Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion — Part 1: Dogma & Denial

October 21, 2012

Rupert Sheldrake recently published a book called The Science Delusion. It was accompanied by a public lecture tour of the same name, and this two part series of posts is based on one of these lectures.

As will be argued below, Sheldrake’s understanding of science is itself delusory. He grossly misrepresents the nature of modern science, and commits the very same errors he has accused science of making: defining things into and out of reality, dismissing evidence out of hand, and failing to question his own assumptions.

Sheldrake simply blanks out hundreds of years of the history of science, and completely ignores entire fields of scientific inquiry. Repeatedly, he presents the whole of modern science as if it is a minor and rather primitive branch of speculative philosophy, run by a cabal of cynical, incompetent and power-hungry priests.

He asserts that modern science is based on ten dogmas, all of which originated at a particular juncture in history several hundred years ago, and which have been blindly maintained ever since, without regard for evidence.

What his argument requires him to do, then, is to show that these dogmas:

a) really exist in modern science;
b) hinder scientific progress or skew research; and
c) show that his alternative would serve scientific advancement.

As will become clear below, he does the following instead:

a) fails to correctly identify the assumptions that science really uses;
b) ignores all research and all progress in all the sciences; and
c) simply demands the right to tinker philosophically with the theoretical foundations of science, without regard for evidence.

This post is based on an hour-long public lecture (which he won’t allow anyone to embed) in which Sheldrake presents the main arguments of his book.

Sheldrake: The Ten Dogmas of Modern Science

Dogma 1:
Nature is essentially mechanical.

Sheldrake recalls the dualistic philosophy of Newton and Descartes, which “removed” God from the natural world. It is commonly accepted that this made it easier for materialistic approaches in philosophy and science to ignore God completely. Sheldrake asserts repeatedly that the entire theoretical foundation of modern science can be traced back to this point. In doing so, he disregards the entire history of scientific development from the 17th century onwards.

The history of neuroscience, for example, involved hundreds of years of vainly searching for the mechanism by which the soul interacts with the physical brain. The soul was not discarded out of hand as Sheldrake asserts. Rather, it was eventually discarded as a working concept because it played no useful role in scientific advancement. And neuroscience has progressed spectacularly without it.

The same holds for any other branch of science that Sheldrake might care to mention. In every single instance, scientific progress came from those who searched for natural rather than supernatural causes for natural phenomena. But Sheldrake doesn’t even mention any progress in science at all.

Scientists — real scientists, not those like Sheldrake who’d rather be amateur philosophers — are concerned with provisional working hypotheses, not absolute truths. They will use them as long as they facilitate progress. With each of his ten dogmas, Sheldrake misrepresents the way assumptions are used in science.

Now let’s have a closer look at what he claims is Dogma Number 1: that scientists see nature as essentially mechanical.

He is very explicit in arguing that scientists insert the metaphor of nature as a machine into all their observations and theorizing. This is probably because he’s misunderstood Richard Dawkins. He quotes Dawkins’ use of the term reproduction machines…. And Descartes also used the word machine! Snap!!! Dawkins must be using the same idea….

Not for the only time, Sheldrake fudges his definitions, concealing the fact that Dawkins was using the term as a metaphor, and as a completely different one from Descartes, at that. He was not claiming, as Sheldrake has it, that animals are simply machines. (Dawkins explains all this on page 1 of The Selfish Gene, and Sheldrake clearly hasn’t read it.)

Sheldrake then makes his misunderstanding even clearer. Having rejected science’s supposed metaphor of nature as a machine, he states:

“Organism” is a much better metaphor for living beings. In fact it’s not really a metaphor, it’s just saying what they are….

This is entirely stupid. First, he is confused about the difference between a metaphor and a description. Dumber still, he is claiming that modern biology does not see living beings as organisms!

There’s no reason why we should lock all our thinking to one metaphor, a metaphor that’s based on projecting our modern human obsession with machinery onto the whole of nature. It makes more sense to think of nature as organic, and organisms as organisms.

Anyone who thinks Sheldrake is onto to something with all this, is invited to open a biology text and start trying to find things that would need to be altered in the light of this “revelation”. Maybe Sheldrake’s next big idea will be that pubs could start selling alcohol to generate extra income.

But that was only the life sciences which Sheldrake has just revolutionized with his new improved assumption-cum-metaphor-cum-description. Now physics gets the renovation treatment:

….And even the whole universe is best thought of as an organism rather than a machine.

That’s quite an assertion to hang on there as an afterthought!

Just as he blanked out the entire history of the life sciences, he now dismisses the entire progress of physics with a wave of his hand. He will continue to do this at every opportunity for the rest of the lecture. Quite ironic, given that this is exactly what he has accused science of doing.

Do physicists see the universe as a machine? As far as I know they don’t, but I’m no physicist. I’ve certainly never gained that impression though. And his accusation that the whole of modern physics is founded on an unquestioned assumption “carried over from Descartes” seems to me to be plain stoopid.

Dogma 2:
All matter is unconscious.

This is another straw man, albeit a well dressed one in a tweed coat.  Why would scientists believe such a negative assertion? There’s no need to. Okay, hypothetically atoms could indeed have some kind of consciousness, but they behave as if they don’t. So for the purposes of experimentation, there’s no need to even consider the possibility unless an anomaly appears.

But Sheldrake has scientists exerting themselves to believe that matter is unconscious, and then shows them comically hitting a wall like circus clowns:

But then we’ve got this terrible problem of how can our brains be conscious if matter is unconscious.

His line of argumentation reduces to a couple of atrociously bad syllogisms. He attributes the following position to scientists:

Matter is unconscious;
the brain is matter;
therefore the brain is unconscious.

He wants to replace it with:

the brain is conscious;
the brain is made of matter;
therefore matter is conscious.

I don’t think you need to be a philosophy graduate to see the problems with all that.

Then he goes into a lot of speculative philosophy on the question of whether or not consciousness can be said to exist. I am not going to discuss it though, because this lecture is supposed to be about science. Stick to the topic please Rupert!!!

Dogma 3:
The total amount of matter and energy is always the same. (Law of Conservation of matter and energy.)

Sheldrake says that even he accepted this until he started thinking about this book.

I questioned this because it’s clearly a dogma; it’s clearly an assumption…. And it’s one of the weakest.

Again he conflates dogma and assumption. And as I argued earlier, science doesn’t make assumptions in order to arbitrarily exclude ideas it doesn’t believe in. It uses assumptions in order to get started! Otherwise scientists would spend all their time sitting around wondering if the universe was just created a minute ago, or if they might be dreaming.

There’s a place for all that, but science has a job to do, and it does it very well. And Sheldrake ignores this completely.

Anyway, he now starts having a go at physicists, saying they too have simply carried over post-Cartesian dogma into their models of the universe. He reports getting some clumsy responses in private from a physicist about dark matter, and on the strength of that, accuses the world’s physicists of making the whole thing up just to make their clunky old “mechanistic” model of the universe work.

How seriously can you take the conservation of matter when people can simply invent or abolish all that extra matter?

This is a total misrepresentation of the science of physics. Physicists are not just sitting around idly speculating stuff in a vacuum and cashing in on sounding important. Again, Sheldrake treats physics as if it’s a minor field of speculative philosophy, with nothing to show for itself.

And what does Sheldrake offer in its place? — The speculation that atoms have a conscious will, that makes them want to clump together or run away from each other…….. in ways that just happen to exactly explain all the stuff that we can’t so far explain. That, of course, is exactly what he has just accused the world’s most brilliant scientists of doing.

Then Sheldrake jumps back to biology, because this is also a chance to talk about vitalism, the earlier scientific notion of a “life force”. He argues that Helmholtz tried to disprove it in the late 1800s, failed, but decided to define it out of reality anyway. At that point, biology ground to a self-satisfied halt and hasn’t moved on since.

Sheldrake mentions the work of Paul Webb in the 1970s, which he claims was ignored or suppressed because it contradicted scientific dogma. (Not because it was poorly designed or the results weak!) Woos are always arguing that there is impeccable scientific research that has been suppressed. Well the internet is here guys. Just put it on the Web for crying out loud!!!! …..And it had better be good.

