Making Sense of a Sixth Sense: When the World of Why Becomes the World of Woo

As young children engage in their surroundings and attempt to make sense of the world, one of the first words they utter is ‘why?’ The insatiable desire of children to know ‘why’ is a spontaneous and normal reaction to the introduction of new stimuli.   And as long as the tried and true material view of the world can answer that ‘why’ then all is well. But when questions begin to touch on religion, consciousness and cosmology then “the world of why” often becomes “the world of woo”—an area that takes many out of their comfort zone.


My experience with children has shown me that they are much more receptive to the world of woo than adults. They are more in touch with their feelings, often more connected to their gut instincts. Why is this? Neuroscience is beginning to understand that there are two mechanisms by which we process information. The first, controlled by the right brain, is instinctive and prehistoric in origin. Its seat is the reptilian and limbic parts of our brain and it functions on a subconscious level, expressing itself in the gut. The second mechanism is controlled by our left brain and resides in a newer area (aptly termed the neo-cortex). It operates in the realm of conscious thought and is slower and more analytical. According to researchers intuition is part of the first mechanism and that explains why it comes on so rapidly and often makes no rational sense. So why should we trust our gut instinct? Because researchers have found that it knows the right answer long before the left brain.


It’s quite likely that phenomena like telepathy and paranormal events are somehow connected to the first mechanism by which we process information. And as such there are some who believe that those phenomena deserve to be taken more seriously by the scientific establishment.  Biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, is one of them. Recognizing the existence of major, unsolved problems in the areas of science, he proposes testable hypotheses aimed at expanding the frontiers of scientific enquiry.  With this in mind, he has written a number of popular books including Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (1999), The Sense of Being Stared At (2003), Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (1994). His most recent book, Science Set Free (2013), calls on modern science to shed its restrictive materialism and reductionism in favor of a more open-minded approach. Moreover, Rupert believes that science should not belong to an exclusive group of academically formed specialists, but that it can be practiced by everyone, including children and young people.


I met Rupert after one of my own forays into the world of woo, trying my own experiment based on the work of Neville Goddard in his book Awakened Imagination. Neville instructs that in order to achieve your goals you need to “put yourself in the wish fulfilled.” My wish was to write a middle grade novel with Rupert Sheldrake and I followed Neville’s instructions for six weeks, after which I proposed the project to Sheldrake. I had been deeply impressed by his work on morphic resonance as well as his experiments with animals. And I admired his attempts to include young people in his research, inviting them to participate in experiments on his website. Like Sheldrake, I am a firm believer that children can benefit enormously from engaging in the natural world whether through science or simple observation.


Of course I was thrilled when Rupert agreed to collaborate with me on a project, but I was no less impressed by Neville’s guidance which, although clothed in the guise of scientific method, seemed to belong more to the realm of “woo.”


BOYS’ BEST FRIEND (pub date July 15, 2015) is a hybrid—a combination of fiction and non-fiction–based on Rupert’s work with dogs who know when their owners are coming home. While presenting Rupert’s experiments in the context of scientific method, the story also documents how scientific inquiry is as much about self-discovery as objective thought.


Sheldrake’s books have been nominated for burning. But rather than burn them, I’d like to suggest a bonfire where we can sit around and talk about them. And while we are at it let’s invite the shamans, native Americans and others who were well-versed in communication with animals once upon a time when we were more connected to our natural world. Being connected to others and to the natural world, whether through relationships, telepathy, or emotional resonance, means being connected to self. So there is much more at stake here for our children than just scientific investigation.