Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Review of Presence of the Past by Rupert Sheldrake

I had a familiarity with Sheldrake's ideas prior to reading Presence of the Past, gained in the main through his and other websites. I'd also read 'Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home' which I have to say I didn't really enjoy. Sheldrake ideas are fascinating but I found 'Dogs' somewhat repetitive and whilst some of the stories are interesting they served to illustrate the constraints of a mechanistic understanding of phenomena rather than to elucidate Sheldrake's theories.The same can be said for 'Presence of the Past', however in terms of the depth of coverage and the explanation of ideas it is far superior.

I find Sheldrake's writing a little variable. For example, his discussion of the philosophy of science is very well written. He clearly explains complex ideas and shows their limitations without being dismissive. The weakness in his writing comes when he discusses his own theories. He seems to tag them on as an afterthought. I found myself wanting him to put a bit more meat on the bones of his theories and to worry a little less about appearing as an observer who seeks evidence one way or the other to confirm or deny his hypothesis. Personally, I'd prefer him to write with belief rather than detachment.

Having not been hugely positive about the book, I must say I do have a great admiration for Sheldrake. This is partly why I've given 4 stars. The main reason for the score though, is that despite its flaws the book does point towards a new way of understanding reality. That's no small thing. I have the Science Delusion sitting on my shelf and will read that shortly, but I expect that to really get tune into Sheldrake's morphic field I'm going to have to read 'A New Science of Life'.

This review is on Amazon here. I should also mention that I read this book on a Kindle which was ok but I'd have preferred the hard cover, and I bought the paperback version as a present for my daughter. She's studying Maths at Uni and I wanted to give her something to challenge philosophy of science perspective that the University will espouse.

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