by Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D.
December 27, 2013
SHELDRAKE is a biologist and author of more than 80
papers in scientific journals and ten books.
His book The Sense
of Being Stared At, And Other Unexplained Powers of
Human Minds, has just been released in a new edition by
Park Street Press. He was a Fellow of Clare College,
Cambridge and a Research Fellow of the Royal Society.
From 2005-2010 he
was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded
from Trinity College, Cambridge University.
He is a Fellow of
the Institute of Noetic Sciences, near San Francisco,
and a visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in
He lives in London
with his wife, Jill Purce, and their two sons.
His web site is
We have been brought up to believe that our minds are inside our
heads, that mental activity is nothing but brain activity.
Instead, I suggest that our minds extend
far beyond our brains; they stretch out through fields that link us
to our environment and to each other. Mental fields are rooted in
brains, just as magnetic fields around magnets are rooted in the
magnets themselves, or just as the fields of transmission around
mobile phones are rooted in the phones and their internal electrical
As magnetic fields extend around
magnets, and electromagnetic fields around mobile phones, so mental
fields extend around brains. Mental fields help to explain
telepathy, the sense of being stared at and other widespread but 'unexplained'
Above all, mental fields underlie normal
They are an essential part of vision.
Look around you now.
Are the images of what you see inside
your brain? Or are they outside you - just where they seem to be?
According to the conventional theory, there is a one-way process:
light moves in, but nothing is projected out.
The inward movement of light is familiar enough. As you look at this
page, reflected light moves from the page through the
electromagnetic field into your eyes.
The lenses of your eyes focus the light
to form upside-down images on your retinas. This light falling on
your retinal rod and cone cells causes electrical changes within
them, which trigger off patterned changes in the nerves of the
Nerve impulses move up your optic nerves
and into the brain, where they give rise to complex patterns of
electrical and chemical activity. So far, so good. All these
processes can be, and have been, studied in great detail by
neurophysiologists and other experts on vision and brain activity.
But then something very mysterious happens.
You consciously experience what you are
seeing, the page in front of you. You also become conscious of the
printed words and their meanings. From the point of view of the
standard theory, there is no reason why you should be conscious at
all. Brain mechanisms ought to go on just as well without
The standard theory of vision applies to all species of animals with
image-forming eyes. It does not explain why there should be
conscious vision in any animal species, or in people.
There is just unconscious, computer-like
data-processing by the nervous system.
Then comes a further problem. When you see this page, you do not
experience your image of it as being inside your brain, where it is
supposed to be. Instead, you experience its image as being located
about two feet in front of you. The image is outside your body.
For all its physiological sophistication, the standard theory has no
explanation for your most immediate and direct experience. All your
experience is supposed to be inside your brain, not where it seems
The basic idea I am proposing is so simple that it is hard to grasp.
Your image of this page is just where it seems to be, in front of
your eyes, not behind your eyes. It is not inside your brain, but
outside your brain.
Thus vision involves both an inward movement of light, and an
outward projection of images. Through mental fields our minds reach
out to touch what we are looking at. If we look at a mountain ten
miles away, our minds stretch out ten miles.
If we gaze at distant stars our minds
reach out into the heavens, over literally astronomical distances.
The Sense of
Being Stared At
Sometimes when I look at someone from behind, he or she turns and
looks straight at me.
And sometimes I suddenly turn around and
find someone staring at me. Surveys show that more than 90% of
people have had experiences such as these. The sense of being stared
at should not occur if attention is all inside the head. But if it
stretches out and links us to what we are looking at, then our
looking could affect what we look at.
Is just an illusion, or does the sense
of being stared at really exist?
This question can be explored through simple, inexpensive
experiments. People work in pairs. One person, the subject, sits
with his or her back to the other, wearing a blind-fold. The other
person, the looker, sits behind the subject, and in a random series
of trials either looks at the subject's neck, or looks away and
think of something else.
The beginning of each trial is signaled
by a mechanical clicker or bleeper. Each trial lasts about ten
seconds and the subject guesses out loud "looking" or "not looking."
