Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion — Part 2: Delusions of Dogma

October 27, 2012

If you haven’t read Part One, please do that first, because you’ll get a summing up of the whole thing in the first few paragraphs and you might decide Sheldrake has made such a mess of it that it’s not even worth bothering to read on!

Rupert Sheldrake, as we saw in Part One, claims that modern science is based on ten dogmas. Further, he claims these dogmas force scientists to exclude all evidence for spiritual phenomena regardless of merit. But before diving back into the list where we left off in Part One, I want to point out two more disastrous flaws in Sheldrake’s argument.

One is that it’s not just spiritual ideas that science has discarded over the last few centuries. A massive number of hypotheses that would perfectly fit into what Sheldrake sees as science’s “mechanistic dogma” have also been discarded. Why? Because they didn’t work. But why does Sheldrake think these mechanistic theories were discarded, if the only standard for proof he sees operating is adherence to a mechanistic dogma?

Obviously, if he will allow that strict and fair rules of evidence were applied to mechanistic theories, then why would these suddenly be suspended on ideological grounds for spiritual ideas? Such behavior would leave a very clear paper trail, wouldn’t it, Dr Sheldrake. Where is it, and why didn’t you discuss that in this lecture?

A second problem — even more immediate — is that he has failed to discuss real life scenarios where scientific “dogma” was seriously challenged. How do scientists react in such a case? Consider the neurtrino incident. The sequence of events is recounted here in a few newspaper headlines:

According to Sheldrake, the reporting scientists would simply be ignored or openly chastised for daring to question the dogma. Or the anomaly would have been ignored by the discoverers themselves, either through dogmatic blindness or fear of God, as Sheldrake argues below. But that’s not what happened, and Sheldrake does not discuss this incident.

But now back to Sheldrake’s list of ten dogmas that he accuses all scientists of slavishly following. (Link to video of Sheldrake’s lecture: The Science Delusion.)

Dogma 4
The laws of nature are fixed and have been since the time of the Big Bang.

Sheldrake has a rather bizarre take on this. He starts off by pretending that it’s a mystery for scientists why the universe possesses exactly the right laws and conditions for life to come about. As is often pointed out at this point in such discussions, Sheldrake has clearly failed to notice that large areas of the universe — really very very large areas, in fact — are not at all conducive to human life. Do you remember, Dr Sheldrake, how the astronauts who landed on the moon were wearing those snazzy space suits? Just why do you think that might have been? Did you notice that the capsule they traveled in did not have a retractable sunroof?

This surprisingly popular argument that the universe must have been carefully fine tuned for humans 14 billion years ago is called the Anthropic Principle. Personally, I prefer the Blue-Footed Booby Principle, which states that the universe was fine-tuned to make it the perfect place for these incredibly cool creatures to live.

I ask you, which is more likely: that God is a hip cool dude who digs stuff like birds with blue feet, or that he wanted to create a place where flabby humans could sit around watching telly for a while before choking to death on a bit of cheeseburger that went down the wrong pipe?

But why are we even discussing the Anthropic Principle? So that Sheldrake can tell us we can stop discussing it now. We can also stop discussing the idea of multiple universes because, he claims, a physicist privately admitted to him that it was only dreamed up “to get rid of God.” Ah, that’s what those fuzzy haired old physicists have been up to. Elaborately skewing their equations to disprove God. And building The Bomb and the Hubble Telescope was just a side job, I guess.

With a wave of the hand, all the advancements of modern science are erased from the blackboard, and the world’s greatest scientists with all their scatty research programs are dismissed for the day. Dr Sheldrake will be taking over. New thought forms are to follow. We can get rid of all those rigid inflexible laws and constants, because….

In an evolutionary universe, why shouldn’t the laws evolve?

But then again, Dr Sheldrake, why the hell should they? You were the one who threw out the old dogma! You need to be able to replace it with something a little more useful than idle speculation with nothing to back it up! 

Sheldrake here is cashing in on two senses of the word evolve. But when physicists say the universe evolved, they are not talking about natural selection with genetic inheritance. Same word; two meanings. Rupert hasn’t noticed, and neither have you, okay?

I think they do evolve. In fact I think they’re more like habits.

……..Um, that wouldn’t be an assumption without a shred of evidence would it, by any chance Dr Sheldrake?

I think there’s a kind of memory in nature. That’s my theory of morphic resonance.

He doesn’t want to spend too much time talking about his dogma of- excuse me, – his theory of morphic resonance, but for the uninitiated, it’s the idea that ideas or actions leave an imprint on a hypothetical psychic field, where they can be picked up by others who resonate with it. It’s “in the air” so to speak, and can become contagious. Soon everyone will be doing the new thing whether or not they have encountered the idea through the five senses.

As commenter @lettersquash dryly pointed out here a while ago, it’s funny how that theory never really caught on…..

But Sheldrake doesn’t want to promote his own theory today. He just mentioned it because it doesn’t have anything to do with the topic at hand. So he starts talking about how different offices in charge of defining weights and measures returned slightly varying values for the speed of light. Therefore the speed of light is not constant. And why don’t we hear more about this? Because of a scandalous cover up!

The speed of light was defined by and international committee in 1972 and they defined the [metric] meter in terms of that. So if the speed of light varies, the meter will vary too. So it’s now a closed system.

Even worse than that, “wild fluctuations” in the gravitational constant have been measured all around the world. Physicists simply mash all the numbers together and publish the average, in order to maintain the dogma.

Yes he is really arguing that differing measurements mean that the true values themselves must also vary. (This is around the 42 minute mark in the video.) I doubt that any reader is waiting with bated breath for me to explain why that is stupid. Unfortunately, exactly HOW stupid it is, is beyond my grasp of the relevant physics, so I will say no more.

Dogma 5
Nature is purposeless

As always, Sheldrake insists that this dogma originates from that magic moment in the 17th Century.

If we look at animals and humans, they clearly have purposes. If nature is purposeless, how come we have purposes?

Again — same word; two meanings; no big mystery. How can an animal have a purpose (like looking for food) if “purpose” itself was not already there in nature? As if purpose itself, (or consciousness itself) is a substance that needs to be present at all levels in ever smaller packages.

As Bronze Dog pointed out in the comments last time, and in a carefully explained post on his blog, this is a kind of hyper-reductionism based on a misunderstanding of the science.

A spider is genetically programmed to spin its web. A program is a man-made computer program for a purpose.

And again, same word (program); two separate meanings. And incredibly bad logic.

All computer programs are consciously designed;
Genes can be called a program;
Therefore genes were designed.

Aristotle invented syllogistic logic 2500 years ago, but Sheldrake still hasn’t figured out how it works. But then again, maybe one day the laws governing it will evolve into a form where the above statement will make some sense.

Richard Dawkins’ selfish genes are just molecules. They can’t be selfish.

Out come the clown scientists on their wobbly bicycles again. Sheldrake’s audience laughs until he rescues the funny scientists and explains what the problem really is. It’s because nature makes no sense unless you see purpose and design in it. The scientists, he says, look funny because their dogma forces them to “smuggle purpose back into their theories” and then deny it. He thinks has caught out Dawkins as a “crypto-vitalist”.

As pointed out in the previous post,”selfishness” is being used here as a metaphor, and Sheldrake has unwittingly outed himself as someone who has neither read the book he is criticizing (The Selfish Gene), nor understood the basics of evolutionary theory.

And it is highly ironic and hypocritical of Sheldrake to poke fun at Dawkins for supposedly ascribing conscious will onto inanimate matter, isn’t it!

Dogma 6
All biological inheritance is material. It’s in the genes or the DNA

Again, this turns out to be a tremendous assumption….It turns out that about 75% of heritability simply can’t be explained in terms of genes.

Ummm, what??? Sheldrake offers no evidence other than a cursory mention of epigenetics. So epigenetics suddenly accounts for 75% of heredity?

I have no idea why new agers are so opposed to genetic heredity in the first place. Enjoy it you idiots! It means you aren’t locked into repeating the mistakes of your parents! It means you came through your parents not from them, as Kahlil Gibran said. New agers are always trying to co-opt science, yet where it really does support some nice fluffy new age ideas, they run away! Strange people….

At this point Sheldrake starts skipping through the dogmas because he has suddenly realized he only has about 5 minutes left. Reading a clock also seems a bit of a challenge for him. He should have given himself about 5 minutes for each dogma. And given that he makes the same historical, logical and linguistic errors with each dogma, he should have had no trouble gliding through the material in an orderly manner.

Dogma 7
Memories are stored inside the brain.

Yet attempts to find memories in brains have drawn a blank over and over and over again.

The philosopher Henri Bergson didn’t think that memories are stored in the brain. And, “of course that’s not even mentioned in regular biology.” What he forgot to mention is why on earth it should be. Dr Roopy, if Henri Bergson told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?

Dogma 8
Minds are inside brains.

He fools around a bit with seeming paradoxes of perception, presents a dreadful oversimplification of the “official view” and then says it makes just as much sense to assume that our perceptions are actually “where they seem to be”, i.e. outside the body.

