Morphic Fields and Morphic Resonance
I propose that memory is inherent in nature. Most of the so-called laws of nature are more like habits.
Morphic Fields in Biology
Over the course of fifteen years of research on plant development, I came to the conclusion that for understanding the development of plants, their morphogenesis, genes and gene products are not enough. Morphogenesis also depends on organizing fields. The same arguments apply to the development of animals.
All cells come from other cells, and all cells inherit fields of organization. Genes are part of this organization. They play an essential role. But they do not explain the organization itself. Why not?
Thanks to molecular biology, we know what genes do. They enable organisms to make particular proteins. Other genes are involved in the control of protein synthesis. Identifiable genes are switched on and particular proteins made at the beginning of new developmental processes. Some of these developmental switch genes, like the Hox genes in fruit flies, worms, fish and mammals, are very similar. In evolutionary terms, they are highly conserved. But switching on genes such as these cannot in itself determine form, otherwise fruit flies would not look different from us.
Many organisms live as free cells, including many yeasts, bacteria and amoebas. Some form complex mineral skeletons, as in diatoms and radiolarians.
Just making the right proteins at the right times cannot explain the complex skeletons of such structures without many other forces coming into play, including the organizing activity of cell membranes and microtubules.
I suggest that morphogenetic fields work by imposing patterns on otherwise random or indeterminate patterns of activity. For example they cause microtubules to crystallize in one part of the cell rather than another, even though the subunits from which they are made are present throughout the cell.
Morphogenetic fields are not fixed forever, but evolve. The fields of Afghan hounds and poodles have become different from those of their common ancestors, wolves. How are these fields inherited? I propose that that they are transmitted from past members of the species through a kind of non-local resonance, called morphic resonance.
The fields organizing the activity of the nervous system are likewise inherited through morphic resonance, conveying a collective, instinctive memory. Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. For example, if rats of a particular breed learn a new trick in Harvard, then rats of that breed should be able to learn the same trick faster all over the world, say in Edinburgh and Melbourne. There is already evidence from laboratory experiments (discussed in A NEW SCIENCE OF LIFE) that this actually happens.
The resonance of a brain with its own past states also helps to explain the memories of individual animals and humans. There is no need for all memories to be stored inside the brain.
Social groups are likewise organized by fields, as in schools of fish and flocks of birds. Human societies have memories that are transmitted through the culture of the group, and are most explicitly communicated through the ritual re-enactment of a founding story or myth, as in the Jewish Passover celebration, the Christian Holy Communion and the American thanksgiving dinner, through which the past become present through a kind of resonance with those who have performed the same rituals before.
Memory of Nature
If we want to stick to the idea of natural laws, we could say that as nature itself evolves, the laws of nature also evolve, just as human laws evolve over time. But then how would natural laws be remembered or enforced? The law metaphor is embarrassingly anthropomorphic. Habits are less human-centered. Many kinds of organisms have habits, but only humans have laws. The habits of nature depend on non-local similarity reinforcement. Through morphic resonance, the patterns of activity in self-organizing systems are influenced by similar patterns in the past, giving each species and each kind of self-organizing system a collective memory.
I believe that the natural selection of habits will play an essential part in any integrated theory of evolution, including not just biological evolution, but also physical, chemical, cosmic, social, mental and cultural evolution.
Habits are subject to natural selection; and the more often they are repeated, the more probable they become, other things being equal. Animals inherit the successful habits of their species as instincts. We inherit bodily, emotional, mental and cultural habits, including the habits of our languages.
of the Mind
The morphic fields of social groups connect together members of the group even when they are many miles apart, and provide channels of communication through which organisms can stay in touch at a distance. They help provide an explanation for telepathy. There is now good evidence that many species of animals are telepathic, and telepathy seems to be a normal means of animal communication, as discussed in my book DOGS THAT KNOW WHEN THEIR OWNERS ARE COMING HOME. Telepathy is normal not paranormal, natural not supernatural, and is also common between people, especially people who know each other well.
In the modern world, the commonest kind of human telepathy occurs in connection with telephone calls. More than 80% of the population say they have thought of someone for no apparent reason, who then called; or that they have known who was calling before picking up the phone in a way that seems telepathic. Controlled experiments on telephone telepathy have given repeatable positive results that are highly significant statistically, as summarized in THE SENSE OF BEING STARED AT. Telepathy also occurs in connection with emails.
The morphic fields of mental activity are not confined to the insides of our heads. They extend far beyond our brain though intention and attention. We are already familiar with the idea of fields extending beyond the material objects in which they are rooted: for example magnetic fields extend beyond the surfaces of magnets; the earths gravitational field extends far beyond the surface of the earth, keeping the moon in its orbit; and the fields of a cell phone stretch out far beyond the phone itself. Likewise the fields of our minds extend far beyond our brains.
Sheldrake (Nottinghamshire, England) is a biologist and author of
more than 75 scientific papers, ten books, has appeared on TV programs
internationally, and has contributed to many magazines and newspapers.
A former Research Fellow of the Royal Society, he studied natural sciences
at Cambridge University, studied philosophy at Harvard University, and
took a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Cambridge University. In India he lived
at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths. He is currently a Fellow of the Institute
of Noetic Sciences, Academic Director and Visiting Professor at the Graduate
Institute in Connecticut. He lives in London with his family.]