The Sheldrake Vernon Dialogues
Summary: Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author best known for his hypothesis of morphic resonance. Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist and author. Together they discuss: consciousness, prayer, angels, science and spiritual practices, magic, dreams, hell, the unconscious, rituals, enlightenment, atheism, materialism, and more.
The Divine Comedy by Dante is one of the great spiritual works of the Christian tradition. But how can it be read and what does it mean? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the first part of Dante’s cosmic pilgrimage. It takes Dante through the circles of hell, until he reaches the lowest point of reality, the region furthest from God. It becomes clear that descent into darkness is a key part of personal transformation because it helps the individual discern the dark side of experiences such as love, anger and fame, in order that the light they also bring might be discerned. This also explains why the Inferno can comfort as well as disturb: troubling experiences and spiritual emergencies can be as much a part of enlightenment as those that are delightful and satisfying. Rupert and Mark will talk about the Purgatorio and Paradiso in future discussions.
The label “gnostic” is used to recommend and condemn. So what is, and what was, Gnosticism? This episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, with Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, takes a lead from a series of fascinating essays exploring the ancient movement and its modern forms by the philosopher, David Bentley Hart. Gnosticism was originally a set of cosmologies which shared the sense that the created order was blocked from the celestial spheres by angelic and demonic powers. It was remarkably widespread amongst early Christians of all kinds. They turned to Christ, in the hope of redemption or escape. Nowadays, it is used in different ways, often to express a sense of yearning or hope. As Rupert and Mark discuss, Gnosticism may offer the promise of a re-enchanted cosmos, freed from the Archons of the machine and mammon. Properly understood, it might offer a key for our times.
Meditation, yoga, vegetarianism. Eastern practices have become a feature of western life. But what do we learn from them? This episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, with Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, is prompted by a sense that the western way of life is being challenged, if not facing a full-on crisis. As Rowan Williams puts it in his new book, Looking East In Winter, climate change and environmental degradation are leading to a sense of needing not a programme or an ideology but an epiphany, which might renew our perception of reality. They discuss how eastern Christianity, as well as traditions in India, are based on participating with life and on the cultivation of conscious. They ask how this relates to insights such as the Christian Trinity and movements such as romanticism, as well considering the emergence of mechanistic science, which itself arose from western religious perceptions.
Covid has brought the reality of death into the centre of our lives, but what can we learn about death in response? This episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, with Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, is prompted by a sense that part of the anxiety arising from the pandemic is living in a culture that has forgotten how to know death in life. Rupert outlines some recent work on the role of death in plant life, and how that is not only of biological interest but can be spiritually resourcing. They discuss how wisdom traditions don’t dissolve death but understand it as a process that leads to more life, and therefore to be embraced and undergone. Both reflect on personal experiences of death and dying as well, in what they hope is a helpful as well as interesting conversation.
Why do matters as seemingly unconnected as children’s stories and shamanic encounters feature talking animals? This episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, with Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, is prompted by the book, Roland In Moonlight by David Bentley Hart. It relates long conversations between the Eastern Orthodox philosopher and his pet dog, generating fascinating thoughts on all sorts of liminal experiences, from telepathy to panpsychism. How might a re-enchanted world appear to us in the future? What does that have to do with ancient perceptions and modern science? Rupert and Mark discuss matters from pets to symbiosis, and the way that the living world participates in divine life.
Could bliss be transmitted by a Happy Helmet? Are the fantasies of the super-wealthy secretly shaping our lives? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss a new novel, Double Blind, by Edward St Aubyn. It is a story of ideas, including issues previously explored in these dialogues, from the nature of consciousness and the revelations of psychedelics, to the missing heritability problem and the replication crisis. St Aubyn has richly addressed our moment with its environmental and existential concerns. His characters explore matters of paramount important as they effect real lives. His book invites us to ask ourselves about the worldviews we hold and the ways in which our imaginations reach out for tomorrow.
The discussion of alternative worldviews, from various forms of materialism to types of idealism, has exploded in recent years, and the notion of panpsychism is in the middle of the debate. In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the different types of panpsychism being proposed, from more conservative forms that are linked to materialism, to older types that have been advocated by figures from AN Whitehead to Aristotle. They ask about the place of time and space in different views of reality, and tease out the connections to consciousness and eternity. Models including emergence and information theory rise, as well as the role of the brain, as they wonder about the direction in which this rich conversation is heading.