Part Two is now up: Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion — Part 2: Delusions of Dogma


  1. “Dogma 3”
    The total amount of matter and energy is always the same ?
    I wonder about that. Because as far as I know, if you take one atom of uranium 235 and split it with a finite amount of kinetic energy aboard a fast travelling incoming object which is called a neutron, you get two smaller atoms from the broken remains of the uranium, and you get the original neutron, and a second neutron from the broken remains, and rather more energy back out. Some matter was changed into energy during this. That is why the bombs make such big explosions as happened to Japan, out of just about 7kg (about half a litre or a pint in volume) of enriched uranium.
    “E equals m c squared”
    What I would like to know is: Does m equal E divided by c squared ?
    Have you ever considered that some of these cranks are not cranks at all, they are just pulling your leg, and waiting for the coins to come tumbling out of your trouser pockets ?

  2. I think Sheldrake is a somewhat unusual case, as far as I can tell. He seems to genuinely believe what he’s saying, although he does seem rather too skilled at maintaining his willful misinformed-ness.

    I think he’s a genuine pseudo-scientist, as opposed to a cynical one like Gregg Braden, or an academic fraud like Dean Radin. He’s also not a babbling loon like Bruce Lipton either.

    He also attempts to do serious research…. Or attempts to look like he’s doing serious research. If he could back any of this up with any substantial evidence he wouldn’t even need to be arguing like this, but of course he doesn’t have any. So he has to stick to fudging results and arguing for a living.

  3. Thanks for another great article, Yakaru – and what a hoot that Sheldrake talk is! I loved the throw-away comment that nobody considered that stars might gather together into galaxies because they want to cuz they’re organisms. (I’m paraphrasing). No, just invent dark matter instead out of thin air! And then the suggestion that THAT is against the law of conservation of energy/matter!

    He presents the development of that law as if nobody has any experimental evidence. Actually, it arose from the ubiquitous observation that energy and matter are conserved in countless closed systems…EVERY closed system ever investigated. He’s no idea what a scientific law is. And from how he keeps saying “that’s a theory of mine”, he has no idea about any of the categories of scientific knowledge: his ideas have to get beyond conjecture to even become hypotheses before they could eventually approach theory status!

    The Internet is full of perpetual motion inventions (and someone has even sold a few)! If only the fascist scientific community would stop denying it! In private they all agree their pets are psychic. How does this dork expect anyone to take him seriously?

    @Donald, yes, as far as I know, m = E/c^2. I’m not sure what you’re implying about uranium, that the total of matter and energy isn’t conserved according to Einstein’s formula that led to atom bombs being developed?

  4. Thanks for doing this, Yakaru. A troll named Marg posted the list on Respectful Insolence, and now I know more about the context. Had a few quick jabs of my own. Without the elaboration on alleged dogma #1, I tended to see it as using emotional language instead of trying to communicate a clear point, because “mechanical” has all those nasty connotations. They get to feel superior and demonize people like us without presenting a clear alternative view/metaphor.

    The universe is essentially mechanical: Causality! Input certain causes and circumstances. The laws of nature act on those to output effects. Scientific theories are accurate but imperfect tools for predicting what the output will be when we know the input.

  5. @lettersquash
    Regarding E=m x c^2 & m = E / c^2 ?
    Thanks for following up.
    In fission nuclear reactors, energy, usually in the form of heat, emerges and a small amount of matter is destroyed permanently (I think that is correct, I am not entirely sure). In other words energy can be produced when matter is annihilated (I am sure this is the scientific orthodoxy at present). That´s the equation on the left. On a larger scale, the Sun is radiating energy (heat, light, but also emitting particles) to the solar system, and the matter in the Sun is slowly being annihilated. So the Sun is losing matter partly through annihilation and partly through ejection into space.

    The reverse process to “matter into energy” would be to take a lot of energy and produce a small amount of matter from it. The equation on the right. I do not know whether anyone thinks that can be done, or whether it ever has been done. (I´m a graduate in maths, but I also did two years of physics at university, but… for 25 or more years I have been skeptical of some of the physics I was taught at university. I refer to quantum mechanics, Einstein was skeptical of quantum mechanics also. I have a mathematical bias, if maths versus physics I would instinctively side with maths, maths has universality.)

    Where that raises a question for me is that:

    Given that nuclear reactions can partially change matter into energy, and assuming that no one has ever used energy to synthesise matter, how do we know whether synthesising matter is impossible or not ? And if it is not impossible to create matter from energy, (if it maybe… is possible to create matter from energy) how can we say one way or another whether converting a given known amount of matter into energy and then capturing the same energy and converting it back into matter would yield exactly the same amount of matter as one started with ?

    Hence, if someone wanted to disprove the law about conservation of energy and mass, one way of doing so would be to perfect an experiment that ran conversions both ways in the hope of finding it did not add up to what you started with.

    But no-one has done that experiment. Until they do, I would attach a question mark to the law, and a law with a question mark is a theory, not a law (I suggest).

    I also point out that in m = E / c ^2 there occurs the division operation, and division can be a problematic operation both in mathematics and in physics. There´s no division operation in E = m c ^2, it´s multiplication, and multiplication does not have the Achilles heel that division does (i.e. some division results are “undefined”)

    So you have the spirit worshippers on one side (pretty obviously wrong), the scientific rationalists on another side (closer to the truth), but what if they both are wrong, and the truth is something else again ? I mean scientists have been honing their theories for hundreds of years so far, and it´s an ongoing unfinished process. Even a few theories that were taught 40 years ago have now been superceded by subsequent research.

  6. Donald, thanks for clarifying your thoughts on that – very interesting. I did just rattle off the m = E/c^2 thing from a purely mathematical perspective, but with the idea that it is probably considered theoretically true if energy were to be converted into matter. TBH I didn’t even consider the equation in terms of a direction of conversion. As I’m sure you’re more aware than I, maths is maths – you can always turn it inside out according to the rules of maths. On the matter (oops) of undefined results, wouldn’t that just be if c were zero, and since it isn’t (at least in this universe), there wouldn’t be a problem?

    But you’ve raised an interesting question: in the theory of the big bang, I think there’s supposed to be just energy initially, mass forming later. So I’m wondering if they use m = E/c^2 somewhere in that. I certainly don’t know of any experimental production of matter from energy. I’m just an interested lay person.

    I don’t think there’s any need to consider a physical law as being absolute. It’s called a law to express something of our confidence in its universal applicability, but like everything in science, it is provisional to some degree. On the other hand, that’s another interesting point, whether mass production from energy can be considered known at all (presumably assumed from the opposite).

  7. @Donald,
    I’m glad there are others here who can respond to your musings on physics. I’m not being impolite by not saying anything!

    @Bronze Dog,
    Sheldrake seems to be flying pretty low under the radar. He sticks fairly closely to the fringes of academic respectability, but also manages to hit all the right trigger words to keep new agers happy. The tenth dogma is that “mechanistic medicine is the only type that really works”. All pretense of high mindedness is gone with that piece of populist propaganda, but it was obviously effective if it now turns up on Respectful Insolence.

    Thanks for the clarification about the mechanistic-ness of the universe. I shall watch my wording in the next post.

    Sheldrake seems to have completely forgotten why the stars were given pet names by the ancients. He seems to be a smart chap, but I wonder if he’s really thought about the implications of all this. I just hope he never convinces any engineering companies or airlines to try any of this stuff out.

  8. I didn’t exactly intend to criticize your wording, just repost the general idea I brought up in that conversation with Marg. “Mechanistic” is quite a vague word to me, but if thinking about my slightly more concrete version helps you get ideas across, go for it.

    I suspect Sheldrake probably used that language for the same reason Marg and other woos do: It’s an emotional and vague “fluff word” that only serves to create the illusion that there is a concrete idea being communicated.

    On alleged dogma #2: I believe the fallacy in mind is the fallacy of composition/dissolution, where a property of one part is treated as a property of the whole or the reverse.

    I find people who think like that disturbing because it seems like they can’t handle abstraction, since they refuse to acknowledge that some things result from parts adding up to a whole. In a sense, they’re hyper-reductionist because they think everything’s already been reduced to a fundamental level, and we’re derided for making things messy by positing that some of their “fundamental” things like life and consciousness are actually abstractions, albeit useful and meaningful abstractions.

    I have a PS2 DVD with Okami on it. The individual bits on the disk do not possess an “Okaminess” about them. It’s only when you put those bits together in the right arrangement that the game emerges, becomes identifiable, and has a symbol attached to it.

