Try not to be dogmatic about this

‘The Science Delusion’ by Rupert Sheldrake I was rummaging around on the blog of someone who recently re-blogged something of mine, when I found the post below and decided I just had to do the same (i.e. re-blog it). The post includes an embedded video of a recent TEDx talk (and book), entitled ‘The Science Delusion’, by Rupert Sheldrake – along with a biography of the speaker. From the latter, it can be readily established that Sheldrake is not just a self-deluded crank on a par with ex-TV-sports presenter David Icke who claims (amongst other things) that we are all being controlled by a alien race of lizard-like creatures. However, in his 18-minute presentation, which TED have decided not to include in those available on their website, Sheldrake manages to challenge every single notion about science that most of us take for granted: Sheldrake itemises what he calls the 10 “dogmas” of modern science; and gives just a few examples that suggest that nothing in modern science may be quite as most of us insist that it is. 1. Nature is Mechanical. 2. Matter is unconscious. 3. The Laws of Nature are fixed. 4. The total amount of matter and energy is constant. 5. Nature is purposeless. 6. Biological inheritance is entirely material. 7. Memories are stored inside your brain in material processes. 8. Your mind is inside your head. 9. Psychic phenomena are impossible. 10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works. I must admit that my immediate reaction to hearing this list was to affirm most of them without question. However, how can any of us do this without being extremely dogmatic? Sheldrake, then picks out dogma #3, and points out that there are no laws in Nature; laws are things humans make up. We therefore forget that the concept of “Laws of Nature” is an anthropomorphic metaphor and nothing else. However, this talk by Sheldrake, who Wikipedia suggests is most famous for his theory of morphic resonance, rapidly gets very weird indeed… Therefore, although it is a departure from the theme of this blog, I feel compelled to re-post this item because of: 1. My own advocacy of rational and reductionist thinking on Learning from Dogs. 2. The responses my recent “agnostic” remarks on this blog have received; and 3. The reaction I got when, on Guy McPherson’s Nature Bats Last blog, I asserted that the Sun is not a living entity and therefore is not conscious. Here then is the video and supporting post from Robin Westenra’s See More Rocks blog: ————– The Science Delusion: Rupert Sheldrake’s banned TED Talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JKHUaNAxsTg Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. (born 28 June 1942) is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and 10 books. A former Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he was a Scholar of Clare College, took a double first class honours degree and was awarded the University Botany Prize. He then studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow, before returning to Cambridge, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry. He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University. While at Cambridge, together with Philip Rubery, he discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport, the process by which the plant hormone auxin is carried from the shoots towards the roots. From 1968 to 1969, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he was Principal Plant Physiologist and Consultant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life. From 2005-2010 he was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project funded from Trinity College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of Schumacher College, in Dartington, Devon, a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences near San Francisco, and a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut. He lives in London with his wife Jill Purce (www.healingvoice.com) and two sons. He has appeared in many TV programs in Britain and overseas, and was one of the participants (along with Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Oliver Sacks, Freeman Dyson and Stephen Toulmin) in a TV series called A Glorious Accident, shown on PBS channels throughout the US. He has often taken part in BBC and other radio programmes. He has written for newspapers such as the Guardian, where he had a regular monthly column, The Times, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Times Literary Supplement, and has contributed to a variety of magazines, including New Scientist, Resurgence, the Ecologist and the Spectator. Books by Rupert Sheldrake: A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation (1981). New edition 2009 (in the US published as Morphic Resonance) The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature (1988) The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God (1992) Seven Experiments that Could Change the World: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Revolutionary Science (1994) (Winner of the Book of the Year Award from the British Institute for Social Inventions) Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999) (Winner of the Book of the Year Award from the British Scientific and Medical Network) The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (2003) With Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna: Trialogues at the Edge of the West (1992), republished as Chaos, Creativity and Cosmic Consciousness (2001) The Evolutionary Mind (1998) With Matthew Fox: Natural Grace: Dialogues on Science and Spirituality (1996) The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet (1996) ————– Robin Westenra then goes on to highlight another talk that TED decided not to list on their website; that in which Nick Hanauer pointed out that “rich people don’t create jobs”. This makes me wonder how many other talks TED have deemed too controversial to put on their website?

