BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Exploring the Seventh Sense ...

I've been a fan of the work of Rupert Sheldrake for quite a while … he's one of those guys who straddles the “metaphysical” and scientific worlds fairly gracefully, while being the target of a lot of attacks. You can't argue with his background, however, he has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge, and is a research fellow of the Royal Society … and he generally backs up his theories with as much practical research as can be mustered for things that are as slippery as telepathy. This one, 2003's The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind is in many ways a follow-up to 1999's Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, taking the general outlines of the experimental structures there and applying them to human perceptions.

The book is set up in four parts … Telepathy, The Power of Attention, Remote Viewing & Foreshadowing of the Future, and How Does The Seventh Sense Work? … plus three appendixes, one detailing how to perform most of the experiments in the book yourself (which you can then report on at his website,, one with notes and material used in the experiments, and a third on “theories of vision”.

This latter is a key element in the book (as you would expect for something dealing with “staring”), as some of the ancient/early theories of how we see seem to fit the experimental data here better than the current model. Here's a bit on that from the end of the first section:
Minds are connected through social fields. They also extend through attention, linking organisms to their environment. Our minds reach out beyond our brains and beyond our bodies every time we see something. … vision involves a two-way process: an inward movement of light and an outward projection of images. Everything you see around you, including this page, is an image projected outward by your mind. These images are not inside your brain. Rather, they are exactly where they seem to be.
      Through these fields of perception, our minds reach out to touch what we are looking at. Thus we should be able to affect things just by looking at them. Is this really so? The best starting point for this discussion is to think about the effects of looking at other people. If I look at someone from behind when she does not know that I am there, and if she cannot tell I am looking by means of any normal sensory information, can she nevertheless sense that I am staring at her? There is in fact a great deal of evidence for a sense of being stared at …
{and} this aspect of the seventh sense has many implications for our understanding of human and animal nature.
Now, you might wonder about the “social fields” mentioned in the preceding … they are, essentially, group (pack, tribe, flock) versions of the “Morphic Field” theory which Sheldrake is so identified. It is interesting that telepathic connections are almost always strongest between individuals who are already connected closely, and while these communications can't be explained by any physical interaction, the concept of there being an information matrix which informs the participants in that is not too terribly far-fetched.

Many of the experiments here arise from “common experience” sorts of happenings, knowing when a particular person is on the phone before you pick up, for instance. Sheldrake, however, takes the basic dynamics of these and structures experimental protocols to look into what quantifiable aspects there may be there. Some of the numbers are pretty amazing, with success rates in controlled experiments (on identifying callers) running from 40-65% where “chance” (in these tests) would be 25%.

Admittedly, a lot of the material in The Sense of Being Stared At is a step above the dreaded “anecdotal”, being based on surveys sent out to particular populations … I guess this is fairly common in the social sciences, but it's not quite as “scientific” as situations where various levels of controls are in place. There are reports from several “laboratory” experiments as well, such as ones for the titular “sense of being stared at”, which showed a 60-40 (%) split of correct answers when the subject was being stared at, compared with a 50-50 division of right and wrong guesses when not being stared at. While this is hardly earth-shaking, it is significant and certainly suggests there being something real involved in that perception. Interestingly, Sheldrake follows up the research in this area with a discussion of “the evil eye” in history and across various cultures!

Again, for most people unfamiliar with his work, the variously posited “fields” seem a bit of a stretch, but the author puts together a rather substantial defense of the concept, and while it's rather long-ish, I thought I'd put it in here:
      Trying to understand minds without recognizing the extended fields on which they depend is like trying to understand the effects of magnets without acknowledging that they are surrounded by magnetic fields. No amount of chemical analysis of melted-down magnets could explain the way magnets affect things at a distance. Magnetic effects only make sense when magnetic fields are taken into account. The fields exist both within and around magnets.
      Michael Faraday introduced the field concept into science in the 1840's. Fields are defined as “regions of influence”. They connect things together across apparently empty space, and are responsible for many kinds of interconnection within the natural world. For example, the gravitational field of Earth stretches out far beyond the limits of our planet's atmosphere, and holds the Moon in its orbit. It is inside Earth, and also all around it.
      The electromagnetic field of the Sun affects all life on Earth, even though the Sun is 93 million miles away. The light and other radiations from the Sun are vibratory patterns of activity within the Sun's field, reaching out over literally astronomical distances.
      Many modern technologies also depend on invisible fields. Cell phones, for instance, would make no sense at all if they were simply material structures whose activities were confined to electronic circuitry inside them. They take in and give out information through the electromagnetic filed. There is both an intromission and an extramission of invisible influences.
      Unfortunately, modern thinking about the nature of the mind was shaped in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the only concepts available were those of matter in space, and spirit outside space. Most mechanistic scientists simply ignored consciousness, and consequently there was practically no progress in scientific thinking about the nature of the mind. And to this day the materialist-dualist debate has stayed stuck within the narrow limits of an outmoded way of thinking about matter.
I'm sure that Sheldrake would currently add the results of experiments that show that quantum entanglement (Einstein's “spooky action at a distance”) as being part of the sub-atomic physical reality.

The Sense of Being Stared At is a really thought-provoking book, and Sheldrake takes the reader from his animal experiments to some really fascinating theories for how “morphic fields” affect everything from planaria regeneration to the perception of “phantom limbs” and various more social elements. Oddly, this appears to be out of print at the moment, but new/used copies can be had at various discounts. This is one of those that I wish everybody would read, as it has the potential of shaking some of the more staid world-views which need reconsideration … so go find a copy!

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Tags: book review
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