    It’s the same thing with vitalism where life allegedly only comes from life, which leaves me asking if they can tell the difference between a “living” carbon atom and a “non-living” one without making reference to context. “Living” is a property/process of things much larger and more complex than a lone atom. It’s not applicable to say the atoms in my body are living, since biological life is about complex arrangements of atoms, not the atoms themselves. “Life” is an abstract term we use for a very large and diverse set of arrangements, It’s fuzzy, but still useful as an idea.

  9. Thanks, BD.

    I didn’t feel especially criticized, but I did notice I expressed Sheldrake’s position and consequently my own a bit vaguely. After reading through the comments — yours and the others — I realize that what’s missing most from Sheldrake’s talk is the word “methodology”. He ignores scientific methodology and instead thinks that all the raw data is filtered through a mechanical metaphor, developed as a consequence of our “obsession with machines”.

    Science as a method, and science as an evolving body of knowledge developed through that method, don’t figure at all for Sheldrake Instead it’s all about science as a speculative outgrowth of the body of knowledge, but with the body of knowledge and the method removed entirely.

    “In a sense, they’re hyper-reductionist because they think everything’s already been reduced to a fundamental level”

    — Yep. Well put. I was groping for a sentence like that but ended up dropping it. Sheldrake jabbered on for ages about the idea that consciousness must already exist in the primary components of the brain in order for the brain to be conscious. As if there must be little Okamis in each bit on your dvd.

  10. […] recently posted the first of a series on Rupert Sheldrake and 10 alleged dogmas of science. I ended up being reminded of some topics, in particular being […]

  11. I just watched the second half of Jim Al-Khalili’s “Order and Disorder”, in which he described “Maxwell’s Demon”, a thought experiment of James Clark Maxwell. It goes like this: imagine we had two adjacent boxes of air, and a little demon sat at the adjoining wall, who had such good eyesight and quick reactions that he could let faster-moving molecules go in one direction through a little magic gate, and slower molecules go the other way. Maxwell was concerned, because it appeared that this demon could theoretically create increased order (one hot side and one colder side) without expending any energy (just using information), which would break the second law of thermodynamics. What Al-Khalili said about its resolution has awkward implications for the dualist/mystical view of mind. Long story short – science has shown that information doesn’t exist in the abstract, as philosophy has conceived of it for millennia: it is always embodied in some material substance, a clay tablet, a PS2 DVD, an electron, a synapse, whatever. It’s well worth a watch – or read about Maxwell’s Demon.

    Bronze Dog, I like your thinking on this. That’s a great realisation how often the people talking holism actually might be more reductionist – certainly they are usually denying emergent properties of systems, which orthodox “reductionist” science is very comfortable with. Also thanks for pointing out earlier that “mechanical” just describes a system of cause and effect.

    If matter had some kind of agency, as Sheldrake says, it could seem fairly pointless doing any science at all. Measuring anything might be pretty meaningless if that thing can just decide to be bigger or smaller on a whim. It might not be pointless, though. Science could – just perhaps – discover that particular systems have desires and tastes – but we’d naturally go on to look for external causes. And it’s telling that so far, we’ve found staggering numbers of external causes for things that first puzzled us.

    It’s also telling that Sheldrake looks for external causes automatically himself – like when he talks about the possibility that the gravitational “constant” might actually be varying – he immediately suggests that one possible cause could be if dark matter turned out to be true and we’re passing through different densities of it. So he’s hypothesizing causes, external *mechanical* ones, to explain his conjecture of the inconstancy of what the mechanistic scientists demand is constant! Not only that, he chooses dark matter, which he specifically cited a few minutes earlier as an arbitrary invention by those scientists, who weren’t open to the idea that galaxies are organisms and might just like to clump!

    I don’t think he’s smart, Yakaru, unless I missed something. He’s good at looking like a professor and he’s got a posh accent. I think he demonstrates Dunning-Kruger effect (the tendency of the incompetent to dramatically overestimate their competence). I think he think’s he’s the great paradigm shifter. He’s got the nerve to criticise cosmologists and physicists, while his own work involves conducting experiments into telephone telepathy without checking if the receiving phones have caller display, and asking the subjects (who already think they’re psychic) AFTER the call is over, if they guessed right. It turns out people are psychic after all. Yay.

  12. (the tendency of the incompetent to dramatically overestimate their competence)

    How about re-naming this the Dunning-Kruger-Sheldrake Effect.

    Someone could follow up with a book The Sheldrake Delusion and a lecture tour to promote the book.

    Then from the other side, the response would be The Yakaru Delusion.

    And next to round off the series, there could be The Delusion Delusion.

    The whole thing, by then publishing phenomenon, could finally be packaged a boxed set of 5 books.
    The God Delusion
    The Science Delusion
    The Sheldrake Delusion
    The Yakaru Delusion
    The Delusion Delusion

    I´m not sure it would do much good though, all sides are preaching to their own converted, and as a bantu student once quoted to me, “A Wise Man does not Argue with a Fool”. (I won’t mention the source as I am not sure if it is an English or African proverb.)

  13. “…the Sheldrake Delusion.” Nice! That’s on my amazon wish list! Somebody has to write it now.

    If nobody argued with fools, there would be little to challenge them to become less foolish. And although you make it sound very even on both sides, there’s a way to test for delusion – it’s called science. Dawkins and Sheldrake can make predictions of outcomes of tests of reality, and then see who’s right. Or they can sometimes demonstrate fault through formal reasoning and knowledge of scientific protocols.

    Besides, arguments with fools aren’t just for the benefit of the fool you’re arguing with.

  14. “A wise man does not argue with a fool” could also be interpreted literally, to mean that it’s something that generally doesn’t seem to happen. Look what happens to Dawkins when he tries it. He has to listen to hours of flaming nonsense, and then gets attacked from all sides for pointing out why it’s wrong.

    The Dunning-Kruger-Sheldrake Effect is a good way of summing up how Sheldrake gets where he is. Maybe “smart” was the wrong word for me to use. I think my standards for smartness must have slipped a bit after encountering Bruce Lipton. I’ll rephrase it: Sheldrake looks entirely capable of tying his shoe laces.

    Bronze Dog has also posted an excellent piece about reductionism


  15. Glad you liked it, Yakaru. I thought I did a decent job on it.

  16. I’ll be linking to it in the coming post, which I was hoping to have up by now. I know I’d write it very differently if I had a better grasp of the science, but for debunking it suffices to simply know that words sometimes have two meanings.

    Thanks for the shout out on Respectful Insolence too. That Marg character uses all the same old arguments and dirty tricks, doesn’t she. You’d think that woos would have learned a few new tricks since the advent of the internet, wouldn’t you……

  17. Just in case you’re interested, I just wrote another post about perspective shift in talking about consciousness. We talk about our decisions, thoughts, and so forth from a first person perspective, but shift to a third person perspective when we talk about how those thoughts affect the outside world, like how my decision to move my arm causes my arm to move. Move it to third person, and an outside observer can see things I’m unaware of, like neurons firing in the decision making parts of my brain, triggering motor functions, which send signals to my muscles, which move my arm.

    Both are valid ways of describing an objectively real event. The “mystery” of mind influencing body comes from information that’s missing from the first person perspective: Our brains do a lot of things unconsciously.

  18. ….And here’s a link!


    I’ll be linking to that too in the next post. (I’m a bit sick at the moment so it’ll take a day or two.) I’ll probably link to those Qualia Soup vids you mention in that post too.

  19. I thought a strictly mechanistic universe got thrown out with quantum indeterminacy.

    Donald Telfer: I think you’re confusing the Conservation of Matter and the Conservation of Energy with the Conservation of Matter and Energy. The Conservation of Matter and the Conservation of Energy says that matter and energy are two quantities that are conserved separately. The Conservation of Matter and Energy says that matter and energy combined are a single conserved quantity. Hence the ability to convert one to the other. Matter to energy is, of course, familiar from nuclear bombs. Going the other is rather more difficult, but at least theoretically possible.

  20. @inquisitiveraven

    (I think) I comprehend about the conservation of matter and the conservation of energy on the one hand (which stem from an earlier iteration of scientific understanding),
    and the conservation-of-matter-and-energy on the other hand (which stems from a later iteration of scientific understanding).

    I am not aware of any experiments where matter has been created from energy. I do not know if it is theoretically possible, that was the point of the question does E = m c ^2 allow us to say m = E / c ^2 ? I am not sure it does allow us. What would happen if all mass was converted into energy ? Could this interchange be repeated indefinitely, over time, perpetually, always conserving everything ? Or if there is no way of doing it experimentally, how can you prove it ?

