Dr Rupert Sheldrake, biologist and philosopher. Interview Maya Ollier
The fracture body / mind
The report in which this interiew will be published is about the brain, emotions and relationships.What thoughts do these words evoke for you ?
Obviously, our relationships and our mental activities are influenced by our emotions, everybody knows it….. except for scientists ! Or rather, they begin to recognize it since the past fifteen years. Surprising as this may seem in the eyes of “normal” people, until the 1990s, scientists believed that intellectual activity was ultimately a computer program as independent of the body than the psyche. Since then, scientists have discovered that the intellect inhabits a body, so that our mental activities are in line with our bodily activities, and also, thanks to the work of Damasio, linked with our emotions.
The brain and the mind
But why such a dichotomy between scientific theory and reality experienced by ordinary people ?
I think this division dates back to Decartes, who operated a brutal separation between intellect “disembodied” and the body considered as a machine. This dichotomy has formed the basis of modern science and its influence is still felt today. Yet, from the time of Descartes, some had stressed how much the Cartesian model was a reducer: in this model, for example, animals have no thoughts or emotions, and it was not until the last fifteen years for the animal behavior experts to admit that this idea is false, which is known since thousands of years by all those who had dogs or pet cats !
The metaphor of the mechanical model and computer, always perfectly matched to the idea (Cartesian) that scientists have of the mind and consciousness: mathematical, logical, free from any influence of the body or the emotions…. Technological metaphors appeals to scientists : in the 1920s and 30s, the brain was likened to a switchboard – the phone was the latest technological invention in fashion. In the 1960s, the brain has become a computer, since that was the last technological invention. The reality is that everyone knows that animals have emotions. We, human beings, are very close to the animal functioning in our emotional behaviors (adrenaline, for example, has the same effect on us than on them).
The reality is that our mind is embodied in our body and our mind is influenced by our emotions, and our relationships to the world and others, these relationships being also strongly influenced by our emotions. But again, this is nothing new, everyone already knows it !
Yes, and yet, even today, top-level scientists keep saying that the brain and mind is one and the same thing….
Yes, unfortunately, because we are still under the influence of the Cartesian model of a non-material mind, non physical, beyond time and space, and yet which, mysteriously and inexplicably, still interacts with body mechanics via a small gland: the pineal gland for Descartes, and cerebral cortex – about five centimeters higher – for modern science, but it is essentially the same theory.
It is precisely because this theory is so poor that scientists cannot explain what the mind is, what it does, how it works…. and have therefore chosen to adopt a second position, the materialist position, according to which dualism makes no sense and is not based on any serious scientific foundation, a position that led them to declare that the mind is nothing else than the brain.
Let’s not forget that this position denies the existence of free will, it denies the existence of consciousness, if not as an insignificant derivative of mental activity.
The philosopher Henri Bergson, especially in his “Matter and Memory” (1896), refuses to reduce mind to matter and ridicule -I quote from memory – scientists for whom consciousness would be a kind of phosphorescence left behind them by the movement of our brain molecules. Bergson is one of those which I claim most happily, especially with the work already quoted “Matter and Memory” and “Creative Evolution”, published in 1907; he was a world-class philosopher, winner of prestigious awards, including the Nobel, whose anti-reductionists talking was way ahead of his time, are more relevant than ever. According to him, to return to our subject, the brain is the tool that allows the mind to know the physical world and therefore to act with it. Cartesian dualism or scientific materialism, both standard positions have little interest, is it not ? That is why I have proposed a third, which seems much more in line with our factual reality.
According to my theory, the mind is related to fields, and these fields operate inside and outside of the brain, as the magnetic field of a magnet is not located only in the magnet, but around it, or that Earth’s gravity force operates not just within the Earth, but around her, and keeps for example the Moon in her orbit…… This field theory means that our mental activities are localized in space and time, not out of time and space as claimed by Descartes; but are not exclusively localized in the brain, as materialists say. When we admit that mind is broader than the brain, many problems are solved: we understand that we are connected to everything we perceive outside of us, but we can affect what we perceive, simply by looking at it. This easily explains this feeling that we have to be observed, an extremely common phenomenon, yet inexplicable by the mere materialistic psychology…. Any visual perception, in a human or an animal, involves the screening of a field of perception.
