The Living Universe

THE LIVING UNIVERSE: Where are We?  Who are we?  Where are we going?
By Duane Elgin (Deepak Chopra, Foreword), San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2009.

Download Chapter One from The Living Universe (also includes full table of contents)

View a short video introducing the idea of a living universe and this book.

Order the paperback directly from:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers

“We are beings of cosmic connection who are learning to live in a living universe…”

Traditionally, science has regarded the universe as made up of inert matter and empty space. Duane Elgin brings together extraordinary evidence from cosmology, biology and physics to show that the universe is not dead but rather uniquely alive, an insight which, he shows, is in harmony with all of the world’s major spiritual traditions. He explores how this view radically transforms our concept of ourselves, our place in the cosmos, and the evolutionary trajectory of the human family. The non-living view of the universe has led to rampant materialism and global environmental degradation. To transform our planetary crises we need to move past a paradigm of separation and exploitation and learn to live sustainably on the Earth, in harmony with one another, and in communion with the living universe. We are beings of cosmic connection who are learning to live in a living universe.


“No book describes more accurately or guides us more powerfully to the world now waiting to be born.”
—Marianne Williamson, author of A Return to Love

“Vital reading for those wanting to explore and participate in the nature of reality at its most profound levels.”
—Edgar Mitchell, ScD, founder, Institute of Noetic Sciences and Apollo 14 astronaut

“A masterful, potent, and luminous contribution to both human knowledge and spiritual awakening.”
—Jean Houston, cofounder, Foundation for Mind Research and author of 26 books, including “A Passion for the Possible”

“It’s all here—brilliant discoveries of contemporary science, key insights of the world’s religions, and practical programs of action for bringing forth a new world.”
—Brian Swimme, PhD, Professor of Cosmology, California Institute of Integral Studies, co-author, “The Universe Story”

“The Living Universe invites the reader into an integral worldview that matters deeply for our planetary future. Without it we are lost; with it we have the possibility of creating a viable Earth community. This is a powerful contribution to envisioning and embodying such a community.”
—Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University, Forum on Religion and Ecology



Foreword by Deepak Chopra

Introduction: The Great Awakening
A Personal Perspective • Living in a Dead
Universe • Cosmophilia: Love of the Universe • Does Aliveness
Make a Difference?


Chapter 1: The First Miracle
We Are Giants • The Nearly Invisible Universe • Just Getting
Underway • Our Intuitive Connection with the Cosmos
• Imagine Building a Universe

Chapter 2: The Science of a Living Universe
A Unified Universe • An Ocean of Background Energy •
A Continuously Regenerated Universe • Sentience at Every
Level • Freedom at the Foundations • Able to Reproduce
Itself • An Integrative View from Science


Chapter 3: Spirituality as Intimacy with a Living Universe
Judeo-Christian Views • Islamic Views • Hindu Views •
Buddhist Views • Taoist and Confucian Views • Indigenous
Views • Western Views • Harvesting the Wisdom of Human

Chapter 4: The Mother Universe
The Meta-Universe in Science • The Mother Universe in
Wisdom Traditions • An Integrative View • Growing in the
Mother Universe

Chapter 5: The Soul’s Body and Our Cosmic Identity
The Size of Our Soul • Qualities of the Soul’s Body • A Body
of Light • A Body of Music • A Body of Love • A Body of
Knowing • Recognizing Ourselves Before We Die


Chapter 6: Where Is the Universe Going?
Life Within Life Within Life • Growing Self-Organizing Systems
• Humanity’s Central Project • A Garden for Growing Life

Chapter 7: Humanity Is Halfway Home
Humanity’s Heroic Journey • Humanity’s Journey of Separation
• Our Supreme Test and Time of Initiation • Humanity’s
Journey of Return • The Second Axial Age • Awakening into the
Living Universe • Stage I: Reflective Consciousness • Stage II:
Oceanic Consciousness • Stage III: Flow Consciousness


Chapter 8: Six Vital Tasks for the Journey Home
Co-Creating Our Story of Awakening • Cultivating Reflection
and Reconciliation • Living Simply and Sustainably • Creating
New Kinds of Community • Becoming Media-Conscious
Citizens of the Earth • Bringing Our True Gifts into the
World • The Promise of the Journey Ahead

Chapter 9: Living in a Living Universe
Meditations • Conversations

Bruce Sanguin and The Way of the Wind

Bruce Sanguin was recently interviewed by the UC Observer

Q What do you hope your new book The Way of the Wind: The Path and Practice of Evolutionary Christian Mysticism will achieve?
A To inspire and re-source people on their evolving soul paths. All of history is being drawn toward a future that will reflect the heart and soul of the Christ mystery. What I discovered, and what I write about in the book, is that evolution just happens naturally if we get out of the way.