    Unless & until some laboratory achieves the conversion of energy into matter, I would consider it vulnerable to debate the postulation that energy-and-matter are conserved. The theory that energy-and-matter are conserved assumes that there is not something else at play, that something else being something science has not thought of yet.

    If in the distant future someone creates matter out of energy, the next step would be to take say a kilogram of hydrogen, convert part of it into energy, collect the energy & then convert that converted part back into hydrogen, and see if you end up with the same kilogram of hydrogen that you started with.

    My guess is this is not going to happen, though. (Neither for practical purposes, nor as a scientific outcome.) My guess is based on the circumstance that over the course of time, theories at the leading edge of scientific study are often contradicted then modified in the face of scientific results.

    The history of science presents a succession of observations of nature, leading to theories, leading to experiments addressing those theories. Understanding increases over time, but also the number of failed theories increases over time. If you go back far enough people believed (unreasonably) in something called phlogiston (?) as part of an explanation for why physical matter behaves as it does, since abandoned. That was an example of intuition, which is the problem with most pseudo spiritual writers.

    Also people once thought earth, wind & fire were the elements, since thrown out. They thought atoms were the elements, the basic building blocks, since superseded. Next they thought of protons, neutrons and electrons as the basic parts. Subsequently photons muons, bosons, quarks, mesons. Add in anti-matter, positrons. Later still dark matter.

    But I think there will come a point where one future experimental totally undermines the current scientific orthodoxy, and the particle-wave model or string model or whatever will be found to be inadequate & inapplicable.

    So to conclude, my belief or assumption would be that;

    while Sheldrake and the like are nearly completely wrong (& not having read his book, I never will, so I am being unfair);
    on the other hand science is not completely correct either (and some of the pieces scientists use in their current unsolved jigsaw puzzle will not belong in the ultimately solved puzzle, if they ever find a complete solution – there is generally always one more missing piece…).

  21. I can see two issues with your hypothetical of converting hydrogen to energy and back: One is that we do not at this point have any reason to doubt the accuracy of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The second is symmetry. AFAIK, The hypothesized methods of converting energy to matter are apt to result in particle – antiparticle pair production. If you want to hang on to your created matter you need to separate them before they annihilate each other.

    Did you follow my link? It goes to a page describing how matter creation might be done. I’m not aware of the technique having been implemented, but we do have some idea of how to proceed, so it may not be that far in the future.

  22. Thanks, I recognised that part of your message was in blue, without realising it was a link, and did not click it, but I have read it now.

    I will be extremely surprised, and have to change my prejudiced thinking, if anyone during my remaining lifetime succeeds convincingly in creating matter out of energy. Until someone does it, I will continue to think you cannot actually prove that energy-and-matter in aggregate are conserved, with a kind of perpetual recycling ability. Although the conservation is a reasonable & intelligent view to form, for me to stop questioning quantum physics, I would wait until someone actually achieves / proves energy-to-matter experimentally.

    Under just the right conditions — which involve an ultra-high-intensity laser beam and a two-mile-long particle accelerator — it could be possible to create something out of nothing, according to University of Michigan researchers.

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2010-12-theoretical-physics-breakthrough-antimatter-vacuum.html#jCp

    I think it does not register with whoever wrote this report that there could be a difference between theoretical physics formulating equations and labs conducting experiments. In this case I do not know if the theorists in the article headline have a “two mile long accelerator” to work with. Possibly the US government or Bill Gates will build them one if their ideas have sufficient merit.

    Perhaps Rupert Sheldrake, among others, could have a field day misconstruing the rhetoric of the journalist who wrote in what I quote above about “creating something out of nothing”.

  23. […] « Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion — Part 1: Dogma & Denial […]

  24. Apologies – There are times when we sceptics get a little ahead of ourselves. I’ve just caught myself out and thought I’d come clean. Above, I ignorantly repeated some apparent BS I read somewhere about Sheldrake not checking if callers had caller display, and eliciting their reports after a call of their guesses, leaving massive gaps for reporting errors in his “telephone telepathy” studies. I have just been reading one of the papers, which he publishes for all to read who want to take the time to do so, at his website, specifically Videotaped Experiments on Telephone Telepathy http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/telepathy/calls_video.html which would appear to make mincemeat of my criticisms. I simply imagined a ridiculously sloppy experiment, and it’s clearly not that.

    Now, I’m not dumb enough (probably) to think that because the methods used are better than I thought, he’s proved telepathy, but it does prove that I am sometimes too eager to denounce what appears to be an “extraordinary claim” without looking at any of the evidence, usually because I trust some other “skeptic”.

    None of this directly affects the points of this blog post, and I still consider large amounts of what Sheldrake supposes about reality in the lecture in question to be extremely far-fetched and based on very poor reasoning. RS could probably wipe the floor with me on a number of relevant subjects, not least (probably) the design of experiments and the use and interpretation of statistical data – I shudder at memories of the chi-square test, which was about the time I dropped out of university – nevertheless, I witness him making schoolboy errors of thinking. For instance, in an audio recording of a discussion between him and Prof. Lewis Wolpert downloaded from RS’s site, (although I have to say Wolpert makes me look like a complete novice at “kneejerk scepticism”), Rupert dismisses the phenomenon of confirmation bias as a criticism of ordinary people’s reports of telepathy simply on the grounds that there are a lot of them, as if that made the slightest difference. It’s like saying that, despite the vast evidence that smoking can cause cancer, it must be good for you because so many people do it.

    I am more agnostic on the matter of telephone telepathy (despite part of my brain still screaming at me “don’t be a twonk! telepathy?”) after bothering to read a paper, I haven’t as yet found a better (or any other) explanation for the results, and I’d be interested to know what anyone else thinks.

  25. I read some telephone telepathy material sourced from RS the Second or written by RS the Second some weeks ago. I also read something from a critic regarding the Caller ID issue. My recollection of what I read may by now be defective.

    Perhaps wrongly, I assumed or misunderstood that mobile phones and an intermediate computer and something like call re-direction or “patching” or “relay” were used. I assumed the Caller I.D. would correspond to the I.D. of the phone service of the intermediate computer for all callers.

    Either I have things wrong or there was another experiment altogether with a different methodology.

    I have not properly fully perused the description of the videotaped experiments linked to by LS (I am using a smartphone / Pocket PC for ungainly internet access).

    I would suggest it is possible Sue Hawkings is a very good (lucky) guesser.

    There are several people who have won the weekly multi-million dollar numbered ball guessing lotto draws twice, and at least one person has won three times. That was by luck, despite odds of tens or hundreds of billions (?) to one against it happening. That was luck.

    Some mathematician in the US won numerous national lotteries ?/scratchies?, against the odds, but that was not luck, I think he studied historical results and was able to reverse engineer the computer programme which determined which town would sell the next winning ticket. That was not luck.

    Comments/criticisms of the RS experiments:
    A) I consider the RS experiments do not have enough participants.
    B) Furthermore how is the supposed telepathy implemented in human or animal physiology. What organ or sense is involved ?
    C) The experiments strike me as being unrepeatable, vaguely meaningless / multiple unknown phenomena or noumena ?, and unscientific (whoops, perhaps that is begging the question)
    D) Why not look for telepathy through / associated with TV transmissions ? You could have ten transmitters, sending on ten channels, the subject has a TV receiver tuned to the ten channels, s/he then turns on the TV when s/he senses one of the other ten is being videoed and has to choose the correct channel of the ten on the remote control for a hit. (The other nine channels being inactive.)

  26. @Lettersquash,

    Thank you for illustrating an important point! There is no reason why a skeptical attitude necessarily precludes taking paranormal research seriously. And even more importantly, there is no reason for paranormal researchers to claim that “persecution” is the reason why their work is not taken seriously. It’s their failure to design their experiments properly that causes that.

    Nothing in standard science methodology precludes the discovery of “paranormal” phenomena if it is real, and there’s no reason why a paranormal researcher can’t do rigorous research. So why don’t they? I’ve read dozens and dozens of paranormal studies and every single one of them has been so badly designed that it’s either fraudulent or so incompetent that it was unworthy of publishing.

    Regarding Sheldrake’s experiments: I agree with Donald’s comments, but I must also confess that I haven’t looked into the details of RS’s studies enough to come to an informed opinion.

    Less of a confession, however is this: on the strength of Sheldrake’s lecture that I reviewed here, I will not look at his research. No one who so completely misunderstands science can possibly design a rigorous experiment.