Detailed instructions are given on
More than 100,000 trials have now been carried out, and the results
are overwhelmingly positive and hugely significant statistically,
with odds against chance of quadrillions to one. The sense of being
stared at even works when people are looked at through
Animals are also sensitive to being
looked at by people, and people by animals.
This sensitivity to looks seems
widespread in the animal kingdom and may well have evolved in the
context of predator-prey relationships: an animal that sensed when
an unseen predator was staring would stand a better chance of
surviving than an animal without this sense.
Educated people have been brought up to believe that telepathy does
not exist. Like other so-called
psychic phenomena, it is dismissed as an illusion.
Most people who espouse these opinions, which I used to myself, do
not do so on the basis of a close examination of the evidence. They
do so because there is a taboo against taking telepathy seriously.
This taboo is related to the prevailing
paradigm or model of reality within institutional science, namely
the mind-inside-the-brain theory, according to which telepathy and
other psychic phenomena, which seem to imply mysterious kinds of
‘action at a distance', cannot possibly exist.
This taboo dates back at least as far as the Enlightenment at the
end of the eighteenth century. But this is not the place to examine
its history (which I discuss in
The Sense of Being Stared At).
Rather I want to summarize some recent
experiments, which suggest that telepathy not only exists, but that
it is a normal part of animal communication.
I first became interested in the subject of telepathy some 25 years
ago, and started looking at evidence for telepathy in the animals we
know best, namely pets.
I soon came across numerous stories from
owners of dogs, cats, parrots, horses and other animals that
suggested these animals seemed able to read their minds and
Through public appeals I have built up a large database of such
stories, currently containing more than 4,700 case histories. These
stories fall into several categories. For example, many cat owners
say that their animal seem to sense when they are planning to take
them to the vet, even before they have taken out the carrying basket
or given any apparent clue as to their intention.
Some people say their dogs know when
they are going to be taken for a walk, even when they are in a
different room, out of sight or hearing, and when the person is
merely thinking about taking them for a walk.
Of course, no one finds this behavior
surprising if it happens at a routine time, or if the dogs see the
person getting ready to go out, or hear the word "walk." They think
it is telepathic because it seems to happen in the absence of such
One of the commonest and most testable claims about dogs and cats is
that they know when their owners are coming home, in some cases
anticipating their arrival by ten minutes or more. In random
household surveys in Britain and America, my colleagues and I have
found that approximately 50% of dog owners and 30% of cat owners
believe that their animals anticipate the arrival of a member of the
Through hundreds of videotaped
experiments, my colleagues and I have shown that dogs react to their
owners' intentions to come home even if they are many miles away,
even when they return at randomly-chosen times, and even when they
travel in unfamiliar vehicles such as taxis.
Telepathy seems the only hypothesis that
can account for the facts.
In the course of my research on unexplained powers of animals, I
heard of dozens of dogs and cats that seemed to anticipate telephone
calls from their owners.
For example, when the telephone rings in
the household of a noted professor at the University of California
at Berkeley, his wife knows when her husband is on the other end of
the line because Whiskins, their silver tabby cat, rushes to the
telephone and paws at the receiver.
"Many times he succeeds in taking it
off the hook and makes appreciative miaws that are
clearly audible to my husband at the other end," she says. "If
someone else telephones, Whiskins takes no notice."
The cat responds even when he telephones
home from field trips in Africa or South America.
This lead me to reflect that I myself had had this kind of
experience, in that I had thought of people for no apparent reason
who shortly there afterwards called. I asked my family and friends
if they had ever had this experience, and I soon found the majority
were very familiar with it.
Some said they knew when their mother or
boyfriend or other significant person was calling because the phone
Through extensive surveys, my colleagues and I have found that most
people have had seemingly telepathic experiences with telephone
calls. Indeed this is the commonest kind of apparent telepathy in
the modern world.
