The secrets of pigeons

Rupert Sheldrake looks for answers to the inexplicable behaviours of animals — including humans.

Tijn Touber | November 2003 issue
How to pigeons always manage to fly straight home, no matter where they are dropped? How do they find their way back even if they’ve been sedated and taken hundreds of kilometres in a black box? How do they do it when they have been transported in a pen spinning 90 revolutions a minute? Do they smell their way home? No, even when their smell nerve has been severed, they still make it home safely.
Most scientists ignore such questions. But the British biochemist Rupert Scheldrake, educated at Cambridge and Harvard, is fascinated by the inexplicable behaviour of animals. Sheldrake, believes that information – memory – is not stored in the brain. He speaks of a ‘morphogenetic’ field: a web of memory that connects generations of creatures so that the experiences of one are beneficial to all.
The morphogenetic field is an information carrier that living beings can tune in to. Sheldrake implies that pigeons tune into the field because the information about the location of their home is stored there. They are linked to their home and to one another by invisible threads. Animals probably use this field to communicate with each other instantly, as do schools of fish that move in unison.
This morphogenetic field could also explain why the colonies of albatrosses taken from an island in the Pacific Ocean and let go 5,000 kilometres away on the American west coast managed to get home 10 days later. Or take dogs, for example. Countless experiments using video cameras hooked up to timers show that dogs ‘know’ when their owner is coming home. No matter how far in the future that moment is or how arbitrary, the dog points his ears, jumps off the sofa and waits obediently by the front door.
Telepathic communication could also play a role. Sheldrake has demonstrated this in the case of termites. When a termite nest is partially destroyed, the insects immediately get to work repairing the damage. This process appears to follow a pre-determined plan. When a steel plate is placed in the hole preventing the two ‘repair crews’ from having contact with one another, each half still manages to fit seamlessly with the other. It is clear that the queen plays a major role in this process; all activity stops if she is killed. If, however, she is taken from her nest or separated from the workers, their activities will continue uninterrupted.
There is a lovely example of a pigeon that finds its owner, a 12-year-old boy from Summersville, West Virginia. One day the racing pigeon, carrying number 167, flew into the boy’s life and, concerned for the pigeon’s welfare, he adopted the bird as his pet. Some time later the boy was admitted to Myers Memorial Hospital in Philippi, some 170 kilometres from the boy’s home. A week or so later he heard wings flapping outside his hospital room window. It was the pigeon.
There is also an unbelievable story about a man whose finger was amputated. He kept his severed finger in a jar. A few years later the man complained to his doctor about a feeling of extreme cold where his finger had been amputated. The man said the finger was being kept in his mother’s heated basement. The doctor asked the mother to have a look at the jar. It turned out that a window had broken right next to the finger exposing it to cold air from the outside. As soon as the finger was warmed up again, the man’s pain disappeared.
Sheldrake has seen his theory on morphogenetic fields proven many times over in practice, but wasn’t able to formulate a scientific explanation. Now that the Zero Point Field has been (re)discovered, his theory gains a scientific base.
For more information: Rupert Sheldrake: ‘Seven Experiments That Could Change the World’ (Riverhead Books, 1996), ‘Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: A study of the mysterious abilities of animals’ (Crown Publishing, 1999) and ‘The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind’ (Crown Publishing Group, 2003), www.sheldrake.org.

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The secrets of pigeons

Rupert Sheldrake looks for answers to the inexplicable behaviours of animals — including humans.

Tijn Touber | November 2003 issue
How to pigeons always manage to fly straight home, no matter where they are dropped? How do they find their way back even if they’ve been sedated and taken hundreds of kilometres in a black box? How do they do it when they have been transported in a pen spinning 90 revolutions a minute? Do they smell their way home? No, even when their smell nerve has been severed, they still make it home safely.
Most scientists ignore such questions. But the British biochemist Rupert Scheldrake, educated at Cambridge and Harvard, is fascinated by the inexplicable behaviour of animals. Sheldrake, believes that information – memory – is not stored in the brain. He speaks of a ‘morphogenetic’ field: a web of memory that connects generations of creatures so that the experiences of one are beneficial to all.
The morphogenetic field is an information carrier that living beings can tune in to. Sheldrake implies that pigeons tune into the field because the information about the location of their home is stored there. They are linked to their home and to one another by invisible threads. Animals probably use this field to communicate with each other instantly, as do schools of fish that move in unison.
This morphogenetic field could also explain why the colonies of albatrosses taken from an island in the Pacific Ocean and let go 5,000 kilometres away on the American west coast managed to get home 10 days later. Or take dogs, for example. Countless experiments using video cameras hooked up to timers show that dogs ‘know’ when their owner is coming home. No matter how far in the future that moment is or how arbitrary, the dog points his ears, jumps off the sofa and waits obediently by the front door.
Telepathic communication could also play a role. Sheldrake has demonstrated this in the case of termites. When a termite nest is partially destroyed, the insects immediately get to work repairing the damage. This process appears to follow a pre-determined plan. When a steel plate is placed in the hole preventing the two ‘repair crews’ from having contact with one another, each half still manages to fit seamlessly with the other. It is clear that the queen plays a major role in this process; all activity stops if she is killed. If, however, she is taken from her nest or separated from the workers, their activities will continue uninterrupted.
There is a lovely example of a pigeon that finds its owner, a 12-year-old boy from Summersville, West Virginia. One day the racing pigeon, carrying number 167, flew into the boy’s life and, concerned for the pigeon’s welfare, he adopted the bird as his pet. Some time later the boy was admitted to Myers Memorial Hospital in Philippi, some 170 kilometres from the boy’s home. A week or so later he heard wings flapping outside his hospital room window. It was the pigeon.
There is also an unbelievable story about a man whose finger was amputated. He kept his severed finger in a jar. A few years later the man complained to his doctor about a feeling of extreme cold where his finger had been amputated. The man said the finger was being kept in his mother’s heated basement. The doctor asked the mother to have a look at the jar. It turned out that a window had broken right next to the finger exposing it to cold air from the outside. As soon as the finger was warmed up again, the man’s pain disappeared.
Sheldrake has seen his theory on morphogenetic fields proven many times over in practice, but wasn’t able to formulate a scientific explanation. Now that the Zero Point Field has been (re)discovered, his theory gains a scientific base.
For more information: Rupert Sheldrake: ‘Seven Experiments That Could Change the World’ (Riverhead Books, 1996), ‘Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: A study of the mysterious abilities of animals’ (Crown Publishing, 1999) and ‘The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind’ (Crown Publishing Group, 2003), www.sheldrake.org.

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