Following in his Father’s Footsteps

Macfarlane-AWalkingTouroftheWoodWideWeb1.jpg

(photo taken directly from Rupert Sheldrake’s website)

 

A Tribute to a Father and his Son.

 

Part 1: The Father

 

I first discovered Rupert Sheldrake’s work by reading his first two books: “A New Science of Life” written in 1981 followed by “The Presence of the Past.” These two books changed my life because they validated my experiential reality and demonstrated that my personal experiences were located in a much larger context. I was not imagining things I felt or dreamed!

 

(At the time I first read these books I was in personal crisis. I was struggling to accept that I was living the shadow side of Rupert’s hypothesis of morphic resonance as a rejected member of my own family. This rejection had so little to do with who I was that it left me paralyzed and numb, least until I began to sense that my situation was rooted deep in a very dark past I knew nothing about.)

 

Nature does have a kind of memory that we can tap into in unexplained ways… the past intersects with the future through resonance which can occur instantly either through our mind/and or body. What this means practically is that we can communicate with those who have gone before or with other species as long as we have a relationship with them. Rupert says like attracts like. I would also add that it is my experience that the opposite can occur. Extremes in relationship carry a charge. It’s the strength of relationship positive or negative, an open mind, and sensitivity to the unknown, that seem to determine whether we will be able understand that we are having these experiences. Only then can we begin to separate past from present.

 

In his visionary hypothesis Rupert Sheldrake describes the process called morphic resonance, in which the forms and behaviors of the past shape living organisms in the present. How this happens is not understood but Rupert suggests that telepathic communication is probably the means by which this communication occurs almost instantly. (Quantum non – locality is another possibility.) There is nothing paranormal about telepathy. Rupert believes as I do that animals developed telepathy to keep in touch with each other. Telepathy developed as a survival technique and anyone that has a close relationship with an animal is privy to this kind of communication although it is still dismissed by materialistic science as wishful thinking or – fill in the blank – for some other equally stupid reason (what would happen if we actually acknowledged that this kind of communication routinely occurs? – we’d have to make a radical change in the way we treat animals for one thing). So many scientists have completely closed minds – a kind of tunnel vision. The “either or principle” – it’s either “hard science” or its just a “story/myth” that can’t be quantified – is still the norm. “Prove it” is one aggressive stance that is taken by some, an attitude I find revolting.

 

The late Sir John Maddocks was Rupert’s long standing critic and the author of an infamous editorial in the prestigious scientific journal Nature in 1981 over A New Science of Life, in which he wrote “This infuriating tract… is the best candidate for burning there has been for many years.” Maddock’s denunciation was followed by a series of hostile reviews in Nature and in British newspapers.

 

In an interview broadcast on BBC television in 1994, Maddocks said: “Sheldrake is putting forward magic instead of science, and that can be condemned in exactly the language that the Pope used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reason. It is heresy.”

 

Naturally, cowardly conventional scientists from countless disciplines jumped on the bandwagon because this was followed by another series of hostile criticism by the entire scientific community.

 

This brilliant visionary scientist became known as a radical fringe pseudo scientist who didn’t adhere to “the man against nature paradigm” arguing instead that all Nature was alive and interconnected and that the past intersected with the present.

 

To make matters worse, Sheldrake also refused to split science from spirituality a fact that also enraged atheistic materialists, biologists, and scientists alike. This trend remains current today as scientists from all disciplines split spirituality from science, often demonizing the former. Sheldrake has the immense courage to maintain that a “both and” perspective can be applied to both science and spirituality, and in his latest book “Science and Spiritual Practices” argues for what he knows to be true, namely that we cannot split science from spirituality because the earth is alive and sentient and science and spirituality are two lens that reveal they are parts of the same whole.

 

Amazingly this man of great kindness, deep humility, and integrity (I know him and his family personally) persevered against all the odds continuing his research, submerging himself in rigorous experimentation and went on to author many more books. He was ridiculed and condemned, and even shot in Texas for giving a talk on animal telepathy.

 

I remember one of my graduate professors dismissing Rupert’s ideas with disgusting hubris claiming that “science didn’t need his hypothesis – DNA can tell us everything we needed to know about heredity.” I heard that same argument robotically repeated by mainstream materialistic/mechanistic/ atheistic scientists for years and years – and most astonishingly by people who actually refused read Rupert’s work.

