Rupert Sheldrake: Your Mind Is Not Just In Your Brain

While participating in a debate at University Aula in Bergen, Norway in 2023, British biologist Rupert Sheldrake offered a scientific argument debunking the standard argument for the mind being nothing more than brain activity.

In his argument, Sheldrake views the idea that the mind is reducible to brain activity as an unnecessary limitation that localizes all mental activity inside the head.

Fields of Energy

Sheldrake argues that science has advanced its view of how matter and nature are organized, particularly as it pertains to the concept of fields” of energy.

This concept was first introduced by Michael Faraday, who proposed the existence of magnetic and electrical fields of energy.

Albert Einstein also used the concept for his theory of gravity and the gravitational field.

In science, fields are defined as regions of influence that are usually invisible.

The gravitational field of the Earth, for example, is located within the Earth, but it also extends far beyond it as well.

The only reason we’re not all floating around is because of this invisible field that fills every inch of space we occupy at any given moment.

This invisible field keeps the moon in orbit and affects the ocean tide on Earth.

Electromagnetic fields, likewise, extend beyond various objects, and magnetic fields stretch out beyond visible magnets.

We can see the magnetic field, however, when we sprinkle iron filings around the magnet, which reveals magnetic lines of force surrounding the magnet.

The mobile phones we use every day also utilize invisible electrical fields for long distance communication.

At any given moment in time, we’re typically surrounded by invisible fields such as radio, TV and cellular signals. 

The world is literally full of invisible fields that play a role in everything we think, feel and do. 

Sheldrake argues that most of the scientific community that attempts to reduce the mind to neural activity are completely forgetting the immense role that invisible fields play in modern physics.

He suggests that the fields of our mind extend far beyond our brains and bodies and are deeply associated with consciousness itself.

If we are going to solve the hard problem of consciousness, Sheldrake suggests, we will do well to focus not only on processes within the brain, but on the field effects and relationships of the mental field outside the brain as well.

Extramission and the Extended Mind

Sheldrake argues that the easiest way to illustrate the field-like nature of the mind is through the process of vision.

Science has developed a detailed map of the visual processes that occur when we see something, but it does not necessarily explain how the brain is able to create the realistic 3D images we see visually every day.

According to science, for example, when you see a a group of people, that picture is formed within your brain; that is, it is literally formed inside your head.

In other words, when you see a friend or relative, you’re literally seeing that picture of them inside your head, according to the current scientific theory, which Sheldrake refers to as the “one-way” theory of vision. This concept is also known as intramission.

Sheldrake points out, however, that this theory fails to explain what we actually experience while seeing someone.

When we see people, we experience them as being “out there,” not inside our brains.

Sheldrake speaks of an older theory that states that we not only take in light during the visual process, but we also project light outwards.

In this theory, when we see someone, we’re not just seeing them inside our heads; we’re seeing them where they are: in front of us in space.

The ancient Greeks were familiar with the idea of extramission, wherein light is projected outward from the brain, producing the sense of the object we’re looking at as being somewhere in front us rather than simply inside our heads.

Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget showed that children intrinsically believe in this extramission idea, where they believe that they are projecting images outwardly onto the physical world.
Sheldrake refers to this as a very deep-seated way of thinking about vision.
Euclid, for example, used this idea to explain how mirrors work, saying that the mind projects virtual images into and beyond the mirror when viewing objects reflected in the mirror. In other words, the way we see objects reflected in mirrors involves our minds projecting virtual images beyond the mirror.
This explanation for mirrors, which implicitly uses extramission for its description, is still used in classrooms today, yet scientists still insist on intramission as the explanation for human vision.
Sheldrake points out, however, that extramission is quite accepted when it comes to the science of Optics, which is classified as physics rather than biology.
So, in a sense, students are taught two completely different theories of vision.
Gerald Weiner, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, found that most of the children and adults he interviewed believed in physical extramission, where something was sensed as being projected outward from the eyes. Surprisingly, even his students believed this.
So, he assumed that his students were confused about the vision process and therefore decided to educate them on the process. He told them repeatedly that nothing whatsoever is projected from the eyes when we see something.
When he tested them on the subject, they gave the “correct” answer, which rejected extramission as a possibility. But when he spoke with them a few months later, they had all reverted back to their original opinions.
A study at Princeton University showed that people attribute a gentle force to the gaze of others looking at them. fMRI images showed that regions of the brain associated with tracking movement were activated when participants viewed a face looking at an object.
The researchers concluded that when someone looks at a face that is viewing an object, the brain treats that gaze as though it were a real force travelling from the face to the object being viewed.
And the results did not change even for people who did not believe in visual extramission. Sheldrake refers to this tendency as something that is deeply hardwired into the way we see things.
Evolutionary psychology tries to explain this tendency away by calling it nothing more than an illusion, a simple defense mechanism designed to track the gaze of potential threats.
This, interpretation Sheldrake believes, is the result of a dogmatic belief that the mind is squarely located within the brain and is ultimately reducible to brain matter.

The Sense of Being Stared At

Sheldrake believes that this is a testable hypothesis. The aim of the test would be to see if a subject could tell when someone they couldn’t see was staring at them.
If you ask the average person if they’ve ever felt like they were being stared at, many of them will say ‘yes’ because scopaethesia, the scientific term for the sense of being stared at, is quite a common occurrence.
This occurrence is generally directional, meaning that when a person senses that they’re being stared at, they turn to face the exact direction from which the gaze is coming.
After interviewing many people, Sheldrake discovered that this often happens most powerfully in association with strangers who may pose a threat. And after interviewing more than 50 surveillance officers, celebrity photographers and private detectives, Sheldrake found most of them regularly found that people knew when they were being stared at.
Private detectives, for example, are often trained not to stare directly at someone’s back, as it will inevitably tip them off that they’re being followed. Instead, they are trained to look at the subject’s feet.
So, we can see that the sense of being stared is quite common, yet we tend to take it for granted, not understanding the deeper implications of the process.
Certain martial arts also teach students how to tap into this process. One martial artist, for example, wrote about his ninjutsu training in which he was tested to see if he could pick up on the exact moment when his opponent set the intention to kill him. If he did not respond at the precise moment that death was intended by the opponent, he would fail the test.
Sheldrake has conducted several studies on the sense of being stared at, and his results have been replicated in 37 different colleges and universities around the world. He refers to the statistical significance of these studies as “astronomical”.
He recalls another study on the sense of being stared at that was conducted by a science museum in Amsterdam, which took place over the course of 20 years. More than 20,000 people had to guess when they were being stared at. And again, the statistical significance of the results was astronomical. And get this, the most accurate results were recorded in children under the age of nine.
Even more interestingly, this occurs with animals as well. Animals can tell when they’re being stared at, and humans can tell when animals are staring at them as well.
As such, Sheldrake believes that this ability has evolved in the context of predator/prey relationships. For example, a prey animal with this ability would survive better than a prey animal that didn’t have this ability.
All of this has deep implications regarding the mind. If our conscious experience is not simply inside our brains, but also extends outwardly into the world through electromagnetic and subtle energetic fields, this suggests that our minds have an interface with electromagnetism as well as the subtler energetic fields referred to in Vedic and Yogic texts. 
We know that a lot of the activity associated with brains is electromagnetic in nature. But, through the use of other instruments such as gas discharge visualization devices, we know that other, more subtle, energies than electromagnetism also surround the brain and interact with the environment.
When we take into account the extended mind, as Sheldrake suggests, we are much more likely to make progress in understanding not only how our minds are related to our bodies, but also how our consciousness interfaces with the fields through which see and experience the world.

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1 thought on “Rupert Sheldrake: Your Mind Is Not Just In Your Brain”

  1. Hello!

    So…. What could be done to loosen the effect of being stared, gazed at or watched?

    Thx so much,


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