Parapsychology

Rupert Sheldrake still believes in and writes about parapsychology. Mr. Sheldrake had an experience in the late 1970s and became convinced that he had recognized something important about the relationship between ideas and reality. At points, Sheldrake takes the posture of a pragmatist like William James. But where James was soft on conversion expeiences and mysticism, Sheldrake maintains that he is right because no one has proved (and no one can ever can logically prove) him to be wrong. In promoting his 2012 book The Science Delusion he complained that other scientists were making him a pariah and a heretic. See: Tim Adams “Rupert Sheldrake: the ‘heretic’ at odds with scientific dogma” in the Guardian February 5, 2012.

The evidence for parapsychology is anecdotes by people who postulate and believe in unknown natural or supernatural forces and and events. These people have theories about why supernatural events happen. In 2009 Adam Rutherford dismissed Sheldrake’s book A New Science of Life:

In it, Sheldrake describes “morphic resonance“, which is the notion that there is a supernatural memory that is created, reinforced and inherited by repeated action. This, he claims, explains many phenomena including how newly synthesised chemicals become easier to make elsewhere in the world, how puzzles become easier once they have been done once, and paranormal powers, such as psychokinesis and telepathy. Alas, there is no evidence for morphic resonance. And as the phenomena listed are not real, no matter how real they may seem to people, there is no requirement for it.

Sheldrake is a sort of “God of the gaps” scientist. He sees gaps in knowledge, and inserts supernature as an explanation. There are three basic flaws with use of this tool. First is that it’s just not scientific. To invoke an unfalsifiable concept to fill a knowledge gap is not parsimonious. It’s much better and more scientific to simply say “We don’t know” and move on.

Second, history has shown us that it would be even better to say “we don’t know yet”, as invariably those gaps are filled in time with genuine testable explanations.

Finally, more often than not, the gaps invoked actually have perfectly good, scientific explanations, which are ignored because the protagonist is not disinterested. Thus, proponents of intelligent design, that pseudoscientific form of creationism, invoke a designer where evolution will happily suffice, because they wish to promote God. It’s impossible to establish exactly what Rupert Sheldrake is promoting, but one guess is that it’s Rupert Sheldrake.

Jung gave us a pleasant maxim which sceptics should always bear in mind: “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud”. Indeed, speculation is a key part of formulating an hypothesis, which then can be tested to destruction. Much of Sheldrake’s work can be explained with just a bit more rigour than he employs.

Adam Rutherford, “A Book for Ignoring”, The Guardian, Feb. 6, 2009

In late 2021 Mr. Sheldrake claimed in an article “Rationalists are wrong about telepathy” published by the online site unHerd on November 22, 2021, that scientists, including Stephen Pinker, label Sheldrake’s beliefs as pseudoscience on the basis of scientism which he considers to be an illogical or irrational belief. Most of unHerd’s contributors refer to science with more concern over verifiable evidence, but unHerd has an institutional commitment to freedom of speech, particularly in matters of “faith and meaning”?

Liberal principles accepted in “Western” countries have disestablished official religions and removed government support for particular religions, and allow freedom of worship and religious practice by allowing citizens to engage in worship and religious practices without government coercion or interference. Freedom of religion allows persons to refrain from following any religious practice and to be agnostic or atheist. Freedom of religion is the formal legal framework for religious tolerance or the institutional principle of religious pluralism.

Tolerance does not satify all believers and beliefs. Some suspect tolerance as condescenging or patronizing. They want equal economic opportunities and actual respect or recognition for their opinions. Modern thinking in political philosophy attempts to rationalize and reconcile tolerance and respect for diverse opinions and needs.

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