 

Oh, how pleased I was to read about epigenetics which validates that DNA is NOT the only way human behavior is passed on. Rupert stated years ago that DNA only codes for protein, not for form as part of his hypothesis. We can and do inherit the characteristics and behavior of the family systems’ we came out of. The study of epigenetics moves us on step closer to Rupert’s theory of morphic resonance, once dismissed with such ridicule.

 

When I read The Rebirth of Nature in the late eighties I knew that the naturalist in me had found “home” in western science even though by then Rupert had been banned from the scientific community by his so called radical ideas. Sheldrake argues and demonstrates our intimate relationship with the universe through open minded science — he believes that we are a part of a breathing, living, thinking cosmos and that intelligence is a pervasive reality inseparably one with nature. In The Rebirth of Nature Sheldrake urges us to move beyond the centuries-old mechanistic view of nature, explaining in lucid terms why we can no longer regard the world as inanimate and purposeless. Through an astute critique of the dominant scientific paradigm, Sheldrake shows recent developments in science itself have brought us to the threshold of a new synthesis in which traditional wisdom, intuitive experience, and scientific insight can be mutually enriching.

 

I have been following Rupert’s career and submitting my own experiences with animals (and some with humans) to his data bank for the past twenty plus years. In the process I have come to deeply respect this man not only because of his visionary ideas but because he has somehow persevered in the face of such hostility becoming a model for me to emulate. When I first met him on Cortez Island, B.C. I walked into a room where people were conversing at a table in a far corner with their heads turned away. Instantly, I knew, though it was impossible to identify the people by sight, that the back of the head I felt compelled to stare at belonged to Rupert. That  very second Rupert turned around to look at me and our eyes met. I will never forget the moment. I am so grateful that at this conference I had an opportunity to get to know Rupert’s wife and family, and to thank him for validating my ideas, helping me to believe in myself and for changing the way I perceived the world opening my mind to a whole myriad of new possibilities. I have been blessed by having such an extraordinary mentor.

What follows is a biographical portrait of some of Rupert’s accomplishments:

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and ten books. He was among the top 100 Global Thought Leaders for 2013, as ranked by the Duttweiler Institute, Zurich, Switzerland’s leading think tank. He studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he was a Scholar of Clare College, took a double first class honors degree and was awarded the University Botany Prize (1963). He then studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow (1963-64), before returning to Cambridge, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry (1967). He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge (1967-73), where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society (1970-73), he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University. While at Cambridge, together with Philip Rubery, he discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport, the process by which the plant hormone auxin is carried from the shoots towards the roots.

From 1968 to 1969, as a Royal Society Leverhulme Scholar, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he was Principal Plant Physiologist and Consultant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life, published in 1981 (new edition 2009).

Since 1981, he has continued research on developmental and cell biology. He has also investigated unexplained aspects of animal behavior, including how pigeons find their way home, the telepathic abilities of dogs, cats and other animals, and the apparent abilities of animals to anticipate earthquakes and tsunamis. He subsequently studied similar phenomena in people, including the sense of being stared at, telepathy between mothers and babies, telepathy in connection with telephone calls, and premonitions. Although some of these areas overlap the field of parapsychology, he approaches them as a biologist, and bases his research on natural history and experiments under natural conditions, as opposed to laboratory studies.

The Science Delusion in the UK and Science Set Free in the US, examines the ten dogmas of modern science, and shows how they can be turned into questions that open up new vistas of scientific possibility. This book received the Book of the Year Award from the British Scientific and Medical Network. His most recent book Science and Spiritual Practices is about rediscovering new ways of connecting with the more-than-human world through direct experience.

In 2000, he was the Steinbach Scholar in Residence at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. From 2005-2010 he was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge University. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut, a Fellow of Schumacher College in Devon, England, and a Fellow of the Temenos Academy, London.

He received the 2014 Bridgebuilder Award at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, a prize established by the Doshi family “to honor an individual or organization dedicated to fostering understanding between cultures, peoples and disciplines.” In 2015, in Venice, Italy, he was awarded the first Lucia Torri Cianci prize for innovative thinking.

 

Part 2

The Son

I met Merlin and his brother Cosmo, (a brilliant musician) at Cortez Island when Merlin was an undergraduate. What I remember best was his penetrating dark eyes and his ease around strangers. Polite and friendly, the two brothers were off to an island party to play music (the whole family is musically gifted) so we spoke only briefly and yet I was struck by that same warmth and genuine kindness that made their father Rupert so easy to be around.