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Confirmation Bias, Psychology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Try not to be dogmatic about this

  1. Thanks, Rick. The gentleman is nuts, but his little list inspired me. He does not seem to realize that science has thrown down most of his “dogmas”. I wrote a quick, short essay, now that I have exterminated neanderthals mathematically… Please go there, tell me what you think. (It should appear Sunday 17, Saint Patrice’s day) http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/ PA

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks, Patrice. Your post seems to have only a numeric URL (are you going to name it properly?). Either way, I have posted a comment in response to it. As I have said there: I thought about the title of my post on this quite carefully. I am inclined to think, as did the Roman Governor Festus of St Paul (see Acts of the Apostles, chapter 26, verse 24), that too much learning is not helping Sheldrake deal with reality. However, since I cannot prove he is wrong, I am forced to be dogmatic and say that I find his assertions about morphic resonance (and most of the rest) to be highly improbable (to say the least). As I forgot, can you embed a link to this post in my comment (as I have done to your post here)?

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    • pendantry says:

      I don’t think it’s ‘nuts’ to raise the questions Dr Sheldrake does. The ones who are ‘nuts’ are those who persist in maintaining that the speed of light is a constant in the face of evidence that it appears to have changed, and who refuse to investigate the matter — ‘because it’s a constant’, as he highlights so eloquently.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Well done, Pendantry. You appear to have tried hard to comply with the title of this post. For example: “The gentleman is nuts” = opinion stated as fact – i.e. dogmatic. “I don’t think it’s ‘nuts’ to raise the questions…” = Opinion clearly stated as such. Sadly, this undogmatic approach did not last beyond your first sentence. 😉 I must admit that I thought some of Sheldrake’s arguments were better presented than others; and some, as Patrice has suggested, are not really dogmas at all. Having said all that, I thought the European scientists who claimed to have detected neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light eventually admitted they had made a simple mistake?

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      • pendantry says:

        Well, oops. Kind of. But concerning your ‘neutrinos’ question, assuming that this is the one and only cause of the speed of light fluctuations to which Dr Sheldrake refers, the point is that the (alleged) reason for refusing to investigate is ‘because it’s a constant’ (dogmatic), not ‘because the fluctuations are due to a well-documented mistake’ (scientific).

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      • Rick Altman says:

        The question therefore resolves down to whether you think: (a) they kept investigating until they found ‘a mistake’ because they are convinced ‘c’ is a constant; or (b) ‘c’ probably is a constant so they checked and double-checked until they found their mistake. It therefore seems to me that Sheldrake takes a conspiracy theorist approach to science, which is a consequence of a modern obsession with relativism (oops – that was dogmatic of me!) 😉

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      • pendantry says:

        Your (a) and (b) both assume that the investigation has actually been conducted. Is that actually the case? It would appear that Dr Sheldrake thinks not. Me, I don’t know enough about the subject.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Sheldrake talks in generalities, whereas I am referring to a specific case that was investigated.

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      • pendantry says:

        My point being: are there other specific cases that were not investigated?

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      • Rick Altman says:

        As you said, I must now repeat: “Me, I don’t know enough about the subject.” Sadly, however, I am reluctant to investigate further because I think it more likely that we are not changing the Earth’s climate.

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      • pendantry says:

        “I am reluctant to investigate further because I think it more likely that we are not changing the Earth’s climate.” Non sequitur. Typo somewhere? Or… ah. I see. silly me 🙂 So, in some cases accepting dogma is expedient. Pity. I think that’s why society’s in the state it’s in.

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  2. Pingback: Metaphors, Assumptions and Dogma in Science (Response to The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake) | Sex, math and programming

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