His view is that “our minds reach out to touch what we’re looking at”. Okay, but this is all highly speculative and rather shallow philosophizing, and you wanted to talk about science. So, how would science be improved by using this assumption? He doesn’t say. He does mention some badly designed research he’s done in this area though.

Dogma 9
Psychic phenomena are illusory.

Well he might have something here. I remember reading that the American Society for Psychic Research was set up in 1882 to empirically verify the existence of psychic phenomena. Maybe they’ve come up with something by now, after 130 years of research? ….Umm….Nope! But don’t expect Sheldrake to tell you that.

Dogma 10
Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.

This isn’t a public lecture on science, it’s a blatant act of trolling. Tacking such a foggy and generalized broadside on at the end is a disgraceful piece of tabloid populism. 

He argues that the placebo effect could not work if the mind is “no more than the brain”. He doesn’t understand the placebo effect, and instead of googling it, he argues that it should be recognized as a legitimate part of medical practice.

Fine with me — as long as “doing nothing” is included as an official medical treatment. I’ll start a career as a do-nothinger, and charge for visits. I’ll get just as many cures as homeopathy, acupuncture, and all the other treatments that “heal through the placebo effect”.

Of course I’m being facetious, but that is how low Sheldrake has set the bar for the definition of medicine.


Sheldrake constructs a grotesque parody of science, and then removes all its achievements. He then ascribes a string of errors to it, and makes a total hash of criticizing these straw-man errors. His ideas however do have value, in that they can be used as a form of self diagnosis for anyone wondering if they are scientifically educated. If you find yourself nodding to any of his criticisms, you have some reading — and some shutting up — to do!

Further Reading

Bronze Dog has written three succinct blog posts closely related to issues raised by Sheldrake’s dualistic hyper-reductionist antics:

A series of two You Tube videos considering the issue of mind body dualism is also recommended: Substance Dualism, Part 1 and Part 2.

Seeing as Sheldrake spent so much in misinformed attacks on Dawkins, I’ll link add a link to clear up a couple of Sheldrake’s errors. This link goes to an online copy of Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins. Click on Chapter 2, (takes a while to load). As Dawkins explains:

The spider web is as good a candidate as I can think of for an interesting simulation of natural selection on a two-dimensional computer screen. The next chapter is largely devoted to the story of spider webs, beginning with the natural history of real webs and moving on to computer models of webs and their evolution by ‘natural’ selection in the computer.

I wonder if Sheldrake’s dumbass argument about spiders being designed because they’re “programmed” is based on a horrible misreading of that chapter.

From biologist and author Jerry Coyne’s (excellent) website, comes this article arguing the effects of epigenetics have been over-estimated. [Update 3 Dec 2012: I just noticed two other articles on Coyne’s site – this review of Sheldrake’s book, and this recent post.]

I linked to this excellent blog post already (in Dogma 9) but it’s worth putting it here too. Blogger Skeptico has compared the progress made by the American Society for Psychic Research since its foundation in 1882, with the progress made by science over the same period. 

Also see the entry in the Skeptic’s Dictionary about Sheldrake, which notes:

In short, he prefers metaphysics to science, though he seems to think he can do the former but call it the latter.

Sheldrake has undertaken such a generalized, unfocused attack on the whole of science that any well written book or article on any aspect of science is likely to correct several of his misconceptions and errors. Readers — at least those who know WTF they are talking about — are invited to add recommended links in the comments. (Not too many in one comment because of the spam filter, and email me if your comment gets eaten.)




  1. I will have to try and find out what Rupert Sheldrake´s educational CV is (what did he study, what are his qualifications ?).

    From what you write I am getting the impression RS has a lot of diverse information in his head, information which he may not have the technical background to understand correctly, and then ad libs from that diverse information (I have not seen the video, was he reading from a script or just talking off the top of his head ?)

    For example, I can understand why if RS heard that gravity varies from place to place around the earth (as does the earth´s magnetic field as well) he would misunderstand from that sort of phenomenon that the gravitational constant varies from place to place as well (which I think it doesn´t). Gravity and the gravitational constant are not one and the same thing and are not interchangeable expressions, but maybe RS thinks they are. In case anyone reading this is wondering, gravity is the word given to a force of attraction between two or more masses, so a “force”, whereas the gravitational constant is a number, like 2 is a number, representing a quantity, it is not a force.

    I think the reason gravity varies from place to place is because there are small variations in the average density of the earth at different localities. That variation is pretty much nothing to do with errors in the measurements.

    Blue-footed boobies are something new to me ?? I wonder why they should have blue feet, is it some sort of camouflage, or are they just very fashion conscious birds ?

    Will Rupert Sheldrake read any of this blogging ? Has anyone sent him a link to it ?

    I think it is a bit interesting to try and figure out how his thought processes applied to what he hears or reads result in his opinions.

  2. I could imagine that the blue feet are a result of sexual selection, maybe aided by possible camouflage under the water. But if it is sexual selection, then fashion consciousness would not be a completely unreasonable description of it! It might have happened to one bird as a one off mutation at some point and all the other birds thought it was cool and wanted to mate.

    Of course Sheldrake would then say that this means that nature must also be fashion conscious because how could it just suddenly appear at the macro level if it wasn’t already present in smaller packages. It’s a bit like arguing that atoms must be having sex, otherwise, how could sex exist at our level.

    He’s quite respectably qualified according to his wikipedia page. He was shaping up for a respectable career too, but he went to India and adopted a very clunky and materialistic form of mysticism. I was wondering if he might have smoked too much weed, but on second thoughts, maybe he didn’t smoke enough!

    I doubt he would read this. But I doubt even more that any of the hopeful people he has misled will try and defend him here either.

  3. It appears RS´s strong suit is in botany, with a Ph.D. in biochemistry. By implication he is of well above average intelligence. He appears to be somewhat of a lateral thinker and a non-conformist. None of that guarantees him to be competent in physics or mathematics (nor does it suggest he is incompetent in physics or mathematics either).

    So I think he has strayed beyond his field of expertise when he takes on modern physics as a target.

    The word “unfalsifiable” appears in the Wikipedia article, ironically I would contend that “the law of the conservation of energy and matter” is also “unfalsifiable” at present.

    RS has both (many) detractors and (few) supporters in the mainstream scientific community.

    Strange to say, there is a request on his personal homepage for input about cases where people receive e-mails or telephone calls or SMS messages from other people shortly after thinking about that other person. This has happened to me a few times. Or as a variation, sometimes I am asleep and I wake up at night a few seconds before the phone starts ringing. (This could be that the phone becomes active – lights flash or it performs a warm up – before it actually starts ringing, it could be the pre-ringing activity that wakes me up.)

  4. Yeh – his tone in the lecture is calm and rational, and he is clearly capable of functioning intelligently. But I dunno, it’s almost as if he’s got a set of core beliefs or dogmas that blind him to contradictory evidence and drive him to conduct biased research clearly skewed to generate the results he desires…. Hmm, that sounds familiar….

    I used to have a copy of his first book when it came out, and I agreed with a lot of his theories before I even knew what they were. I guess that’s evidence for pre-cognition!

    Here’s a link to some criticism of his research.

    At least he maintains a civil tone throughout the lecture too, even if it is all a disgraceful and ignorant attack on the science which has been serving him all his life.

    I’ve also experienced weird stuff around waking. I suspect a lot of it is half-dream and half-waking. I also remember I used to be able to “read” what time my digital clock said when I’d wake up in the night without looking. Maybe my circadian clock was very well tuned, or maybe there’s a simpler explanation that over turns all the laws of physics!

    I don’t have anything against people researching this stuff, or even testing out whatever theory takes their fancy. What disturbs me though is how often researchers who believe in psychic phenomena fudge their results. Imagine if a real psychic event or miracle really occurred in an experiment, but the proof of it was rendered worthless because of shoddy procedures.

  5. I agree with the reasoning in the criticism, i.e. the problem with his staring experiment is that the starer alternates between staring and not staring too much for it to be genuinely random, and the staree learns about it – is given clues – when given feedback.

    Regrettably, somebody has re-designed the website and the link therein to RS´s response to the criticism does not work today.

    Alongside the counter-experiment though, I am not sure if the use of one-way mirrors by the critics in their counter-experiment is something that is allowed by (works with) RS´s contention that the mind projects images back to the source of the image. I have little idea what phenomenon is in play that RS thinks is projected backwards to the source and whether in his idea it can go the wrong way through a one-way mirror ? (I am not sure I have not confused one-way and two-way and no-way mirrors either).

    In general though, I would tend towards the believe-ability of there being many ways in which different organisms interact with each other (& sometimes sense the other) that we are yet to discover. This is an ongoing process of discovery of the way organisms are inter-related with each other. For example, I think there are some plants which produce infra-red light and there are some insects which can see infra-red light, but we as human beings would not normally be aware of this relationship because we do not see infra-red ourselves. There was some film about this not long ago, this was only a recent discovery because it was only recently that infra-red sensitive video cameras came into production. (i.e. Until a few years ago it would not have been possible to see on video live-action in the infra-red part of the spectrum of how the insects interacted with the plants.)

