The Rupert Sheldrake Course

Explore the big questions in science

In this course, Dr Rupert Sheldrake shows the ways in which science is being constricted by assumptions that have, over the years, hardened into limiting dogmas.

Curated and facilitated by Dr Rupert Sheldrake

Course preview

Course modules

In many ways, the sciences have been immensely successful. From jet engines to the internet, smartphones to modern dentistry, the way the sciences have developed in our modern world has transformed our lives. Yet, this prestige is so enormous that most people don’t question the foundations on which it rests: foundations that are extremely questionable. These foundations, derived from the ideology of mechanistic materialism, came from the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and a new “scientific priesthood” of the time, who saw themselves as the saviours of mankind. This ideology is one that claims all reality is material, or physical; that there is no reality but material reality; among many other dogmas that aren’t scientific fact, but rather hardened assumptions, that have shaped contemporary science as we know it. Now undergoing a credibility crunch, Rupert Sheldrake’s call is to question these dogmas: and we will all be better for it.

Since the 17th century, the sciences have been based on the assumption that nature is machine-like; mechanical. It is made up of parts that work together mindlessly: the whole is not more than the sum of its parts. In this module, Rupert Sheldrake explores the machine model that science has been and continues to be enraptured with and why, contrasting it against an animist perspective and holistic view, tracing it back to French philosopher Rene Descartes and its entanglements with religion, ultimately arriving at the fact that nature as machine can only be a metaphor, and not the whole truth.

It’s assumed within science that the laws of nature are fixed and changeless: that they’ve been the same since the very beginning of the universe in the Big Bang, and that they’ll remain the same forever, as eternal mathematical laws. But context matters. What is the long intellectual history that lies behind these assumptions? What view of nature did this espouse and impose? Who decided on eternal laws, and what did that explain away? Are these laws actually merely anthropomorphic metaphors, and what are alternative ways of explaining self-organising systems and how they work? Rupert Sheldrake introduces morphic resonance, the idea of habits, rather than laws in nature.

The conventional assumption is that in the Big Bang, all the matter and energy in the universe suddenly appeared from nowhere and that the total amount has remained the same ever since. Modern cosmology supposes that dark matter and dark energy now make up 96% of reality, and dark matter actually emerged as an explanation to the unanswerable question of the expansion of the universe accelerating, rather than decelerating; though no one knows how dark matter really works, nor how regular matter and dark matter interact. Discrepancies relating to energy conservation have been ignored, and it seems there may be new forms of energy. In this module, Rupert Sheldrake explores these open questions and legitimate queries, to question our supposed sureness in matter and energy theories.

“All matter is unconscious: it has no inner life or subjectivity or point of view, and even human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activities of brains.” The “hard problem” of this materialist philosophy, fortunately, can be dissolved with panpsychism, a concept that was new to philosophy and neuroscience, but one that has, in fact, old roots in shamanic, hunter-gatherer societies, religions, and more. In this module, Rupert Sheldrake argues for us to take panpsychism seriously, without stopping at human brains, to ask: is the sun conscious? Is our entire cosmic network conscious?

One of the ten big questions in science, the answer from mechanistic materialism has been a no, since the 17th century. Accordingly, nature has no purpose: anything that happens within it, including evolution, involves no teleology. Processes are random. And yet evidence showing the opposite abound, from the micro level to the belief systems adopted by entire peoples: and still materialists and mechanistic scientists deny purpose, on principle. In this module, Rupert Sheldrake shows how this dogma not only seems to be plainly wrong but also is simply not true.

In this module, Rupert Sheldrake opens up the question of the nature of inheritance, and the degree to which material inherited through genes and epigenetics can explain it. At the heart of contemporary biology is the unchanging principle that inheritance must be material, that there must be a material basis for everything that’s inherited. Yet our ancestors didn’t assume so. The Human Genome Project too, which was to be one of the pinnacles of biology as a science, was a disappointment. Between the missing heritability problem and epigenetics, the chasms have been growing: the seeming certainties provided by Dawkins type Neo Darwinism are just melting away.

The materialist dogma is that matter is the only reality and that matter is unconscious, the whole universe is made of unconscious matter, our brains are made of matter, and, therefore, they ought to be unconscious like everything else. Unfortunately for the materialist theory, we're conscious. In this module, Rupert Sheldrake asks: “Is your mind really all inside your head?” He proposes that everything you’re seeing is in your mind, but not in your brain: a question that unlocks entire new fields and possibilities for research that could revolutionise science.

Nobody knows exactly how memory works. But within the materialist framework, there is no alternative conceivable aside from the fact that memories must be stored through modified nerve endings and phosphorylated proteins, and are wiped out at death. Philosophers have proposed that memory works by a direct connection across time. In this module, Rupert Sheldrake explores the research on memory traces, interrogating the very concept of memory storage, and puts forth morphic resonance as an answer to the memory conundrum.

