"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rupert Sheldrake on 'The Extended Mind'

"We don't know how consciousness works, or what it does," says controversial biologist, Rupert Sheldrake. "This is one of the things which in science is called 'the hard problem,' because there is no known reason why we should be conscious at all, or exactly how the mind works."

"What I'm going to suggest," says Sheldrake, in a fascinating Google TechTalk, "is that our minds are field-like, that they are not confined to the inside of the head, that they spread out into the environment around us. And because our minds are extended beyond our brains, they can have effects at a distance."

"I'm suggesting, he says "that minds are field-like and spread out beyond brains in a similar way to the way that magnetic fields spread out beyond magnets, cell phone fields spread out beyond cell phones, and the Earth's gravitational field stretches out far beyond the Earth. These fields are within and around the systems that they organize, and I think the same is true of our brains."

Taking vision as an example, Sheldrake suggests that the mind is more than just the bio-chemical processes within the brain, that what we 'see' is not just an internal re-creation of an externality within the brain, but rather that the mind projects what we 'see' out to where it 'exists' in space-time.

Rupert Sheldrake
"I'm suggesting," says Sheldrake, "our whole visual experience of the world is projected out to where it seems to be. Our minds are projecting out all that we see.  So vision is a two-way process, light coming in and the outward projection of images. This, I suggest happens through . . . a perceptual field. . . . It is a field phenomenon, and in a sense your mind reaches out to 'touch' what you are looking at. The image of what you are seeing is superimposed on what is really there."

Because of this 'superimposition,' Sheldrake, who has developed a much larger theory of consciousness and what he calls 'morphic fields,' suggests that by looking at an object we can affect that object. In recounting a series of innovative experiments involving, amongst other phenomena, 'the sense of being stared at,' Sheldrake makes a convincing argument that the mind is, indeed, larger and more encompassing than the mere physical brain.

Einstein called the quantum phenomenon of 'non-locality' - or the entanglement of particles at a distance - "spooky." One wonders what he would have made of Sheldrake's findings. Would the preeminent scientist of the 'New Physics' have found Sheldrake's results 'spookier' still, or would it perhaps have spurred the great theorist on to bridge the continuing divides between quantum theory and relativity?

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