    His whole attitude is wrong from step one. Why does he think telepathy is possible? Because he heard the idea from somewhere else and set off to try and prove it. He claims that his statistics of people “knowing” who’s calling are an anomaly that indicate the existence of telepathy, but he’s failed to establish that it’s even anomaly. Why then is he suddenly leaping to telepathy as the explanation?

    Even if there is an anomaly there, telepathy would be one of a trillion+ possible explanations for it. Designing an experiment that only tries to detect telepathy is premature. It’s like arguing that falling stars are caused by the coming of the Spirit of Autumn, and then doing all kinds of statistical checks to try and prove it.

  27. Thank you for illustrating an important point! There is no reason why a skeptical attitude necessarily precludes taking paranormal research seriously.

    That’s one thing I tend to go Socratic on with my monism. I’m a “materialist” but that has nothing to do with my disbelief in the paranormal, since I’m not drawing lines in the sand. If things like psychic powers actually exist, they can be tested by science. (Assuming they have effects and are not absolutely random.)

    Frankly, the idea that “supernatural” things can’t be tested seems like a meme that got reversed. Someone makes an untestable claim, and it gets labeled “supernatural” because it’s untestable. Woos come along and reverse that, labeling whatever they like as “supernatural,” presume it’s untestable, and then project their presumption onto science.

    I cut through that semantic knot by rejecting the notion that there’s a meaningful distinction to be made.

    My monism tends to show up in my roleplaying when discussing magic. My spellcasters generally don’t think magic is anything profoundly “different,” just a natural force they’re adept at using. They’re the tech heads of the fantasy world.

  28. @DonaldT: thanks for your comments. What do you mean by RS the Second? …

    A) Not enough data – of course, a valid objection. Where we put the boundary is, I believe, a personal matter as well as having some approximate mathematics of confidence levels, and arising from those, statistical significance. When I was younger I used to believe that “statistically significant” meant “proven”. If only that were true, one out of many problems in science would be done away with.

    B) No mechanism suggested/investigated? I don’t have a problem with this. It seems acceptable science, to me, to investigate a perceived phenomenon to establish what our correct relative confidence ought to be of its reality before postulating mechanisms. I’d suggest that if this were not the case, many scientific discoveries would not have been made. It is arguable, for instance, that did not have a good mechanism for gravity for a long time after Newton developed his mathematical law, if we even have one now.

    C) Yes, I think it is begging the question. The point of doing experiments (as well-designed as possible, of course) is to differentiate the possible causes and/or establish our confidence level on statistical grounds whether there is a real phenomenon at all or other causes of the supposed effect. It’s the quality of the experiment that allows us to control for various anomalies. Critiques flag up other possible causes, which later experiments attempt to rule out.

    D) This seems an odd point, unless I’ve misunderstood it. Why not do it with TVs…? If he were doing it with TVs one could say “Why not do it with telephones?”.

    There is a series of experiments on this with different methods, and the experiments also have different methods, partly to try to test for some condition. I found it interesting just how statistically significant it seemed to be if a subject said they were confident of their nomination compared with when less confident or “just guessing”, and the discrepancies in certain callers getting much higher hit rates, as well as the apparent psi effect being much reduced for strangers introduced into the pool of possible callers (even after mathematical control was done to overcome these being less often nominated by the receiver).

    I haven’t looked at anymore of the series. Perhaps a computer was used at some point to relay the call. Two problems that I thought of were:- when the caller and receiver were in their own homes making a direct call, there might be possible differences in the networks resulting in different ringing behaviour of the phone (not sure, but I’ve noticed sometimes a phone will do a sort of half ring at first, etc.); and, probably even more plausible, information might be conveyed about which caller it was from small time displacements around the nominal call time, caused by personality differences (i.e. knowing that Jayne takes her time about things might increase the likelihood she is chosen if the phone rings slightly late compared with the nominated time, impatient Susan might be guessed from it being early). A PC could control for both these possibilities, making the phone sound the same and ringing at exactly the specified time.

    @yakaru, I accept your point about discounting further reading because you’ve read loads of studies and you find them all extremely flawed. I haven’t read enough to be that confident – in fact, I’ve barely read any.

    I mostly share your opinion about Sheldrake’s general conception of science as so bad that it makes his work unworthy of study. I’ve got a tiny bit of doubt, but I won’t bother with the details.

    One of the biggest reasons for my scepticism of extraordinary claims like psi is that I don’t think it is commonly understood just how sensitive we are to subliminal processing of information coming to us by natural means (as in the timing or sound of a phone), nor of course how incredibly insistent and overactive is our pareidolia.

    There’s another way I form my opinion (which is barely 1% likelihood that he’s on to anything at all), which is personal dislike. He stands like a wet blanket, talks with a sort of pathetic, yet slightly superior whine (where every sentence seems to convey “If only you were as great as I am, you’d see all of this”, I’ve seen two talks now where he does this odd thing with the lecturn, kind of stroking it in an effete way, as if some part of his brain keeps trying to make contact with reality, horrified at what another part is putting out of his mouth. It could just be self-soothing, but it’s shifty. And really, in judging him that way I’m being no less rational than how the believers judge “spiritual experience”. If it looks like a booby, and dances like a booby, it’s probably a booby.

    My best guess is that he developed the incorrect but somehow intuitively persuasive idea of morphic resonance at too young an age and, through some youthful superiority complex, was sure he’d struck gold and it would be his destiny to bring it to the world. His ego formed around this epic task, he worked at it, and then, as the data came in, and the refutations mounted, and his peers turned cold, he became more and more irrational. He couldn’t give up his belief, because it was so deeply, intuitively obvious and had been embellished in his mind for so long, so everybody must be against him for some reason. In fact, the refutation was taken as evidence that everyone is even dumber than he thought!

    I’d put the odds at about a million-to-one against him being right. And of course, we can see what his mission is – to undo the Cartesian split, to bring the conscious, divine, living universe alive scientifically – to prove God, no less. And there are probably thousands of them out there.

  29. @lettersquash

    RS the Second
    Sorry, this terminology was coined in another message, perhaps over on the Dogma Part 2 section. RS the Second is Rupert Sheldrake. RS the First was Rudolf Steiner, of anthroposophy and other diverse fame, and of whom I like some ideas and dislike other ideas. I was being facetious by implying one RS could be a reincarnation of the other RS.

    A) Not enough data – I think he had less than 10 subjects to test for telephone telepathy, and I suspect those 10 were all people who stepped forward of their own volition – self-selected. If telepathy really worked, one person who could reliably exhibit it would be enough to convince me. But if RS wants to prove it by statistical methods, yet has only been able to come up using people who cannot reliably succeed, then I would want RS to run thousands of trials with subjects chosen at random, not with self-selected subjects, before I would give much credence to the statistical conclusions.

    B) No mechanism suggested/investigated?

    I assume telephone telepathy implies some signal is detected by one’s brain, as it is being consciously or unconsciously sent from another person, and some telepathic people can recognise the signal.

    But consider: We likely agree, humans can sense things by taste, smell, sound, touch and vision, which may be a simplification on my part. Smell, touch, and taste are all via direct contact of nose with air, skin with objects, and tongue with substances. (a simplification again, heat can move by convection, conduction and radiation, and we can feel radiating heat without contacting the radiating source).

    Sound and sight are both remote, usually – but remember Beethoven feeling music after he went deaf. A loud enough sound can be heard miles away from the source, and light can be seen at extreme distances, e.g. stars at night. Both these travel through air, and water to a lesser extent, but light does not penetrate opaque objects. Radio waves do go through solids, like walls, but maybe not through mountains.
    For there to be telepathy, which presumably works at ranges in the tens of miles, just what is it that is either connected to one’s brain or is inside one’s brain that could detect a signal of a fraction of a Watt radiating from a source 10 km away ? Presumably it can penetrate walls, but can it penetrate mountains or tunnels ?
    RS does not investigate questions of generation, propagation, reception, and human physiology ?

    I agree that a phenomenon such as gravity does not need to be understood or have some theory of it thought out before one carries out experiments. So the same should hold for telepathy, although whether telepathy is a phenomenon or a rumour might be worth considering…

    I think the current dominant theoretical explanation for gravity involves particles called “gravitons”. I would agree with RS if he professed scepticism about the theory which proposes there is a particle which we can rationally call a graviton. Although, I’d agree, my reasoning and his on this graviton delusion (?) would be different, I think we all just don’t understand physics well enough, but are making progress for the past three thousand years or so with further to go.

