Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Science Delusion” (2012) so-called by his publisher as a pointed response to Dawkins, is called “Science Set Free” in the US. Given my agenda – alternatives to logical-positivist materialist-reductionist scientistic-dogma worldviews – it’s not possible for me to be ignorant of Sheldrake, but I’m pretty sure I’ve not read anything of his until his 2012 book. Certainly not his seminal “New Science of Life – The Hypothesis of Morphic Resonance” (1981).
The 2012 book seems to summarise his previous work, and although it covers the whole range of his ideas on alternative medicine, telepathy and the “paranormal”, his main agenda is to point out dogmatic arrogant dismissive politically distorting aspects of the modern science enterprise – hear, hear. He may never recover from some of his ideas being too whacky – too new-agey – for orthodox science to take seriously, but there are attractive aspects of his morphic resonance hypothesis for the open-minded.
Much evidence for consciousness and memory as something like pan-psychism, extending beyond the physical structures of any one brain – like I heard Iain McGilchrist say recently, better to think of highly-evolved brains as the best “transducers” of consciousness, rather than its source or physical location. Similarly some of the complex behaviours of simple organisms (like Alan Rayner and his funghi) cannot just be reduced to properties of their physical structures. Also much evidence that the Cosmological Anthropic Principle casts doubt on the accepted standard model(s) and ideas of downward as well as upward causation and “natural” lines of evolution.
All the so-called “paranormal” stuff he has, like Sue Blackmore, taken seriously as a research topic for some time. Some interesting ideas about problems researching anything telepathic “under laboratory conditions” and anything like double-blind arrangements where researcher’s biases are not in play. But as he points out these problems beset much “big science” and business motivated medical science too. He actually uses several Ben Goldacre quotes positively, when I can imagine “Bad Science” easily taking a pop at Sheldrake.
I also happen to believe materialist-as-physicalist philosophy with “emergence” of patterns upon patterns of fit consistent with Sheldrake’s morphic resonance, wouldn’t cause Dennett as much problem as Sheldrake assumes on the appearances of intention and creative purpose [ref needed] . Be interesting to hear the two together.
I’ve said before when arguing against orthodoxy it’s possible to be “too open minded” and leave yourself open to criticism based on ridicule, but for an open mind Sheldrake does cover a lot of worthwhile ground.
[Post Note: Final conclusions reading The Science Delusion are that Sheldrake sounds frustrated and tired delivering a message he's clearly been banging on about for a long time. His core point - that materialist reductionist science has become dogmatic and closed minded, and that society is becoming dangerously distorted by its dominance - is surely true. But the examples of alternatives he cites are too many, too personally "cause-celebre" and maybe insufficiently coherently argued to create change in themselves. I should add, I've now moved on to reading Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos" - an atheist version of the same agenda it seems.]