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Rupert talks spirit, society and science with Mark Vernon, psychotherapist, writer and scholar of ancient philosophy.

  • 42 - Spiritual Evolution 28 min
  • We live in an unprecedented age for spirituality. Spiritual practices that were originally confined to relatively isolated traditions are being used and investigated by numerous individuals and an increasing number of scientists. In this latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what this mass undertaking, from meditation to pilgrimage, might mean for the evolution of spiritual sight. How does science illuminate spiritual practices, what’s new about the practices of today, and what role is played by other features of modern life, like a strong sense of the individual and the ego?

  • 41 – Consciousness in the Age of Machines 28 min
  • It’s clear that our world is profoundly shaped by machines, from motor cars to mobile phones. But what impact do they have upon our awareness? In the latest Sheldrake-Vernon dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss a fascinating new book, In The Shadow of The Machine by Jeremy Naydler. It’s a prehistory of the computer, tracking the way human consciousness evolved in order to conceive of a mechanised world. Sheldrake and Vernon ask what’s been gained and what’s been lost in this process, the ways in which our perception of life and consciousness has been moulded, and how human consciousness might evolve further as the machine metaphor itself "runs out of steam".

  • 40 - Magic 28 min
  • What is magic? How does it relate to psi and animism? Is prayer a kind of magic? In the latest Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogue, the series of conversations previously entitled Science Set Free, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how people have engaged with the spirited economy of the natural world. They ask whether the purposes of magic evolve over time, whether it’s making a comeback in an otherwise secular age, and what its place might be in spiritual life.

  • 39 - The Virtues of Enlightenment 28 min
  • In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the evolution of ethics, from its deep roots in our nature as social animals to its expansive possibilities for our spiritual potential. They ask how the modern period has changed the discussion of morality, why the cultivation of virtues can be considered a spiritual practice, and how nurturing personal qualities and characteristics is integral to awakening and liberation.

  • 38 - The Jordan Peterson Effect 28 min
  • A new generation of celebrity gurus has arrived. The clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, the historian Yuval Noah Harari and the comedian Russell Brand are three prominent examples. They command podcast downloads that run into six figures, their books are at the top of amazon rankings, they stir up controversy. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what their appeal means, what can be made of their various messages, and what this might mean for non-materialist worldviews. Rupert has himself talked with Russell Brand on Under The Skin and he reflects on the experience. Their discussion also ranges over why Jordan Peterson provokes conflict, why Harari’s bleak story of humanity sells, and why Russell Brand is today one of the most visible promoters of spiritual reality.

  • 37 - The Old Testament 32 min
  • The psalmist sings that God knew us before we were born. The book of Joshua says God ordered that everything with breath should be destroyed in the land of Canaan. The writer of Genesis affirms that God said creation was good, very good. But the Pentateuch also insists on an eye for and eye, and that parental sins will be visited on their children for several generations. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the modern meaning of the collection of books Christians call the Old Testament. It includes words of great beauty, on the one hand and on the other, words apparently sanctifying acts of great violence. Can the Old Testament be understood as an account of the evolution of consciousness, or perhaps as a kind of collective unconscious of the Judeo-Christian west? Is it as simple as picking some parts out and dismissing others? What might be made of this seminal collection of texts by those interested in spiritual progress?

  • 36 - How To Be A Vedantic Christian 31 min
  • We live in a plural age. Many are open to more than one religious or wisdom tradition. They want to draw on, say, Christian as well as Buddhist practices. Or they seek to speak of vedantic insights as well as theistic ones. Indeed, they may well intuit that the one will illuminate and ignite the other. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon draw on their experience and reading to explore a variety of religious practices and philosophies. There are pitfalls to avoid. There are questions to ask, not least when religions claim to have exclusive access to truth. But ultimately, there is much in this mix that is enriching and should be embraced.

