In the Presence of the Past
“The regularities of nature I think of as more like habits, than as things governed by eternal mathermatical laws…”
with Rupert Sheldrake
Rupert Sheldrake is best known for his controversial theory of “formative causation ” which implies a non-mechanistic universe, governed by laws which themselves are subject to change. Born in Newark-on-Trent, England, Rupert studied natural sciences at Cambridge and philosophy at Harvard, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow. He took a Ph.D in biochemistry at Cambridge in 1967, and in the same year became a Fellow of Glare College, Cambridge. He was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology there until 1973.
He was a Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society and at Cambridge he studied the development of plants and the aging of cells. From 1974 to 1978, he was Principal Plant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, and he continued to work there as a Consultant Physiologist until 1985.
Rupert is the author of A New Science of Life and The Presence of the Past, in which he presents his theory for explaining the mysterious process of morphogenesis. In 1981 the British science magazine, Nature described A New Science of Life as “the best candidate for burning there has been for many years, ” while the New Scientist called it “an important scientific inquiry into the nature of biological and physical reality. “
In The Rebirth of Nature, Rupert examines the philosophical implications of morphogenesis, and in Trialogues on the Edge of the West, which he wrote with Terence McKenna and Ralph Abraham, he debates and interweaves many ideas concerning the nature of reality.
On September 15, 1989, we met with the Sheldrakes and their young son Merlin at the Esalen institute, where Rupert’s wife, Jill Pearce, was teaching a workshop in the art of overtone chanting. Rupert spoke to us about the subtle processes involved in the evolution of nature through time, painting a simultaneously intricate and simple picture of a dynamic universe where previously unrecognized functions of space-time are constantly at work interacting with every aspect of life on earth.
DJB: Rupert, what was it that originally inspired your interest in biochemistry and morphogenesis?
RUPERT: I did biology because I was interested in animals and plants, and because my father was a biologist. He was a natural historian of the old school, with a microscope room at home and cabinets of slides, and so on. And he taught me a lot about plants, and I learned about animals through keeping pets. I was just very interested in biology. One reason I did biochemistry was because it was one of the very few sciences you could do which was still covering all of biology. Biochemistry covered plants, animals, and microorganisms. That appealed to me. It was a kind of universal biological science. I saw, of course, quite soon, that biochemistry was no way of understanding the forms of animals and plants, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the bridge between embryology, plant development, and what was going on on the biochemical level. And this was the subject of research for some ten years that I did at Cambridge.
DJB: Just so that everyone is familiar with your