“There is a conflict in the heart of science between science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis, and collective investigation, and science as a belief system, or a world view. And unfortunately the world view aspect of science has come to inhibit and constrict the free inquiry which is the very lifeblood of the scientific endeavor.” – Rupert Sheldrake
Here is Rupert Sheldrake’s very controversial TEDx talk from January 2013, which he titled “The Science Delusion.”
Sheldrake says that since the 19th century, science has been conducted under a the world view of philosophical materialism. He goes on to identify ten dogmas or assumptions of science:
1. Nature is mechanical, machine-like.
2. Matter is unconscious.
3. The laws of nature are fixed.
4. The total amount of matter & energy never changes (except at the moment of the big bang).
5. Nature is purposeless; evolution has no direction.
6. Biological heredity is material.
7. Memories are stored in your brain as material traces.
8. Your mind is entirely inside your head.
9. Psychic phenomena like telepathy are impossible because of assumption #8.
10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works.
I would take issue with several claims Sheldrake makes in his talk, in two general areas. First, he depicts scientists as being more rigid than they actually are. For example, he ascribes to them a firm belief that the fundamental constants of physics never change, whereas this is actually the subject of considerable investigation and debate. Second, he mentions several beliefs of his own, such as the hypothesis of “morphic resonance” – the idea that everything has a collective memory – and claims that there is evidence for these things without actually presenting any.
Despite that, I’m convinced he is correct in his point that there is a very prevalent science dogma that tends to reject out of hand anything that does not fit the materialist world view. Scientists who investigate anything that smacks of “psychic” phenomena, for instance, are typically sidelined and widely regarded as quacks.
The scientific method asks us to be wary of any fixed beliefs, and always be open to new observations and data even if it runs counter to what we have always assumed to be true. Even if it runs counter to a scientific theory that has been tested and retested for decades. It’s always possible that we simply haven’t discovered the theory’s flaws or limitations yet.
It seems very odd to me that most scientists can be so close-minded about a subject like the location and limits of consciousness, while at the same time openly recognizing that we have very little understanding of how consciousness works, or even why we are conscious at all. I have personally had a few experiences that do not seem explainable by any mechanism known to science. (Here’s one example.)
It seems odder yet that a scientist who’s actually working in one of these off-limits areas would have a knee-jerk “that’s hokum” reaction to work another scientist is doing in some other off-limits area. But I’ve encountered this, as well. I’ll write about that experience in a future post.
The above video is labeled as “banned” by TED, which is not quite accurate. What actually happened is that the talk was taken out of the main library of TED talks at the recommendation of the TED science board due to factual problems, and moved to the TED blog where a lively discussion has taken place. You can read the entire controversy here: