The New Scientific Revolution

Rupert Sheldrake, Science Set Free
Waking Times 

Before 2012 slips away it’s worth remembering that this is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s hugely influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which was itself revolutionary, and has sold more than a million copies worldwide.  Almost every time you hear the word ‘paradigm’, Kuhn’s book is in the background.

Kuhn made it clear that science is not simply devoted to the rational pursuit of truth, but is subject to human foibles, ambitions, emotions, and peer-group pressures. A paradigm is a theory of reality, a model of the way in which research can be done, and a consensus within a professional group. At any given time anomalies that do not fit into the paradigm are rejected or ignored, and ‘normal science’ goes on within the agreed framework. But at times of scientific revolution, ‘one conceptual world view is replaced by another’; the framework itself is enlarged to include anomalies that were previously unexplained. Some well-known examples of major paradigm shifts are the Copernican revolution in astronomy, the Darwinian theory of evolution, and the relativity and quantum revolutions in twentieth century physics.

Are further paradigm shifts likely?  If science is to develop further, they are inevitable. And as old certainties break down all around us in the economic, financial and political worlds, in science the long-established materialist paradigm is in crisis.

In physics, there has been a major shift away from the observable towards towards the virtual. Since the beginning of this century, matter and energy as we know them have been demoted to 4 percent of the universe. The rest consists of hypothetical dark matter and dark energy. The nature of 96 percent of physical reality is literally obscure. Meanwhile, the observable physical realm is floating on a vast ocean of energy called the zero-point energy field or the quantum vacuum field, from which virtual particles emerge and disappear, mediating all electromagnetic forces. Your eyes are reading these lines through seething virtual photons as your retinas absorb light, and as nerve impulses move up the optic nerve and patterns of electrical activity arise in your brain, all mediated by corresponding patterns of activity within the vacuum field within and around you.

Even the mass of an obviously physical object like a rock arises from virtual particles in hypothetical fields. In the Standard Model of particle physics, all mass is ultimately explained in terms of the invisible Higgs field, which has a constant strength everywhere. The Higgs boson is supposed to create a cloud of virtual particles in the Higgs field around it, and these virtual particles interact with other quantum particles, giving them mass.

Contemporary theoretical physics is dominated by superstring and M theories, with 10 and 11 dimensions respectively.  These theories are untested and currently untestable. Meanwhile, many cosmologists have adopted the multiverse theory, which asserts that there are trillions of universes besides our own. These are interesting speculations, but they are not old-paradigm materialist science. Reality has dissolved into the physics of the virtual.

In consciousness studies, materialism is being challenged by a new version of animism or ‘panpsychism’, according to which all self-organizing material systems, like electrons, have a mental as well as a physical aspect.  In his recent book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel argues that a shift to panpsychism is necessary for any viable philosophy of nature that does not need to invoke God.

Meanwhile, in biology, despite the confident claim in the late twentieth century that genes and molecular biology would soon explain the nature of life, no one yet knows how plants and animals develop from fertilized eggs. And following the technical triumph of the Human Genome Project, first announced by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in June 2000, there were big surprises. There are far fewer human genes than anticipated, a mere 23,000 instead of 100,000. Sea urchins have about 26,000 and rice plants 38,000. Attempts to predict characteristics such as height have shown that genes account for only about 5 percent of the variation from person to person, instead of the 80 percent expected. Unbounded confidence has given way to the ‘missing heritability problem’. Investors in genomics and biotechnology have lost many billions of dollars. A recent report by the Harvard Business School on the biotechnology industry revealed that “only a tiny fraction of companies had ever made a profit” and showed how promises of breakthroughs have failed over and over again.

Materialist science seemed simple and straightforward. But old-style material reality has now dissolved into multi-dimensional virtual physics; increasing numbers of philosophers and neuroscientists are moving towards panpsychism; and biologists are having to think about ‘systems’ and  ‘emergent properties’ that cannot be reduced to the molecular level.

Kuhn’s insights, and the subsequent developments in science studies, are not merely of historical relevance, looking at revolutions in the past.  Hopefully we can learn from them today. We are in the midst of a new revolution.