    I sent RS an e-mail last night in response to his request for reports of phone call / e-mail / SMS experiences. I was expecting to get an e-mail back this morning, but I didn´t. So in this case, the experiment into pre-cognition was a failure…

    If I recollect correctly, Richard Dawkins claims that his TV series The God Delusion was titled The God Delusion against his wishes. That choice of title was forced on him by the BBC. I do not know which came first, the TV series or the book, maybe the title of the book was forced on him also.

    I write that because I have now read that RS was forced to title his own book The Science Delusion against his wishes – by the publishers.

    So we have the prospect of an epidemic of delusions in the media as part of a non-conspiracy by publishers and television stations, probably out to increase sales by whipping up the (paranoid ?) audience.

    About sleeping and dreams, more often than not (much more often than not) if I go to sleep needing to wake up much earlier than usual and at a certain time, I will wake up early, although usually well before the intended time. I do not know what is going on there, but I assume it is not paranormal.

    RS may have got his core beliefs from living in India. I think I have core disbeliefs. I used to believe in quantum physics, which was part of what I was taught it university, but it is now my core disbelief. The science I trust is mathematics, everything else is only an incomplete picture of the truth with a bit of human error thrown in.

  6. Sheldrake is certainly doing potentially significant research. For carrying it out he shouldn’t be criticized, and I don’t think anyone, despite his protestations to the opposite, has criticized him just for trying. Unfortunately he shoots his load way too soon and is already crowing about his success and as we see here already proclaiming not just that science is wrong, but is slave to a dogma.

    If his results are that impressive, he should be calmly waiting for independent verification, and allow others to write his name into the history books. Instead, like all professional pseudo-scientists, the aim is find a way to get the desired result and then run with it straight to the PR department.

    Yes, I noticed he’d said calling it The Science Delusion was his publisher’s idea. It would be a perfectly accurate and appropriate title, in my opinion, if he had something to back it up.

    …There is of course the famous Australian staring experiment – staring aggressively at someone until they stare back, and then saying “Whaddyoo lookinat”. Either dominance is established, or a fight starts (after lots of aggressive display behaviour).

  7. Also…. Following up on some of your thoughts Donald, I’ll take the opportunity to tack on a thought that I could have spelled out more clearly above the line.

    Sheldrake would have been on firmer ground had he called his lecture “areas of controversy in science” and then argued his case. Instead he’s sidestepped the controversy and failed to defend his ideas at all.

  8. […] New Age Horse Botherers Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Delusion — Part 2: Delusions of Dogma […]

  9. I am still pre-cognitively waiting for a reply to my e-mail, in vain so far. If I get something back eventually, and it is from RS, I will try asking RS what his own preferred title for his book was ? Maybe it was something like your suggestion.

    I think if RS adopted a more scientific method he would still continue to receive short shrift from the scientific establishment because his propositions dispute the current scientific orthodoxy, so much so that they will normally be dismissed out of hand.

    As he is, mainly (?), a biochemist / botanist, he would not have a major physics experimental laboratory/research establishment at his command (and at 70 years old perhaps he is retired, hence his lecture tours…) and without suitable facilities I do not see there being much prospect of RS being able to either:-

    use a lab to unquestionably demolish any law or dogma with a scientific level of proof;


    use a lab to discover and prove something new to science.

    I can see that having the internet as a medium for conducting survey type research is just what the doctor ordered, for a doctor in the circumstances of Dr RS. But online surveys in general do not carry enough weight to change the minds of physicists in matters of physics.

    What has happened to your usual respondents in the last 24 hours ? How many people read these messages ?

  10. If Sheldrake could get a lab and followed a scientific methodology, the big thing would be if anyone could replicate his results by following the same experimental procedures.

    One of the big problems I imagine is getting Sheldrake to come up with a clear, predictive hypothesis to test in an experiment, since he strikes me as a buzzword/deepity type of person so far.

  11. @ Donald T

    Let us know if you hear anything back.

    According to his wikipedia page, in the US the book is titled “Science set Free: Ten Paths to New Discovery”. Going by the contents of that lecture, that’s an even worse title, given that he’s totally ignored scientific discovery and failed to consider the implications of his ideas, for scientific research.

    Plus what he’s doing isn’t science, it’s anti-science. He’s put the cart before the horse, pushing a particular ideology and trying to back it up with fuzzy speculations and shakey research. An honest scientist would just do their research, and if the data seemed significant, publish it and ask others what they make of it. But he’s already already demanding that his idea of morphic fields etc get recognized. He’s shot his load WAY too soon. Let’s say his staring project really has unearthed something, and it seems like there really is some incredibly subtle and hitherto undicsovered form of perception occurring.

    The next thing would be to work out what kind of thing it is, which would mean excluding tons of variables somehow. That is still a LONG way away from overturning ANY laws of physics, and an even longer way away from adopting theories of morphic resonance.

    I know of absolutely no case from the history of science that a theory as complex as morphic resonance which has been thought out in advance before any mechanism for it was discovered has EVER been vindicated. I think he should be focusing more on tightening up his methodology rather than frivolous gung-ho attacks like this one.

    Lots of scientists have their pet theories, but they learn to separate it from their professional research. But RS has made a career out of his, and it’s a crappy theory.

    How many read this? I only know the page views, and they’re nothing to brag about! I pay more attention to search item terms used to land here, and still no one searching for Sheldrake has shown up at all. I’m a bit surprised because I get hits for most of the others I’ve named here every single day.

  12. @BD,
    I wonder if he remembers to factor into his studies the idea that the laws of nature are not fixed.

  13. Part 2 was great, and thanks for the mention. Part 2 arrived just when I’d stopped expecting it. This is due to a phenomenon called Inverse Psi. It’s a theory of mine. We are in fact psychically responsive, but in inverse proportion to how much attention we’re paying to any possible item from the array of things we might be thinking about. It blows psi out of the water experimentally. You’re NOT thinking about the person who phones a zillion times more frequently than when you are. The theory also explains why the world has got less psychic (yes, it has) since people started investigating psi, and why people are most certain of the ghosts they see out of the corner of their eye.

    “…but he went to India…” – that’s often how it happens! Or people just read about what the gurus think in India; that can be enough.

    I think the fundamental fault of Sheldrake’s Morphic Resonance idea is that it was proposed as a theory to explain no observable facts. Proving that people can tell when they’re stared at should come first, then people can propose mechanisms (I’m ignoring the problem that mechanism is mechanistic and therefore a sin, obviously.) That’s where any good scientific theory should begin – measurements, data, facts about the world that require explanation. Newton didn’t come up with a theory of gravity and then start measuring the motion of planets to see if they were effects of it. Sheldrake thinks there are loads of unexplained psi facts, but they’re actually cognitive errors, and his idea is just a revamp of the magical thinking of the ancients to explain those same persuasive non-facts. His theory is nothing new at all. Humanity invented the theory of magical mind force probably 50 thousand years ago. So his work is essentially backwards, (in both senses) desperately trying to find facts that would require an ancient theory as explanation. And failing.

    Re waking up at the right time, I don’t know if we have a high precision mental clock, but it is very easy to do the confirmation bias thing with this one – remember the times when you woke up “near the time” or “a bit early”, but utterly neglect the times you drag yourself out of bed half asleep because the alarm went off. You’re late, so there’s no time to think philosophical thoughts. Waking up early, you’ve time to think “Now why did I do that…again?”. Reading the clock with eyes closed is also susceptible to bias, although the hit and miss conditions aren’t particularly different – we just do this with masses of stuff in our daily lives. Of course, if you start monitoring your results, you’ll invoke the inverse psi law.

    @ Donald: “The science I trust is mathematics, everything else is only an incomplete picture of the truth with a bit of human error thrown in.” made me think of my latest scepticism of monism. Mathematics is a good example of those things, like ‘mind’, that appear to be non-physical, and yet real. I always used to think that numbers were purely abstract ideas, but when one considers the whole of mathematics, its profound connection with everything we know about and its beautiful order, it is hard to think of it as just emergent properties of human minds, as though pi wasn’t pi until we discovered it, or as though pi actually ISN’T. And yet I have no problem thinking that about just about every human idea, gods, ethics, the self, etc.. It’s so profound – we can’t even discuss whether it’s true or not, real or not, without relying on a binary condition, the basis of logic. What do you think – is there some kind of other realm of mathematics? Is 3 a real thing in Mathworld, or just an abstract idea (physical brain state) conforming to a relationship between potential states of matter (3 apples, 3 sheep…)? If everything else is an incomplete picture of the truth, do you mean only maths is real?

    @Yakaru, you asked for relevant links. Here’s one of Qualia Soup on Substance Dualism http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS4PW35-Y00 which is what got me thinking about maths.

    Namaste ;D

  14. @lettersquash

    I definitely do not mean only-maths-is-real, nor do I mean maths-among-a-set-of-other-things-is/are-real.

    In part I mean maths is truth in the sense that if a mathematician notices some relationship or circumstance that can be mathematically treated, then often a governing theory can be deduced, after which time will be spent, sometimes centuries, including the work of many people who do not even need to be alive at the same time, in looking for an incontestable proof of the theory. There are by now quite a lot of mathematical proofs on the books. I think no-one is going to come along in future and disprove them.