Q What is your definition of evolutionary spirituality?

A It’s a recognition that reality as we know it is being animated by an evolutionary current. This is true on the cosmological large-scale structure of the universe. It’s true biologically. But it’s true on a human level, too. The great mystery is living and wanting to transcend itself through us toward greater expressions of beauty, truth and goodness. And so evolutionary spirituality says that, for lack of a better word, God is implicate, intrinsic to that evolutionary push. What I do is bring that perspective to interpret and unlock some of the deeper lineages of the Christian mystery. I bring that perspective to try to interpret scripture, for example, Jesus’ teachings.

Continue reading . . .

Dancing to the Music of the Spheres

According to Pauline Le Bel, author of Becoming Intimate with the Earth, scientists have located sound reverberating from every corner of the Cosmos, and the sacred music of indigenous peoples echoes the haunting sounds of the Universe itself as it sings in a cacophony of tones, rhythms and vibrations. Le Bel says, “Life is vibration, tone, rhythm. We are rhythm, the rhythm of our breath, the rhythm of our heart, our brain . . . We don’t just hear sound, we are sound.” Different elements in the Universe sing in their own unique voice—our own Sun “has a very deep voice and a very slow rhythm.” It comes as no surprise to the reader that Le Bel is a singer and composer. In fact, she has dedicated her life to the celebration of sound, story and art.  Her book reflects her life-stance, that the Universe itself is a living, evolving, multifaceted story that invites human participation; particularly it draws us into intimacy with its life. Le Bel offers us many ways to enter into intimacy with our Earth home. Using primal elements like water, breath, soil and fire she guides us into practices that awaken our inter-relatedness with the numinous world around us. Reflecting her influence by Matthew Fox, she unfolds five pathways of deepening and connecting with the Universe: Way of Wonder, Way of Emptiness, Way of Imagining, Way of Transformation and Way of Community. Along each of these roads she tells the stories of local heroes who are following the pilgrim way into a more fruitful intimacy with the Earth, and penetrating into the mysteries of the fabric of existence.

Becoming Intimate with the Earth tells the story of the Universe become conscious in the wonder and amazement of human beings who are invited to dance and sing to its music as they are drawn into intimacy and find themselves at Home.

Posted by Margaret Walters

Matthew Wright and the Evolution of Religion

Is religion dying out or is it evolving? This time of great ferment is throwing out possible futures for the Western soul, some of them, such as the Spiritual But Not Religious movement lead away from religion altogether, while others such as the Interspirituality movement, insist on turning back into the heart of religion where it manifests as mysticism. From there its proponents seek to transmit the treasures, the deep wisdom of the ages, to seekers of today and tomorrow. Matthew Wright is one such person. He represents a new species of religious seeker, probing to explore new forms for ancient mysteries, rooted not only in one tradition but in many. Matthew joins leaders like Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr in exploring new forms of transmission of the Christian wisdom tradition within a wider interspiritual framework.

Matthew Wright is remarkable in any number of ways, not the least of which is his age. His 30 year old presence is rather startling amongst the grey heads of most spiritual leaders in mainline Christianity and certainly within the Episcopal Church where he serves as an ordained minister. Standing on the shoulders of Thomas Merton, Bede Griffiths, David Steindl Rast and other Christian visionaries who have sought a common centre of shared experience with world religions, Wright leads the way into a new form of religion that may operate from a distinct tradition, yet is permeable to all authentic religious experience. He is not alone in this as many of his contemporaries are moving in similar directions. Mirabai Starr is a good example; she grew up as a secular Jew, fell in love with religion, was formed by Hindu and Sufi spirituality, and now specializes in interpreting the Christian mystics.

