The Sense of Being Stared At, and other aspects of the extended mind, by Rupert Sheldrake, Hutchinson, 2003, 384 ff
In this book, author Rupert Sheldrake makes the case for regarding phenomena such as telepathy and premonition as perfectly normal human faculties rather than paranormal or supernatural events. He suggests that minds - and the human mind especially - may extend far beyond the confines of the brain. Sheldrake was formerly a Professor of Biology at the University of Cambridge and is now a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California.
He begins his discussion here by showing how science continually develops with new discoveries and new ideas. He describes what is often called extrasensory perception (ESP) as the seventh sense, maintaining that the ability to detect electromagnetic fields by animals should be called the `sixth sense'. He also regards personal experiences as valid evidence for the existence of these phenomena - after all, readings of ammeters and spectrophotometers have also to be made and recorded by human observations, and the fields of law and medicine rely heavily on personal accounts. Darwin's evidence for the law of evolution came largely from personal anecdotes. Sheldrake has done for `seventh sense' observations what marine biologist Alister Hardy did for spiritual experiences. The mind may be centred in the brain, but it is not confined to it.
So much for the Introduction: in the opening chapters of Part I Sheldrake gives many examples of telepathy, often between family members or, he suggests, between those playing team sports. He reviews some of the early work on psychic experiences by scientists in the 19th century. Of course, telepathic interaction with animals is included in this section. Entomologist William Morton Wheeler suggested a similar explanation for communication within communities of social insects, schools of fish or flocks of birds. This is discussed in a later chapter in this section, though Wheeler's name is not mentioned. This phenomenon leads Sheldrake to conclude that `the psyche is not confined to the body during life'.
In Part II, The Power of Attention, we begin with a chapter on `The Sense of Being Stared At'. While many of the accounts are anecdotal, there are results given also of statistically significant organized surveys, and a refutation of standard arguments against significance that such `feelings' are examples of paranoia, arise from reasons other than visual focus, such as movement in the subject, or are statistically insignificant in comparison with the number of occasions when no such awareness arises. This kind of sensitivity is clearly important for animals for self-preservation, and for humans in wild territory inhabited by predatory animals, and Sheldrake covers these situations in one of the following chapters, including research by himself and others. As with other forms of telepathy, the results are most convincing when subject and starer have some kind of emotional rapport.
An accurate interpretation of the nature of vision has been a challenge to philosophers and physiologists for over 2000 years: Sheldrake reviews the evidence and provides a theory of his own of `the extended mind'. This leads us on to Part III on Remote Viewing and the experiences that some people have of events occurring at a different (past or future) time or in a different place. Part of Sheldrake's evidence for this lies in the senses that many species of animals have of catastrophic natural events, like earthquakes, tsunami or volcanic eruptions, but there are several accounts of human premonitions of disaster too. This leads on to Part IV which explores possible rationally coherent explanations of how the `seventh sense' might work. There are copious Notes, a Bibliography of further reading and a good Index to complete the book.
Howard Jones is the author of Evolution of Consciousness
The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature
The Science Delusion