 

Merlin Sheldrake graduated from Cambridge in biological sciences history and philosophy of science. He completed his PhD on the ecology of fungal networks at Cambridge and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama where he conducted extensive fieldwork as a Smithsonian Research Fellow. Merlin received a triple first in Biological Sciences and starred First in History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University where he was a prize winning scholar. He is 28 years old.

Dr. Merlin Sheldrake’s experience in the area of ecology, mycology, botany, history and philosophy of science give him a broad perspective from which to write his forthcoming book on mycelium: Entangled Life: Fungal Networks and Intimacies which I cannot wait to read.

 

Merlin Sheldrake is an expert in mycorrhizal fungi, and as such he is part of a research revolution that is changing the way we think about forests. For centuries, fungi were widely held to be harmful to plants, parasites that cause disease and dysfunction. More recently, it has become understood that certain kinds of common fungi exist in subtle symbiosis with plants, bringing about not infection but connection. These fungi send out gossamer-fine fungal tubes called hyphae, which infiltrate the soil and weave into the tips of plant roots at a cellular level. Roots and fungi combine to form what is called a mycorrhiza: itself a growing-together of the Greek words for fungus (mykós) and root (riza). In this way, individual plants are joined to one another by an underground hyphal network: a dazzlingly complex and collaborative structure that has become known as the Wood Wide Web. The  scientific journal Nature first coined the term.

The relationship between these mycorrhizal fungi and the plants they connect is now known to be ancient (around four hundred and fifty million years old) and largely one of mutualism—a subset of symbiosis in which both organisms benefit from their association. In the case of the mycorrhizae, the fungi siphon off food from the trees, taking some of the carbon-rich sugar that they produce during photosynthesis. The plants, in turn, obtain nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that the fungi have acquired from the soil, by means of enzymes that the trees do not possess.

The implications of the Wood Wide Web far exceed this basic exchange of goods between plant and fungi, however. The fungal network also allows plants to distribute resources—sugar, nitrogen, and phosphorus—between one another. A dying tree might divest itself of its resources to the benefit of the community, for example, or a young seedling in a heavily shaded under-story might be supported with extra resources by its stronger neighbors. Even more remarkably, the network also allows plants to send one another warnings. A plant under attack from aphids can indicate to a nearby plant that it should raise its defensive response before the aphids reach it. It has been known for some time that plants communicate above ground in comparable ways, by means of airborne hormones and scent. But such warnings are more precise in terms of source and recipient when sent by means of the myco-net.

The revelation of the Wood Wide Web’s existence, and the increased understanding of its functions, raises big questions—about where species begin and end; about whether a forest might be better imagined as a single super -organism, rather than a grouping of independent individualistic ones; and about what trading, sharing, or even friendship might mean among plants. “Whenever I need to explain my research to someone quickly, I just tell them I work on the social networks of plants,” Sheldrake says.

As an undergraduate studying natural sciences at Cambridge, Sheldrake read the 1988 paper “Mycorrhizal Links Between Plants: Their Functioning and Ecological Significance,” by the plant scientist E. I. Newman, in which Newman argued boldly for the existence of a “mycelial network” linking plants. “If this phenomenon is widespread,” Newman wrote, “it could have profound implications for the functioning of ecosystems.”

Those implications fascinated Sheldrake. He had long loved fungi, which seemed to him possessed of superpowers. He knew that they could turn rocks to rubble, move with eerie swiftness both above ground and under it, reproduce horizontally, and digest food outside their bodies via excreted enzymes. He was aware that their toxins could kill people, and that their psychoactive chemicals could induce hallucinogenic states. After reading Newman’s paper, he understood that fungi could also allow plants to communicate with one another.

“All of these trees have mycorrhizal fungi growing into their roots,” Sheldrake said. “You could imagine the fungi themselves as forming a massive underground tree, or as a cobweb of fine filaments, acting as a sort of prosthesis to the trees, a further root system, extending outwards into the soil, acquiring nutrients and floating them back to the plants, as the plants fix carbon in their leaves and send sugar to their roots, and out into the fungi. And this is all happening right under our feet.”

Hyphae will be growing around in the decomposing matter of half-rotting leaves, rotting twigs and logs and then the mycorrhizal fungi grow into hotspots, Sheldrake explains. In addition to penetrating the tree roots, the hyphae also interpenetrate each other—mycorrhizal fungi on the whole don’t have divisions between their cells. “This interpenetration permits the wildly promiscuous horizontal transfer of genetic material,” Sheldrake finishes.

