This is the third in our series of essays by Rupert Sheldrake on the implications of his hypothesis of Formative Causation for the psychology of C. G. Jung. The intense controversy this hypothesis generated with the publication of his first book, A New Science of Life (1981), has stimulated a number of international competitions for evaluating his ideas via experimental investigations.
The results of these experimental tests are reported in his new book, The Presence of the Past (1988) wherein he writes:
The hypothesis of formative causation proposes that memory is inherent in nature. In doing so, it conflicts with a number of orthodox scientific theories. These theories grew up in the context of the pre-evolutionary cosmology, predominant until the 1960s, in which both nature and the laws of nature were believed to be eternal.
Throughout this book, I contrast the interpretations provided by the hypothesis of formative causation with the conventional scientific interpretations, and show how these approaches can be test ed against each other by a wide variety of experiments. Sheldrake begins this essay with an interesting insight regarding the evolution of Jungís and Freudís conceptions of the unconscious out of the previous world view of Soul.
He then explores a number of
provocative ideas about "mind extended in time and space" that give
us fresh perspectives on power, prayer, and consciousness.
Our minds, therefore, are essentially private entities associated with the physiology of each of our nervous tissues. This idea of the contracted mind, a mind which is not only rooted in the brain but actually located in the brain, is an idea that is so pervasive in our culture that most of us acquire it at an early age.
It is not just a philosophical theory
(although, of course, it is that); it is an integral part of the
materialistic view of reality.
Much of the behavior
which we consider to be mentally organized, however, actually arises
out of unconscious processes. Riding bicycles with great skill, for
example, does not involve conscious memory; it does not involve
conscious thought. Bike riding utilizes a body memory that involves
a great deal of unconscious action and doing. We acquire many
complex skills on an unconscious level skiing, swimming, piano
playing, and so on.
This was the animistic view: the idea that there was an
"anima" or soul in all living things. (Inanimate matter did not have
a soul.) The very word animal, of course, comes from the word
meaning soul: animals are beings with soul. Actually, prior to the
17th century, it was believed that all of nature, and the earth as a
whole, had a soul; the planets all had a soul. But the concept of
soul was banished by 17th century mechanistic science.
The word closest to it in modern usage is mind. The modern usage of mind, however, is almost identical with the word consciousness; mind incorrectly implies consciousness. We then have to use the term, unconscious mind, as Jung and Freud did. This usage has appeared to be a contradiction in terms to the academic world, so they have tended to reject it (and Jungís and Freudís conceptions of it, as well). The concept of soul, however, does not necessarily imply consciousness.
The vegetative soul, which is the kind of soul
that organizes the embryo and the growth of plants, was not viewed
as functioning on a conscious level. When we grow as embryos, we
donít have any memory of the process. We donít consciously think
out, "the heart comes here, and I know Iíll develop a limb out
there, teeth here," and so forth. These things just seem to happen
in a way that is tacit, implicit, or unconscious but yet soul like
in the way they are organized.
The only kind of soul human beings had, on the other hand, was the rational, conscious soul:
Thinking thus became the very model of conscious activity or mental activity, and in this way, Descartes restricted the concept of soul or spirit to the conscious, thinking, rational portion of the mind, which reached its highest pinnacle in the proofs of mathematics. Descartesí perspective left us with the idea that the only kind of consciousness worthy of the name was "rational consciousness" especially mathematical, scientific consciousness.
In a sense, Descartes created the problem of the unconscious, for within 50 years of his work, people started saying,
Thus the idea of the unconscious mind, which we generally regard as having been invented by Freud, was actually invented again and again and again after Descartes. By defining the mind as solely the conscious part and defining everything else as dead or mechanical, Descartes created a kind of void that demanded the reinvention of the idea of the unconscious side of the mind (which everyone before Descartes had simply taken for granted in the soul concept). (There is an excellent book on this subject by L.L. Whyte called The Unconscious before Freud, published by Julian Friedman, London, 1979.)
The problem we are encountering now is that, having eliminated the concept of soul in the 17th century, we are left with concepts such as mind which are not really adequate for what we mean.
If we want to get closest to what people meant by soul in the past, the modern concept of field is the most accurate approximation. Prior to Isaac Newtonís elucidation of the laws of gravity, gravitational phenomena were explained in terms of the anima mundi, the soul of the world or universe.
