A special debate tonight, Friday 20 March, will bring two world-renowned scientists head-to-head. Professor Lewis Wolpert (pictured) and Dr Rupert Sheldrake will debate their differing theories about the nature of life.

From Dr Sheldrake’s controversial explanation of how past activities of organisms can influence organisms in the present, to Professor Wolpert’s more conventional view of how cells are the basis of all life, it will be an engaging debate of the scientific differences between the theories of two eminent scientists.

Dr Sheldrake argues that phenomena become more probable the more often they occur, meaning that individual animals and plants draw upon the collective memory of their species. For example, after lab rats at Harvard learned to escape from a water maze, rats in Australia were able to escape from a similar maze much more quickly. This influence of activities and experiences of past organisms on the present through connections across time and space is known as morphic resonance.

This idea is at odds with the more scientifically conventional views of Professor Wolpert. He sees cells as the basis of all life in the Universe. Our bodies are made up of billions of them, governing everything from movement to memory and imagination. When we age, it is because our cells slow down, when we get ill it is because our cells mutate or stop working.

This debate continues their famous debate from five years ago at the Royal Society for Arts in London and is the final Spotlight on Science lecture at the 2009 Cambridge Science Festival. It takes place at Room 9, Mill Lane Lecture Rooms and starts at 8pm.

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