Maverick Life


Of telepathic dogs and morphic fields

Of telepathic dogs and morphic fields
Image: Kevin Quezada / Unsplash

Proof of telepathy would have such a massive impact on science that it’s avoided and is not the sort of career path any serious scientist would be advised to pursue. But for Dr Rupert Sheldrake the evidence kept stacking up until he couldn’t ignore it.

Rupert Sheldrake grew up with animals: dogs, rabbits, hamsters, pigeons, a jackdaw, a terrapin, several goldfish and caterpillars. He got interested in how pigeons found their way home.

That led him to an undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Cambridge University and eventually a PhD. But what he was taught worried him.

“The dominant orthodoxy treated animals as inanimate, soulless. The first step we took when studying them was to kill them or cut them up. We decapitated living rats. I heard nothing about how pigeons homed.”

His love of animals had led him to biology, but something had gone wrong and the worry wouldn’t go away. He studied philosophy and history at Harvard University, was appointed Director of Studies in Biochemistry at Cambridge, a Research Fellow with the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the Zoological Society.

But the itch became a scratch. There was more to animals than soulless automata. He started watching his pets more closely.

“Our pets are the animals we know best. I knew this as a child. I realised that our pets have much to teach us. They’re not just cute, cuddly, comforting and fun.”

Sheldrake set about finding more about animal communication in solid scientific fashion. He documented more than 4,500 case histories from pet owners, dog trainers, rescue and police dog handlers, shepherds, zookeepers and pet shop owners on unusual communication behaviour of their animals. Was there something they couldn’t explain in a rational way?

He was flooded with replies: Dogs and cats that found their way home from, sometimes, hundreds of kilometres away. Pets that knew their owners were coming home the moment the owner thought to do so. Parrots that picked up their owners’ thoughts and said what they were thinking. Lab tests that discovered that in a majority of cases, people knew when they were being stared at from behind.

Sheldrake realised that the mechanistic theory of species communication was too narrow. Colleagues – though they agreed with him – were reluctant to say so in public for fear of professional ridicule.

He collated data on a range of domesticated animals as well as pets. Non-standard connections were clearly taking place between animals, between owners and pets and between animals and places they considered important.

The mechanism was inexplicable but the connections were undoubtedly taking place. Although there was a scientific taboo against its exploration, the only possible description was telepathy.

If telepathy existed, it would have to be some type of energy field, he reasoned, a pull between objects like gravity or maybe a rubber band that could stretch but stay connected. He called it morphic resonance and it pointed toward a new, larger model of reality, a new paradigm.

“Morphic fields,” he wrote, “link animals to the objects of their attention. Through these perceptual fields, animals can influence what they are looking at or thinking about.”

These links underlie the sense of direction that enables animals and people to find each other. Being animals, he says, we’ve not lost the ability, though it’s much diluted. Children, however, are more aware than adults and women than men.

In 1999, Sheldrake published a book on his findings – Dogs that know when their owners are coming home – and braced himself for professional ridicule. It wasn’t short in coming, but none of his critics had the wealth of research to actually counter his findings. They could only object to him daring to buck scientific orthodoxy.

He was understanding: “These are areas of investigation that most scientists have ignored for generations. There’s a taboo against them because they do not fit into the mechanistic theory of nature on which science has been based for 400 years.

“Some people are afraid that taking these phenomena seriously will encourage superstition and undermine the hard-won advances of civilisation. This fear motivates many members of sceptical organisations, whose mission is to debunk the paranormal in the name of science and reason.”

He was challenged to prove telepathy on film, so he arranged an experiment. 

A dog named Jaytee, who belonged to Pamela Smart, was observed by members of her family to anticipate her arrival by half an hour or more. He seemed to know when Pamela was on her way, even when no one else knew and even when she returned unexpectedly.

With an Austrian TV station crew using two cameras, they filmed Jaytee continuously with one, while the other followed Pamela. Several hours after she’d set out into the city and at a time known only to the camera crew, they told her to go home by taxi.

Jaytee: A dog who knew when his owner was coming home from Gallivant Film on Vimeo.

At that precise moment, shown on the videotape timer, Jaytee pricked up her ears, walked to the bay window as she always did before Pamela’s return, and remained there watching the road for nearly half an hour before Pamela’s return.

“There seems no possible way in which Jaytee could have known by normal sensory means at what instant Pamela was setting off to come home,” wrote Sheldrake. “Nor could it have been routine, since the time was chosen at random and was at a time of day when Pamela would not normally have returned. This experiment highlights the importance of Pamela’s intentions. Jaytee was responding telepathically.