The soul of the world supposedly coordinated the movements of the planets and stars and did al! the things that gravitation did for Newton. Now from Einstein, we have the idea of space time gravitational fields that organize the universe. In this concept of fields one can see aspects of the anima mundi (soul) as being of the universe. Souls were invisible, nonmaterial, organizing principles.
Fields, especially morphic fields, are invisible, nonmaterial, organizing principles that do most of the things that souls were believed to do.
Before that age
they have the "incorrect view" (as do so-called primitive people)
that thoughts, images, and dreams happen outside the brain.
In the 20ís and 30ís, various
philosophers and psychologists, particularly Koffka, Uhler,
and Wertheimer of the Gestalt school challenged this
They extend out into
the past and into social groupings to which we are linked, either by
ancestry or by cultural transmissions. Thus, our minds are extended
in time, and ít believe they are also extended in space.
A "little man in my brain" somehow sees this image in the cerebral cortex and falsely imagines that the image is "out there," when, in fact, it is "in here." Personally, I find this explanation extremely implausible. In my experience, my image of an object is right where it seems to be: outside of me. If I look out the window, my perceptual field is not inside me but outside me.
That is, the objects are indeed outside me, and my perception of them is also outside me. Iím suggesting that in our perceptual experience, the perceptual fields extend all around us. While, as the traditional view holds, there is an inward flow of light impulses which eventually lead up to the brain, I also experience an outward projection of the images from my mind.
The images are projected out,
and in normal perception, the projection out and the flow in
coincide, so that I see an image of an object where the object
really is located.
In many parts of the world, including India, Greece, and the Middle East, it is believed that if you look upon something with the eye of envy - the "evil eye" - you therefore blight it. People in many cultures still take great precautions against this so-called evil eye. In India, it is considered to be extremely unlucky for a childless woman to admire a baby who belongs to another woman (whereas in our society, this is merely good manners). This is because she is assumed to be envious of the baby.
Once a childless woman breaks
this taboo, rituals must be performed (such as making a circle of
salt around the baby and reciting various mantras) to exorcise the
The scarecrows act as "lightning conductors" because anything with a human figure attracts the eye. The Indian people also put out round pots with huge white spots stuck on sticks; the eyes are drawn to the pots because the white spots took like eyes. For similar reasons, people throughout the Middle East wear talismans which contain eyes; in Egypt, the eye of Horus serves a similar function.
is done to protect against the evil eye.
As undergraduates at Cambridge, some of us had read a Rosicrucian advertisement about the power of the mind. It said something about,
During boring lectures we acted as
suggested, and it often worked; we found that we could fix our
attention on the back of someoneís neck and after a minute or two,
the person often looked uncomfortable and turned round.
Then, in a series of trials, I would hold up cards in a random sequence containing the name of the person the audience was to watch. For example, if I had selected "Tom," I would hold up a card reading, "Trial 1, Tom," and everyone in the audience would stare at the back of Tomís neck for fifteen seconds. At the end of each trial, all four subjects would write down whether or not they thought they were being looked at during that time period.
At the end of the series of trials, we
compared when the volunteers thought they were being looked at, with
whether or not they really were being observed.
She was the best subject Iíve
encountered. When I asked if she knew why she had done so well, she
said that as a child she used to play this game with her brothers
and sisters. They practiced and she got very good at it; she had
volunteered because she was sure sheíd still be able to do it, even
though she hadnít done it for 20 or 30 years.
It has been suggested that this might be a telepathic rather
than a visual influence. There is a simple method of checking that
out. In some trials, the people doing the looking could turn around
so that they are facing away from the volunteers and just think
about the designated volunteer rather than look at him or her. If
there was greater effect when the volunteers were actually being
looked at than when they were being thought about, then one could be
type was functioning.
Imagine an experiment in which there were four people in
a studio (or even in different studios), with cameras running
continuously, and a randomized switching device so that the person
being looked at in each trial is randomly determined. Imagine a
typical television audience of millions of viewers. Now, what if the
subjects could distinguish when they were being looked at by other
people over television. There one would have a massive, large-scale
demonstration of extended mind in a way that could be conclusive.
Large-scale experiments to test hypotheses could do more to bring about a paradigm shift than any amount of lecturing about the limitations of the mechanistic theory. Our perceptual fields may reach far beyond our physical brains; when we look at the stars, our minds may literally reach to the stars.
There may be almost no limit
on how far this process can extend.