Matthew is a gifted teacher and writer, expressing himself in both penetrating poetic language and extremely clear rational thought. His youth adds a freshness of perspective; he is inspirational and dynamic. As well as his parish work, he is a busy speaker/retreat master and columnist for an online journal (Contemplative Journal – Matthew ponders what belonging means now that tribal ghettoism is slowly disappearing. He asks the questions, “How do we live one faith while opening deeply to another? Is it possible to belong to multiple traditions? Can we have roots without boundaries?”

Matthew was raised in a Pentecostal home, moving away from Christianity for a while in his teen years, only to be drawn back by the beauty of the Episcopal tradition where he discovered the Christian mystics whose teaching dovetailed with the Eastern turn his spirituality was taking. During his seminary years, Matthew felt that there was something essential missing in his training. He was learning a lot of theology but could not find a mentor to lead him into the depths of religious experience. This led to a journey into Vedantic and Sufi spirituality where elders were readily available to teach him how to meditate and penetrate to the heart of reality. An encounter with Teilhard de Chardin brought him face to face with a vibrant incarnational Christian mysticism which complimented the nondual transcendence of his Vedantic teachings. Now he is anchored in the Christian tradition as an Episcopal priest but he prays and lives his life in the embrace of all three of his formative religious communities.

Interspirituality has been on the rise over the last several decades as people of faith desire to be open to other spiritualities than their own. It means allowing permeable boundaries between different traditions – not blending them all, but discovering connections that deepen understanding and practice. This movement is different from interfaith or ecumenical dialogue in that it does not seek to unite institutions or doctrines but spiritualities. This connectedness occurs at the level of the contemplative heart of world religions. It is concerned with spiritual practice and experience – the transformation of human consciousness. Wayne Teasdale in his book A Monk in the World(2002) wrote, “Interspirituality is not a new form of spirituality, or an overarching synthesis of what exists, but a willingness and determination to taste the depth of mystical life in other traditions.”

A new species of human seems unlikely, yet eco-theologian Thomas Berry thought it was essential for humans to reinvent themselves at a species level in order to create a truly global Earth community. He insisted that we cannot solve the urgent problems besetting the planet with the same mind that created them. A rise in consciousness is necessary – a global consciousness is needed.  Matthew Wright stands at the crossroads of evolutionary and mystical thought, seeing in them the possibilities of a new synthesis that would enable human consciousness to evolve in the direction of a higher level of unity – uniting through centering. He is influenced by Jesuit philosopher and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin who envisioned humanity being drawn into a process of convergence through evolutionary pressures which would give rise to a complex, unified global consciousness.

Matthew is also influenced by Ewert Cousins who tracks the evolution of religion over the ages. The first Axial Age which produced the great religions of today was an evolutionary leap forward from the tribal and immanent into the individual and the transcendent. The spiritual journey became characterized by an ascent and a personal quest for salvation, fulfilment and enlightenment. There was a dualistic, other-worldly flavour to this that yearned to cast off the physical and material and rise up into pure spirit in an escape to Heaven or Nirvana. Now modern science has plunged humans into a new age – a second Axial Age no longer characterized by tribal consciousness, or a spirit of transcendence, but a dynamic connectedness to the whole. As Wright puts it “Our Second Axial awareness begins from a new starting place: union. We have never been separate: not from one another, not from the Earth that holds us, not from the Infinite we long for.” The longing is no more an expression of escape but it is “the driveshaft of the entire evolutionary process as we move towards our awakening as a single planetary body.” This new consciousness is surfacing in all the major religions and outside of them as well as people seek to find authentic expressions of their new worldview.