    In part I mean that where there are (or were) different civilisations on earth, they may not all use base 10, some might use 12 or 8 or 16 or 2, but the same mathematical laws apply and despite any language differences, when it comes to maths they should be able to relatively easily truthfully communicate mathematical information with each other. (Same goes for any life form from another galaxy that visited earth, they would know maths too, and their maths would correspond with ours.)

    In part I mean that even if there were not different civilisations or aliens or even humans at all, the maths describing natural processes would still be the same, only there would not be anyone´s imagination to think of it or write it down to communicate it to others. If everyone disappeared, computers would go on idling or processing numbers regardless.

    At the present level of my understanding, I would say maths is natural & imaginary, without being real, in the sense that for us with human brains maths is something devised out of thought processes to imaginatively describe characteristics of reality (nature).

    For those who do not already know, or forget, maths uses labels such as natural numbers, whole numbers, negative numbers, irrational numbers, imaginary numbers and complex numbers. But all those adjectives are just labels, every type number is imaginary, some numbers are just “more” imaginary than others. A horse is real, “2” as a numeral – a written sign for it – is a real sign, but the abstract idea behind it – the quantity two – is imagined in one´s head.

    I am not sure, but I think there are hyper-complex numbers as well, but I do not know anything about them. As time progresses even more strangely imaginative numbers could be devised to fit or describe what goes on in parts of nature.

    For argument´s sake, this may or may not be a problem with current science, if it does not have the maths yet that it needs. Sometimes in the past I think science has come up with applications only after mathematicians have built the mathematical underpinning. Mathematical knowledge is not complete yet – as far as I know there is no comprehensive theory-of-partial-differential-equations (whatever that may mean) – and partial differential equations are used a lot in physics, so the ultimate version of science may not be in sight yet either. (Which is what I think of some modern physics.)

    Change of direction:
    Still no reply from RS so far. (The naughty boy in me would like to try to register the RS survey e-mail address as a subscriber to this Yakaru website… but I won´t.)
    I think there are tricks and subterfuges to increase the number of hits landing on this webpage for people searching the internet for information about RS, but I do not know how to do it.
    Thanks for the other respondents coming back into the discussion after the 24 hour silence.

  15. I received the reply.

    It nearly worked.

    Except the timing was wrong. I expected to get a reply yesterday. But the reply has only come now (midday Monday in Danmark). Maybe it was something to do with time zones at different longitudes around the planet, some mix-up somewhere. ? Also, Danmark shifted from daylight saving time to winter time overnight Sunday/Monday (true, but I am only being facetious).

    Here is the text of the e-mail:

    Dear Donald,

    Thank you very much for your interesting email which I will pass onto Rupert Sheldrake. I have also included your experiences onto our database. You might be interested in reading Rupert’s book on the subject called THE SENSE OF BEING STARED AT, if you haven’t already. There is quite a large body of evidence suggesting this is a very common phenomenon. Rupert also has an online telephone telepathy test you can take part in yourself here: http://www.sheldrake.org/Onlineexp/portal/mobiletelepathy.html. Best wishes Pam Smart (Researcher)

    I have not looked at the online telepathy test yet. I am afraid taking it might prove something I do not want it to prove.

    I have to agree with Pam Smart that waking up before receiving an incoming SMS or phone call could be a very common phenomenon, it has happened to me at night various times. I could be mistaken, but I am sure I wake up before the phone “illuminates” and before gives its bell tone or its SMS tone (two distinct noises). But I also suspect there is something else the phone does before its screen comes on (call the screen illumination a process, possibly the second of three) and before the phone produces either of the tones (another process, possibly the third step of a three step process). i.e. I am not sure if there is a first process, of three, which is what wakes me up in the first place. Also, it is not a simple model of phone, it is one of the more sophisticated multi-function smartphone types of devices.

    It has occurred to me, since the “Namaste” at the end of a prior comment, that it might be opportune for me to disclose that apart from completing 4 years of Mathematics and 2 years of Physics at Melbourne University, I also simultaneously did 4 years of Indian Studies, and 2 years each of Bengali (language), Chinese (language) & East Asian Studies (all part of an Arts degree, the Arts faculty let me take extra surplus subjects)

    So… Namaskar (Bengali translation of the Hindi Namaste)

  16. – thanks for that, I was beginning to go mad. You put that well and your thinking is much the same as mine.

    But it’s a weird paradox. On the one hand, numbers are just ideas that we abstracted from dealing with physical objects, counting things, etc., and on the other, those principles are absolute realities of nature – there before we arrived and presumably fundamental to our arriving at all, in that they govern every physical and living process. It’s a bit like the laws of physics and the “constants” that give our universe the qualities it has, including being able to form matter, galaxies and people. It took human brains to – represent? – conceive of – them as “things” (in the widest sense), but the universe has been representing them to itself in all manner of ways for billions of years.

    It’s thoughts like these that give me some sympathy for the likes of Rupert Sheldrake – the ratio of a circle’s radius to its circumference, the prime numbers, the apparently absolute and unchangeable rules of logic, or the speed of light in a vacuum – all such things give a sense that there is a reality out there more real than matter, more primary, and yet it is only matter that science considers real universe-stuff, while using maths to discover and catalogue its relationships. I guess it’s because those “things” evaporate when we try to isolate them, and only seem to be expressed through material substance. We can’t take three home on a cart. We can’t eat pi.

    So perhaps thought, subjective experience, mind, are – like information – more of those abstract non-things, relational processes inherently involving matter, requiring some physical stuff to exist at all.

    On the other hand, physical stuff seems to dissolve into information and relationships – probabilities of existence. This is another doubt that creeps in about materialism. Maybe it’s time to ask you what your beef is with Quantum Mechanics! Or dare we mention String Theory? You know, woos (rightly) get given a hard time about the spiritual implications of QM and ST, but it’s hard not to sympathise. Matter appears to be formed out of a potent vacuum randomly creating and destroying particles, or odd wiggly rubber-band-type thingies smaller than you want to think about, that cause matter to exist by vibrating at different frequencies.

    Obviously, that’s all a long way away from staring at people and asking them if they could feel it, or accusing the scientific world of collusive obfuscation … or Anglicanism.

    I do also wonder whether scientists have as much evidence for the constancy of universal constants as they like to pretend. And it often occurs to me how important that is – so many of the big cosmological propositions, like the size of the universe, its age, its rate of expansion, the amount of mass in it, etc., depend on c being the same over 14 billion years and always. From when I first heard about Relativity it seemed odd to me that Einstein was quite happy to bend space, make mass change, bugger about with time in paradoxical ways – all apparently to demand that the speed of light in a vacuum MUST be constant.

    Unlike RS, I guess I trust physicists are actually cleverer than me and have good reason for saying those things, but if anyone can help me on any of this, please do. I mean, if we allow for c to change, maybe the big bang didn’t happen when we think, or at all, or maybe it’s happening all the time (after all, they say it happened everyWHERE)…maybe the missing matter that requires dark matter isn’t missing…If E=m*some-gradually-changing-variable…the stars may not be where we assume they are…?

  17. Oops, my previous post should start with Donald T’s quote: ‘every type number is imaginary, some numbers are just “more” imaginary than others’ – I put triangular braces round it and the program removed it.

    Wow, Donald, those are impressive qualifications! I dropped out of a geology degree 33 years ago, smoked pot, read books on yoga and buddhism, meditated and turned into a mystic for the next 25 years. Dumbass.

  18. I am curious about the missing 8 years (geology 33 years ago, then 25 years as a mystic, now ?)

    I sometimes ponder about the spiritual and/or religious trajectories in different people´s life stories. Sometimes they behave like a pendulum, swinging back and forth.

    Some people are Christians all their lives.

    Some astronauts are atheists, go to the moon and back, and become religious proselytisers.

    A Malaysian Chinese girl I was at university with took a degree in Electrical Engineering (we actually were partners for lab work each week of the Electronics course in the physics department). At the time I was very tied up with aspects of various Indian or Eastern philosophical thought, she wasn´t and was totally down to earth. Her father was a stockbroker in Malaysia – after finishing her degree she became a stockbroker, not an electrical engineer, then made a lot of money, and 35 years later now gardens, practices Osho, and seems to be one of the surviving orange people (not sure).

    Some people become suddenly religious when they know they are about to die.

    Some people reject religion after someone they know dies.

    A very few people are spiritual in another way altogether, a way which has nothing to do with the supposed supernatural, and nothing to do with being frauds or making money out of the gullible public.

    Rupert Sheldrake has his own theories, what is it about RS´s life that led or channeled him to his theories ? Is there a pendulum in his life or not ?


    You probably know Einstein did not find quantum mechanics credible. I am arrogant enough to think I know when something is wrong (like Einstein in this case who also thought it was wrong, or unlike a lot of people who cannot always tell that something is wrong). I assume there is something wrong with quantum mechanics, I assume there is something wrong with the Big Bang.

    I don´t have alternative answers / explanations.

    Mathematics is an elegant lucid precise field, whenever better answers come along, the new answers will obey and pay homage to mathematics.