– Rupert

About the Author

Dr. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 80 technical papers and ten books. 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 University, and Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. He is the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. His books include A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis Of Formative Causation (J.P. Tarcher, 1981; new edition 2010), The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance And The Habits Of Nature (Times Books, 1988),The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening Of Science And God (Bantam Books, 1991), Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers Of Animals (Crown, 1999) and The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects Of The Extended Mind (Crown Publishers, 2003). He lives in London with his wife, Jill Purce, and two sons. His website is

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  • chip

    Loved Rupert on TED barefoot! A profound statement from one of the great lights.

  • mikael

    Facinating and true, despite the denile from the old regime, and their inability to even come up with arguments, instead leads to drivel and ridicilous strawmans and so on.
    As expected.
    The arguments is strikingly similare to defending a belife system, weird.

    Vacume is not even what it once was, and even this issue about “morphic resounase” baffeled me.

    All in all, whats the progress, in 250 years since a usable combustion engine was invented, nothing have happened since, and pertol of the game. Jett engine, just an bigg pertol culping hairfan. computers and the internett is the only good think comed from the world of “sience” in half a millenium.
    The rest, filled into it is the old doctrines and dogmans converted into bitts, and still everybody belives everything they read.


    The issue is the future, not only humanity but our planet, and everything on it.
    I am a rockhugger, f…. I love my planet, Its the only one I have.
    To see it be raped and ussed to fill the pockets of an elite, is depecable and utterly unnecesery, we all can proffit from Sience, thats the initiale issue.
    Why is it then goverment founded, if not for the benefitt of all.
    Does that scare you.

    To proppell a 10 000 tonn vessel on the sea, we need radical solutions, and thats where the future lies, and I am certain we have it already, its just be hushed down or hidden.


  • Capt Jack Obvious

    Many problems in physics will be rectified from one specific isomer known as Tantalum 180m. This isomer is the Only primordial isomer that exists naturally. Tantalum is a metal that has revolutionized the the electronics world and also the medical world. It comes in two forms: 99.8% forms as the metal Tantalum 181 which is the primary form used; the other is Tantalum 180m which is an isomer, a form of isotope which is unevenly weighted on the proton-neutron count instead of the electron count, which forms 0.12% of the time. There has only been 6 milligrams found of this isomer. Tantalum 180m is an unstable stable element; by this, I mean that it has an observed half life of one quadrillion years. This has thrown a monkey wrench into standard chemical formation theory for the simple fact that this substance forms naturally, and we have ,as yet, not been able to figure out how to make it synthetically.

  • jim

    Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics were invented to account for phenomena that the 0-dim(ensional) or particle model could not explain. We live in a 3-dim physical Universe, yet so called science has treated the electron and proton as 0-dim entities since 1900. When their particle theory fails, which happens often, they invent undetectable, Planck scale Stings, or non observable Dark Energy and Matter, or the absurd Higg’s field.

    There “solutions” involve subtracting pesky infinities, since 0-dim charged entities have infinite self energy, rearranging terms in perturbation series before truncating them, fudging data, etc… . Modern Physics cannot come close to solving energy transitions of any molecule except Hydrogen like conditions where only one outer electron is involved. Most all Quantum phenomena can also be explained through classical Physics, and generally in a far more intuitive manner.

    There is no revolution is science, only a quicker descent into cartoonish nonsense.

  • – “A recent report by the Harvard Business School on the biotechnology industry revealed that “only a tiny fraction of companies had ever made a profit” and showed how promises of breakthroughs have failed over and over again.”

    Yes, it’s the old academic/industrial/elite game, get lots of taxpayer ‘research’ money, keep the good findings secret or sell them to corps for profits or private use.

  • Lawrence Carson

    Awareness … that what that no-thing ZP Field thing is … and begins the entire supply chain within the Time-Space-Energy stage of magic. Get the awareness thing right and all of the rest just shows up.

    Been there … very spacy … many others been thers also way b4 me. Cool … but impossible to get one’s head arround.

  • * What’s really hilarious… is that ‘so-called’ preeminent ‘scientists’ are opening the back of a radio, to ascertain where the announcer is hiding. (lol)…or…Want to see an
    old school physicist squirm?…ask him about the measurement problem!….as his nemesis, elusive ‘Consciousness’ posits the eternal enigmatic question: “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”

    • *PS- Luv the man…Luv the article.

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