Wright believes the world’s religions are still essential as holders of the deep wisdom of the human evolutionary journey, yet the emergence of Second Axial Consciousness demands a new religious form that does not yet exist. Radical change is painful but necessary if religion is to become once again a true home for the seeker in this time when the human family is feeling the limitations and sheer destructiveness of tribal boundaries while discovering its global identity of diversity in oneness. Matthew Wright sees the possibilities of shared religious experience and permeable boundaries between traditions. He believes that the Buddha and the Christ do not belong to groups called Buddhists and Christians but are the “collective spiritual inheritance” of a global humanity. A time of sharing and multiple belonging is now occurring both inside and outside the institutions. It will be a difficult time for religious purists, but Matthew suggests that religious bodies ask themselves these questions: “Can we stop thinking in terms of a membership club? How do we continue our lineages without also passing on limited (and limiting) identities?” He recognizes that the work of forging a new spiritual landscape will be done on three fronts: from inside the religious institutions (where he sees himself), from outside religion altogether, and between these two as many find themselves to be bridge people with a foot in both worlds.

Scientist Brian Swimme wrote that if religions could find their place within the great evolutionary story of emergence, they would not lose anything of their former vigour – in fact they would blossom in unimaginable ways within the context of cosmic oneness. Interspirituality is providing a way forward for religion to move beyond its boundaries and exclusivities and once again provide a spiritual home for the human community as it converges into one family. May it be so.

Matthew Wright, M.Div. is an ordained Episcopal priest, a Sufi dervish of the Mevlevi Order, and an initiate in the Ramakrishna Order of Vedanta. He serves as priest-in-charge at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Woodstock, NY and lives with his wife, Yanick, alongside the brothers of Holy Cross Monastery.

Submitted by Margaret Walters

Seizing an Alternative Part Two by Pauline le Bel

“Everything is to be understood in terms of the way it is interwoven with the rest of the Universe,” wrote Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947). He was challenging the basic assumptions of our modern, industrial world, which prefers to think of everything as separate. This was the most important message I heard in the classrooms of Pomona College, the location for the philosophy conference: Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization. The more I listened, the more I came to see that indigenous peoples had been living and breathing Whitehead’s ideas for thousands of years. When they say: “All my relations,” they’re not talking about aunts and uncles, unless you consider aunts and uncles to represent every rock, every mountain, every tree, and thunderstorm.

I found my way to the session on The Contributions of Indigenous People, where I met indigenous elders from Siberia, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Arizona, California, and Brazil. From their perspective, we are constituted by our relations, past, present and future. In every act, we are responsible to everyone and everything in our past, present, and future. How they see themselves emerges from the land, and the community. Coyote, a Kenneste/Maidu/Huchme Elder from California advised us “settlers” in the room to “not get into our canoes; follow your own guides. Our elders teach simplicity,” he said. Danny Blackgoat, traditional Diné from Arizona, expressed his discomfort with the word civilization because of course it implies something more grandiose and unnatural than people living on and with the land.

Claudio Carvalhaes provided a moving experience. In theatrical fashion, he told the history of the Guarani of South America who dance in ritual for days, weeks, years, before they walk to The Land Without Evil. “I don’t start from thinking,” he said. “I don’t start from metaphysics. I start where it hurts. This is what colonialism has done to us – searching for who we truly are and where we belong.” Claudio, dressed at the beginning like a cool Brazilian dude, gradually undressed as he circled the room and took on the regalia of the Guarani. “The movement of the Earth must set the pace of our lives,” he said. “Perhaps the Guarani cosmology may be all we need. They hold the Land without Evil for all of us. The Guarani are calling us to dance, to walk, to keep moving.” It made one want to get up and dance and a few of us did.

Through a translator, Almaz, a Kyrgyzstan Elder, shared the heart and soul of his culture, explaining how the hunt is part of the foundation of their spiritual life, both survival and art. They raise dogs and eagles who communicate with each other in the hunt. Every eagle feather has been given a name. Another Kyrgyzstan Elder, Kamil, sang an episode from the Manas, a centuries-old epic poem – an encyclopedia of the Kyrgyzstan cosmology that contains instructions on how to maintain balance in times of uncertainty and rapid change. He sat cross-legged on the floor and dropped into an animated trance-like state. At the end, the room was transformed and energized.

Philosopher, John Cobb, Jr. who dreamed the conference into being calls climate change “both moral failure and opportunity. There are many things we should have done yesterday.” He wonders what business and finance would look like if the aim of creating a thriving ecosphere became the goal of the economy. Perhaps climate chaos will teach us how to relate to the Earth in a better way.

