The Sense of Being Stared At and Other Aspects of the Extended Mind
By Rupert Sheldrake
Arrow Books (2004)
The aim of The Sense of Being Stared At is to offer a plausible scientific hypothesis for a range of so-called “psychic” and “paranormal” phenomena. In his book, biologist Rupert Sheldrake catalogs an extensive compendium of controlled research into a variety of psychic phenomena.
In all, he examines eight of the most widely entertained theories of “psi,”* the technical term for parapsychological or psychic faculties and phenomena. The one he favors is based on concept of “morphogenic fields, ” a biological process which determines how flowers, fruits and various animal species develop from the embryo stage to take up their specific form.
The Theory of Morphogenic Fields
According to microbiological research, the final form of a tissue or organ can’t be satisfactorily explained on the basis of genetics. Genes act by causing the transcription of specific proteins. Yet no genes have been discovered that cause these proteins to organize themselves into specific shapes.
Scientists who subscribe to morphogenic field theory believe the final shape of biological structures is determined by energy fields similar to gravitational or electromagnetic fields. These fields are believed to contain “attractors,” which draw systems under their influence towards specific goals. The most dramatic examples are found in bees and termites in which some force (ie a morphogenic field) affects the collective behavior of hundreds and thousands of individuals to enable them to construct an architecturally perfect beehive or termite mound. It seems likely that similar morphogenic fields influence the behavior of flocks of birds and schools of fish.
Sheldrake also believes there is good evidence that morphogenic fields also influence human perceptions, thoughts and mental processes. The morphogenic fields created by mental activities are called mental fields. Through mental fields, the extended mind reaches out into the environment through attention and intention and connects with other members of an organism’s social group. He believes these mental fields help explain telepathy, the sense of being stared at from behind, clairvoyance* and psychokinesis.**
The mental fields created by intentions into the future may also play some role in premonitions and precognition.
Vision is a Two Way Process
To understand how the extended mind causes various psychic phenomenon, it’s necessary to entertain the possibility that images we perceive with our eyes don’t merely exist inside our brain, as conventional science dictates. Sheldrake, along with a growing number of biologists, believe that these images occur in front of us in three dimensional space, exactly as we perceive them. In other words, vision involves a two-way process, an inward movement of light and an outward projection of images.
This outward projection functions as a morphogenic field. When a person stares at another person from behind, the projection of the starer’s attention means his field of vision extends out to “touch” the person he’s staring at.
Mind Reading Parrots
Most of Sheldrake’s book is devoted to the wealth of controlled studies which have been conducted into paranormal activity. I found the animal studies the most interesting. My favorite involved a parrot with a 750-word vocabulary. When his owner was in a separate room viewing random images, it was clear from his commentary that he was reading her emotional reaction to them.
- When she was looking at flowers: “That’s a pic of flowers.”
- When she was looking at a mobile phone: “Whatcha doing on the phone.”
- When she was looking at two people in skimpy swimming gear. “Look at my pretty naked body.”
- When she was looking at a purple car: “Oh wow, look at the pretty “purple.”
Sheldrake holds the distinction of having his TED talk banned from the TED network, Fortunately his supporters have uploaded the talk to YouTube
*Clairvoyance is the ability to gain present or past information about an object, person, location or physical event through means other than the known senses, as opposed to precognition, which is the ability to see events in the future.
**Psychokinesis is a psychic ability allowing a person to influence a physical system without physical interaction (eg to use “psychic powers” to bend a fork).