Press and Pop Culture

Is Rupert Sheldrake a Modern Giordano Bruno?

In the latest Lapham’s Quarterly Peter Foges writes about Rupert Sheldrake in The Magician in the Laboratory. He wonders if Sheldrake might end up being as important for science as Copernicus, Newton, Galileo, or burned at the stake as a heretic. Speaking of Giordano Bruno:

This friar maintained not only that the earth revolved around the sun but that the sun was one of millions of identical stars and that around each were solar systems populated by intelligent life. This was not only “magic thinking” by sixteenth century standards but truly revolutionary. The church couldn’t wait to get rid of this dangerous priest, burning him to a crisp in the middle of Rome. In his sweeping intellectual dissent and reckless arrogance, Sheldrake could be said to be Bruno’s heir.

I’m not entirely sure about the “magic thinking” comment but sort of enjoy thinking about a future in which Sheldrake is a science hero.

2 replies on “Is Rupert Sheldrake a Modern Giordano Bruno?”

Bruno was burned as a heretic on theological matters, not scientific. His heliocentrism played no part in his death. This is a standard piece of mythology that needs to be debunked. According to the Wikipedia entry:

Similarly, the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) asserts that “Bruno was not condemned for his defence of the Copernican system of astronomy, nor for his doctrine of the plurality of inhabited worlds, but for his theological errors, among which were the following: that Christ was not God but merely an unusually skillful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world, that the Devil will be saved, etc.”

So far as I know this is confirmed by historical research, especially by Francis Yates, who was a noted scholar of the period and topic.

You’re correct. Bruno was not burned as a martyr of science or for his Copernican beliefs. He was burned as a heretic.

I didn’t suggest the contrary. Whether Peter Foges suggested the contrary is a different question and not what I wanted to do in this post. I just enjoyed thinking about a possible future in which Sheldrake was a heretic or a science hero.

And yes, Yates did write an influential book on Bruno, some of which is very good and some of which is deeply problematic.