  • 35 - Science and Spiritual Practices 28 min
  • We live in a time when many people are engaging in spiritual practices without belonging to particular religious traditions. Moreover, scientists have built up a substantial body of research that explores their many and various tangible effects. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, discuss the widespread interest in practices from mediation to pilgrimage, which Rupert investigates in his new book, Science and Spiritual Practice. They ask what the science shows, how such practices can be understood, and where the engagement with spiritual experiences outside of the context of metaphysical convictions might lead.

  • 34 - How to Pray 31 min
  • We live in a secular age, it's said, although research also repeatedly suggests that people still pray. Four out of five Brits believe in the power of prayer, according to some research. Half of Americans pray every day, and nine out of ten have prayed for healing. It seems an entirely natural thing for humans to do. So what are we doing when we pray? In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the ways in which we pray - invocations, petitions, praise, thanksgivings. They explore how meditation fits in with prayer as part of the training in knowing what to ask for, and how prayer can be part of the slow process of aligning oneself with realities outside oneself. Prayer is not going away. It may be a kind of skill. Learning how to pray could be immensely valuable.

  • 33 - Belief in Angels 35 min
  • Recent studies suggest that a third of people in the UK believe in guardian angels, and nearly three quarters of Americans believe in such celestial beings. So what is angel belief a belief in? In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore the modern sense of angelic presences by setting it alongside insights from medieval and ancient accounts of angel domains, which were extensively developed in both Christian and Islamic spiritual traditions. They ask about the ways in which angels might inhabit the physical cosmos and whether angels can be linked to modern insights about the human mind. Angels turn out to be a fascinating subject for conversation. They inspire all sorts of questions from the nature of matter to the truth of intuition.

  • 32 - Original Participation 29 min
  • How do you experience the cosmos? Did people in the past experience such participation differently? Do mystics enjoy a type of participation that eludes most people? In this latest Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the notion of "original participation", a phrase coined by The Inkling Owen Barfield, though also known as participation mystique and the "porous self". They ask what might be made of this form of consciousness, how people try to engage with it today in experiences of ecstasy or by reading fiction, and what can be learnt from what seems to have been a commonplace sense of life for our ancestors, though can feel like fantasy or madness in an alienated age.

  • 31 - Who Was Jesus? 28 min
  • Jesus saves, it is often said. But what does that mean? Is it an objectionable notion, implying a bloodthirsty God? In the latest Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon, explore ways in which the significance of Jesus has been interpreted. They ask whether the incarnation is a more important notion, how evolutionary ideas can help unpack the meaning of Christianity's central figure, and how the resurrection of Jesus can be understood. This historical figure, through the intensity of his life, has become a focus for a wide range of archetypal realities.

  • 30 - Atheist Church 25 min
  • It's widely recognised that popular atheism is changing fast. It's moving into a more constructive phase after the attacks on religion, inspired by scientism, that characterised the first decade of the new millennium. One of the most interesting new movements is the Sunday Assembly, sometimes called the "atheist church" - though the founders are not keen on that title as it suggests they are against rather than for something. It began about 3 years ago and, in that short time, has spawned over 70 congregations around the world, particularly in the UK and US. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss this new development, after Mark made a radio programme for the BBC on the Sunday Assembly. They ask how atheism is changing; how it is embracing dimensions of life such as the ecstatic that have been quite taboo in atheist circles; and what this means for our time.

  • 29 - The Essence of Christianity 29 min
  • Now is a good moment to assess the essence of Christianity, to consider what lies at its heart, as we live in a period during which Christianity isn't disappearing but is routinely rubbing shoulders with other religions and none. In this episode of the Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what values and consciousness Christianity has helped develop - partly in response to a series of films Mark has made with The Idler Academy, entitled A History of Christianity in 11 Short Chapters. They ask about Christianity as an inner spiritual and outer social phenomenon; the role it played at the end of the axial age in valuing the individual person; what happened so that it became a world religion; and what Christianity is becoming today.

