Pros: Many interesting stories about animals
Cons: The author attempts to tie these nice stories into a vague "scientific" theory
I'm sure we've all heard the anecdotal stories about pets who seem to somehow know things. Whether it is a story of a seemingly psychic dog heard from a friend, or The Incredible Journey (the book is better than the movie), most people are familiar with tales of the uncanny abilities of animals. In this book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, the author, Rupert Sheldrake Ph.D, attempts to give a scientific explanation for these stories.
In a nutshell, Dr. Sheldrake theorizes the existence of "morphic fields". These morphic fields are
regions of influence in space-time located in and around the systems they organize.
In other words, morphic fields associate an interrelated group like, say, a pet owner and his pets, into a collective mind of sorts, like the Borg (and who of us cannot visualize their pets saying, "You WILL be assimilated"?). Even when separated, a strand of the morphic field connects the members, even when the members are apart. Thus, the dog, who is more sensitive to these fields than we, the humans, senses our thoughts and intents. Not only does the dog know when we pull up in the driveway (because he heard our car); he knows the very second we decided to leave wherever it is that we were, in order to go home.
The Erick Von Daniken School of Proof
Like many people who write books with seriously questionable hypotheses, Dr. Sheldrake uses what I like to call the "Erich Von Daniken School of Proof". If you have ever read Chariots of the Gods (as an adult), Von Danikens' most popular work, you will know what I mean. On one page, it will say, "Many believe that "x" is true". Two pages later, it will say "Since "x" is, as we have seen, true...". Here similar 'proofs' are used.
He does a study of one dog (who, to be honest, is really an impressive dog), and extrapolates the results to include all dogs. He recounts many stories of pets who mysteriously find their families who have moved hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. He also tells of pets who return to their old homes after moving with their families. He does not recount, unfortunately, the zillions of tales of the many pets whose owners have placed "LOST" ads in the papers, in search of their pets who have become lost in the neighborhood they have lived in all of their lives. When telling apocryphal stories of dogs who know when natural disasters are coming, he discounts the possibility that natural, non-psychic, causes for the dogs behavior might exist. It is widely believed that animals may sense earthquakes. It could be that they simply are better able than we to sense the low level vibrations preceding an earthquake.
I Would Like to Believe This...
...what animal lover wouldn't want to believe that there are invisible bonds literally connecting ones pet to oneself? How flattering to think my dogs are so attuned to me and my thoughts, that even the most casual thought on my part makes my pets leap into action? Waiting wistfully by the window, happily anticipating my return? In the book, Dr. Sheldrake suggests you set up your own home experiments (and tells you how to do so), and send him the results (really, he gives his address and his e-mail). My results showed that my dogs and I have no 'morphic resonance'; indeed, they are not always even attuned to me when I am in the same room as they are, unless I open the cookie jar or actually touch them. They appear to be more morphically attuned to the couch, or even to the iguana, whose every move is carefully monitored by the pack.
Another prime example of "morphic resonance" happens, according to Dr. Sheldrake, when a pets owner dies, or is seriously injured. When I thought back to the very moment when my husband was seriously injured at work, (he lost part of a finger in a very gory fashion), not one of my dogs even stopped snoring for a second. I would have to assume that they are not attuned to my husband any more than they are to myself.
This book was intriguing and thought provoking. I did not, however, feel that the authors theory was the correct one. He attempted in this book to make a scientific case for psychic abilities in animals. While the stories of the pets and owners recounted in this book are interesting, and many cannot be explained by normal means, the author does not, in my opinion, make his case for "morphic fields". There were many "things that make you go hmmmm" presented, but the authors theory was not sufficient to cover them all.
Interestingly, when I looked up this book on Amazon.com, it was listed under Religion & Spirituality. While I would not go that far, I would not list it under Science either. I did enjoy reading it, although in parts it gets bogged down in scientific jargon. I would only recommend this book if it is read with a healthy dose of skepticism. It is an interesting theory. I believe that Dr. Sheldrake does not even begin to prove that it is any more than that.
Other books by the author include The Physics of Angels : Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet (with Matthew Fox) and The Presence of the Past : Morphic Resonance & the Habits of Nature .