  19. Yes, I estimated both numbers very roughly. It’s more like 30 and 27, so only about 3 post-mystic years…but neither my maths nor my memory is very good. It’s a simplification, as I went through a lot of swings in the 27 years, but I was mostly an intuitive thinker, trusting what I felt and thought more than science. I put a lot of effort into working it all out and was actually at the point of setting up as a spiritual teacher about 4 years ago – a career move from counsellor – and that led me to question the basis of my philosophy. I looked for a meditation teacher, since I needed to take my meditation practice a lot more seriously if I was going to get Enlightened. Talking to Buddhists made me realise how odd these ideas were, and I found the monks and teachers extremely dogmatic, small-minded and defensive when I asked awkward questions. Maybe that was just bad luck, but it didn’t seem like it. Meanwhile, I discussed metaphysics with the physicists, biologists and mathematicians at JREF forum (James Randi Educational Foundation), and I liked their no-nonsense message a lot more. It took several months after that for my mystical views to fall apart. I’m not saying that I’m sure of my outlook now, just that I’m fairly sure I was kidding myself about a lot of stuff before, and I can’t imagine losing scepticism now that I’ve found it. All that mystical stuff was somehow shoehorned in with evolution and most of the scientific world view…that was maya, and you had to go beyond. Gate, gate, paragate…

  20. Blimey, those are impressive qualifications, Donald.

    I managed to finishish my degree, but it’s nothing to brag about. I’m checking my memory banks to see if I came across another geologist who was into yoga & mysticism. Nope. That’s also quite a unique mix, lettersquash….

    I spent about 25 years as a mystic too, I guess. I regret spending more than a few years studying studying Anthroposophy. Really just a waste, although it was a sincere attempt on my part to understand reality. I get pissed off when unhappy commenters here tell me I’m threatened by or ignorant of spiritual ideas. I’ve got better woo credentials than some of the gurus I criticize here!

    I’ve also spent plenty of time in India, and could even be described as (in Donald’s phrase) a surviving orange person. But the only position I advocate publicly or privately regarding spirituality is atheism.


    Thanks for the link, lettersquash. I’ll add it above the line because it does explain it very clearly.

    Feel free to add further thoughts & experiences with Sheldrake’s “experiments” Donald. I lack the maths skill to quickly look through his stats and evaluate what he’s doing.

    And thanks to all above for the enlightening discussion so far.

  21. That´s an interesting story.

    Do you mean that you find the ideas of some Buddhists odd, or you realised your own ideas were odd, or some combination of both ?

    Intuition can be insidious, it´s got at me too, long ago. I am beginning to wonder what cured me of it.

    In a few ways my own life has approximately 30 year sequences, which repeat.

    Here is some extra biographical information about RS


    I have looked at the methodology of the telephone telepathy experiment.
    Three issues to me are:
    1. How do we know this is measuring telepathy and not some other as yet unknown, but natural rather than supernatural, phenomenon ?
    2. There are only two options for responses: caller 1 or caller 2, each with an equal probability of being correct (50/50). The experiment would be more rigorous if the number of options for responses was increased to say 10, caller 1 through caller 10, each with an equal probability of being correct (1 in 10). Having ten options would make it rather difficult for the participants to learn / infer any patterns from the feedback.
    3. I would not be surprised if during such an experiment most if not all of the callers would be thinking about calling the recipient, whether or not they were calling, and what happens telepathically (sic ?) in that case, can the recipient choose one or more or all options during any trial for example ? Or putting it another way, does thinking about making a phone call without making the call in any way resemble the thoughts when someone actually makes a phone call ?

    Overall, the design of the experiment is inadequate, and needs to be re-thought.

  22. Well the design of that experiment is much worse than I imagined. He’s been crowing about getting 70%+ success rates at a chance of billions to one. That would definitely show up clearly if he used much higher numbers of callers. I suspect he doesn’t really believe it himself, and obviously he has financial interests in stringing it out as long as possible.

    Yes – it is rather somewhat premature to postulate a mechanism and then start looking for the observations to back it up. And as you imply, once you open up the possibility a spirit world interacting with this one, anything goes. I liked letterquash’s idea of a Negative Psi Field, the absence of which affects people more than its presence.

    Re. Buddhism, quite the opposite. I think stripped of the supernatural beliefs and a whole lot of problems related to building up hierarchies based on fake criteria and developing a fake personality based on repression and beliefs, there is great value in it. I’m still a fan of meditation.

    I find it really interesting how people let go of false beliefs. I was always fairly skeptical and genuinely interested in science, but I think had some bad luck in the way my education exposed me to it. It was really just lack of information. I thought “spiritual science” found things that material science was incapable of seeing. So, like Sheldrake, I saw spiritual phenomena as part of the natural world, and the instruments and intellectual concepts used by science as too blunt to detect them. A better reading of science eventually led me to realize that the evidence I thought was there, isn’t there. And if it was, it would have left its fingerprints where we could see them.

    But even as a woo, I had plenty of arguments with true believers and always thought the New age was something to be opposed rather than promoted.

  23. Interesting article you linked to. Sounds like Sheldrake used a totally debunked myth as evidence, although it could have been the journalist who tacked it on. The hundredth monkey phenomenon was of course, invented by Lyell Watson in the early 70s as an example of something that could prove woo. Unfortunately the image was vivid, that it passed into woo folklore as real evidence. Watson himself said he made it up.

    Also interesting that he’s a devout Anglican believer.

  24. @Yakaru
    My previous post which contained a question about Buddhism being odd was intended for Lettersquash, but I failed to signal that it was intended for L, and it so happened that while I was typing the Buddhism question you (Yakaru) added a new post intervened so it looked like my question was directed at you (Yakaru). I do not find Buddhism (in the original philosophical form, not the later religious form) odd. I think 2500 years later a lot of what we humans see or perceive is still illusory.

    That contretemps about the question dovetails into another SMS phenomenon. I am positive that once this year I was at sea typing one of my infrequent SMS messages to one of my few recipients, and in the course of typing it I received an SMS from her. This would be of some interest to RS. I am not sure, but I think it has happened to me two or three times in the past four years (with her, that is as long as I have sent her SMS messages, although I have known her for five years, I do not send many SMS messages overall, and mainly they are to her, so it is not that strange that it only happens with her). It is easy to remember when this happens because on the phone I use, if I am typing an SMS and an SMS comes in from someone else, the SMS I am typing gets clobbered and I have to type it again, irritating (the phone has a stylus and a screen keypad and a slider keyboard).

    Back to the RS telephone telepathy:

    I think I can explain better some weaknesses in RS´s telephone telepathy experiment –

    It is similar to a test where person A tosses a coin ten times or more, and there can be two results, heads or tails for each of the ten throws, with equal probability. Person B then guesses the result in succession. Most B people will have an innate desire to get their guesses correct. If you do this test ten times, some B people will say heads after every time the previous result was tails (i.e. with feedback), and say tails after every time the previous result was heads. Some B people will keep a running count of heads or tails and aim to balance 5 results each way by the end of the “random” experiment. Over many such experiments I think you will find the average score could be 60% correct, instead of 50% correct, because the experiment is not genuinely random, in part due to the small number (two) of discrete possibilities (heads or tails), and in part due to the small number of trials (ten).

    In the case of the RS experiment it is not genuinely random for an additional reason. That is because the computer decides who to call in a mock random (?) fashion, which may not be truly random, like tossing a real coin in the air will be random. (I would have to see the actual software subroutine to know for sure.)

    In the case of the RS experiment, many (probably a majority) of the subjects are hopeful of proving that they are telepathic, and are motivated to score higher, and will do their best to demonstrate (or to fake having) telepathic powers.

    By increasing the number of callers from 2 callers to 10 callers, a statistically significant result might be something like 12% correct instead of 10% correct, overall. But if there was some telepathy going on I would be hoping to find individuals who could score much better than 12% in telling me which one of ten callers was calling them. I would get excited if any single participant consistently identified the correct one of ten possibilities 20% or more of the time, even if all of the others managed an average of about 10%.

    We also cannot tell if B people are guessing when they participate or if there really is something other than guessing and involving receiving / sensing some kind of information / feeling in some part of their physiology. For example, if a bat navigates in the dark by echo location, we can measure / detect the sounds they use and we will also probably notice that the bats have large sensitive ears. If the bats did not have big ears, we might instead think they were guessing or telepathic (?). What part of a human receives telepathic signals, and where is the physiology that relays such signals to the brain(s) ?

    I am not sure about Rudolf Steiner, because he founded Anthroposophy after quitting Theosophy, anyone who has ever been strongly connected with Theosophy is forever tainted in my mind. He also reportedly had a theory about blue-eyed blonde children, which sounds like it was based on intuition. But on the other hand, anthroposophists do a lot of things I find very attractive, in particular many of those aspects of their lifestyles or attitudes that do not rely on intuition, or in which they have turned out to be ahead of their time – I mean ahead of their tiem with respect to the way things are going now with the accelerating destruction of ecological systems.

  25. I’ve also experienced some totally weird stuff – calling someone I hadn’t thought of for 6 months and had never called before, found it was engaged, called back 5 mins later and he said he was just trying to call me 5 mins ago and it was engaged… That kind of stuff.