  • 28 - Is the Sun Conscious? 26 min
  • When you look into the blue sky on a sunny day do you glimpse a ball of nuclear fire or, as the London poet and mystic, William Blake, reported, the heavenly host singing God's praises? It's an old question, revived today by the notion of panpsychism which suggests that the sun might in some way be considered conscious. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask whether the sun is a psychical as well as physical entity in the solar system, and consider what that might mean for our participation in and connection to the cosmic dimensions of ecological life. Mark draws on Plato's notion that matter is a manifestation of mind, as well as how the sun was honoured in ancient Egypt; and Rupert explores how the sun is regarded in eastern religious practices, to suggest how it might be meaningful to relate to the sun today, as well as enjoy its light and warmth.

  • 27 - The Meaning of Rituals 23 min
  • Human life is full of rituals, from shaking hands to venerating relics. But how do rituals work, how do they convey meaning? In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how rituals connect us with people who have done them before, using Rupert's concept of morphic resonance. Rituals build up the collective memory and, be they religious or secular, are one means by which we can access an aspect of life that lasts over time. The conversation explores how rituals bring the sense of the past into the present, touch us in embodied as well as imaginative ways, and convert spaces into sacred places. They explore examples from the foundational rituals of social groups to the rituals of psychotherapy which can bring back memories of the past.

  • 26 - Secular Buddhism 26 min
  • Until relatively recently, Buddhism was a specialist interest in the west. Now, secular forms of Buddhism, in the shape of mindfulness meditation, are even available on the NHS. One of the leading advocates of secular forms of Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor, is in search of the historical Buddha, arguing that many of the beliefs of traditional Buddhists, such as reincarnation, are unnecessary accretions. In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what is lost when Buddhism is stripped of its devotional and metaphysical elements? Might the historical Buddha be found? And can there really be a materialist form of Buddhism, which is nothing if not a training in that most materially inexplicable feature of existence, consciousness?

  • 25 - Why is There Something Not Nothing? 28 min
  • This ancient question has resurfaced in modern science and atheism. The discovery of the Big Bang as a beginning for the universe in the 20th century was a complete surprise, igniting a debate about what caused everything, space and time, to spring into being. The hint that a cause beyond science is implied has been picked up by prominent atheists who have tried to supply scientific accounts of "nothing" from which the universe - or a multiverse - could emerge. But they don't achieve their goal. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how the ancient discussion of the relationship between something and nothing can profoundly inform the contemporary contemplation.

  • 24 - Cycles of Civilisation 29 min
  • History shows that civilisations rise and fall. So where is the west in this cycle? Can the widespread sense of pending crisis - be it economic, environmental or political - be understood in relation to the ideas of Oswald Spengler, Owen Barfield or David Fleming? And can signs of new vitality, vision and participation be found, as if the crisis may also be the birthpangs of a new spirituality and consciousness? Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon explore how a sense of connection and disconnection, excitement and fear, can be traced back to the thought of Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal. They ask where its possible to discover soul.

  • 23 - Family Constellations 26 min
  • In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how we are not individuals but rather are more like nodes in networks. We are connected across living systems of families, organisations, cultures and spiritual traditions. The discussion focuses particularly on family constellations therapy, a way of examining how blocks and difficulties in life can be related to elements that we have taken on board from others. Rupert examines how this idea of inherited unconscious memory reveals what he has investigated as morphic fields. Mark asks how what is revealed in constellations workshops can be related to insights that can be traced back through psychotherapy to Plato and before. (Details of Mark's next constellations workshop can be found on his website markvernon.com).

  • 22 - On Dreams 26 min
  • In this Science Set Free discussion, Rupert Shedrake and Mark Vernon discuss dreams - discerning dreams, precognitive dreams, telepathic dreams, dreams as accessing the unconscious. They explore how to develop practices of paying attention to dreams, and what they might show - personally and spiritually. And they ask whether taking dreams seriously inspired metaphysics and philosophy, via the tradition of incubation, practiced by figures including Parmenides.