My mind constantly expands to my environment and my relationships, my relationship with another person implies that my mind is connected to the other spirit out of my brain. This is because this connection, the field of interaction, exists that what happens in my mind affects the other person. Here are exposed the basis of telepathy, of course taboo in official scientific circles, since it does not fit with the materialist worldview.
You know, telepathy is classified in the “paranormal”, a term which means “beyond the normal”, while it is an experience quite normal: the vast majority of human beings admit to having had experiences of telepathy. For example, 80% of respondents (people quite “normal”) say that they have experienced the following situation: they receive a phone call or an email from someone whom they just came to think about…. Has this not happened to you too ? Nothing more natural, telepathy is a means quite normal to maintain a link between two people, between a person and an animal, and even between members of the same animal group, such as herds of wolves…
However, according to you, the condition is that there is an emotional connection?
Yes, it’s the basis of this telepathic communication. We conducted very serious experiences with pets. In surveys we conducted among British and American households, about 50% of dog owners and 30% of cat owners said that their pets know when a family member was coming back home, and the animal began to wait behind a door or window.
Of these dogs, 70% only react to the arrival of one person, that which they are most attached to, 25% to the arrival of two and no more than 5% to the arrival of three or more people. The emotional connection is key, which allows the animal to remotely sensing the intent of the person. We have conducted experients with the utmost scientific rigor. To give you an idea: the owner walked away for at least 8 kilometers, we were filming the house where the animal was, the start time of the person was randomly chosen, she was returning home in a car unknown to the animal (a taxi)… the dog began to wait behind the door when the person formulated intent to leave the place where she was, and therefore before she enters the vehicule that brought her home.
The same is true of the telepathic link between mother and infant, we also scientifically studied extremely scrupulously: again, our conclusions are that it is an unconscious physiological response to an emotional connection between the two members of the same group.
You say that our field of perception extends outside of us and that we are related because we are in the same field; the spiritual tradition says that our core extends outside of us and that we are related because we are in the same soul. I am struck by the similarity….
I do not think we are equally in the same soul. I think the connecting fields reinforce our interations with others. My field theory would say that there are social fields. A group of animals or humans, for example, is in a field particular to this group, be it a flock of starlings, a shoal of fish (how is it that hundreds of individuals may change direction instantly and simultaneously without hitting themselves ?) or a good football team…
This field connects individuals in the group. The group will naturally organize according to their field, and the field connects the different group members. If some members move away, even hundreds of kilometers, like wolves who go hunting, the link is not broken: the field extends and continues to link them to their young. This does not mean that any wolf will return to feed any cub on the grounds that all wolves belong to the same big “soul-wolf” that encompasses all individuals wolves. Again, the scope of which I speak is that of a specific group of individuals connected by an emotional connection.
Allow me an analogy that helps to understand this telepathic phenomenon affecting social fields: in quantum physics, if you separate two particles in the same system, what you do to one instantly affects the other. Again the two particles are connected to start with in the same field.
But then, what do you think is happening in systemic constellations (I know you know the work of Bert Hellinger and Hunter Beaumont) ? How do you explain the “representative perception” ? There is no emotional connection between the representative and the person he represents…
Yes, I met Bert Hellinger repeatedly as well as Anne Ancelin. There is even, from what I know, a video of trialogue of us, filmed in 2000 at a congress of psychoanalysis. Yes, the constellations are a very good illustration of my theory. The constellation is the representation of the morphic field of the client’s family, the connection is made through the customers’ field…. I think it’s a matter of resonance: it is because they resonate with this particular family field as representatives of those they represent that they have perceptions they might not have otherwise. I also think that the field of the current family is influenced by morphic resonance from previous generations. This is probably how unconsciously these mysterious transfers or inheritances of thought or behavior patterns occur.
One of the main themes of the work of Hellinger is that if one of the family members was denied, ignored or excluded (someone whom we no longer talk about because he committed suicide, for example), the field family suffers a disturbance that can be transmitted from generation to generation. Morphic resonance explains that transmission, because all morphic fields have a memory. In fact, all systems in the universe, all species, all groups have a memory, their own collective memory, based on the similarity of their members, and there is obviously a great similarity between the members of the same family. I would say that there cannot be any greater similarity than family legacy ! So the patterns are transmitted by morphic resonance from one field to another, or from one generation to another or from one individual to another.
Is this collective memory you speak of what Jung called the collective unconscious ?
It’s the same thing, except that Jung spoke only of human psychology and that I speak of a theory of nature, which applies to everything: animals, plants, crystals…..