    There might even be something going on there. Who knows, but even if there was a previously unknown agent operating there, it wouldn’t necessarily over turn the whole of science. The more i think about it, I think the real reason why Sheldrake and everyone like him are so keen to throw out science is because they’re pissed off with it. Religious people lost “control” of reality when science took over as the definer of reality.

    You can’t control science in the way a priest can control religion and tell people what to believe. They’ve never forgiven science for taking their power away, and they still haven’t come to terms with it.

    Yes, Anthroposophy actually shares ideological roots with Nazism (eg., Blumenbach, a C19 anthropologist who invented a hierarchy of races that was very popular and influential). It’s certainly not nazism, in that it does respect individual rights and was even an early advocate of fair treatment for the handicapped and non-elitist education. But there are clearly white supremacist elements and deeply racist beliefs in it. You might get a laugh out of knowing that some of them even cited Marlo Morgan’s book as evidence that the black races have served their purpose and will disappear from the earth. That book really brought them crawling out of the woodwork.

  26. Yakaru, I’m so pleased you’re happy to have such extensive discussions on your blog pages.

    I picked up your question was to me, Donald. I feel like we’re all just talking together anyway. So by way of answer, and also to Y’s “Re. Buddhism, quite the opposite”, I have to say, it’s complicated.

    I still meditate. In fact have just done several weeks of yoga much more – lol – “religiously” (regularly) than I have ever before …probably because I’m no longer doing it Religiously!

    It’s hard to give a simple judgement of Buddhism, because there are so many different versions of it. I could say I don’t believe in Buddhism, meaning I don’t share the philosophy of Gautama Buddha – he did, after all, believe in reincarnation. In virtually any of its guises, I find it hard to imagine it “stripped of its supernatural beliefs” and still being Buddhism. There are things that, superficially, or perhaps by chance, coincide with rational, scientific theories – consciousness studies are tending to converge on the idea that we don’t have an individual, coherent self, for instance, but the conception of that is quite different from the Buddha’s (physicalism rather than mentalism). Similarly, much of what we label and think we perceive can be said to be illusory according to science – most obviously that matter is virtually empty space – but transcending our cognitive processes is somewhat different from transcending /maya/. The Indian philosophy is extremely idealist, not unlike Plato’s. So “love” or “emptiness”, etc., are presented as more real than physical stuff.

    Instead of this metaphysics, Buddhism can be understood as a primarily a way to transcend suffering, a therapy to reach happiness, and I agree that some of its principles have great value. If you can strip it of Nirvana, Karma, etc. and think of it as a discipline of acceptance of unavoidable suffering, great, but it does see pretty much everything as suffering. Transcending our desires is great up to a point.

    To me it seems inseparable from the ancient (‘Perennial’) Indian philosophy from which it emerged, which is spiritual nonsense. It is often deliberately anti-rational (like the concept of ‘mu’ in Zen Buddhism, which I think – I’m no expert – seems to mean something like yes-no, or neither of these dualities). Although paradox can be interesting and is worth considering, it seems to me that it’s used as a way of dodging inconsistencies and avoiding answering yes or no to simple questions that ought to have yes or no answers (a trick you find everywhere in religion).

    Intuition – there’s another tricky idea. It’s really great. It’s the process by which your brain does masses of probabilistic calculations out of awareness and pops a brilliant idea into your head that turns out to be true. Science wouldn’t have discovered half the stuff it has without it, nor could we walk or catch a ball. But the religious are fooled into thinking these powers are supernatural.

    This was the crux of my difficulty in taking up the offer of a free course in meditation (even though I’d practised quite a bit myself already) – I had learned enough about cognitive error to suspect that we can develop wrong beliefs, even without trying, and this might be actually /trying/. I was worried that it might be quite impossible genuinely to try to do ‘proper’ meditation (intensively, under strict instruction, especially) and maintain sufficient scepticism to judge whether the ‘insights’ I was getting were real or not. I’m glad of the opportunity to write that, because I’ve not really thought it out as clearly before. But that’s the kind of question I tried to ask my prospective guru, and I found nothing to persuade me that it was safe from this risk of hypnotic suggestion (after all, there’s always a lot of telling you what you’re going to discover and how to interpret everything that happens in these courses!). I strongly suspect that is the basis of most religious belief. Jesus comes into your life if you ask him to – and you have to do that with sufficient sincerity. From what we know about neurology, it’s pretty clear that’s setting yourself up for ‘Jesus coming into your life’, as far as you can tell, i.e., your brain can’t tell the difference between reality and delusion. We pretty well know that absolutely. I can convince you your hand is made of plastic with nothing more than a plastic hand and a mirror – not only that, but I don’t have to convince you at all, and you can’t not see it that way even when you realise it’s a trick!

    This is all on topic: that’s exactly what Sheldrake’s philosophy deliberately induces – the suspension of disbelief – leading to delusion! It trusts intuition. The checks and balances of rigorous scientific method are what protect each impressionable brain from its own stupidity, but he pretends (or believes) that they are what blind us to the invisible pink unicorns (well, Jesus, probably) just behind the veil.

    As the spell first began to wear off, I also asked her – my guru – in an email, if she was enlightened. After all, she kept telling me that’s what this process leads to, and she’s the teacher. Or if she thought her teacher was an enlightened being. Or if she knew anyone at all who was. The mealy-mouthed answer kind of underlined it for me. She clearly took the whole thing on trust as something that might happen one day if we all kept working at it. I realised then that we were all (probably) colluding in a bunch of self-aggrandizing garbage. I regret to think how much of that garbage I suggested in my counselling sessions, passing on the curse of magical thinking to my clients.

    It’s really refreshing doing meditation and yoga without the goal I was attached to. Of course, they said that was the last stage before enlightenment – letting go of the desire for enlightenment! :D

  27. On ‘mu,’ I’ve heard a version of it as being a way to point out the fallacy of four terms/complex question, where the question depends on false premises and similar fallacies. There is no answer, so you answer ‘not/nothing,’ AKA ‘mu.’

  28. @BD
    is “fallacy of four terms/complex question” a typographical error ? I find that when I type mistakes here and submit them, then I cannot correct them later – there is no user friendly edit function, as far as I can see.

    The Wikipedia entry excerpt on topic Mu:

    [1] Nonexistence; nonbeing; not having; a lack of, without. [2] A negative. [3] Caused to be nonexistent. [4] Impossible; lacking reason or cause. [5] Pure human awareness, prior to experience or knowledge. This meaning is used especially by the Chan school. [6] The ‘original nonbeing’ from which being is produced in the Daode jing.[4]

    This mu (as distinct from the mu that is a Greek letter) is not in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

    I did not know (or do not remember knowing) anything about mu before now.

    I do not accept reincarnation either, I prefer to think in terms of organisms inter-connected to varying degrees with other organisms, and all built of the same physical matter. When I drop dead like other animals I would in the normal course of events be re-absorbed into the ecological system and thereby support the appearance of re-emergent life.

    I think that different people in their lives achieve varying levels of consciousness, Buddhism is in part concerned with the levels.

    I do not think there is a peak of consciousness which could be reached and called enlightenment.

    The free courses in meditation sound to me to be more likely to be conducted by someone who is genuine and philanthropic. I am not a meditator.

    As this is the Rupert Sheldrake forum, I am wondering if you would rather these partly non-RS messages were directed elsewhere. Because I expect people who are signed up as subscribers for RS messages may not want to be receiving the collateral non-RS material interspersed in the messages. For an alternative, there could be a new general purpose area for non-specific messages. Or maybe you would just like everyone to restrict themselves to RS.

    About Marlo Morgan, do you mean that in Germany among anthroposophists Marlo Morgan´s book is seen and used as a vindication of eugenics ? (i.e. I do not think that would be the case with anthroposophists in Australia ?) Anita, the German anthroposophist ex-girlfriend, probably does not endorse eugenics, but at the same time anything appearing to be a “Steiner-kritik” will be vigorously attacked by her. So if anyone raises the blue-eyed blondes issue with her, she will respond that it´s not true, or it´s something the Steiner-kritiks fabricated.

  29. OK, maybe I’ve misunderstood it a bit. I don’t know about four-term/complex questions of which you speak. Not sure where I read about it – maybe Godel-Escher-Bach. I think Hofstadter said it had the power to ‘unask the question’, which is kind of similar. I suppose it’s just an example of what I see as a lack of clarity in spiritual traditions. We’re all one, but this one is the teacher telling you we’re all one, that kind of thing. I may try reading GEB again. I may even understand it one day.

  30. Lettersquash and Donald Telfer both just posted at 15:34, coincidence, conspiracy, or more evidence of telepathy for RS ?

  31. Donald, this is going to blow your fricken mind! 1547 – I was just thinking it’s one of those times that could be a year. For a bit of fun, I googled what historical events happened then, looking for something to blow your mind. I wondered if something interesting happened on today’s date, where I am, England, which is 30 October. Nothing very significant, just the day the English Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, making Henry VIII head of the English church…oh, that would be the day of establishment of the Anglican Church, then. He’s moving in mysterious ways again! ;))

  32. D’oh, typo, I meant 1534.

  33. Could it be a sign ? A warning ? A clue ? A code ? A miracle in the making ? Telepathy ?

    1534 was before my time, I was born on CLXV Pluviôse 22 (I prefer the French Republican Calendar, that year CLXV = 165 overlaps the Christian 1957 to you).