  • 21 - The Unconscious 26 min
  • In 1915, 100 years ago this month, Sigmund Freud published a paper in which he described what he had discovered in his psychoanalytic patients: that there is an aspect of the human psyche of which individuals are typically profoundly unaware, namely the unconscious. His explorations set in motion a broad and fascinating path of investigation that gripped other key 20th century figures such as Carl Jung, and with which we are still engaged today. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss this dynamic aspect of human life and how the unconscious relates to ideas from the soul to morphic fields.

  • 20 - Choral Evensong 23 min
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss choral evensong, a beautiful evening service sung by choirs in hundreds of churches and cathedrals throughout the English-speaking world, not only on Sundays but in some cathedrals, Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and Chapels Royal every day. Admission free. A new website gives all details of services in Britain and Ireland: choralevensong.org

  • 19 - Beyond Physicalism 29 min
  • There is a growing new mood in science. The grip that scientific materialism has had on the scientific imagination is beginning to loosen. This is the philosophy that all things in the natural world can be reduced to the material level. But it seems as if the many everyday experiences that individuals have, in particular being conscious, which can't be accounted for by physicalism are forcing the possibility of considering alternatives. In this dialogue, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon consider what might be happening, how such a shift would make a difference in areas from health to parapsychology, and what might happen next.

  • 18 - What the Greeks Can Teach Us 27 min
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss ancient Greek philosophy in the latest of the Science Set Free podcast series. They explore how the ideas and way of life of the Stoics, Platonists and others can help us today bridge supposed divides between science and spirituality. They also look at how Christianity adopted and developed older perceptions of reality and what this means for modern therapies and insights. The conversation is prompted by the publication of Mark's new book, The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy.

  • 17 - The Atheist Experiment 26 min
  • In his book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, Nick Spencer tells the story of atheism as one of protest and politics, rather than simply as an argument about the existence of God. In this Science Set Free podcast, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon ask what history can tell us about atheism as a way of life, as an account of being human, and what the future of atheism might bring.

  • 16 - The Sound of Silence 26 min
  • Practises of silence are integral to religious and wisdom traditions, so why are they so important? What is silence anyway, and does any science back up the intuitions and experiences? Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon pursue the transformative potential of silence in this Science Set Free podcast.

  • 15 - Anatheism 26 min
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss whether atheism is a phase that many people go through, one widely recognised within spiritual traditions, a transition period in which ideas about God are discarded so that a deeper perception of the divine emerge. They wonder whether the same thing happens at a cultural level and so whether contemporary atheism is itself a phase leading to more vital conceptions of God.

  • 14 - What Happens When We Die 23 min
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss our postmortem experience by thinking about what we know of being alive. Might dreams tell us something about what happens when we die? Is the notion of the subtle body an indicator of life after death? How do the living relate to the dead, and how might the way we live our lives shape our experience after death?

  • 13 - Common Prayer 24 min
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss the value of spiritual practices undertaken with others, or as it is known in the English Christian tradition, the value of common prayer. They explore what is lost when the so-called 'spiritual but not religious' generation assumes spiritual practice is an essentially individual pursuit, and what needs to happen in order for collective traditions to become accessible once more.

  • 12 - The Spirituality of Popular Science 25 min
  • Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss how the communication of science routinely exploits notions of wonder and beauty, and what this might tell us about how science opens onto wider dimensions of reality. Does science fiction similarly suggest that science is grappling with aspects of reality that it can't itself contain? Why is the experience of wonder and, further, the so-called supernatural so popular with the public? What is the hidden metaphysics embedded in popular science, and so perhaps in science itself?

  • 11 - Spiritual Senses 23 min
  • St Thomas Aquinas thought that we have spiritual senses as well as the familiar bodily senses. Are there aspects of human nature that have been lost or suppressed in the modern world? In what ways do people still experience the presence of God? And how can we recognize and cultivate these spiritual abilities?