Whether or not telepathy is impossible or illusory is the best litmus test for dogmatic materialist worldviews. In this module, Rupert Sheldrake provides an overview of the scientific investigation of seemingly unexplained phenomena, and proposes his theory of what is the science behind telepathy within the human, between the human and the more-than-human worlds, promising a paradigm-shift of minds as expanded, extended, and interconnecting us with our environments.

According to the mechanistic materialist orthodoxy—the belief system or worldview we discuss in this series—the body is a machine, or a “lumbering robot” to use Richard Dawkins's phrase. Thus, the body can be treated by medicine, chemically or physically. This ideologically drives the funding of medical research in most parts of the world. Taking us through evidence, historical, scientific, and otherwise, that suggests we need alternatives, Rupert Sheldrake questions the realm of medicine that affects so much of our lives.

Despite the fact that more is spent on science than ever before, the actual rate of innovation in science of true breakthroughs has decreased dramatically. What we have now is largely incremental improvements, overall leading to a crisis of conscience and confidence within the scientific world. In this concluding module, Rupert Sheldrake puts forth alternatives, which are not fringe movements, unknown pathways, or radically new perspectives, but rather ways forward holistically instead, and makes the case for all of us to be optimistic about what science, reinvigorated, has to offer.

Rupert answers common questions related to the preceding modules.

Course information

Contemporary science is based on the claim that all reality is material or physical. There is no reality but material reality. Consciousness is a by-product of the physical activity of the brain. Matter is unconscious. Evolution is purposeless. This view is now undergoing a credibility crunch. The biggest problem of all for materialism is the existence of consciousness.

In this course, Dr Rupert Sheldrake shows the ways in which science is being constricted by assumptions that have, over the years, hardened into limiting dogmas.

According to these principles, all of reality is material or physical; the world is a machine, made up of inanimate matter; nature is purposeless; consciousness is nothing but the physical activity of the brain; free will is an illusion; God exists only as an idea in human minds, imprisoned within our skulls.

These beliefs are powerful not because most scientists think about them critically, but because they do not. The facts of science are real enough, and so are the techniques that scientists use, and so are the technologies based on them. But the belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a 19th-century ideology, or what Terence McKenna called ‘one free miracle’.

Together, these beliefs make up the philosophy or ideology of materialism, whose central assumption is that everything is essentially material or physical, even minds. Many scientists are unaware that materialism is an assumption.

But should science be a belief-system, or a method of enquiry?

In the skeptical spirit of true science, Sheldrake turns the ten fundamental dogmas of materialism into exciting questions, and shows how all of them open up startling new possibilities for discovery.

This course will radically change your view of what is real and what is possible.

Course Includes

13 Modules
14 Sessions
1 Speaker
Curated readings and resources
Community discussion area
Video and audio available


Dr Rupert Sheldrake

Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 85 technical papers and twelve books, including Science and Spiritual Practices. A former Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and philosophy at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow. He was a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and director of studies in cell biology. From 2005-2010 he was director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded by Trinity College, Cambridge, for research on unexplained human and animal abilities. He is currently a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, near San Francisco, and also of Schumacher College, in Devon

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What our students say

Great course by Rupert...a golden offer. I gained further certainty on why and how "science" went off the rails, departing from what the search for truth and knowledge really is or should be; all in an effort to avoid persecution by/from the Church of Rome which caused the search for truth to avoid the PRIMARY truth that had to be made known, that of the Human Spiritual Presence. Instead, "scientism" got stuck in the loop of the material physical universe instead of learning the truth of the "who/what" of its causation.

by Roger Boswarva

Learning Outcomes

  • To understand how the natural world is alive, more like a living organism than a machine.
  • To know how to put key questions to materialist friends or family members. They may refuse to answer them, but if they engage the discussions could be really helpful in expanding their understanding and your own.
  • To recognise that the belief system that underlies modern scientific orthodoxy is just that, a belief system, sustained by ten dogmas, none of which hold up to sceptical scrutiny.
  • To understand that memory is inherent in nature. The laws of nature may be more like habits than fixed eternal ordinances.
  • To see that memories may not be stored inside brains. Instead brains may tune into them.
  • To see that the total amount of matter and energy may not be fixed.
  • To understand that genes explain only part of biological inheritance. Some inheritance depends on epigenetic modifications of the genes, giving an inheritance of acquired characteristics, and some may depend on collective memory.
  • To recognise that your mind is more extensive than your brain and stretches out into the world in every act of perception.
  • To see how phenomena like telepathy may be real and not illusory. Orthodox materialists preserve a taboo on this subject because the existence of psychic phenomena does not fit in with their worldview.