by Rupert Sheldrake
November 9, 2012
Like many mothers who feared for their
family’s safety during World War II, Mona Miller was
evacuated from London to the peaceful seaside town of Babbacombe in
It seemed like a wise precaution but, shortly after her arrival
there with her young children, Mrs Miller became increasingly
‘I had a feeling that I must leave
Devon and return home,’ she told me.
‘At first I dismissed the idea; why leave when I was so happy
and contented despite the war going on around me?
I’ve long believed that
presentiments, premonitions and other psychic phenomena such as
telepathy should be taken more seriously by my scientific
‘But the feeling increased. The
walls of my room seemed to speak to me: “Go home to London.” I
resisted the call for about four months then, one day, like a
flash of light, I knew we must leave.
‘On a Saturday in late 1942, we travelled back to London and a
few days later I received a letter from a friend in Devon.
‘“Thank God you took the
children on Saturday,” she wrote. “Early Sunday morning,
Jerry dropped three bombs and one fell on the house where
you were living, demolishing it, and killing all the
neighbors on either side.”’
Mrs Miller was far from the only person
to experience such forebodings during the war.
Three years later, in the spring of 1945, U.S. serviceman Charles
Bernuth took part in the invasion of Germany and, shortly after
crossing the Rhine, found himself driving along the autobahn one
night with two officers.
He described how a ‘still, small voice’ within him told him there
was something wrong with the road ahead.
‘I stopped, amid the groans and
jeers of the other two. I started walking along the road.
‘About 50 yards from where I had left the jeep, I found out what
‘We were about to go over a bridge - only the bridge wasn’t
there. It had been blown up and there was a sheer drop of about
Both Mrs Miller and Charles Bernuth had
experienced presentiments - feelings that something was going to
happen without knowing what it would be.
These differ from premonitions, where the person involved has an
insight into what lies ahead, as when 16-year-old Carole Davies
visited a London amusement arcade during the Seventies.
‘While standing looking out into the
night, I had a sense of danger,’ she recalled.
‘Then I saw what looked like a picture in front of me showing
people on the floor with tiles and metal girders on them. I
realized that this was to happen here. I began to shout at
people to get out. No one listened.’
Together with her friends, Carole
hurried out and went to a nearby cafe.
As they sat inside, they heard sirens in the street outside. A
weakness in the arcade building’s structure had brought its roof and
walls crashing down on those within.
‘We all ran down the road to see
what had happened,’ Carole remembered.
‘It was just as I had seen. A man I had shouted at was being
pulled from under the debris.’
Like Mona Miller and Charles Bernuth
before her, Carole was convinced she owed her life to her mysterious
sixth sense, a notion which you might expect a scientist of my
background to dismiss out of hand.
I am a biologist who has studied, researched and taught at both
Cambridge and Harvard, and held senior academic posts on both sides
of the Atlantic.
Yet I’ve long believed that presentiments, premonitions and other
psychic phenomena such as telepathy should be taken more seriously
by my scientific colleagues.
My fascination with this subject began during the Sixties when I was
a graduate student in the biochemistry department at Cambridge
This was not long after the South African writer Laurens van der
Post had published his accounts of life with the Bushmen of the
Like most traditional societies, theirs was one in which telepathy
was not only taken for granted, but put to practical use, as van der
Post saw when his hosts hunted down and killed an
eland antelope many miles from
As they were driving back in a Land Rover laden with meat, he asked
one of the Bushmen how those back at camp would react when they
learned of this success.
‘They already know - we Bushmen have
a wire here,’ he replied, tapping his chest. ‘It brings us
He was comparing their method of
communication with the white man’s telegram or ‘wire’.
Sure enough, when they approached the camp, the people were singing
the ‘Eland Song’ and preparing to give the hunters the greatest of
Many other travelers in Africa have reported that people seemed to
know when loved ones were coming home. The same would occur in rural
Norway, where the inhabitants developed a special word - vardoger -
for the anticipation of arrivals.
Similarly, accounts I read of the ‘second sight’ of some inhabitants
of the Scottish Highlands included visions of arrivals before the
person in question appeared.
But none of this convinced me, converted as I was to the dogma of
‘materialism’ which has dominated scientific thought since the late
19th century, and still does so today.
According to materialists, science will eventually explain
everything in terms of physics and chemistry.
And anything that cannot be thus explained can be dismissed as
Educated in this tradition, I adopted the standard dismissive
attitude when the subject of telepathy came up in the laboratory
tearoom one day.
I was gently taken to task by Sir Rudolph Peters, one of the
doyens of British biochemistry. He was a kindly man with twinkly
eyes and more curiosity than most people half his age.
He told me of an ophthalmologist friend who had a severely disabled
and mentally retarded young boy as a patient.
Although he was almost blind, he seemed able to read the letters on
the optician’s chart very well, but only when his mother was looking
The only explanation appeared to be some form of telepathic
communication between the two, and in 1968 Sir Rudolph conducted an
experiment in which the boy correctly guessed many of the written
numbers or words shown to his mother, even though they were sitting
on either side of a screen which prevented him from picking up any
visual or auditory cues.
Sir Rudolph concluded that this telepathy had developed to an
unusual degree because of the boy’s extreme needs and his mother’s
desire to help him.
But, as I discovered, even laboratory experiments involving
strangers had produced results which, if less marked, were still
For example, the years between 1880 and 1939 saw something of a boom
in early psychical research, with the publication of more than 186
studies involving trials in which subjects guessed which randomly
selected cards a ‘sender’ was looking at.
