basic assumptions about the cosmos.


Graduating with his undergraduate degree at Cambridge in Biochemistry, the young Rupert Sheldrake was set for a bright future. Harvard was on the horizon, followed by a swift return to Cambridge for his doctorate. Success followed upon success as he helped pioneer the modern understanding of ageing, the basis for plant polarity and a new crop system that is still used to feed developing nations. Through it all, Sheldrake was a committed atheist, believing science to all but demand the materialist worldview – that is, until his research led him to India. When there, Sheldrake began to question his materialistic beliefs while in the company of Fr Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk and yogi. This transformative experience eventually led to the publication of A New Science of Life (1981), where he confronted many of the unjustified assumptions pervading his field. The book landed like a bombshell, with some scientists even suggesting the work was worthy of a medieval book-burning.

Yet the undaunted biologist would continue his crusade against the sacred cows of science, publishing a number of unorthodox books and experiments that seemed to confirm that the extraordinary pervades the ordinary. As the publications grew, so did his audience, with many clamouring to hear the evidence pointing to the viable existence of psychic phenomena. In 2012, widely regarded as the number one heretic within his field and determined to liberate science from the same ideological dogma that had once blinded him, Sheldrake released The Science Delusion (entitled Science Set Free in the US). This seminal book was the culmination of decades of research into the taboo subjects his fellow colleagues rigidly refused to engage with.


The first ten chapters each begin with a question challenging the ‘Ten core beliefs that most scientists take for granted.’ Is nature mechanical? Is matter unconscious? Does nature have a purpose? Are psychic phenomena just an illusion? These chapters first outline how philosophical assumptions, such as atomism and materialism, became entrenched in the ‘scientific worldview’. Through this, Sheldrake demonstrates that this worldview derives not from experiments and evidence but from the popular philosophies present when modern science was first established. Then, with the precision of a trained biologist, Sheldrake deconstructs these beliefs not only through challenging the philosophies they rely upon but also through hard, empirical facts. Experiment after experiment (many performed by Sheldrake himself) demonstrates the inadequacies of materialism to account for the actual data.

Examples include a yogi who survived two weeks under scientific observation without an ounce of food or water and with no metabolic changes; a mentally handicapped and blind boy who was able to identify what his mother was seeing even when six miles away; dogs who knew when their owners were headed home even when the time and mode of transportation were altered; and a young man with an IQ of 126 despite his brain only being 5 per cent of the normal size. Experiments like these would seem to challenge many of our standard and most fundamental assumptions, including the principles that living organisms are only capable of gaining energy from food, that psychic connections are impossible, and that the mind is equivalent to the brain. But rather than confront the findings of these experiments, opponents have often chosen simply to ignore them.

Sheldrake argues that this resistance stems from an ‘illusion of objectivity’, which prevents scientists from seeing their own biases. The resulting idealised vision of science, which has slowly crept into our popular imagination, is regarded as impartial, impersonal and supremely rational. Thus, ‘Science became a view from nowhere. The minds of scientists were somehow disembodied.’ The denial of the very ‘human’ element of the sciences has stymied the attempts of researchers to challenge its fundamental principles. In the process, science has assumed a universal authority unmatched since the medieval church, but at the detrimental cost of chaining scientists to a material word view. As Sheldrake himself states, ‘I have spent all my adult life as a scientist, and I strongly believe in the importance of the scientific approach. Yet I have become increasingly convinced that the sciences have lost much of their vigour, vitality and curiosity. Dogmatic ideology, fear-based conformity and institutional inertia are inhibiting scientific creativity.’


As the popular narrative goes, science has always prized the brave, lone scientist boldly voyaging out to topple established theory and break us out of intellectual darkness through the knowledge of discovery. Ancient superstitions, false traditions and established elites have all fallen in the wake of science’s intellectual march of progress. Yet if this story is to be taken seriously, it will be scientists like Sheldrake who are most needed in our age. The experiments and conclusions he presents challenge us to think more deeply about our world and what science has truly shown us. Along these lines, those who believe there is more to nature than crude, dead matter will likely find Sheldrake’s work offers one of the most rigorous and scientifically informed defences of the spiritual and immaterial.

Each chapter ends with a section entitled, ‘What difference does it make?’ and gives detailed discussions of how these findings could revolutionise our perception of reality and, more importantly, our place within it. The book also offers a rapprochement between the religious and the scientific. He writes, ‘Instead of the bitter conflicts and mutual distrust caused by the materialist worldview, we are entering an era in which sciences and religions may enrich each other through shared explorations.’

Further Reading By This Author

Sheldrake has numerous books that bridge the gap between science and spirituality. These include Science and Spiritual Practices: Reconnecting through direct experience, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, and, most recently, Ways to Go Beyond and Why They Work: Seven Spiritual Practices in a Scientific Age.

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