    My intuition (gasp) is that the models are inadequate, but sooner or later someone will have a (an ?) Eureka moment, and there will be a shift in thinking leading closer to the truth than ever before.

    C) Yes, I think it is begging the question. (I have temporarily lost track of what I wrote, I may come back to this at another opportunity – I do not have the original text in front of me – I am working on a mobile phone.)

    D) This seems an odd point, unless I’ve misunderstood it. Why not do it with TVs…? If he were doing it with TVs one could say “Why not do it with telephones?”.

    I expect they use telephones because someone started calling it telephone telepathy, and the name fitted so it caught on and stuck.

    But I would propose that telephones are only incidental, and not necessary if there is something to telepathy.

    I think they should dump phones from the experiments, use video to make the methodology simpler.

    The ability (I would propose) should work just as well with television communication, webcams or similar.

    In some of the RS experiments video equipment was used to monitor the behaviour of participants, but not for communication.

    There are limitations on the telephone experiments due to the technical aspects (relying on copper wiring or microwave towers of civic infrastructure), and the use of telephones sacrifices some technological advantages you get with TV telecasts – the ability to transmit on different channels.

    If he switched to using small video transmitters, he could perhaps work with a video production facility and get both a documentary programme out of it (disproving what he set out to show ?) & a better experiment.

    By “better experiment”, I mean you could set up 10 cameras connected to transmitters at 10 frequencies in rooms at a TV station 30 metres or so from the subject in their own sealed room / studio, bring in different people from a group of 10 known to the subject, label each button from 0 to 9 on the subject’s TV remote control with a different name from the group of 10 known people, and then see how often the subject could correctly push the button on the remote control labeled with the name of the person that the subject thought was being videoed in another room.

  30. To point B — the trouble with not having a plausible mechanism in THIS case is that it makes it impossible to design a good experiment to test it. The “anomaly” has not even been established yet. That was different in the case of gravity — the anomaly was that the planets were holding a predictable course, and all things falling to the ground with a predictable velocity.

    To point D — I took Donald to be saying that Sheldrake is being premature in jumping to telepathy as the cause. It could, as I said earlier, be a trillion other things — IF the anomaly he perceives is indeed an anomaly. If, for example, we are monads like Leibniz argued, “knowing” who is calling would be just as much of an illusion as the rest of causality. (See footnote)

    RS is using this kind of slippery thinking (like “evolving laws of nature”) only as far as it serves his purposes. He switches it off as soon as he’s special pleaded his way out of needing to follow standard scientific method.

    Re. my refusal (so far) to read RS’s research: I’m certainly not discouraging others from doing that. I’m glad you have looked more deeply. I’ve read a lot of other psi research and it’s without exception disgraceful. RS fits that same mold: proposing a mechanism and then setting off to “investigate” its effects without bothering to establish that it exists; and when challenged, escaping behind a wall of statistics. Math is not my field, so I avoid such arguments.

    I share your perception of RS’s personality & motives. He’s a priest, hoping for polite concessions for his sheeplike qualities, while dressing up negative nastiness in new age niceness.

    (*Written before I saw Donald’s answer.)
    Later added footnote: Leibniz’s Monadology argued that the universe consists of windowless “monads” or units that are completely isolated from each other, whose behavior is preordained. Causality is an illusion, much as clocks that chime at the same time might appear to be responding to each other, but have in fact been pre-programed to act in a way that appears to involve a causal connection. This is unfalsifiable, but if true, would easily explain how people seem to know who is calling them. Sheldrake has failed to explain why his theories are preferable to other alternative models of reality like this one. This is why I say he’s being premature in proposing such alternative mechanisms.

  31. I’ll just ramble instead of trying to keep track of points clearly, and respond to you both. I think there’s nothing utterly stupid about going from the observation that a lot of people feel that they witness psi, or feeling that you’re witnessing it yourself, putting it alongside a universal human history of spiritual and psychic phenomena and investigating the hypothesis that there is another “sense” to be identified. And I think many psi theorists entertain the possibility that this sense may not depend on transmission of information via the EM spectrum. To a hard-line materialist, this might seem like devious nonsense, of course, but I consider it theoretically possible and therefore moderately reasonable to check out. I’ve read about Dean Radin and others putting people in EM-shielded rooms testing for psi, so I presume it’s common to think it’s not a normal energetic signal, as all our known senses are.

    A typical spiritual proposition might be dualist (RS II (hehe) proposed even more types of ontological stuff) and, although I’m as sick as the next sceptic of people abusing the links with quantum weirdness, branes and vibrating strings, or assuming that similarities between religions, or their age, are significant, there is more than a passing resemblance between ancient religious philosophies and modern physics. To deny it, I feel, is almost as bad as to say “So you see, it’s true, om shanti, I’m off to contemplate my navel”. While it may be preposterous to a theoretical physicist that none of the 11 dimensions he’s proposing in a mathematical hypothesis has the slightest possibility of being the realm of cosmic consciousness the “kooks” are looking for, the experimental psychologist might be forgiven for suspending disbelief long enough to ask the question in a lab, and see if anything can be uncovered.

    Yakaru, in the case of gravity, you say that the planets were holding predictable courses, implying, I think, that this “anomaly” made it reasonable to investigate theories of the mechanism, which should come after the establishment that there’s something to explain (I hope I haven’t abused that thought too much). I disagree. At one time, presumably, humans looked up and noticed some stars were wandering about. That is an “anomaly” – I’d prefer just to use the idea of an observation. That observation pre-dated the discovery that they followed predictable courses, which came from someone trying to make sense of this wandering behaviour.

    Besides, this seems to be the opposite of what you give it in support of – that it isn’t possible to design a good experiment without a plausible mechanism. Maybe I misunderstand you. Actually, I may have misdirected us from Donald’s original question “B) Furthermore how is the supposed telepathy implemented in human or animal physiology. What organ or sense is involved?” – which I called, perhaps more generally, finding the mechanism.

    My point is that Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler etc. didn’t have Newton’s mechanism when they were making measurements of the planets’ motions. Maybe our difference on this arises more from how plausible (or excusable, even) we think the proposition of psi is.

    He’s got us both ways – we know that his mechanistic hypothesis involves some kind of spiritual connection. Since we are all One according to a vast majority of the population, non-physical connections are vaguely posited – and his observation is ongoing.

    The “organ” might not be a local lump of flesh, Donald, in the same way consciousness is not local within the brain. Or it might be the brain, or the central nervous system. We might not know for a long time after psi is proved to exist (which it almost certainly doesn’t).

    It’s weird, I’m thinking mechanism is an odd idea…

    Why is that star in the wrong place?
    It’s a wandering star.
    Why does it wander?
    (several millennia later)
    It follows a loopy path.
    Why does it follow that loopy path?
    …It’s a heliocentric galaxy!…
    Because of gravity.
    Why does gravity work?
    Because of warped space/gravitons.
    Why is space warped?

    We have a tendency to switch to “how” instead of “why” at “why does gravity work?”, but you can switch them all and they make the same story. Is gravity a mechanism, if we immediately run off to find an explanation for it, for which we still need another deeper explanation? The same is true everywhere in science.

  32. I’m back in Australia where I am lying in bed with the mobile phone and it is 5 a.m.

    At about 3 a.m. I was awoken by two adolescent females talking outside the bedroom window, presumably sitting on the nature strip beside Manning Avenue. I have been awake since then.

    A few minutes ago I thought I’d pick up the phone and go to the internet and look for e-mails.

    The only new e-mail (since I last looked) was the WordPress message that a new comment was posted on SINE (Spirituality Is No Excuse), wait for it,

    “1 mins ago” (sic)

    That was the latest lettersquash comment.

    By the way, I am kind of dis-satisfied that there was a 5 minute delay / disparity between the two nearly synchronised overlapping previous postings 8 or so hours ago from Y and myself.

    Perhaps a bad connection somewhere, how do I get the connection fixed ? Who do I call ?

    I agree with lettersquash about there potentially being other physical / natural forces / energies / connections / explanations we know nothing about yet.

  33. Hehe, psychic time zones? Even though they’re not of this world, the psi-rays are slightly delayed going through the inner core. 350 Giga Pascals will do that to collective consciousness, probably. Or maybe I thought of you 1 minute after posting. 🙂

  34. This time the delay was 4 minutes.

    There is something I want to look into/check.

