06/08/2007 06:41 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Mind Outside the Body (Part 3)

The first two parts of this post brought some highly skeptical responses, generally from those who claimed to have the authority of science on their side when they disbelieved that the "mind field" actually existed. Skeptics are people who demand that you believe them when they don't believe in anything. Science is an approved method of explaining Nature, but that doesn't mean that science owns nature. If the mind field exists, we are all inside it, and there is validity in personal experiences beyond what happens in a laboratory.

The concept of a field sounds technical, but it has everyday implications. Many pet owners will attest, for example, to the ability of a dog or cat to know what the owner is thinking. A few minutes before going on a walk, their dog gets excited and restless; on the day when a cat is going to be taken to the vet, it disappears and is nowhere to be found. These casual observations led the ingenious British researcher Rupert Sheeldrake, a trained biologist now turned speculative thinker, to conduct a few small studies.

One study was very simple: Sheldrake phoned up 65 vets in the London area and asked them if it was common for cat owners to cancel appointments because their cats had disappeared that day. Sixty-four vets responded that it was very common, and the sixty-fifth had given up making appointments for cats because too many couldn't be located when they were supposed to come in.

Sheldrake decided to perform an experiment using dogs. The fact that a dog gets excited when the time comes for going on a walk means little if the walk is routinely scheduled for the same time every day, or if the dog gets visual cues form its owner that he is preparing to go out. Therefore Sheldrake placed dogs in outbuildings completely isolated form their owners; he then asked the owner, at randomly selected times, to think about walking the dog for five minutes before going to fetch it. In the meantime the dog was constantly videotaped in its isolated location.

Sheldrake found that more than half the dogs ran to the door, wagging their tails, circling restlessly, or otherwise showing anticipation of going for a walk, and they kept up this behavior until their owners appeared. No dog showed anticipatory behavior, however, when their owners were not thinking about taking them for a walk. So far, this suggests something intriguing, that the bond between a pet and its owner could be the result of a subtle connection at the level of thought. Polls show that about 60% of Americans believe they have had a telepathic experience, so this result is not completely startling.

As it happens, some intriguing animal studies about a phenomenon called "mirror neurons" is beginning to make this notion far more plausible.

(To be continued)