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The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind Hardcover – March 4, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Extending the line of thought propounded in his Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, Sheldrake continues his investigations of perceptions that don't seem to correlate to our known senses. It's a project that carries risks of which he is well aware ("[t]o go against this taboo involves a serious loss of intellectual standing, a relegation to the ranks of the uneducated"), and is careful to base his arguments on sustained research. Using a database of more than 4,500 case histories of "apparently unexplained perceptiveness by people and by nonhuman animals," Sheldrake investigates a wide range of psychic phenomena, organizing his inquiries by specific media. One chapter covers "Telephone Telepathy," whereby one can be thinking of a person who then calls or can "actively induce" someone to call. He also covers cats who rush to the phone when it is their owner on the line, but of particular interest are the studies and anecdotes presenting evidence of other sorts of telepathic or psychic communication between children and parents, as well as the tales of dreams and visions that seem to have predicted the tragic events of September 11. Some of the material fails to convince (such as the woman who says her husband can sense the correct Trivial Pursuit answer if she thinks about it), and some readers may wish that Sheldrake had more fully dealt with selective memory and retrospective narration where details are unconsciously embellished. Nevertheless, the title chapter is extremely convincing, dealing with those moments in which we "know" someone is looking at us, and turn around to find it to be so: Sheldrake has data on response rates that differ as to place, gender and type of gaze (curiosity, sexual desire, anger, etc.), and goes on to devote a whole chapter to "Surveillance and Wariness."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Sheldrake proposes that the mind extends beyond the conventionally recognized parameters; that "detectable effects" of this extended mental field can be measured in several phenomena associated with vision; and that there is a biological and evolutionary basis for telepathy. The author describes experiments that have tested the existence of the mental "morphic field" and briefly but convincingly refutes some of his critics by showing the flaws in their experiments. He outlines several projects that readers can undertake to investigate such questions as e-mail telepathy, silent calls to pets, and, of course, the sense of being stared at. A significant number of pages venture beyond the rigors of experimentation to include an excellent discussion of how various cultures view the "evil eye," many colorful anecdotes drawn from surveys, and occasional leaps of thought that seem to omit necessary connections. Sheldrake's trademark juxtaposition of fantastic subject matter with practical scientific discipline is highly entertaining and should prove irresistible to inquiring minds. For teachers and discussion groups, there are challenges galore for the curious, the credulous, the skeptical, or the anti-intellectual-and some invaluable examples of how science can work to reveal surprising aspects of our world.
Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
I do not agree with his theoretical explanation for the "staring effect." In Sheldrake's view it suggests a mind that literally extends through space. I think there may be other explanations that better fit the data. But I heartily applaud his proposal of such a theory. Great advancements in science always encounter initial hosility and knee-jerk dismissals because they run counter to accepted wisdom. But without scientific mavericks unsettling the dogma of existing theories, science would rapidly congeal into religion. Indeed, for some hyper-rationalists, "scientism" is already such a religion, with its own set of doctrines, saints, and blasphemers.
Sheldrake is a living reminder that by applying conventional scientific methods to unconventional ideas one can sometimes seriously challenge prevailing dogmas. Sheldrake's research and books, including this one, is science at its cutting-edge best.
It strikes me that many people are predisposed to recognise or experience - what Sheldrake is getting at. In common parlance, it used to be called 'sixth sense' - with a kind of tacit understanding that it is more marked, in some people. The title of this book (The Sense of Being Stared At) - was selected because it is a sensation which almost all of us have felt, at some time. For any perceptive person, it is probably a daily occurrence (not to be confounded with paranoia, owing to a sense of shyness). Needless to say, the obvious way to 'test' the theory - is to tackle it in the active, rather than passive sense. Try staring at someone's back on the tube or bus, and see how long it takes before they turn their heads, in the direction of the gaze. Eight times out of ten, it 'works' within 90 seconds. The strange thing, is that it also works, if you focus on a person's image reflected in a train/bus window, the curious thing being that they look in the direction of the gaze, as mediated by the reflection. It is as if they pick up a node of energy.
Of course, the whole point here, is that if minds operates with 'fields' - that there is kind of 'extended mind,' it has all sorts of dimensions, ramifications and implications. It was nice to hear one reviewer saying that Sheldrake's book had changed him, and that he'd decided to be kinder to other people. The 'sense of being stared at' is simply a test case.
Sheldrake has extended his experiments to the animal kingdom, especially the inter-action or rapport between pets and owners. There may be limitations to the 'biological' bases that Sheldrake uses to justify his experiments, not least because the powers or energies he is dealing with seem to be psychic, or psycho-physical, rather than physical. Still, I object to the remarks of certain reviewers, who suggest that there is an element of academic posing in Sheldrake's work. Luckly, I had a chance to meet Sheldrake last year - at the British Library. He struck me as a modest man, unpretentious, genuinely curious about life and its mysteries. He shew videos in the lecture theatre at the B.L., giving ample illustration to his theories -about pets who know when their owners are returning home, even when separated by hundreds of miles.
An Australian friend of mine, who had once endeavoured to educate Aborigines in the ways of the white man, returned from Ayer's Rock, totally changed in outlook, after discovering that the Aborigines invariably knew - days in advance, when someone was coming - and even the day of their arrival, without the use of a telephone or any other visible means. For them, it was a matter of fact that they could discern such things.
During my brief encounter with Sheldrake, I mentioned J.W. Dunne's book - 'An Experiment with Time' - in which Dunne related details of dreams, which concerned future events. It led Dunne to postulate his own theory of the 'extended mind' and minds as fields. Moving out of the fixed 'spatial' boundary i.e. the idea of consciousness as 'in here' - is one step. Moving beyond temporal boundaries - the idea of time as strictly 'linear' - is another.