When the four million individual results were combined in a
statistical procedure called meta-analysis, the overall results were
hugely significant because they were considerably more accurate than
would have been expected from random chance.
Later experiments during the Seventies involved subjects sleeping in
a soundproofed laboratory while a ‘sender’ in another room, and in
some cases another building, opened a sealed package containing a
randomly selected picture and concentrated on it, trying to
influence the subject’s dream.
Sometimes the thought transference was very clear: one subject
described having dreamed about buying tickets for a prize fight
while the sender was looking at a picture of a boxing match.
Occasionally, it was more symbolic, as when the subject dreamed of a
dead rat in a cigar box while the sender was looking at a picture of
a dead gangster in a coffin. But in 450 such trials the overall
results were very significantly above the chance level.
My research has included more than 4,000 cases of psychic phenomena.
Many, like Mona Miller’s near-miss in the Blitz, involve mothers.
Hundreds told me that during the months they were breastfeeding,
they’d know when their baby needed them, even from miles away,
because they began secreting breast milk.
With the help of a midwife, I studied nine nursing mothers in North
London during a two-month period, and found that their unexpected
‘let-downs’ of milk when they were separated from their babies very
often coincided with their infants experiencing distress.
The odds against this occurring by chance as often as it did were a
billion to one, and this telepathic connection makes good
Mothers who could tell at a distance when their babies were unhappy
would tend to have babies that survived better than those of
Such connections often seem to continue even when the children have
grown up, with many stories on my database concerning mothers who
had an urge to get in touch with their children when they could not
have known by any conventional means that they were in trouble.
Many would do so by telephone, the method of communication most
commonly mentioned in reports of telepathic experiences in general.
Many people told me they had thought of someone for no apparent
reason, and then that person rang in a way that seemed uncanny. Or
they knew who was calling when the phone rang, even before they
picked up the receiver.
I designed an experiment to test this, a simplified version of which
you can try through my website.
This involved asking subjects for the names and phone numbers of
four friends or family members before placing them alone in a room
with a landline telephone with no caller ID.
I then selected one of the four callers at random and asked them to
phone the subject, who had to say who was on the line before
By guessing at random, subjects would have been right about one time
in four, or 25 per cent.
In fact, the average hit rate was 45 per cent, very significantly
above the level of chance, and these results have been replicated
independently at universities in Germany and Holland.
In attempting to explain such phenomena, we need to look far beyond
the traditional scientific view that everything is essentially
material or physical, including the human mind.
That materialist approach was summed up by Francis Crick, who
in 1962 shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the structure of
‘You, your joys and your sorrows,
your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal
identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of
a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules,’
Crick spoke for the scientific
mainstream, as did influential neuroscientist Susan Greenfield
when she described seeing an exposed brain in an operating theatre.
‘This is all there was to (the
patient) Sarah, or indeed to any of us,’ she reflected in a
paper published in 2000.
‘We are but sludgy brains and somehow a character and mind are
generated in this soupy mess.’
Yet this idea that our minds are fixed
physically inside our heads, and that consciousness is nothing but a
by-product of the activity of the brain, runs contrary to our
When we look around us, the images of the things we see are outside
us, not in our heads. The feelings in my fingers are in my fingers,
not in my head.
The human intuitions I have described fit better with the ‘field
theory’ of minds.
We are used to the fact that fields exist both within and outside
material objects such as magnets and mobile phones, and there is
reason to believe that our minds have similar fields which have
their roots within our brains, but also extend beyond them.
Extraordinary though this sounds, it’s supported by studies of
another remarkable psychic phenomenon - the sense of being stared
Most people have felt someone looking at them from behind, turned
around and met the person’s eyes. And most people have experienced
the converse: making someone turn around by staring at them.
In extensive surveys in Europe and North America, between 70 and 97
per cent of adults and children reported such experiences.
In a series of interviews with police officers, surveillance
personnel and soldiers, I discovered most felt that some people
seemed to know they were being observed, even though the watchers
were well hidden.
‘A lot of times the crook will just
get a feeling that things aren’t right,’ I was told by one
‘We often have someone look right in our direction even though
he can’t see us. A lot of times we’re inside a vehicle.’
Surprisingly, laboratory tests have
shown that the sense of being stared at works even when people are
looked at on screens, rather than directly.
Our emotional response can be measured by the activity of our sweat
glands and this increases in many subjects being watched on
even though they are unaware of their response.
All this suggests that, whether through direct staring or CCTV, we
are capable of ‘touching’ each other with our sight - further
evidence that our minds are not confined to the inside of our
With telepathic communication, it seems that these fields somehow
interact at a distance, picking up feelings, needs or thoughts
As for presentiments and premonitions, these imply links across
time, as we tune into our future mental states. That such links are
real was suggested by a series of experiments in the U.S. and
Holland over the past 20 years.
These measured responses to a series of noxious smells, mild
electric shocks, emotive words and provocative photographs,
interspersed with calming stimuli which had no physiological effect
on subjects at all.
No one, not even the experimenters, knew what kind of stimuli the
computer involved would produce next, but in a significant number of
cases the subjects reacted to the unpleasant stimuli some three or
four seconds in advance, somehow connecting with their future selves
who would be experiencing the stimuli for real.
These findings are fascinating in themselves but, as I will explain
in Monday’s Mail, psychic phenomena are not restricted to human
There are amazing stories of telepathy and premonitions of disaster
in many other species, including pet dogs.
As for exactly how such phenomena operate, it may be years before we
understand them, but an important first step is for scientists to
acknowledge that they exist, and that the minds of both animals and
humans interact in as yet unexplained ways.