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Articles

Science Set Free - Good News for Lumbering Robots
Three decades ago, few scientists were courageous enough to break ranks and question their own belief system. Even calling science a belief system sounded outrageous - religion is a matter of belief, science a matter of facts. The most far-seeing scientist who was willing to break ranks then, as now, was Rupert Sheldrake, who risked his impeccable credentials as a Cambridge biochemist with real joy, like a man suddenly able to breathe. Thirty years after his first heretical books, Sheldrake's new one, Science Set Free, is a landmark achievement. No science writing has inspired me more.

Find out more about Science Set Free here!

Sheldrake's essential point is that science needs setting free from ten blind dogmas. These dogmas embrace a true belief system as much as Roman Catholicism or any other faith. Behind the daily activity of gathering data, science assumes certain things about reality that, according to Sheldrake, are unsupportable. The first dogma, for example, holds that the universe is mechanical. If that is so, then everything in the universe is also mechanical, including human beings - or to use a phrase from the noted atheist Richard Dawkins, we are "lumbering robots." From a scientist's perspective, to understand everything that you need to know about human beings, you only have to tinker with all the mechanical parts of genes and the brain until there are no more secrets left.

Clearly such a view leaves no room for the soul, which becomes a wispy illusion that needs to be swept away. But then, so does the self, because there is no region of the brain that contains "I," a person. As long as "I" is a hallucination formed by complex neural circuitry, one can throw out - or reduce to mechanical operations - love, beauty, truth, compassion, honor, devotion, faith, and so on, the whole apparatus that makes a person's life feel valuable. A random universe has no purpose; therefore, giving lumbering robots a purpose is dubious.

Sheldrake offers an alternative to the mechanistic dogma, but let me mention a few other dogmas first. The second dogma he overturns is the belief that matter is unconscious. The whole universe is filled with atoms and molecules that have no connection to intelligence, creativity, or meaning. The problem here is that nobody can explain how atoms and molecules learned to think. No matter how closely you examine the water, glucose, and electrolyte salts in the human brain, you can't find the point where these molecules became conscious. How come the sugar water in a can of Coke isn't thinking and feeling while the sugar water in your cerebral cortex is? For science to brush this problem aside as mere metaphysics doesn't make it go away.

The third dogma is that the laws of nature are fixed and haven't changed since the Big Bang. The fourth is that the amount of matter and energy in the cosmos is always the same. And so the list grows, building toward a shocking conclusion: Science has been explaining a mirage and calling it reality. Sheldrake isn't speaking as a mystic or an enemy of science - far from it. He has kept up with the most current findings in physics and biology. Among these findings are some shattering discoveries, as far as rigid dogmas are concerned:

- The universe operates more like a living organism than a machine.
- The existence of dark matter and dark energy topples the conservation of matter and energy. Because the "dark" dimension operates outside the visible universe, the notion of fixed laws of nature suddenly looks wobbly, too.
- Purpose-driven evolution may explain life better than the random mutation of classic Darwinism.
- Genes, far from being fixed and deterministic, are involved in a far more fluid interaction than anyone ever supposed.

Sheldrake works with many more intriguing discoveries; he has a delightfully inquisitive, penetrating mind. He also seems unflappable in the face of the howling protests he has raised for thirty years, beginning when none of the above findings was even suspected. If science weren't a dogmatic belief system, there would be rational responses to his challenges rather than scorn from true believers. But a major shift is occurring. Under its title in the UK, The Science Delusion (playing off Dawkins' best-selling The God Delusion) Sheldrake's new book is getting positive reviews in high places. Even more promising, a new generation of younger scientists, who are trained (unlike Dawkins) in the shifting new realities of physics, biology, and genetics, is actually intrigued by a universe permeated with consciousness, intelligence, and meaning.

The irony in Sheldrake's career is that he has been a peacemaker all along, not an iconoclast. He wants to end the breach between science and religion. For that to happen, two dogmatic systems must reexamine their beliefs. It will never happen, as each side fantasizes, that faith will win out over science or science over faith. There is only one reality. It has been explored from inner space by great spiritual minds; it has been explored from the physical world by great scientists. Now we need synthesizers from both camps, which is what Sheldrake is. "Gene" and "soul" are comfortable words for him, because he began his quest by tearing down walls and barriers in his own world view.


Sheldrake is merciless when it comes to dogmas being preached as if they were truths, but he has a special gentleness that rises above controversy and ill-tempered arguments. "Science is more free, more fun, and more interesting," he says, "when we turn dogmas into questions instead." Can anyone seriously disagree? The beautiful part of reading Science Set Free is the Aha! moments that come unexpectedly. All of us are living with dogmas that we accept as truths. When one of these is overturned, there's an initial gasp, soon followed by a rush of exhilaration. The point of life, as Sheldrake shows so well, isn't to set science free but to set humans free, because we are more precious than any of the false gods we have created.


 

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Comments

A wonderful and hilarious review of another brilliant book by Rupert, and with such well-chosen titles for both article and book :-) Thank you, Deepak!
Amaranth - September 30, 2013
The longtime frienship between physicist David Boehm and mystic Krishnamurti exemplified gaining similar information through different paths. They are a fine example of the collaboration you advocate. And their recorded conversations are wonderful!
Ellen Roddick - September 12, 2012
This is an excellent review. So well put.. Thanks, Dr. chopra
Bibbles - September 8, 2012
Oi meu nome é Cida, brasileira. Veja que coincidência... Coincidência??? Acho que não. Ainda hoje estava lendo o livro \'A Cura Quântica\' e imaginando o que Deepak Chopra diria sobre Ruppert Sheldrake. Sou uma pessoa simples, sem formação acadêmica, apenas leio alguns textos que os amigo indicam. Contudo li me \'A Cura Quantica\' sobre a possibilidade de células inteligentes atuando como se comunicassem, trocando informações umas com as outras e reagindo de acordo com suas memórias anteriores... Memórias = informação guardada e pensei se isso é igual ao \'campo de informação\' que fala Ruppert Sheldrake... Enfim pensei nisso hoje pela manhã e agora encontro este artigo e vejo que os pensadores não estão isolados em suas idéias, que eles de contextos e conheceres diferentes vão percebendo que o Homem e sua conexão com tudo é muito mais ampla do que acreditava-se.
Maria Aparecida Moreira - September 8, 2012
love this!! i resonate strongly somewhere between science & faith, it has always frustrated others but fortunately iv never been pressured to put a stake in the ground. im excited to read this book!!
Juliette Banks - September 8, 2012
Scientific knowledge advances slowly ... Many years ago, nutritious vegetarian or vegan food was gradually accepted by the mainstream. These days super-foods like raw living food are slowly becoming more recognised. One day soon, a natural, holistic approach to food + health will supersede reliance on toxic chemicals
Mark New - September 8, 2012
I love Deepak Chopra, but the SF Gate is too Liberal for me.
Alice Stephenson - September 8, 2012
Science is great, but a real scientist has to be critical of everything, even the scientific method itself (which is far from perfect).
The Emotion Machine - September 8, 2012
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