I Used To Be A Sceptic In ESP Not Because I Had Looked At The Evidence, But Because I Had Not Looked At It – An Interview With Dr. Rupert Sheldrake

ESP and paranormal phenomena. We have all heard about it, and many of us are skeptical. However, when a research scientist of eminent standing talks about it there is no way but to sit up and pay attention. We have interviewed the famous Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, who has not only dedicated his studies to both these subjects but is a biologist and is known for his hypothesis of morphic resonance. He has worked at Cambridge University in developmental biology and was Principal Plant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute.

Dr. Sheldrake, first of all please tell us about how you came to be so interested in ESP and the paranormal?

I developed a hypothesis of morphic resonance based on my research in plant development, which I summarise below.  This involves a form of communication between animals, plants, and indeed all self-organising systems which transmits memories and underlies their habits.  This transmission occurs across space and time, according to this hypothesis, from the past to the present.  When I was thinking about it I realised that if the transmission were from the very recent past it would be almost like telepathy.  In fact it might be telepathy.  So for theoretical reasons I looked at the evidence for telepathy and found that it was fairly persuasive, although most of the experiments carried out by parapsychologists are very artificial.  And nearly all of them had been done with humans.  

In a biological perspective, I would not expect telepathy, if it exists, to be confined to humans but to be a normal feature of animal communication.  Therefore I started asking my friends and family members if they’d ever noticed that their dog or cat or other domestic animal, such as a horse or parrot, had ever seemed to pick up their thoughts or intentions.  I soon started hearing all sorts of amazing and impressive stories.  I then made appeals for such stories through the media and now have a database with more than 5,000 of these accounts.  These give some sense of the natural history of telepathy between people and animals, but of course these are only stories.  I then investigated experimentally some of these phenomena, especially the ability of dogs and other animals to know when their owners are coming home.  Many of these studies were carried out with a terrier called Jaytee, and in hundreds of trials it turned out that Jaytee was extremely good at anticipating his owner‘s returns, even when she came at a randomly selected time that she did not know in advance and travelled by unfamiliar vehicles and when people at home did not know when she’d be coming.  Jaytee’s owner, Pam Smart, and I also carried out experiments with other dogs with similar results.  These are published in peer-reviewed journals and summarised in my book DOGS THAT KNOW WHEN THEIR OWNERS ARE COMING HOME: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals.  I then investigated telepathy in humans and have found that this occurs very commonly, for example between mothers and babies and in connection with telephone calls.  I have done much research on these subjects which is again published in peer-reviewed journals (the papers can be seen on my website here and summarised in my book THE SENSE OF BEING STARED AT: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind.  

Have you yourself been through a phase in your life when you were a non-believer?

Yes, I am sorry to say that I was a dogmatic skeptic when I was a teenager and student at Cambridge and also when I first started my research career.  This was not because I had looked at the evidence, but because I had not looked at it. I took it for granted that claims of the existence of ESP must be false, or fraudulent, beacuse at that time I believed in the materialist worldview and thought that these phenomena must be impossible.  My rejection of them was essentially dogmatic. 

What is Morphic Resonance?

Morphic resonance is a transfer of information from past patterns of activity in self-organising systems to present similar patterns.  In its most general sense it means that there is a memory inherent in nature and that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits.  Each individual member of a species draws upon a collective memory of form and instinct, and in turn it contributes to it.  I describe this hypothesis in detail in my book THE PRESENCE OF THE PAST: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature.  I also give a detailed summary on my website here 

Animals, especially dogs, are known for having warned their families of imminent disasters including earthquakes. What can you tell us about this and more about ESP among animals?

Throughout recorded history there have been stories of animals giving warnings of earthquakes, and I have studied most of the major recent earthquakes to find out if this is true.  In every case, there have been reports of domestic and wild animals behaving strangely or showing signs of distress before the earthquake or tsunami.  No one knows how they do this.  In part it may depend on picking up subtle cues from tremors in the earth or from gases released by the earth or changes in the electric field of the earth.  But I think it also depends on a kind of precognition or presentiment, feeling in advance that something bad is going to happen.  There has been hardly any research on this subject except in China, where from the 1970s onwards they successfully predicted earthquakes, saving many lives, by paying attention to animal behaviour.  I think it should be possible to set up a relatively inexpensive and effective earthquake warning system by collecting data from people about animals, which they could send in through the internet or through Smartphones to a central collection point in each region that is prone to earthquakes, like California, Greece, India and China.  This is one of the many areas where scientific dogmas have held back research and where a relatively small investment could yield big returns in terms of discovery and practical uses.  

What has been your personal experience with ESP in relation to humans and animals?

My own experiences with animals have mainly been with cats.  For example, my wife had a cat that seemed to sense when she was upset or in pain and went to comfort her just when needed.  She called the cat Remedy because the cat was in fact a remedy.  When Remedy travelled with us on journeys, she also seemed to know when we were nearing home even when we were 1 or 2 kilometres away, even if we were coming by an unusual route.  I’ve since found that many other animals do this, and no one knows why.  I’ve also had many telepathic experiences, especially with my sons when they were young.  They seemed to pick up my thoughts, and like most people I have had telepathic experiences with telephone calls, thinking of somebody who then rings soon afterwards.  This is one of the subjects I’ve investigated experimentally, as I’ve already mentioned.  

I don’t know how they arrived at it, but some scientists claim they know only 4 percent of the universe. Scientific studies also validate more than 70 benefits for meditation, among other things as a method to combat diseases including cancer, arthritis, and AIDS. Do you think this is the result of a higher state of consciousness achieved through meditation, and would you believe there are much more than just 70 benefits?

Yes, cosmologists now believe that only 4% of the universe consists of regular forms of matter and energy.  Ninety-six percent is made up of so-called dark matter and dark energy, about which we know almost nothing.  

What is your opinion?

I think there are many benefits of meditation, and I discuss them in my most recent book, SCIENCE AND SPIRITUAL PRACTICES.  I haven’t tried adding up all the benefits, but there are several very positive effects, which is why so many millions of people have taken up meditation and do it on a regular basis, including me.  

Have humans lost touch with reality on account of materialism, and is reality much more than just the five basic senses?

I think materialism gives a very false view of reality by pretending that unconscious matter is the only reality in the universe.  For a start, this theory does not explain the fact that we ourselves are conscious.  Indeed our own consciousness is a massive problem for materialist philosophers, who call it the ‘hard problem’.  The philosophy of materialism is based on 10 fundamental dogmas, which I examine in my book THE SCIENCE DELUSION, where I show that every one of them has now been superseded by the advances of science itself.  There is much more to reality than unconscious matter, including consciousness itself.  

Our readers are mainly young adults in different parts of the world who look up to individuals such as you for inspiration. A word of advice for them?

I think it’s important to take seriously our own experiences.  Most young people are being educated at school and at university in the old paradigm of materialism, which can’t explain the existence of consciousness, and which largely ignores psychic experiences.  Many scientists also pretend that ESP and other psychic phenomena do not exist.  So I would advise people to pay attention to their own experience and make up their own minds.  The best starting points are what I call the mysteries of every day life, phenomena which most people have experienced but which do not fit into the standard materialist model.  These include the sense of being stared at, namely feeling that someone is looking at you from behind; telephone telepathy, as discussed above, and the ability of dogs, cats and other animals to pick up our thoughts and intentions even from a distance, as when dogs, cats, and other animals know when their owners are coming home.  If you have had these experiences, think about their implications and discuss them with your friends. And don’t let dogmatic skeptics bully you!  

Photo: From the archive of Dr. Sheldrake

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