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.
We live in a plural age. Many are open to more than one religious or wisdom tradition. They want to draw on, say, Christian as well as Buddhist practices. Or they seek to speak of vedantic insights as well as theistic ones. Indeed, they may well intuit that the one will illuminate and ignite the other. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon draw on their experience and reading to explore a variety of religious practices and philosophies. There are pitfalls to avoid. There are questions to ask, not least when religions claim to have exclusive access to truth. But ultimately, there is much in this mix that is enriching and should be embraced.
We live in a time when many people are engaging in spiritual practices without belonging to particular religious traditions. Moreover, scientists have built up a substantial body of research that explores their many and various tangible effects. In this episode, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, discuss the widespread interest in practices from mediation to pilgrimage, which Rupert investigates in his new book, Science and Spiritual Practice. They ask what the science shows, how such practices can be understood, and where the engagement with spiritual experiences outside of the context of metaphysical convictions might lead.
We live in a secular age, it's said, although research also repeatedly suggests that people still pray. Four out of five Brits believe in the power of prayer, according to some research. Half of Americans pray every day, and nine out of ten have prayed for healing. It seems an entirely natural thing for humans to do. So what are we doing when we pray? In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the ways in which we pray - invocations, petitions, praise, thanksgivings. They explore how meditation fits in with prayer as part of the training in knowing what to ask for, and how prayer can be part of the slow process of aligning oneself with realities outside oneself. Prayer is not going away. It may be a kind of skill. Learning how to pray could be immensely valuable.
Recent studies suggest that a third of people in the UK believe in guardian angels, and nearly three quarters of Americans believe in such celestial beings. So what is angel belief a belief in? In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the modern sense of angelic presences by setting it alongside insights from medieval and ancient accounts of angel domains, which were extensively developed in both Christian and Islamic spiritual traditions. They ask about the ways in which angels might inhabit the physical cosmos and whether angels can be linked to modern insights about the human mind. Angels turn out to be a fascinating subject for conversation. They inspire all sorts of questions from the nature of matter to the truth of intuition.
How do you experience the cosmos? Did people in the past experience such participation differently? Do mystics enjoy a type of participation that eludes most people? In this latest Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the notion of "original participation", a phrase coined by The Inkling Owen Barfield, though also known as participation mystique and the "porous self". They ask what might be made of this form of consciousness, how people try to engage with it today in experiences of ecstasy or by reading fiction, and what can be learnt from what seems to have been a commonplace sense of life for our ancestors, though can feel like fantasy or madness in an alienated age.
Jesus saves, it is often said. But what does that mean? Is it an objectionable notion, implying a bloodthirsty God? In the latest Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, explore ways in which the significance of Jesus has been interpreted. They ask whether the incarnation is a more important notion, how evolutionary ideas can help unpack the meaning of Christianity's central figure, and how the resurrection of Jesus can be understood. This historical figure, through the intensity of his life, has become a focus for a wide range of archetypal realities.
It's widely recognised that popular atheism is changing fast. It's moving into a more constructive phase after the attacks on religion, inspired by scientism, that characterised the first decade of the new millennium. One of the most interesting new movements is the Sunday Assembly, sometimes called the "atheist church" - though the founders are not keen on that title as it suggests they are against rather than for something. It began about 3 years ago and, in that short time, has spawned over 70 congregations around the world, particularly in the UK and US. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss this new development, after Mark made a radio programme for the BBC on the Sunday Assembly. They ask how atheism is changing; how it is embracing dimensions of life such as the ecstatic that have been quite taboo in atheist circles; and what this means for our time.
