How To Transform Science: Six Potential Breakthroughs

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How To Transform Science: Six Potential Breakthroughs

Dr Rupert Sheldrake, one of the world's most innovative scientists, explores areas ripe for breakthrough in six new talks with live Q&A

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How To Transform Science: Six Potential Breakthroughs

Six professionally recorded new talks, each 35-45 minutes long, ending with a live Q&A session. Released online on Thursdays at two-week intervals, along with free links to relevant chapters from Rupert Sheldrake’s books, as well as technical articles and reviews.

People who join the course after it has started will received recordings of all previous sessions when they register. Recordings of all sessions will remain available until March 1, 2023.


  • October 20: How do birds navigate and pigeons home?
  • November 3 : The nature of phantom limbs: Are they in brains, or where they seem to be?
  • November 17: The reproducibility crisis in the sciences: Can experimenters’ expectations influence their results by psychokinesis?
  • December 1: How can morphic resonance be detected? New tests in physics, biology and psychology.
  • December 15: Cellular rejuvenation and the secret of immortality: How do some cancers acquire eternal youth?
  • December 29: Why do we wake before alarms? And how do some people make millions through day trading?
  • January 14, Saturday, 6.00-7.30 pm London time: Live Q&A, moderated by Ruby Reed

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Rupert Sheldrake’s scientific curiosity is drawn to areas of research where very little is known, but which have the potential for opening up whole new fields of enquiry. Questions that are neglected because they do not fit in with the prevailing orthodoxies are often the most fruitful, because they open hidden doorways into new realms of the sciences. Taken together they can lead us ino a more holistic, interconnected vision of nature. In this series of talks Rupert discusses six open questions that have occupied and preoccupied him for many years, and suggests how they could be answered by new experiments, most of which are inexpensive. Some could be student or citizen science projects, and all could help overcome the ‘innovation deficit’ within scientific institutions, where cultural and funding systems favour incremental advances along familiar lines. The rate of innovation has slowed down in recent decades, despite ever-increasing levels of funding, known to think-tanks as ‘the innovation deficit’. The law of diminishing returns holds institutional science in its thrall. These talks point towards breakthoughs. After the series has ended, Rupert will be happy to discuss possible experiments with individuals or groups interested in doing or funding them. The first of these talks, on bird navigation and homing pigeons, was a keynote lecture at the Orkney International Science Festival on September 5, 2022. The others have never been seen before.

Here are summaries of the main themes in the talks, each of which is 35-45 minutes long.

October 20: How do birds navigate and pigeons home?

Despite more than 100 years of research we still do not understand how migratory animals navigate to their destinations or how pigeons and other animals find their homes from unfamiliar starting places. A racing pigeon can be taken 600 miles to an unfamiliar location, and after release in the morning can reach home the same day. Most hypotheses that tried to explain this phenomenon have been refuted, leaving only the current favourite, a magnetic compass sense. But although a magnetic sense could help animals stay on course, it cannot by itself explain navigation. If you were taken to an unknown place and given a compass, you would know where north was but not where home was; a compass gives no information about east-west coordinates, or longitude. Rupert hypothesises that there is a sense of direction by which animals are attracted towards their destinations through an invisible morphic field, like a stretched elastic band. Although a morphic-field-based sense of direction is not currently recognized in conventional science, this is a testable hypothesis. If they are invisibly linked to their homes, animals should be able to find their homes not only when they are taken away from the homes, as in conventional research, but also with the opposite procedure: instead of moving the animals away from their home, their home is moved away from the animals. Can they find it? Rupert discusses experiments he has already done with mobile pigeon lofts, including the results of an experiment he carried out with the Royal Dutch Navy, in which pigeons returned to their home on a ship sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the footage from this experiment will be shown for the first time.

November 3: The nature of phantom limbs: are they in brains, or where they seem to be?

After the amputation of a limb, most amputees experience a phantom limb in the place where their limb used to be. Subjectively, these phantoms feel real even though they do not behave like normal limbs and can be pushed through solid objects. The standard theory is that these phantoms are produced as illusions inside the brain, but Rupert suggest they may be the subjective experience of the fields of the missing limbs, which are located exactly where they seem to be. If so, the phantoms might interact with the fields of other people, and some types of healers may be particularly sensitive to them. Rupert discusses simple experiments that can reveal whether phantoms really are where they seem to be and remain part of the body-field even though the material limbs are no longer even present. This research has profound implications for our understanding of the relations between minds, body images and bodies.

November 17:The reproducibility crisis in the sciences: can experimenters’ expectations influence their results by psychokinesis?