    If it´s any consolation, for my four years at Melbourne University as an under-graduate, I boarded at Ridley College, which is the Victorian theological college of the Church of England (low church). Ridley had a mix of about half and half university students and theological students.

    I guess something went wrong somewhere, because Rupert Sheldrake lived or studied at an Anglican college, and qualified with a PhD, whereas I did pretty much the same but turned out somewhat different, had a bachelors degree, and went to Africa, not my long-standing vocation of Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India.

    (I wanted to go to India to work against poverty, hence I enrolled in Bengali and Indian Studies, as well as maths and physics. Tragically, there was a girl at Ridley who was a Catholic, who wanted to go to the same province in India as me, but as a physiotherapist for a Ryder-Cheshire home. She was posted to a hospital in New Guinea and drowned three months later on Easter Saturday 1981, the same day a man nearly drowned in front of me in the Pacific Ocean. It was also improbable that Melbourne has about 2 million inhabitants and yet she & I were both at Ridley in bedrooms about 20 metres apart although our homes were about 100 km apart. I now have the worry that the 30 year later physiotherapist who is also an ex-volunteer, vis-a-vis Sao Paulo, Brazil 33 years ago, who is the ex-girlfriend anthroposophist in Germany, is going to drown herself.)

    Yukio Mishima (Japanese novelist) wrote a series of four novels collectively titled The Sea of Fertility concerning a man Honda during whose life Honda befriended four incarnations of the one person, one per novel. This series charts the moral or spiritual decline of Japan in modern times from Buddhism into materialism.

  34. What I mean by fallacy of four terms (don’t remember why it’s called that, aside from not getting the explanation), also known as a complex or loaded question is a question that depends on one or more false premises.

    Example: “Do you still beat your wife?” Assumes that the person being asked is 1) has a wife, and 2) that he beat his wife at one time. Simply saying “no” could be construed as granting those false premises, whereas “mu” can be interpreted as rejecting the possibility of an answer and thus points out the flawed nature of the question.

    It’s been a while since I read the Wikipedia page on Mu, so if it’s no longer there, that part might have been scrubbed or edited because that interpretation might have been non-notable, or at least was so before certain internet cliques latched onto it.

  35. @BD
    Thanks, I encounter non-sensical questions from time to time. I will try to use mu when appropriate in future. It is much quicker than having to say “The question does not make sense.” or “Please re-phrase your question using some different words.” Although perhaps I will then have to explain what I mean by mu. Sometimes in the past I would alternatively say “No comment”, “That does not compute”, or “Nichevo” (= I have nothing to report).

    I am thinking of another example:

    Did you happen to see the live broadcast of Stefan Grapelli playing the violin on the radio tomorrow ?

    And, I am not sure Stefan Grapelli is still with us, either.

  36. Fine with me for this thread to be used as a bit of a forum. Actually Sheldrake’s scatter gun approach peppered just about every woo topic I’ve heard of, so saying something off topic would be a bit of a challenge. Thanks for your concern about going off topic though.

    @Donald, there was an article I wanted to link to re steiner & racism, but it’s disappeared. There is considerable discontent among Anthroposophists about the racist elements in their philosophy. The trouble is that admitting that Steiner was merely repeating the racist ideas of his time, is that doing so would mean accepting that he did not derive those aspects of his teachings from clairvoyant vision.

    He taught that various folk souls governed the development of each folk, and that each folk had a particular task to fulfill in the evolution of human consciousness. First it was the blacks, then the reds, then the yellows then the browns then the whites. They don’t overtly teach this in Waldorf Schools, but they do teach it covertly, as their perspective on history and historical periods is organized according to this idea.

    Anyway, there were those who were citing Marlo Morgan’s book as proof that Australian Aborigines knew their time was up and wanted to leave the earth plane. There was a nice open letter to a school I think in the Netherlands debunking Morgan and chastising those who had outed themselves as racists, thinking they now had proof.

    Incidentally, I am pretty sure Sheldrake has been influenced by Anthroposophy in some way. He liked Goethe’s ideas on morphology apparently, and Steiner was one who developed that into an esoteric system. I’m guessing a bit though. He certainly tries to hit all the same anti-science nerves that Anthroposophists hit, too. As an Anglican he would probably be unhappy about Steiner’s version of Christianity, so I could imagine him holding it at arm’s length.

  37. The wikipedia page on mu (negative in Zen) is pretty much as you said, Bronze Dog, and it’s not far from what I thought, too, although I painted it two-faced rather than transcendental. I was right about the Hofstadter reference. I was right to say that it conveys the meaning “not yes or no”. My criticism, from a rationalist perspective, is that “mu” is an entirely insufficient answer. If the question is based on a false premise, and “mu” is a shorthand for that, then the answer, in a wider philosophical sense, ought to be the explanation of what the false premise is. Zen holds mu not just as an objection to irrational questions, but as its fundamental stance on reality, it seems to me. Everything melts into inscrutable equivocation. That is how Zen teachers (I’m thinking of Sekida in particular) describe Enlightenment, getting to this point where all questions are meaningless koans, and there just is. Then you sweep the floor and tidy the gravel garden because that’s what there is to do. I know it sounds profound, but I think it’s bullshit. If we were all Buddhists, we would know precisely zip about the universe, and think ourselves very very smart indeed for all the things we imagine we know about it.

    I’ve just checked a bit more about variable constants like the speed of light in a vacuum, and I’ve thought of another of those questions I have to say mu to: “Is science wrong to deny c and G might be variable?”. It’s like the ‘beating your wife’ question. Does not compute. Not even wrong. Sheldrake is right to suggest that they might have changed – any fool can suggest that – but he’s wrong to suggest that science isn’t considering the possibility – it’s been actively looking for evidence and discussing theories for yonks. This is actually what annoys me about him – he can have all the mystical conjectures he likes, but having had them criticised, he hasn’t taken those criticisms seriously or learned anything, and instead he’s mud-slinging at a very free-minded and honorable profession. It’s sour grapes – if he isn’t accepted as a proper scientist, he’ll pretend it’s not a club he would want to be a member of.

    The wikipedia entry only makes vague sense to me, without the relevant background http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable_speed_of_light

    …while arstechnica (wtf?) has a much snazzier title and is a little more approachable for armchair cosmologists http://arstechnica.com/science/2011/11/fundamental-constants-are-not-constant-or-maybe-they-are-we-dont-know-really/

    Yakaru, thanks for the hospitality – I like this ‘forum’ and your blog. I’ve got a blog, but I’ve not written anything on it for ages.

  38. If someone like Rudolf Steiner reports personal clairvoyant visions, how can one tell if anthroposophy is not a case of intuition leading the blind ? Or, what was Rudolf Steiner ingesting, if anything, during the clairvoyant visions ? Was he a heavy drinker at all ?

    I wonder what anthroposophists would make of the experimental results that Japanese on average score the highest on IQ tests, do IQ tests measure anything that correlates with advancement on the Steiner scale of contribution to historical development ?

    Another irregularity would be blended ethnicity, for example (I think) the people in East Timor, do not look like Indonesians, do not look like west Timorese, and they do not look like Portuguese, I think they are the result of centuries of interbreeding between Portuguese colonisers and the original inhabitants. What “folk soul” do they have ? It was not a folk soul 600 years ago, the island had not been colonised, the offspring had not arisen.

    But I am still sympathetic to other aspects of anthroposophy.

    Wikipedia versus arstechnica

    The arstechnica piece is more coherent and accessible to the general public, and has the single author, Chris Lee, evidently a physicist as well as a science writer.

    Whereas the Wikipedia article is almost certainly a semi-collaborative effort by various people who occasionally contradict each other and may use difficult words in the wrong way (for example: anthropometric is used by one of the contributors – I think I know what was intended when they used that word by mistake, but anthropometry is not what was intended – although anthropometric sounds like the correct word for the concept intended, it is not the correct word – I do not actually know what the correct word is, nor even if any such word exists.)

    Anthropometry is the measurement of human physiology, like head size. However I looked that up on Wikipedia, so the question arises: perhaps not only do we have cases on Wikipedia of errors within articles, we have cases on Wikipedia or errors propagating across from one article to another. We could call this “contagious ambiguity”.

    I do not know what the word would be for measurements or observations undertaken from the frame of reference of humans. For example, humans think up is up, and light does not go round corners. But if you were sitting on the moon, “up” on the moon could mean you were looking at the earth, not looking away from the earth, and you might also notice that light from the sun can bend ever so slightly around the earth during eclipses.

    Or if you were riding a “photon” (sic ?), left-right up-down forwards-backwards may not be all at right angles to each other (like the edges of a cube – not sure about this though).

    For the time being, I think just keep in mind that you should not trustingly believe everything you read on the internet. Particularly all those pop-ups that congratulate us for being the 999,999th visitor, and announce you have won a free prize.