Now is a good moment to assess the essence of Christianity, to consider what lies at its heart, as we live in a period during which Christianity isn't disappearing but is routinely rubbing shoulders with other religions and none. In this episode of the Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what values and consciousness Christianity has helped develop - partly in response to a series of films Mark has made with The Idler Academy, entitled A History of Christianity in 11 Short Chapters. They ask about Christianity as an inner spiritual and outer social phenomenon; the role it played at the end of the axial age in valuing the individual person; what happened so that it became a world religion; and what Christianity is becoming today. The film, A History of Christianity in 11 Short Chapters is here: http://idler.co.uk/product/online-course-a-history-of-christianity-in-eleven-short-chapters-with-dr-mark-vernon/
When you look into the blue sky on a sunny day do you glimpse a ball of nuclear fire or, as the London poet and mystic, William Blake, reported, the heavenly host singing God's praises? It's an old question, revived today by the notion of panpsychism which suggests that the sun might in some way be considered conscious. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask whether the sun is a psychical as well as physical entity in the solar system, and consider what that might mean for our participation in and connection to the cosmic dimensions of ecological life. Mark draws on Plato's notion that matter is a manifestation of mind, as well as how the sun was honoured in ancient Egypt; and Rupert explores how the sun is regarded in eastern religious practices, to suggest how it might be meaningful to relate to the sun today, as well as enjoy its light and warmth.
Human life is full of rituals, from shaking hands to venerating relics. But how do rituals work, how do they convey meaning? In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how rituals connect us with people who have done them before, using Rupert's concept of morphic resonance. Rituals build up the collective memory and, be they religious or secular, are one means by which we can access an aspect of life that lasts over time. The conversation explores how rituals bring the sense of the past into the present, touch us in embodied as well as imaginative ways, and convert spaces into sacred places. They explore examples from the foundational rituals of social groups to the rituals of psychotherapy which can bring back memories of the past.
Until relatively recently, Buddhism was a specialist interest in the west. Now, secular forms of Buddhism, in the shape of mindfulness meditation, are even available on the NHS. One of the leading advocates of secular forms of Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor, is in search of the historical Buddha, arguing that many of the beliefs of traditional Buddhists, such as reincarnation, are unnecessary accretions. In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what is lost when Buddhism is stripped of its devotional and metaphysical elements? Might the historical Buddha be found? And can there really be a materialist form of Buddhism, which is nothing if not a training in that most materially inexplicable feature of existence, consciousness?
This ancient question has resurfaced in modern science and atheism. The discovery of the Big Bang as a beginning for the universe in the 20th century was a complete surprise, igniting a debate about what caused everything, space and time, to spring into being. The hint that a cause beyond science is implied has been picked up by prominent atheists who have tried to supply scientific accounts of "nothing" from which the universe - or a multiverse - could emerge. But they don't achieve their goal. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how the ancient discussion of the relationship between something and nothing can profoundly inform the contemporary contemplation.
History shows that civilisations rise and fall. So where is the west in this cycle? Can the widespread sense of pending crisis - be it economic, environmental or political - be understood in relation to the ideas of Oswald Spengler, Owen Barfield or David Fleming? And can signs of new vitality, vision and participation be found, as if the crisis may also be the birthpangs of a new spirituality and consciousness? Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how a sense of connection and disconnection, excitement and fear, can be traced back to the thought of Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal. They ask where its possible to discover soul.
In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how we are not individuals but rather are more like nodes in networks. We are connected across living systems of families, organisations, cultures and spiritual traditions. The discussion focuses particularly on family constellations therapy, a way of examining how blocks and difficulties in life can be related to elements that we have taken on board from others. Rupert examines how this idea of inherited unconscious memory reveals what he has investigated as morphic fields. Mark asks how what is revealed in constellations workshops can be related to insights that can be traced back through psychotherapy to Plato and before. Details of Mark's next constellations workshop can be found on his website markvernon.com
In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Shedrake and Mark Vernon discuss dreams - discerning dreams, precognitive dreams, telepathic dreams, dreams as accessing the unconscious. They explore how to develop practices of paying attention to dreams, and what they might show - personally and spiritually. And they ask whether taking dreams seriously inspired metaphysics and philosophy, via the tradition of incubation, practiced by figures including Parmenides.