A central debate over the Wood Wide Web concerns the language used to describe the transactions it enables, which suggest two competing visions of the network: the socialist forest, in which trees act as caregivers to one another, with the well-off supporting the needy, and the capitalist forest, in which all entities are acting out of self-interest within a competitive system. Sheldrake is especially exasperated by what he called the “super-neoliberal capitalist” discourse of the biological free market.

Working with local field assistants while obtaining his PhD Sheldrake carried out a painstaking census of the soil in a series of plots, sequencing the DNA of hundreds of root samples taken both from green plants and mycohets, a kind of plant that has no chlorophyll.

Sheldrake became interested in mycoheterotrophs, or “mycohets” for short. Because mycohets are plants that lack chlorophyll, they are unable to photosynthesize, making them entirely reliant on the fungal network for their provision of carbon. “These little green-less plants plug into the network, and somehow derive everything from it without paying anything back, at least in the usual coin,” Sheldrake exclaims. “They don’t play by the normal rules of symbiosis, but we can’t prove they’re parasites.” Sheldrake focused on a genus of mycohets called Voyria, part of the gentian family. One of the reasons Sheldrake loves these plants is that they are harder to understand, and more mysterious. He calls them the hackers of the Wood Wide Web.

His research allowed him to determine which species of fungi were connecting which plants, and thereby to make an unprecedentedly detailed map of the Panama jungle’s social network.

For each formal scientific paper he published about mycorrhizae, he plans to publish the paper’s “dark twin,” in which he plans to describe the “messy network of crazy things that underlies every piece of cool, clean science, but that you aren’t usually allowed to see—the fortunate accidents of field work, the tangential serendipitous observation that sets off a thought train, the boredom, the chance encounters.” No doubt the Voyria will find a way to become one of the dark twins.

When you look at the network of fungi Sheldrake states it starts to look back at you! This remark sounds so much like something his father would say that I have to laugh. Everything is predicated on relationship. Both Father and Son are brilliant cutting edge scientists who I hope together, will continue to shift the present destructive “man over nature” paradigm into one that has interconnection, caring, and cooperation at its core.

Exploring the mysteries of the Earth and Cosmos as both father and son continue to do is rigorous open-minded scientific inquiry that could lead to a new way humans perceive themselves in relationship to our planet and cosmos, penetrating more deeply into the wonders inherent in “Great Mystery” through direct experience and rigorous scientific experimentation. Ironically, keen observation, understanding that non – human life forms and the entire Earth and Cosmos are our spiritual and scientific teachers is a practice Indigenous people have been engaged in for millennia.

In this sense the work of both Rupert and Merlin have the capacity to return us to our lost beginnings and open up almost unimaginable possibilities for a new future if only we will join them on this journey.

 

 

Postscript:

Normally I spend little time highlighting credentials because I have always believed that it was the person that mattered, not the degrees he or she amassed.

But in this case I feel differently because my own life journey has been tied to that of Rupert Sheldrake’s over a period of almost 40 years. After discovering that this remarkable open-minded scientist/naturalist was asking the same questions I was afraid to voice I was horrified to learn how viciously his ideas were attacked and continued to be dismissed by the scientific establishment. (In my personal life and through my own writing I have encountered the same resistance and skepticism.) This condemnation continues among skeptics today who refute Rupert’s visionary work as fraudulent because he dared to stand up for open – minded scientific inquiry and refused to be bludgeoned by a crumbling dogmatic atheistic scientific establishment. We would not be in global environmental crisis today if we had listened to what Rupert Sheldrake had to say 40 years ago. Once, I was in awe of science as a discipline, not so today. Materialistic atheistic science is the myth of our time, not Eternal Truth.

When I first read an article praising Merlin’s groundbreaking work article in The New Yorker I experienced pure jubilance. Perhaps Rupert’s work will remain controversial but his son is in the thick of it getting attention from every direction! I feel a personal sense of vindication for them (and for me) because without having Rupert as his father Merlin might not have had the courage to explore the mysteries of Nature with the confidence that has led this 28 year old man into uncharted  territory with such enthusiasm. I look forward with great anticipation to further publications from a father and son team who are changing the way some humans see and understand the world. With scientists like this working so diligently to change human perceptions of how the Earth and Cosmos works and how relationship and interconnection are fundamental aspects of both I can even feel a spark of hope.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Following in his Father’s Footsteps

    1. Oh Iren, I am so delighted that you read this essay – credentials and all! And you are right – scientists like Rupert and Merlin are the hope for the future – if only we begin to pay attention… Thank you for reading and for commenting… I don’t expect much attention to be given to this essay, so I am particularly grateful for yours!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s