  39. Interestingly, it was over the “race issue” that Steiner left the Theosophical Society. They were grooming the young Krishnamurti to be the prophesied World Teacher, and Steiner didn’t believe that an Indian could have the necessary qualities for it.

    The reason I stuck with it for so long (7 years or so) was because he claimed that clairvoyant perception is a natural human sense, which is dormant until you train it; AND (and this is what set him apart from many others) that if you do train it, you will see exactly the same things that he reported. He also said that this “spiritual science” would complement and never contradict the natural sciences. He stated clearly that if there is a contradiction, one or the other must be wrong.

    For eg., he said that a seed looks to clairvoyant vision as if it has a kind of blueish flame surrounding it, so a trained person would be able to tell the difference between a real seed and a fake copy.

    (I guess I don’t need to say that he never performed such tricks on stage!)

    I also remember being at an anthroposophical conference and someone gave a talk about the speed of light not being constant. I guess the core idea is that if it’s not constant, then it must be God Himself who decides it at his leisure, and not some fuzzy haired physicist!

    PS, L, your blog has long been on my blogroll!

  40. Thanks for the Krishnamurti explanation. That is the third variation of the explanation for me, so far. One I think was from some website – that Steiner quit Theosophy over questions of future leadership (following Madam Blavatsky ?), nothing about racial backgrounds. Another, number two, was from Anita (who I may have misunderstood, it being a verbal explanation) which was that Steiner left because he could not accept that Krishnamurti (nor anyone else, European, Jewish, Indian or otherwise) could be something of a reincarnation of Jesus. And, now the third explanation, that no one of Indian ethnicity would be acceptable to Steiner.

    How about nominating Rupert Sheldrake as the new world teacher, has anyone noticed whether or not he and Rudolf Steiner have the same initials, anagrams in their names, same birthdays ?

    About seeds emitting a bluish light, some parts of plants (not necessarily including any seeds) can produce light at the infra-red end beyond the visible-to-humans spectrum. And since at least the 1940s infra-red can be photographed with infra-red sensitive black & white negative film. If there was any light coming from seeds at the ultra-violet end beyond the visible spectrum, perhaps there is a way of photographing it (I do not know). In that case there would not be much supernatural about it, maybe RS the First, had the eyesight of an optical freak.

    If RS the First were still alive you could strew some seeds around on a gritty sandy beach during a moonlit night, and ask RS to find them by sight.

    I have still been wondering why the blue-footed boobies have blue feet, I suppose it is remotely possible they have blue feet so they can tell their own real feet from other fake feet, even by moonlight. But with a name like boobies assigned to them, I guess they are quite stupid birds, I think they are cute looking all the same.

    If anyone proves that the speed of light changes gradually and predictably over the course of time I would not become alarmed or querulous. If anyone proves the speed of light changes at random I would be skeptical. If anyone argued that a changing speed of light is evidence of the existence of God, I would say “Mu”.

  41. Apparently blue feet are thought to be a male booby’s secondary sexual characteristics, reflecting the amount of food they’ve eaten, their health and youth, and they attract females by doing a dance to show off their feet. Females choose mates largely on blueness of feet, but they have blue feet too, so …? … I’ve also read that it helps stop them breeding with red-footed boobies by mistake, although I can’t quite figure out the evolutionary advantage of such an adaptation.

    Blogroll – oh yes, I forgot. Great, thanks. I’ll reciprocate when I find where to do that on mine – I think I’ll get back into it again soon. Actually, I’ve just checked and there seem to be two identical links to “the Law of Attraction is Repulsive”. If you like, http://lettersquash.wordpress.com/category/philosophy/ is a possible catch-all of relevant scepticism. There’s more LoA tomfoolery, Zen muuu-ing and stuff about my conversion. I hope to do something soon on “Natural Yoga”, i.e. yoga without the gobbledygook.

    DT: “I do not know what the word would be for measurements or observations undertaken from the frame of reference of humans.”
    – ‘measurements’, or ‘observations’. ;)

  42. After suggesting that the blue feet might be a result of sexual selection, I decided to see what google says about it. (Hey, maybe I’ll do that first from now on, before starting to blab!) The best answer on the issue that I could find is this:

    “I don’t know why blue-footed boobies have blue feet. I don’t know if it’s an adaptation or not. What I do know is that none of the proposed explanations are convincing and I don’t mind saying so.”

    It’s from quite well known biologist and blogger Larry Moran

    He sees these birds as a case where many people take one look and say, Hmmmm, I wonder what advantage blue feet bring… I bet it’s sexual selection.” Moran thinks that random genetic drift could just as easily account for it —

    “Assume that the allele for blue feet is neutral. It became fixed in the blue-footed booby species by random genetic drift over a long period of time. We agree that the probability of fixation was low but it happened and we are now seeing the result. It’s like meeting a lottery winner.”

    But the bottom line is that he says he doesn’t know and is interested in convincing everyone else that they don’t know either.

    …Just running through the number of times I’ve heard paranormal investigators talking like that….. Nope. None. Never. And why the hell not? Satre’s term “bad faith” springs to mind.

    LS, thanks for the link & correction. It’s corrected.

  43. “…Just running through the number of times I’ve heard paranormal investigators talking like that….. Nope. None. Never. And why the hell not? ”


    You may mean Sartre, but I do not know the “bad faith” quote – nice piece of double-entendre. I rather avoid the word hell, as I do not believe in it and I assume there is no objective scientific evidence for its existence. I think Sartre had a character in one of his novels say “Hell is other people”. So I score one foul or “own goal” to Sartre.

    Here´s another example from the wonderful world of our avine (?) biped technicolor friends.

    Why do storks stand on one leg ?

    Because if they stood on no legs they would fall over.

    That last encapsulates my views on why some things in nature and physics are the way they are, because if they were any other way they would not work. When you see the maths and the way four (?) fundamental equations can be unpacked into a variety of numerous formulae this becomes compelling.

    For example, we live on a planet with a lot of liquid water at about 10 – 20 degrees Celsius. We only live here because of the water. The water is liquid because Earth is the correct distance from the heat source the Sun, whereas on Venus, closer to the Sun the water has all boiled off, and on Mars further away from the Sun, it has all frozen solid (I think). Nobody chose to put humans here, primitive humans could not live on any other planet, so we only live here, until we wreck it.

  44. I’m no expert, but my hunch is it’s a secondary sexual characteristic. Did you read the rest of the discussion at sandwalk? The genetics are way over my head, but near the end El PaleoFreak posted an abstract:

    “In 48 h foot colour became duller when males were food deprived and brighter when they were re-fed with fresh fish. Variation of dietary carotenoids induced comparable changes in cell-mediated immune function and foot colour, suggesting that carotenoid-pigmentation reveals the immunological state of individuals. These results suggest that pigment-based foot colour is a rapid honest signal of current condition. In a second experiment, we found that rapid variation in male foot colour caused parallel variation in female reproductive investment. One day after the first egg was laid we captured the males and modified the foot colour of experimental males with a non-toxic and water resistant duller blue intensive make-up, mimicking males in low condition. Females decreased the size of their second eggs, relative to the second egg of control females, when the feet of their mates were experimentally duller. Since brood reduction in this species is related to size differences between brood mates at hatching, by laying lighter second eggs females are facilitating brood reduction. Our data indicate that blue-footed booby females are continuously evaluating their mates and can perform rapid adjustments of reproductive investment by using dynamic sexual traits.”

    The full text is here http://www.springerlink.com/content/917544751420697m/fulltext.html

    So, um….er….Rupert Sheldrake, yeah, ummmm….(bless him, he’s given us so much to think about).

    Further synchronicities: a sheldrake is a seabird (a male shelduck), Rupert Sheldrake is a boobie, and boobies are sexually selective traits in humans.

  45. “Our data indicate that blue-footed booby females are continuously evaluating their mates and can perform rapid adjustments of reproductive investment by using dynamic sexual traits.”

    Some criticism would be:

    Within the overall experiment there were two separate inner experiments. Both inner experiments involved human intervention (in one part by restricting the food supply or in the other part by colouring the feet).

    The experimental results may be distorted by human presence, and the results of the two successive experiments should not be assumed to be a direct cause and effect, based on the statistics. If they could devise one experiment that did not involve humans interfering with the Boobies feet and food supply and nests – while monitoring foot colour and egg sizes, that would yield more reliable data, I think. But such an experiment could be much more costly.

    I suggest this is another case of the humans (scientists) not understanding that they still do not know for sure what is going on.

    Instead of claiming “Our data indicate…” they should be claiming “Our data are not inconsistent with the theory that…”.

    So, Larry Moran, keep it up.

  46. Very minor thing, since I’m a little bored at the moment:

    Yeah, exposing and challenging the false premises of a loaded question is much better than replying “Mu.” Mostly I get the impression that it’s intended for snarky humor between friends who know what it means and for poking trolls. Sometime I might try it with a hyperlink to the fallacy files.

  47. Oh I didn’t know mu was used in that knowing way on the nets, interesting. I’m still trying to think what my beef is exactly, and what came to me just now was the connection with koans – you know, those insoluble riddles Buddhist monks are set. Mu is the sound of one hand clapping.

  48. What noise does a sacred cow make?

  49. Dualism gives you the clap.

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