Jaytee and Pamela Smart. Image:

“This suggests that the invisible cord connecting dog to owner is elastic: it can stretch. It connects dog and owner together when they are physically close to each other and it continues to attach dog to owner even when they are hundreds of miles apart.

“These reactions cannot be explained in terms of hearing or smelling the returning person. Most cannot be accounted for in terms of routine, either.”

The commonest way in which dogs respond to their owners’ intentions, he found, is through their enthusiasm for walks. Dogs seem to pick up the intention to go for a walk, even when their owner isn’t giving any visible or audible sign.

The celebrated British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse offered these instructions to owners before training sessions:

“You should always bear in mind that the dog picks up your thoughts by an acute telepathic sense, and it is useless to be thinking one thing and saying another. You cannot fool a dog.

“A dog’s mind is so quick at picking up thoughts that, as you think them, they enter the dog’s mind simultaneously.”

It’s not just dogs. Sheldrake recorded 27 other species that anticipate the return of people they have bonded with. These include parrots, chickens, geese, sheep, horses, cows, guinea pigs, ferrets and owl monkeys.

Other scientists are coming round to his way of thinking. James Serpell, who pioneered the study of human-dog relationships at Cambridge University, noted that “the average dog behaves as if literally ‘attached’ to its owner by an invisible cord. Given the opportunity, it will follow him everywhere, sit or lie down beside him, and exhibit clear signs of distress if the owner goes out and leaves it behind, or shuts it out of the room unexpectedly.”

For Sheldrake, the link between pets and owners is just the tip of the iceberg of morphic resonance. It can be used to explain flocks of birds which fly in brilliant synchrony, shoals of fish that move as one and even a human chorus line moving together as part of a wave passing through the group.

“The speed at which the wave passes is far faster than the reaction time of an individual. They’re part of a superorganism.”

Image: Mandy Henry / Unsplash

He also uses morphic resonance to explain migrations, where swallows can cross half the planet but return to the same nest. Young cuckoos don’t know their parents – older cuckoos leave Europe for Africa about four weeks before the younger generation is ready to go – but find their way unerringly to ancestral feeding grounds in Africa.

Monarch butterflies migrate from the Great Lakes area of the US and overwinter in Mexico, but are back at the Great Lakes three generations later.

Countless experiments on homing have been carried out with pigeons. After more than a century of dedicated but frustrating research, no one knows how they do it. 

There are no scientific explanations for these amazing feats of nature, so the notion that they are connected to each other and to places by telepathic linkages is the only theory on the table. How it works Sheldrake is happy to say he doesn’t know, but that it happens is on an increasingly solid foundation.

He cites other odd things that science simply cannot explain within a materialist frame of reference in which some odd form of communication clearly takes place. For example, when a new compound is created, it can often be very difficult to make it crystallise and can take years. But if a group in, say, Cambridge manages to do it, a group in Melbourne will often do it the next week. The effect is well documented.

Read in Daily Maverick: From odour to action – how smells are processed in the brain and influence behaviour

“Sceptics purport to explain this away on the basis that somehow the new crystal must have been carried to the other laboratory (the ‘chemist’s beard hypothesis’), where it acted as a template for the crystallisation. But usually no such connection can be demonstrated.”

There is good reason for evolution to have favoured telepathy, says Sheldrake. It occurs between closely related animals that are part of the same social group and are bonded to each other. It has to do with emotions, needs and intentions.

Feelings communicated telepathically could include fear, alarm, excitement, access to food, calls for help, calls to go to a particular place, anticipation of arrivals or departures and distress and dying. It would have been an important survival technique.

“In the case of domesticated animals, these same principles apply to telepathic communication between people and animals that are bonded. Telepathy is not specifically human,” he insists. “These same principles apply to animals. It’s a natural faculty, part of our shared nature.”

In reply to critics, Sheldrake is entirely reasonable: “My research has led me into a series of intense controversies,” he admits, “but science is not a dogmatic belief system, it’s a method of inquiry. Only by investigating what we do not understand can we learn more.

“Materialists believe that the mind is nothing but the activity of the brain and that all mental activity is confined to the inside of the head. But the mind seems capable of reaching out to influence its focus of attention.”

So, next time you think about walking your dog, watch his or her reaction. You may discover you’re both telepathic and never knew it. DM/ML

For more, go to Rupert Sheldrake’s website.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Its a delightful twist in the tale that the modern science of quantum mechanics offers explanation to the phenomenon that were previously considered hocus pocus by the Newtonian mechanics positivitism.

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