Julie's Reviews > Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery

Science Set Free by Rupert Sheldrake
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“For Plato, the allegory of the cave implied a journey beyond the realm of the body and the senses to the realm of immaterial ideas. But its meaning has been hijacked. For materialists, objective reality is not the realm of ideas but mathematicized matter. In the modern version of this allegory, scientists alone can step out of the cave, observe reality as it is, and come back into the cave imparting some of this knowledge to the rest of humanity, confused by rival subjectivities. Only scientists can see reality and truth. The philosopher, and later the scientist, have to free themselves from the tyranny of the social dimension—public life, politics, subjective feelings, popular agitation, in short, from the dark cave—if they want to accede to truth. Back within the cave, the rest of humanity is locked into the realm of multiculturalism, conflict, and politics.”

Years ago, I had a fascinating conversation with my nuclear physicist uncle, who spent his career on fusion (the way the sun works), rather than fission (which is how commercial nuclear power is produced). I asked him how he could consider nuclear power to be “clean” energy, when it produces radioactive waste that we hardly know what to do with—other than bury it in sacred mountains and saddle future generations with the problem. He stated that President Carter had ruined the purity of the science by agreeing via treaty never to reprocess spent fuel. The way it was designed originally, spent fuel could be recycled virtually ad infinitum and fed back into reactors, thereby creating a closed loop. (This is my own layman’s interpretation.) He was well and truly offended that politicians would meddle in things they don’t understand.

I remember thinking (but didn’t say)—well, duh! This is reality. People can make nuclear weapons from spent fuel (including us, by the way). All your perfect theories and calculations can’t change that. I was struck by how this genius could have such a partial view of reality. It may be messy, but politics and nuclear weapons and treaties are a part of the mix, and all the perfect theories in the world won’t change that. Sheldrake’s reminds me that our culture is in the thrall of this bias. We think the best way to negotiate the complex problems of modern life is through the objective disciplines of science. That’s been the promise since the Enlightenment: science will perfect us, and by extension, our world. Well, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Certainly, science has given us a tremendous body of knowledge about the ways of nature, our bodies and minds, disease, other animals and plants, as well as our solar system and distant galaxies. But science alone cannot show us the way. Even some climate scientists observe that climate change is not a purely scientific problem. It is, for one thing, a moral issue, and must be addressed on that level as well.

Objectivity is but one of our gifts as humans. We also have exquisitely tuned emotions, which enliven our intuition and imagination. It seems logical that any problem we tackle is best approached with our full spectrum of engagement. Our problems seem intractable to us and will remain so, as long as we hamper our responses by tethering them only to objectivity. In his book, Sheldrake shows that the scientific disciplines are just as subject to human foibles as any other, and that modern science is hampered by a dogmatic ideology with an artificially narrow view of reality.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 23, 2015 – Finished Reading
July 6, 2017 – Shelved
July 6, 2017 – Shelved as: non-fiction

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