We naturally talk about seeking the light at the end of the tunnel, or hoping to be enlightened. But are such phrases that reference light more than metaphors? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how light is both physical and spiritual, and note the remarkable harmony between scientific and mythical ways of exploring light. They ask about the links between light and intelligence, as discussed by figures from Plato to Dante, as well as how our inner lives, say when we dream, include light. Rupert reflects on his time in the ashram of Bede Griffiths, and Mark recalls remarks made by Roger Penrose. It turns out that the way we talk about the experience of light is hugely suggestive of the nature of reality. There are good reasons light is so closely associated with the divine.
Artificial intelligence is rarely out of the news. But what is it? In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon take a lead from the breakthrough by Google in the prediction of protein folding, which Rupert has studied for decades. Whether this success reveals any deeper understanding of nature leads to a discussion of different types of intelligence, such as emotional and spiritual. They consider what is lost when AI dominates the imagination, and obscures aspects of reality that are embodied, and those that reach beyond, such as pure consciousness.
Most, perhaps all, cultures have moments of the year for fostering links with those who have died. In the western Christian world, the days of the dead are Halloween, All Saints and All Souls Day. In this Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask about the significance of this time. They take a lead from the Pixar film, Coco, which conveys this liminal zone with striking nuance and sophistication, and go on to ask about the meaning of praying for the dead, as well as relating to the legacy of ancestors in practices such as Constellations. The links between the living and the dead, as explored by writers including Dante to CS Lewis, are also illuminating, as is psychedelic and near death experience research, which encounters hellish, purgatorial and paradisal states of mind. Ritual and wisdom can nurture healing, and a deeper sense of the meaning of this life as a preparation for more life, now and in the life to come.
The accusation of pseudo-science is often made against those involved in the New Age, and sometimes rightly so. But as Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss in the latest episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, there is a lot more to the sneering and ridicule than meets the eye. They explore how science itself might morph into pseudo-science, which is perhaps a reason that scientists can be so nervous of novel ideas. They look at the origins of science's authority in the modern world, and the power of an impression of scientific rigour, whether or not justified. They discuss various disciplines in particular, from physics and biology, to economics, psychology and astrology. We need to be able to discern what merits the label “scientific” and what does not, especially in a time of pandemic, ecological and political fear.
World religions and inspired individuals alike say they are the recipients of divine revelation. But what might that mean? In this new episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the nature of revelation. They explore how revelation is a means of channelling and connecting with insight and intelligence in the domains of both religion and science. They ask how different revelations can be discerned and developed. The question of how revelation might be cultivated arises, as does the meaning of contemporary psychedelic revelations. Then there is issue of how revelation relates to what it is to be human. Might we be co-creators with the life within which our life is embedded?
Did you know Albert Einstein advocated telepathy research or that Marie Curie attended seances? In this edition of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss, The Flip, a new book by Jeffrey Kripal. The title refers to the range of experiences, from precognitive dreams to NDEs, that “flip” individuals from a mechanistic and materialist worldview. They become much more open to possibilities such as panpsychism and idealism. Kripal’s contention is that flips are common and, were they talked about, they would change culture. But would they? The conversation ranges over the links between psychic phenomena and spiritual experiences, to whether there are better ways of discussing psi beyond the perennial issue of proof? Is panpsychism an adequate way forward? And what is the meaning of the flips that people undoubtedly have?
A new film, Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm – https://www.infinitepotential.com – has just been released for free online. In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss its excellent telling of the dramatic life and revolutionary insights of this deep scientific thinker. Rupert first met Bohm in 1982 soon after the publication of his book A New Science of Life precipitated a negative reaction from the militant materialists; the editor of the leading scientific journal Nature tried to excommunicate him. Bohm had a similar experience forty years earlier with the quantum physics community. Mark and Rupert talk about what Bohm drew from Krishnamurti, and how the formalisms of quantum theory are influenced by psychological and spiritual perceptions. They also explore the ways in which Bohm’s notion of an implicate order resonates strongly with that of morphic fields, and discuss Bohm’s engagement with the ideas of Owen Barfield, about whom Mark has written. They highly recommend the film.
Cathedrals are increasingly welcoming novel explorations of their tremendous interiors. In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the powerful experiences that come with feeling free in sacred spaces. They look at how to access the sense of presence they hold, from lying on the ground to sitting in silence, noting that how you approach a building or shrine affects the spiritual qualities revealed. It’s also about the rediscovery of invocation and ritual, gesture and stance, and how they yield different dimensions of reality. This can happen without words, too, in subtle forms of search. The Coronavirus and lockdown only underlines the blessings received by visiting sacred places. They also ask how sacred places can be made at home.