    In the case of Yakaru’s posting with the 5 minute difference, I think Y posted it, then saw my message then went back to her posting an edited it thus (* Written before I read Donald’s…)

    I am interested to establish whether the edit had the effected of changing the time marked on the posting, I think can check this on a proper computer, because the e-mail message would have a time on it that was the time of Y’s initial unedited message).

    To me this just goes to show that fact is stranger than telepathy.

  35. I think I have resolved the 5 minute issue vis-a-vis edits.

    Yakaru made two edits, firstly the (*Written before I saw Donald’s answer) edit, & secondly the Monadism (?) edit.

    The time marked on the posting did not change from the first edit to the second edit, so it likelybdid not change from the original posting to the first edit either. I think the 5 minute delay was indeed 5 minutes.

    Maybe there is more interference for telepathy (sic) from / to Germany ? The alps ? The Large Hadron Collider ? The ghost of Rudolf Steiner ?

  36. @LS
    I see you taking a far more serious and honest attitude than any psi researcher that I have ever come across.

    I’m quite happy for people to set out to explore this kind of thing, and as I’ve said, see no reason why it shouldn’t be investigated scientifically. The reason I keep making that point is that paranormal investigators themselves don’t accept it. Dean Radin (who you mention) is a classic example of someone who refuses to conduct experiments properly.

    I’ve also read about Radin keeping people in a sealed room, but he unblinded that experiment half way through, deleted data and altered the goals after the experiment was done.

    (Scroll down a bit for the section on Radin.)

    I’ve also covered a lecture by him where he deliberately obscured a straight forward reference, using the one study in four different ways in order to support his position, as if it was four different studies. He never gave the correct reference. This is simple stuff, and he ALWAYS fudges it.

    Look at ANY paranormal investigator and you’ll find the same thing. Maybe Randi should offer $1 million for any paranormal investigator who can simply conduct a straight forward blinded randomized controlled study and write it up properly.

    I think there is a reason for this systematic failure to fulfill even the most basic academic requirements. It’s because they start with an unscientific and dishonest attitude. They often proudly crow that they did their science training so that they could find a way to prove their favorite woo theory — not investigate it honestly.

    And this attitude reveals itself in their experimental design.

    I’ve linked to this elsewhere, but it’s worth looking at:
    It covers the history of research into psi, which started in 1882. Apart from failing to find anything, note how much fraud and stupidity has been involved in their experiments.

    Imagine if telepathy or some other such force were real, but extremely hard to detect. They would need to be more rigorous not less. Imagine if a one-off event was observed in the lab, but the researchers failed to substantiate it because of crappy recording methods.

    Good move returning to the sunny Australia for the winter. It’s my dark mood that’s caused the anomalies in the time readings.

  37. Thanks, Yakaru. I did read your Radin piece earlier and also the brief history of psi. I’ve just read the other Radin “healing intention” critique and it’s insanely dumb from start to finish – almost looks designed to be as bad as possible. Look for psi, do it really badly, and some dick will keep sending us cheques. I have to say it looks very different comparing that critique with Sheldrake’s paper, but that may be more through my ignorance – if someone who knew their stuff were to critique RS’s paper, it might be more on par. I am not really well educated on the subject.

    I remember reading another critique of a Sheldrake study commenting that it was odd that RS took a role in the experiment. He did in the one I read too. And that does actually indicate the level of seriousness. Even if you take a minor, orchestrating role and can make good arguments for why your presence has no effect, the fact that you play into the hands of critics in such an easily avoidable way says you’re not really trying to be taken seriously at some level. Again, it’s like: Let’s do psi but add some fatal flaws, then we can drag this all out for another term at Oxford or wherever. It’s almost as if they don’t believe their own hypotheses.

    I have a problem judging the bias or fair-mindedness of reports. Anything sceptical can be taken with a pinch of salt along with anything positive. Digging deeper isn’t always easy without paying subs for journals. Then there’s how the rest of the protocols are recorded and analysed in studies. Papers are reports by the experimenter(s) and are thus not objective, nor can they be complete, as results depend on notes, video or audio recordings and other media. It’s one thing to read that data were analysed by an independent analyst, but I don’t know how rigorously those have been checked. I guess this is where the different jounals come in with different reputations. If any lay person wants to make an honest assessment, they need to read the papers and know how well they’ve been adjudicated. Depending on the subject matter, there may be background information to digest. And who among lay people can comprehend all the stats?

    So we have to depend to some extent on reviews, and our judgements become more about the media reviewing the work. We hopefully get a decent insight into the experimenter and the field of study over time. Not forgetting the crucial evidence with Sheldrake and Radin that they look like they’re auditioning for the role of Norman Bates in a remake of Psycho. I liked your comment about reviewers failing to include Radin’s name being tantamount to data mining. I had a good chuckle at that.

  38. @lettersquash commented:

    D) This seems an odd point, unless I’ve misunderstood it. Why not do it with TVs…? If he were doing it with TVs one could say “Why not do it with telephones?”.

    Back to my follow-up – I suspect there is confusion or misunderstanding somewhere.

    What was in my mind was that using telephones was undesirable. (Aside from which I do not know if they were landlines, analog mobile or digital mobiles.)

    If there is such a thing as telepathy, it is not dependent on phones. It also might not be restricted to humans, other animals might have it also.

    I can think of other inter-communication modes, such as telegraphs, teleprinters, heliographs, carrier pigeons, smoke signals, semaphores, walkie-talkies and jungle drums.

    If I were given control of the experiment I would want to use the best option. In my opinion the best option is something where the available technology enhances and simplifies the experiment = video transmissions to a standard digital TV in front of the subject.

    I expect they used telephones because they wanted to study “telephone telepathy” – naturally enough as that is what people anecdotally report experiencing.

    I would discount any contribution to / creation of the notional / proposed phenomenon stemming from the invention of the telephone or from the discovery of electricity during the last 2 or 3 centuries.

  39. Donald, thanks for clarifying that. I agree that the involvement of telephones (it was landlines in the paper I read) would probably have nothing to do with telepathy if such should exist. It would also seem rather easy to understand the anecdotal urban myth from a purely psychological perspective – never before the invention of the telephone did the general public have experiences of direct communication arriving almost instantaneously from any of their associates, which would naturally give them the opportunity to imagine the reported phenomenon.

    However, “suspending disbelief” (accepting that he thought there might be something to investigate), given that the reports were strongly associated with telephoning, it makes a certain kind of sense to me to investigate actions that are as close to the reported situation as possible, especially as one of Sheldrake’s supporting hypotheses is that psi may be sensitive to interference when our normal social interactions are disturbed, as they are in more rigorous tests.

    If I were investigating telepathy between close friends (which is the main hypothesis), I too would abandon telephones, not in favour of the video connection. Video might play a part in recording events for later analysis, but I don’t think video communication “simplifies” anything, as you put it, although I can see it “enhances” it. I would seek to minimize communication, for instance by having the parties connected only by a simple electrical circuit and indicator light or bell. I imagine that kind of method has been used in many actual experiments. The “callers” would be deliberately engaged in some fairly absorbing activity over the experimental period, each isolated from the others and the receiver, and, at randomized times, the experimenter would interrupt one of them (or a signal given that they should make contact). The sender would then know to think about the “reciever”, then activate the circuit. The reciever could be asked to make predictions that the light is about to go on or simply asked which of the contacts they think is trying to make contact with them and comparing the result with chance expectation.

    Sheldrake may dislike this method because he genuinely believes that picking up the phone and anticipating talking to the other person may be important in the effect. Using phones or video connections allows a genuine expectation (or even some actual communication through time, cf quantum weirdness – I can see you cringing! ;).

    The question is, if strict experiments with minimal connections have shown insignificant results, and Sheldrake’s numbers show statistical significance, is that due to some experimental error creeping in or because people are acting as people, actually contacting each other, and stimulating a real phenomenon?

    I’m pretty sure video has been used by somebody. It might be argued that it would enhance the anticipation of warm feelings of connection. On the other hand, most of us don’t regularly use video calling, or haven’t until very recently, so again the naturalness of the situation is disturbed.

    Sheldrake’s unenviable task is to keep subjects engaging in natural behaviours whilst making rigorous scientific measurements. It is quite possible that he has consciously or unconsciously devised this almost impossible combination of conditions so as to keep the results contentious. Or he could be a big cheat. Or reality could work that way. My guess is the first – he’s stupid enough and egotistical enough to delude himself just as much as is required to keep playing the game do sloppy science, allowing all sorts of artifacts into the equation, because to do rigorous science would interfere with the phenomenon.