Many theologians at the conference viewed the environmental crisis as a moral crisis in the same way as Pope Francis. Theodore Walker is an associate professor of Ethics and Society at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and I met him on the last evening. He explained the simplest and most truthful way to understand the theories of Alfred North Whitehead. “You realize that everything is in the process of becoming – including the stories we tell about our world,” he said. I told him about my challenge to take these teachings – some more opaque than others – and write a play for children. He had a great laugh and explained that “Whiteheadians” are only able to talk to each other, and if he had the skill to write a play for children he wouldn’t be teaching process theology.

I returned home with an even deeper appreciation of the insights of western philosophy, the wisdom of indigenous peoples, motivation to get on with the play, and a large eagle feather from Kyrgyzstan. The feather’s name is chalgy kanat.


There I was in Claremont, California – philosophers to the right of me, scientists to the left – attending Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization. The conference was the brain – and heart – child of John Cobb Jr., an American theologian, environmentalist, and pre-eminent scholar of process philosophy. At age 90, still going strong, teaching the world about ecological interdependence. His goal was to bring together 1,500 smart, creative people to foster the conditions and the networks for moving into new ways of living upon a warming planet. “What is called for,” he said, “is not miserable sacrifice, but joyful, responsible living.”

I was invited, along with a few other artists, to take the latest insights offered by science and philosophy, and to translate them into stories accessible to regular people like myself. My classroom began at home, plowing through the ideas presented in Systems Theory, Emergence, and Process Thought. I came away with these gems. One: everything in the Universe is made up of self-organizing systems, such as ant colonies, your body, the planet; and all these systems are connected.

Two: everything in the Universe is experiencing something, even stones – although their experience is somewhat limited, as far as we know. Three: Emergence is how life creates radical change. For example, water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom; when they do their cosmic dance they transform into something completely distinct from themselves, something greater than themselves, something surprising. Emergence also applies to human activity: when separate, local efforts create networks, and strengthen as communities of practice, a new, more complex – and perhaps surprising – system emerges. Think the Internet.

The symbol for the conference was Pando Populus, an aspen tree in southern Utah that spreads over 100 acres and weighs 13 million pounds. Above ground, Pando appears to be a vast grove of individual trees. Underground, they are all interconnected through a single root system; each part is affected by and nourishes the other. It has survived this way for as long as 80,000 years. Pando, a fitting symbol of our profound interconnectedness, is now threatened by deer. Overpopulated, because we have exterminated their predators, the deer are eating the young shoots.

The choice of sessions – more than 100 – was a bit overwhelming for a non-scientist, non-philosopher. They called them tracks because tracks are going somewhere. My somewhere, I decided, is to collaborate on a children’s play integrating these concepts – to take the Big Ideas and bring them down to Earth. Bill McKibben, the opening night keynote, a major player in the environmental movement, is responsible for encouraging colleges in the U. S. to divest from fossil fuel companies in their portfolios. Bill is a fighter, willing to be arrested for what he believes in. He emphasized that we’re “not here for an intellectual excursion… We need a World War Two style effort to deal with climate disruption.” I question whether my children’s play will be an adequate effort and travel to the next session.

“Seed is life,” said Vandana Shiva, at her powerful plenary presentation. “There is no separation between the rights of the Earth and the rights of humanity,” Vandana is an environmental crusader against Big Agriculture. She received a standing ovation as she told the audience we must “make peace with the Earth or we will have no future.” Perhaps a play for children will help them make peace with the Earth?

Wes Jackson, of the Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas, reminded us that “soil is more important than oil … and we are losing 1% of topsoil every year.” Wes has been living with prairie grasses for 50 years, watching carefully how nature grows crops, and transforming our current, inefficient methods of agriculture. Rather than annual monoculture crops of grain, he is developing polyculture, perennial grains that are resistant to pests, require less grunt work, and fewer inputs of fertilizers and water.

Somewhat exhausted from the heady philosophy sessions, I eventually found my way to The Contributions of Indigenous Wisdom track, to see what I could learn about indigenous ways of understanding our relationships to everything in the world. (More on that in my next column.)