  • 10 - God and Mindfulness 18 min
  • More than 100 Members of Parliament in the UK have been trained in mindfulness meditation, and such practices are now prescribed within the National Health Service. Traditional spiritual techniques have been secularized, and are promoted for the value in health and mental wellbeing. Do they open people up to experiences of greater spiritual realities, or are the effects all inside the person's body?

  • 9  - Transparent Minds 32 min
  • Anthropologists have found that all over the world people believe that their minds are transparent to gods, saints, ancestors or other spirits. This is also true within the Christian tradition. As Europe became more secular in the 18th and 19th centuries, the idea that minds were transparent was secularised in novels, with the novelist having a view of the inner workings of other people's minds. And now our emails, phone calls and activities are under continuous surveillance, making this ancient belief a technical reality.

  • 8  - What Is Spirituality? 27 min
  • Invoking a presence beyond our self for guidance and inspiration is a fundamental practice of spirituality. The word spirit is derived from its Latin ancestor: spiritus, "breath or wind." To be in-spired means for something to be breathed into you. In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark discuss a variety of spiritual practices.

  • 7  - The Hidden God of Atheism 32 min
  • In the latter half of the 19th century, many intellectuals shifted from believing in a God to a philosophy of materialism. However, within the materialist worldview, aspects of God still remained in the form of transcendent, universal and changeless laws, along with universal energy. In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark shed light on the God hidden within atheism.

  • 6  - What Does Christianity Get Right? 30 min
  • Modern science started in the seventeenth century during the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants. Science was seen by some of its proponents as a "third way" of reaching ultimate truth, and many people today believe that science has superseded religion. But what does Christianity get right? In this dialogue Mark and Rupert explore some of the positive aspects of the Christian tradition.

  • 5  - The Evolution of Consciousness 27 min
  • Bookstores worldwide are stacked with books about mindfulness, spirituality, and transpersonal studies. A new consciousness seems to be evolving. But in various periods in the past, for example in medieval Europe and Tibet, many people were engaged in spiritual practices. How is the abundance of spiritual practice today different? In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark explore this new garden of awareness.

  • 4  - The Spiritual Uses of Science 27 min
  • With the advancements of science, most notably in the realm of quantum physics, scientific concepts are increasingly used to make broader spiritual points and give the discussion more weight. But are writers on spirituality extrapolating far beyond what science can bear? If not, what does science actually contribute to spirituality? In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark discuss the realm where science and spiritual traditions meet.

  • 3  - Is Materialism Inherently Atheistic? 25 min
  • Materialism is the doctrine that claims the ultimate reality is matter, and many people believe that this theory disproves the existence of God. But need a materialist be an atheist, or need an atheist be a materialist? Developments in contemporary science have radically changed our understanding of matter. In this dialogue Mark and Rupert disentangle materialism from atheism, showing that a more sophisticated and contemporary form of materialism could include a spiritual dimension.

  • 2  - Can Materialists Have Free Choice? 18 min
  • According to the materialist philosophy that still dominates the sciences, there is no free will. The human mind is nothing but brain activity, and the brain is a genetically programmed computer. So can materialists have free choice, including the choice to believe in materialism? If they can, it would suggest the mind is more than just brain activity. In this dialogue, Rupert and Mark explore this question and discuss recent research on free will.

  • 1  - Science as Faith 22 min
  • Science is a method of inquiry. It involves free-thinking, hypothesis testing, paying attention to evidence and proceeding in a reasonable fashion. But for many people, science has become a belief system, rather than a method of inquiry. In this dialogue, Mark and Rupert explore the nature of this quasi-religious faith, and discuss how the sciences can be liberated from this dogmatic spell.


Mark Vernon is a British writer, who contributes regularly on the BBC. His web site is www.markvernon.com

Thanks to Seth Yannes for the summaries.