    I’m just reading one of his experiments on a “telepathic” dog waiting for its owner to return. It looks a lot worse than the telephone experiments. Plus, he sent one bit of the analysis to be done by a certain Dean Radin – I mean, why would you? – it only needed someone who could do the statistical operations, not a highly contentious believer who wants to “subvert the dominant paradigm”!

  40. Hey, I want to subvert the dominant paradigm too. But that’s because I am sceptical, given that for the past 2000 years some theories, given enough time, get superceded.
    (Another reason: I want to subvert the dominant paradigm because I presume – intuition – it is wrong in some way or another.)

    Regarding simplification:

    The telephone experiments involved timing / scheduling and the impressions of the subject being noted down on paper (?).

    I would want to simplify / avoid all that.

    Either send out a mobile TV crew with 10 addresses of known people, let the crew do what it likes / visit anyone & everyone it chooses, the only instructions being which of 10 channels corresponded to each address.

    Alternatively or additionally, let all 10 known people decide if they care to come in and visit a separate studio at the TV station, and try thinking from there.

    Let the subject have a remote control with 10 names on top of the 10 buttons.

    Give everyone as much freedom and time to do as they pleased (except that each known person has dedicated frequency / channel).

    Video record everything that the subject person does, take hours our days over it. The mobile crew or remote studio/s only need to record what happens whenever one of the ten known people is involved.

    After as much testing as is possible, go back and study the video recordings of what the subject was doing with the remote control and what if any transmissions from known people the subject was able to correctly tune in to.

  41. In case you are wondering this time the delay was 2 hours. In reality I am not checking mail updates because of any telepathic hints, I am not picking up any signals, I look at e-mails just to check if there is anything new.

    It’s easy / quick to do that on this mobile phone.

  42. Take some DMT or Ayuasca
    And then come back with your bullshit.

  43. Better Yet
    Watch DMT: The Sprit Molecule
    You want some sienctific proof??
    Read his book

  44. Nib, Your comments are needlessly uncivil and contribute nothing to discussion. They are also extremely lazy. Sheldrake is trying to discuss science, not dismiss it. I think he has done a terrible job of that, for the reasons I outlined in post. You need to think about those issues and formulate your own opinions (not someone elses) if you want to contribute to this discussion.

  45. […] Rupert Sheldrake can idly suggest that the laws of physics might be variable, but he is utterly and idiotically blind to the fact that if such a thing were true, it would leave spectacular footprints everywhere which could easily be spotted; and above all, that using such an assumption as an experimental basis would immediately make all forms of experimentation impossible. Everything. You want to test that new cancer treatment? No way — the results might get skewed by random fluctuations in the laws of nature. If scientists were to throw out the vast swathes of scientific knowledge as people like Sheldrake advise, it would be at a horrendous human cost. We have an interest in valuing scientific knowledge: it’s all the stuff that we can use. […]

  46. For the two years old question about creating matter out of energy; yes, it is possible, it happens on a regular basis, and doing it in a controlled fashion is pretty much the whole purpose of the particle accelerator in CERN ; it accelerates particles to ludicrous speeds and collide them together, which allows you to concentrate extreme amounts of energy in a very small space, and this causes all sorts of exotic particles to materialize.

  47. Darkwhite, we have known that matter and energy are interchangeable forms of the same thing since about 1905 – well, Einstein did, when he discovered the relationship E=mc^2. Most ordinary people began to be educated about this after the end of the Second World War, when the first atom bomb was dropped. It’s been taught in schools since I don’t know when. Yet you describe “creating matter out of energy” as a “two years old question”, you seem to think CERN is the cutting edge in making use of this new discovery (which is older than 2 years anyway, and particle accelerators are decades old), and your comment here suggests some kind of hinted support for Sheldrake’s ideas.

  48. Thanks for covering that, lettersquash. I wasn’t sure if Darkwhite was referring to “dogma 3” about the law of conservation, and also not sure if he meant to support Sheldrake, or physics. Now I think he was attempting to support Sheldrake — the misconceptions suggest that!

    And not having a freaking clue about physics myself, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. But you’re right — there is that equals sign in that equation isn’t there. I guess it’s not just there for decoration.

    And Sheldrake has been booked to deliver this same lecture to students at a prestigious English public school (US & Aust = private school).

    I’ve sent a letter to the school, which I pasted in the comments at the link (No.18), and suggest anyone else who feels strongly could do the same. addresses are also in the article at the link.

  49. Hehe, I’m not sure of any of those facts, BTW, but I think they’re roughly right. Yeah, I said that Darkwhite’s comment suggests a hinted support for Sheldrake – it’s kind of an invitation to clarify the point, but I was an an arsey mood.

    I was on the fence at first about the school (odd for me when the name Sheldrake usually triggers incandescent rage) – freedom of speech and balance of opinion stuff – but I came to agree, it’s the context and the idea of giving him another stage to stand on spouting his lies, especially to children. Do these people not have a psychology department? Don’t they recognise a deluded narcissist when they see one? Didn’t they do any research? Your letter is great. I’m thinking of writing as well.

  50. Well your physics is closer to the truth than mine, which in turn is closer than Sheldrake’s. Someone has to say something against loons like that.

    Yeh — educators don’t have freedom of speech, rather responsibility to provide students with the best standards possible. Nothing wrong with presenting students with controversial ideas of course, but Sheldrake gets the science he is criticizing factually wrong. Even if his spiritual ideas were coherent and plausible, he disqualifies himself on that count.

  51. Sheldrake most likely knows more about biology than anyone in this site, and at least as much as his materialistic colleagues. You’re not in a position to question his merits. Also, what the hell is this supposed to be?

    “Matter is unconscious;
    the brain is matter;
    therefore the brain is unconscious.
    He wants to replace it with:

    the brain is conscious;
    the brain is made of matter;
    therefore matter is conscious.

    I don’t think you need to be a philosophy graduate to see the problems with all that.
    Then he goes into a lot of speculative philosophy on the question of whether or not consciousness can be said to exist. I am not going to discuss it though, because this lecture is supposed to be about science. Stick to the topic please Rupert!!!”

    You can’t even answer to his perfectly rational observation. You just say that there are some “problems,” with it, without even defining what exactly would these supposed problems be. Truth is, that it makes a lot more SENSE that the entire universe is alive and conscious, than to create some arbitrary lines between conscious and unconscious, or alive/dead. The problems for a rational mind emerge if we believe that everything is dead, despite of ourselves clearly being alive.

  52. That Sheldrake knows more about biology than me is clear. That he gets 10 out of 10 of his “10 dogmas of science” totally wrong is just as clear.

    Similarly, he also failed to correctly identify a single one of the assumptions that science actually does make.

    “Truth is, that it makes a lot more SENSE that the entire universe is alive and conscious…”

    Truth is, it does not make more sense for the entire universe to be conscious. I don’t deny it might be, but it does not “behave” as if it is. It behaves according to the laws of physics in a way that is mathematically predictable. The brain is the most complex thing we know of. Yes, a rock might be conscious in some way, but it neither behaves as if it is, nor does it have anything like the complexity of the brain or even a simple nervous system of a sentient being.

    “….than to create some arbitrary lines between conscious and unconscious, or alive/dead….”

    I fully agree with that part. Conscious/unconscious is far too simple a division to make. And we know from biology that there is no clear line between organic and inorganic chemistry, and that what we call “life” is in fact a matter of degrees of complexity with no clear dividing line.

    Which is why I don’t understand why you continue to say:

    “… The problems for a rational mind emerge if we believe that everything is dead, despite of ourselves clearly being alive.”

    Who do you think says matter is “dead”? Biologists don’t simply don’t divide the world up like Sheldrake says they do. It would make no sense. The idea of “alive” is associated with complex systems — systems which are obviously more complex than the molecules that make them up.

    Sheldrake’s speculations add absolutely nothing to the way biology sees living organisms. In fact, it is Sheldrake who has this bizarre mathematical Newtonian mechanistic vision of life– one in which a “living, conscious universe” behaves in utterly dull, repetitive and mathematically predictable ways. Go ahead and believe that the law of gravity is a conscious decision of matter if you wish, but realize then that both you and Sheldrake are believing in exactly the same kind of God that Newton believed in — completely without evidence, and completely without any contribution to our understanding of reality.

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