Everyone I spoke to at the conference agreed that global warming is not a future possibility. It’s here. The oceans continue to rise and acidify, ice is melting, and droughts threaten our capacity to grow food. Climate change is the most pressing challenge facing humanity. It’s clear we are experiencing a global emergency. Yet the prevalent feeling was predominantly a positive one: Let’s not let a good emergency go without finding the blessing in it.

Pauline Le Bel is an award-winning novelist, Emmy-nominated screenwriter, and the author of Becoming Intimate with the Earth.

earth heart

Rumi would have loved Teilhard

Evolution According to Rumi:


The dust of many crumbled cities

settles over us like a forgetful doze,

but we are older than those cities.

We began

as a mineral. We emerged into plant life

and into the animal state, and then into being human,

and always we have forgotten our former states,

except in early spring when we slightly recall being green again …

Humankind is being led along an evolving course,

through this migration of intelligences,

and though we seem to be sleeping,

there is an inner wakefulness

that directs the dream,

and that will eventually startle us back

to the truth of who we are.

Jellaludin Rumi  1207 -1273

Barks, Coleman (2004) The Essential Rumi. New York: HarperCollins

Opening to Compassion

My last blog was on conservative Christians and climate change, and here I am again with the same theme, simply because life keeps putting information in my way that ties into this. Its funny how patterns emerge in your reading – the same thing coming up in different ways as if someone is saying, “Look at this!” Recently I read an article by Ron Rolheiser drawing attention to the spiritual and intellectual ‘camps’ we place ourselves in, often without noticing we are doing it. My camp of ‘liberal thinkers’ can be harsh and dismissive of evangelical Christians, and I heard a wake-up call in this article to put prejudice aside and try to enter the experience of the ‘other.’ So it was very timely that I came across a novel by Barbara Kingsolver called Flight Behavior which takes a compassionate look at a conservative Christian community in bible belt USA trying to come to grips with the terrible and beautiful effects of climate change. The protagonist is a young woman caught between her loyalty and empathy toward her family and neighbours and the mind expanding scientific knowledge delivered by a top notch biologist who ends up living on her family’s property while he studies the extraordinary phenomena of the local forest being covered in wintering monarch butterflies who have been forced by climate change to give up their ancestral migratory flight path to Mexico. Dellarobia opens up the world of being poor, uneducated and immersed in a fundamentalist mindset in a way that invites the reader to understand that way of life and sympathise with its strengths and weaknesses. This is a book that affected me on many levels. Apart from opening my mind and heart to evangelical Christians, I felt the denial that is deep in human nature when we don’t want to confront the catastrophic consequences of our actions – the desire for a miracle to pull us through. I learnt a lot about climate change and how pollution is destroying the lives of  many wondrous creatures, including the monarch butterfly. I felt the threat of the imminent disaster we are bringing upon the human population.

This morning on the way to work I heard that there are half as many animals alive on Earth now that were there in the 1970’s. When will our hearts break and open us up to compassion.

Evangelical Christians and Climate Change

Bill Moyers recently interviewed Katharine Hayhoe, who is both an evangelical Christian and a climate scientist. She believes that her faith is compatible with science, which is an unusual view from the Christian right, which tends to view the weather as under God’s control (as in “if God wants the climate to change, who are we to try and stop this from happening”). God’s omnipotence in all things is a primary tenet of evangelical Christianity, so Katherine’s view that the global warming crisis is man made is making waves in her community. However, she is able to speak to fellow believers in language that they can understand and is therefore an important voice in opening up the climate change debate in evangelical circles. Some two-thirds of white evangelical Christians do not think that global warming is real and religion is used to deny the burgeoning crisis. Katherine wants to end the gridlock between politics, science and faith and enlist evangelical churches in working towards solutions. You can watch the interview here:

Posted by Margaret Walters

Challenging the Taboos of Science: Book Review

Science Set Free Rupert Sheldrake, his wife Jill Purce and their sons Merlin and Cosmo will be in Victoria and on Cortes Island in July (see Programs). The following review is to whet your appetite for Rupert’s contribution:

