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.
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?
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?