Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sheldrake: Orchestras To Planetary Systems

Right now I don’t have the time or energy or focus to prepare the kind of blog posts that I like. But I want to keep the blog moving, so I’m going to keep posting, even if my posts will be shorter.

I won’t be doing multiple-day posts for a while and today’s post is even the last long post I’ll do for a while.

Just before my mom’s health collapsed I’d been planning a kind of Impossible Kisses extravaganza, a two-week, ten-post sequence of posts all about Rupert Sheldrake.

One of the things I’d planned to do was go back through this whole blog and create an annotated index of all the references I’ve made to Sheldrake’s thinking without actually mentioning him by name. There are a lot. And I actually mention him by name twice, first here, and then here.

It was going to be a ten-post sequence because back in 1989 [! almost twenty years ago !] I wrote a short story in verse—my first such effort!—called, “Professor Martel’s Startling Conclusion.” When I posted that story on the blog, it took ten days. And that story from 1989 was all about my thinking about Sheldrake’s thinking.

pmsc part one
pmsc part two
pmsc part three
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          pmsc part six
pmsc part seven
pmsc part eight
pmsc part nine
pmsc part ten

I’m not going to be doing long or multiple-day posts for a while, but since Sheldrake has been on my mind a lot lately—

(Remember last Friday I did a post called, “No Time, No Distance,” where I mentioned a five or six hundred year old theory of vision that holds that human vision is projective as well as receptive? Well, Sheldrake is one of the few living scientists who still takes that theory seriously.)

—Sheldrake has been on my mind a lot lately but instead of a ten-post sequence, I’m just going to do today’s post and let Sheldrake briefly speak for himself.

This is the complete epilogue to Sheldrake’s second book, “The Presence Of The Past.”

We live in a world that was born some fifteen billion years ago, a world that has always been growing and still grows, a world of developing galaxies and stars and planetary systems and planets. On this particular planet, life has been developing for over three billion years in an evolutionary process that continues in ourselves. The development of science is part of this very process—a process that science itself has discovered, first in the realm of life on Earth and now in the whole of nature. In brief, we now have an evolutionary cosmology.

But many of our habits of thought grew up within the image of an eternal, machine-like universe. There was no need for memory in the mechanistic universe, because it was permeated at all times and in all places by timeless principles of order, the eternal laws of nature.

But do these old ideas still make sense in an evolutionary universe? Were the laws for everything in the world—from protozoans to galaxies, from orchestras to planetary systems, from molecules to flocks of geese—all present in advance, awaiting the time when their harmonious, ordering properties could be manifested in the evolutionary process? Or is memory inherent in nature? Do habits build up as evolution goes on?

These are the questions that we have been asking in this book. We have explored the implications of both the view of eternal law and the view of evolving habit. We have looked at a wide range of phenomena, in the chemical, biological, social, cultural, and mental realms, from both points of view, comparing the interpretations they offer; and we have considered various ways in which experimental tests could reveal to us which of these alternatives is in better accordance with the way things are.

At present the question is open. It is possible that we do, after all, live in an amnesic world that is governed by eternal laws. But it is also possible that memory is inherent in nature; and if we find that we are indeed living in such a world, we shall have to change our way of thinking entirely. We shall sooner or later have to give up many of our old habits of thought and adopt new ones: habits that are better adapted to life in a world that is living in the presence of the past—and is also living in the presence of the future, and open to continuing creation.

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