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 origins of religion lie deep in the story of human evolution. But as Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss in this new episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, the scientific study of our encounter with other worlds is changing. It has been proposed that humans believe in gods because punishing presences keep individuals in check, but that's discredited. New research is turning back to an older idea that our ancestors developed the ability to enter altered states. It’s fascinating partly because new evidence puts spiritual questing in the driving seat of human evolution. It also takes us back to reflections made by Darwin that qualities like beauty are active right across the animal kingdom.
Big histories are big sellers. Noah Yuval Harari, David Christian and Felipe Fernández-Armesto are among the authors attempting to tell a deep story of the universe and humanity. In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask how they work and what’s at stake. Mark is particularly interested in this question as his new book, A Secret History of Christianity, adopts a different worldview to show how spirit and soul drive life. The conversation ranges over fascinating questions from the nature of information and emergence to what, given the current sense of crisis, we hope for the future.
The evidence for psi is dismissed by sceptics with increasingly dogmatic assertions. But that's no surprise because the data in support of phenomena from telepathy to pre-sentience is now openly discussed in leading science journals. The real question, at the forefront of research, is how these experiences can best be understood? In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss various possibilities. They draw on the proposals aired at a recent seminar attended by the leading theorists, including Rupert himself. They explore the ideas of practising physicists and biologists working the area, and move onto questions from the nature of time and consciousness to the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead.
The depth of the environmental crisis is becoming clearer. Social crises are around us, too. But do these realities stem from a deeper spiritual crisis? In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss whether we’ve become uncoupled from the foundations of life, which are not just biological and social but spiritual. They discuss how this loss shows itself in difficulties ranging from mental health to social cohesion. They ask how a society that doesn’t have a sense of the spiritual becomes unreal, as if our desires can be fulfilled solely in material ways. They explore how a spiritual crisis distorts the sense of being human, but how it also offers a prime opportunity to recover and regain an energising sense of what it means to be alive.
Anxiety about the natural world is high and with good reason. Surprisingly, perhaps, the earliest days of Christianity in the British Isles have something vital to teach us. In this episode of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon take a lead from a new book, The Naked Hermit: A Journey Into the Heart of Celtic Britain, by Nick Mayhew-Smith. It makes several arresting claims. For example, the early missionaries, before the Synod of Whitby, engaged in a deep dialogue with the indigenous druids and pagans of these islands to forge a new engagement with the natural world under its Creator-God. They realised that in dark caves, icy waters, mountaintops and sacred groves, the divine could be found and that a lost paradise was scarcely a touch away. So what has this Celtic vision of life in all its fullness got to teach us today? Could Christianity regain the sense that nature shares the yearning for God? Might this ancient vision become a crucial resource for a time facing environmental degradation and possible collapse?
Many people today seek an expansion of mind through the use of psychedelics. So what other worlds, intelligences and entities are being encountered and sought in such experiences? In this Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss psychedelics and spiritual paths. They ask why they are of such interest now. They explore the effects they have and how these relate to other altered states of consciousness, from dreams and divine encounters to inspired visions. They ask how these experiences can be transformative, and whether they can be accessed in other ways. What dangers might be encountered, both psychological and spiritual, and what can be learnt from ancient mystery traditions and the ecstatic journeys charted by writers from Plato to Dante?
Millions of people around the world make pilgrimages. In a supposedly secular Europe, the spiritual practice is booming too. In this latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the revelatory experiences that people have when engaging with shrines and megaliths, temples and springs in this way. They talk about the evolutionary origins of pilgrimage and its roots in the living consciousness of places. They ask what it feels like to embrace these ancient pathways today and how anyone can very simply, very powerfully make pilgrimage an astonishingly expansive part of life.
Many wisdom traditions say that the physical body is just one order of embodiment in the natural world. Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss ‘ subtle bodies’ as dimensions of reality. They explore the terminology developed by Rudolf Steiner and ask how it relates to notions such as the dream body. They relate these ideas to those of Aristotle’s ancient notion of the soul, as well as Rupert’s own theories of morphic fields. The conversation ranges over the unconscious in psychotherapy, speculations in science about panpsychism, and phenomena such as angels.
Some preachers threaten hellfire, whilst others quench the flames with divine love. In this Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, following a suggestion of a regular listener, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what sense can, today, be made of hell. Is it primarily a psychological state, in which people are locked up by distress? Is it a region of reality that some people, many people, or perhaps all people are at risk of traveling too? Does experience now shape the experience of the hereafter? How does the hell of the Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions relate to the hell realms charted in Eastern philosophies? And what does it have to do with purgatory, and with paradise?
We live in an unprecedented age for spirituality. Spiritual practices that were originally confined to relatively isolated traditions are being used and investigated by numerous individuals and an increasing number of scientists. In this latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what this mass undertaking, from meditation to pilgrimage, might mean for the evolution of spiritual sight. How does science illuminate spiritual practices, what’s new about the practices of today, and what role is played by other features of modern life, like a strong sense of the individual and the ego?
It’s clear that our world is profoundly shaped by machines, from motor cars to mobile phones. But what impact do they have upon our awareness? In the latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss a fascinating new book, In The Shadow of The Machine by Jeremy Naydler. It’s a prehistory of the computer, tracking the way human consciousness evolved in order to conceive of a mechanised world. Sheldrake and Vernon ask what’s been gained and what’s been lost in this process, the ways in which our perception of life and consciousness has been moulded, and how human consciousness might evolve further as the machine metaphor itself "runs out of steam".
What is magic? How does it relate to psi and animism? Is prayer a kind of magic? In the latest Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, the series of conversations previously entitled Science Set Free, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how people have engaged with the spirited economy of the natural world. They ask whether the purposes of magic evolve over time, whether it’s making a comeback in an otherwise secular age, and what its place might be in spiritual life.
In this episode, Rupert and Mark discuss the evolution of ethics, from its deep roots in our nature as social animals to its expansive possibilities for our spiritual potential. They ask how the modern period has changed the discussion of morality, why the cultivation of virtues can be considered a spiritual practice, and how nurturing personal qualities and characteristics is integral to awakening and liberation.
A new generation of celebrity gurus has arrived. The clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, the historian Yuval Noah Harari and the comedian Russell Brand are three prominent examples. They command podcast downloads that run into six figures, their books are at the top of amazon rankings, they stir up controversy. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what their appeal means, what can be made of their various messages, and what this might mean for non-materialist worldviews. Rupert has himself talked with Russell Brand on Under The Skin and he reflects on the experience. Their discussion also ranges over why Jordan Peterson provokes conflict, why Harari’s bleak story of humanity sells, and why Russell Brand is today one of the most visible promoters of spiritual reality.
The psalmist sings that God knew us before we were born. The book of Joshua says God ordered that everything with breath should be destroyed in the land of Canaan. The writer of Genesis affirms that God said creation was good, very good. But the Pentateuch also insists on an eye for and eye, and that parental sins will be visited on their children for several generations. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the modern meaning of the collection of books Christians call the Old Testament. It includes words of great beauty, on the one hand and on the other, words apparently sanctifying acts of great violence. Can the Old Testament be understood as an account of the evolution of consciousness, or perhaps as a kind of collective unconscious of the Judeo-Christian west? Is it as simple as picking some parts out and dismissing others? What might be made of this seminal collection of texts by those interested in spiritual progress?