Book Review: Science Set Free by Rupert Sheldrake

While life-long scientist Rupert Sheldrake believes strongly in the scientific approach, he has “become increasingly convinced that the sciences have lost much of their vigor, vitality and curiosity. Dogmatic ideology, fear-based conformity and institutional inertia are inhibiting scientific creativity.” So begins his groundbreaking book Science Set Free which is a sustained rant against the reductionist materialist philosophy that has been foundational to the scientific world since the nineteenth century. (By the way, the materialism he is talking about is not the capitalistic consumerism that grips the ever-spreading global market, but the philosophy of materialism that insists on a mechanical view of nature). Sheldrake maintains that it is well passed time for a change, a breaking open of the closed system that arrogantly supposes that truth can be contained within its own dogmatic boundaries.

Sheldrake names ten dogmas which form the creed of modern science: everything is a machine; all matter is unconscious; the amount of matter and energy stay the same; the laws of nature are fixed; nature is purposeless; biological inheritance is material (genetic); minds are confined to brains; psychic phenomena are illusory; mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works.
In the main body of ‘Science Set Free’ Sheldrake scrutinizes the dogmas of science with their materialist foundation and challenges them by proposing a new paradigm that breaks open the fundamentalism inherent to the scientific worldview. It is centred on his work with morphic resonance and morphic fields. Rather than holding the standard scientific position that the laws of the universe are fixed, Sheldrake is concerned with a truly evolutionary cosmology where laws do not remain the same but are more like habits of the universe that are evolving. Morphic resonance is a continually creative process whereby self-organising systems (not machine-like entities – the entire universe is more like a growing, developing organism than a machine) pass on their patterns and forms to future systems which then gradually evolve and form new habitual patterns. If something is repeated it forms a habit and distance/time do not affect its spread. When habits form, they are initially difficult to adopt, but as they take hold, they spread with ease and exponentially increase their field of operation. Sheldrake proposes an inherent collective memory in nature which allows change to take hold.

In Chapter 8 of Science Set Free, Sheldrake explores the question of whether minds are confined to brains. Neuroscience insists that material brains contain the mind and store memories in “material traces” within the brain (although no-one can prove this). Without the brain there is no consciousness and when the brain dies there is nothing that can possibly continue. Sheldrake proposes that brains are like TV receivers that pick up on fields of morphic resonance extending into time and space. It is more true to say that the brain is in the mind than the other way round. Likewise bodies are not machines controlled by genes, but they take on the patterns and habits from previous generations within the collective memory of a species – genetic inheritance is part of this dynamic organic system.

Sheldrake notes the great accomplishments science and technology have gained for humanity (not so much the rest of the planet) but he insists that it carries an outdated philosophical baggage. New discoveries of the 20th century have opened up possibilities of dialogue with world religions. Quantum knowledge, relativity theory, nuclear fission and fusion, discovery of galaxies beyond our own, and the Big Bang theory have broken down the determinism that science once held. Now “sciences and religions may enrich each other through shared explorations” of what consciousness is, what mystical experience can tell us about the nature of reality, how meditation affects the brain etc. This would require the relinquishing of the taboos of both science and religion. Sheldrake observes that the materialist creed is breaking down now that scientists know that not everything will eventually be explained through physics and chemistry. Consciousness cannot be tied down to matter and subjective experience cannot be discounted – even physics “presupposes the minds of physicists.” In a truly evolutionary universe science must relax its grip on dogmatic knowledge and allow itself to evolve: “Much remains to be discovered and rediscovered, including wisdom.”
Science Set Free allows the reader an inside view of the internal philosophic debate of the scientific community. While it is important and enlightening to understand the contours of this heated discussion and how it shapes the broad sweep of western thinking, the average reader may be left wondering why it takes our giant institutions (both scientific and religious) so long to change. Most of us have been quietly assuming all along that minds are not trapped in brains and that life in the universe has some kind of meaning and purpose. Thank goodness some brave souls like Rupert Sheldrake are willing to stick their necks out and suffer the rejection and ridicule of the scientific establishment to promote genuine, open inquiry into the nature of this astounding, mysterious reality we all share.

Submitted by Margaret MacIntyre
Margaret is author of “The Cosmic Pilgrim” and a member of the Earth Literacies team.