Around 2015, scientists were shocked to find that most papers in high-prestige peer-reviewed scientific journals are not reproducible. In one study of papers in prestigious biomedical journals, 90% could not be replicated, and in experimental psychology more than 60%. This crisis partly arises from systematic biases that Rupert discusses in his chapter on ‘Illusions of Objectivity’ in The Science Delusion (2012, new edition 2020; in the US this book is called Science Set Free), including the selective observation and reporting of results, and perverse incentives for scientists and journals to publish striking positive findings. All this is relatively straightforward, but Rupert suggests that some experiments may also involve direct mind-over-matter effects. It has long been known that experimenters can influence their experimental results through their expectations, in so-called ‘experimenter expectancy effects’, which is why many clinical trials, psychological and parapsychological experiments are carried out under blind or double-blind conditions. In most other fields of science, experimenter effects are ignored and blind methodologies are rarely employed. Rupert suggests that in addition to the usual sources of bias, experimenters may also influence experiments psychokinetically, through direct mind-over-matter effects. Scientists may be particularly prone to this source of error because most scientists believe psychokinesis is impossible, and hence take no precautions against it. They practise unprotected science. Rupert proposes experiments on experiments to test for the effects of experimenters’ hopes and expectations.

December 1:How can morphic resonance be detected? New tests in physics, biology and behaviour.

According to Rupert’s hypothesis of morphic resonance, the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. The more often a pattern of activity in a self-organising system has happened, the more likely it is to happen again; the force of habit grows stronger through repetition. In this talk he discusses new ways in which the hypothesis can be tested, including with holistic quantum systems like Bose-Einstein condensates, with new materials like high-temperature superconductors, through experiments on cellular adaptation to toxins and heat stress, in experiments on learning in non-human animals, including nematode worms and fruit flies, and with popular online puzzles like Wordle. The implications of these tests, if successful, would be very far reaching, and could lead to new understandings of physical phenomena like the melting points of crystals, which would depend on influences from previous similar crystals, rather than on timeless laws. In biology, morphic resonance from past organisms would play an essential role in heredity, in addition to genes and epigenetic modifications of gene expression. In humans, collective memory would facilitate learning and problem-solving, and morphic resonance would underlie what the psychologist Jung called ‘the collective unconscious’.

December 15:Cellular rejuvenation and the secret of immortality: how do some cancers acquire eternal youth?

Rupert proposed a new hypothesis of cellular rejuvenation in an article in Nature in 1974, and this year published a review article entitled ‘Cellular Senescence, Rejuvenation and Potential Immortality’ in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, summarising results of recent research, which support his hypothesis. In this talk he gives an overview of this hypothesis of cellular rejuvenation and potential immortality, which applies to cells of all kinds, including bacteria and yeasts as well as plants and animals, and he shows how it sheds new light on the nature of stem cells. In mammals, embryonic stem cells have a special property that enables them to divide indefinitely without senescing and Rupert suggests that cancerous transformations involve the hijacking of this embryonic stem cell system. He suggests ways in which this hypothesis could be tested, and shows how it could lead to new approaches in cancer therapy – by blocking the rejuvenative system that cancers have acquired. If this system were inhibited, then cancer cells might senesce like most other somatic cells and become less virulent.

December 29:Why do we wake before alarms? And how do some people make millions through day trading?

Most people have had the experience of waking soon before an alarm clock goes off and some can even wake before a specified time without an alarm. The usual assumption is that this depends on an exquisitely sensitive time sense, but Rupert argues that it may be explained better in terms of presentiment, or ‘feeling the future’, or even in terms of an ‘extended present’. We already know that our sense of the present is not a mathematical instant, but has width, and perhaps it widens over ranges of seconds to include portions of the near future, Presentiment is now a well-established phenomenon in laboratory experiments, carried out at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Cornell University and elsewhere, and may be widely distributed among people and non-human animals. It could play an important part in everyday life, and become especially significant in fast-moving sports like downhill skiing, tennis and ping pong. Some people may make use of this ability in day trading where they make decisions on movements of the markets over very short time periods, sometimes only a few seconds. Rupert discusses how this ability could potentially be trained, enabling airline pilots and racing drivers to be better prepared for potential accidents, and helping some people to get rich quick – as some day traders already have – by using intuitive abilities that cannot be duplicated by computers.

January 14, 2023, 6.00 - 7.30 pm London time:Live Q&A moderated by Ruby Reed(on Zoom).

The recordings of all the talks and the Q&A session will remain available until March 1, 2023.

Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, is a biologist and author of more than ninety technical papers and nine books, including The Science Delusion (called Science Set Free in the US). He studied at Camrbidge and Harvard Universities. As a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University, he was Director of Studies in Cell Biology, and was also a research fellow of the Royal Society. He worked at the University of Malaya on tropical ferns, and in Hyderabad, India, as Principal Plant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). In India, he also lived for two years in the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu. From 2005-2010, he was Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project for the study of unexplained human and animal abilities, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge. He is currently a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California and of Schumacher College in Dartington, England. He lives in London and is married to Jill Purce, with whom he has two sons, Merlin, a mycologist and author of the bestselling book Entangled Life, and Cosmo, a musician. For more details see his website and his YouTube channel.