Is this all a matter of coincidence, and selective memory, whereby
people only remember when someone they were thinking about rang, and
forget all the times they were wrong? Most skeptics assume that this
is the case, but until recently there had never been any scientific
research on the subject at all.
I have developed a simple experiment to test for telephone
telepathy. Participants receive a call from one of four different
callers at a prearranged time, and they themselves choose the
callers, usually close friends or family members.
For each test, the caller is picked at
random by the experimenter by throwing a dice, or by using a
computerized random-number generator.
The participant has to say who the
caller is before the caller says anything. If people were just
guessing, they would be right about one time in four, or 25% of the
We conducted more than 800 such trials, and the average success rate
is 42%, very significantly above the chance level of 25%, with
astronomical odds against chance.
We also carried out a series of trials in which two of the four
callers were familiar, while the other two were strangers, whose
names the participants knew, but whom they had not met. With
familiar callers, the success rate was 56%, highly significant
statistically. With strangers it was at the chance level, in
agreement with the observation that telepathy typically takes place
between people who share emotional or social bonds.
In addition, we have found that these effects do not fall off with
distance. Some of our participants were from Australia or New
Zealand, and they could identify who was calling just as well as
with people down under as with people only a few miles away.
Telepathic emails and text messages are the latest version of this
phenomenon, and an extensive series of experiments with emails has
given very similar results to the telephone experiments. Positive
and highly significant statistically.
(The details of all this research on
telepathy in people and in pets are published in a series of papers
in peer-reviewed journals, and the full texts are available on my
An automated version of the telephone telepathy test that works on
mobile telephones is now up and running and can be accessed from the
Online Experiments Portal on
Laboratory studies by parapsychologists have already provided
significant statistical evidence for telepathy (well reviewed by
Dean Radin in his book
Conscious Universe, 1997).
But most laboratory research has given
rather weak effects, probably because most participants and
"senders" were strangers to each other, and telepathy normally
depends on social bonds.
The results of telephone telepathy experiments give much stronger
and more repeatable effects because they involve people who know
each other well. I have also found that there are striking
telepathic links between nursing mothers and their babies.
Likewise, the telepathic reactions of
pets to their owners depend on strong social bonds.
I suggest that these bonds are aspects of the fields that link
together members of social groups (which I call
morphic fields) and which act as
channels for the transfer of information between separated members
of the group.
Telepathy literally means "distant
feeling," and typically involves the communication of needs,
intentions and distress.
Sometimes the telepathic reactions are
experienced as feelings, sometimes as visions or the hearing of
voices, and sometimes in dreams. Many people and pets have reacted
when people they are bonded to have had an accident, or are dying,
even if this is happening many miles away.
There is an analogy for this process in quantum physics: if two
particles have been part of the same quantum system and are
separated in space, they retain a mysterious connectedness.
When Einstein first realized this
implication of quantum theory, he thought quantum theory must be
wrong because it implied what he called,
"spooky action at a distance."
Experiments have shown that
quantum theory is right and Einstein wrong.
A change in one separated part of a
system can affect another instantaneously. This phenomenon is known
as quantum non-locality or non-reparability.
Telepathy, like the sense of being stared at, is only paranormal if
we define as "normal" the theory that the mind is confined to the
brain. But if our minds reach out beyond our brains, just as they
seem to, and connect with other minds, just as they seem to, then
phenomena like telepathy and the sense of being stared at seem
They are not spooky and weird, on the
margins of abnormal human psychology, but are part of our
Of course, I am not saying that
the brain is irrelevant to our understanding of the mind.
It is very relevant, and recent advances in brain research have much
to tell us. Our minds are centered in our bodies, and in our brains
However, they are not confined to our
brains, but extend beyond them. This extension occurs through the
fields of the mind, or mental fields, which exist both within and
beyond our brains.
The idea of the extended mind makes better sense of our experience
than the mind-in-the-brain theory. Above all, it liberates us.
We are no longer imprisoned within the
narrow compass of our skulls, our minds separated and isolated from
each other. We are no longer alienated from our bodies, from our
environment and from other people.
We are interconnected...