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Sheldrake's Morphogentic Fields

Source: Rupert Sheldrake's theory of formative causation involving morphogenetic fields

Sheldrake is a biologist, and for many years biologists have found it hard, using only physics and chemistry, to explain the way that living things grow into their normal forms. Most biologists have assumed that these difficulties just reflected the current limits of the science, and that in time an appropriately detailed application of the rules of physics could explain all biology. A minority, however, have held that something beyond physics was needed, some kind of non-physical "blueprint" that they called a morphogenetic field (meaning "giving birth to form").

Sheldrake's brilliant contribution was to take what have been fairly loose ideas about morphogenetic fields and formulate them into a testable theory. Briefly, the theory goes as follows: Morphogenetic fields carry information only (no energy) and are available throughout time and space without any loss of intensity after they have been created. They are created by the patterns of physical forms (including such things as crystals as well as biological systems). They help guide the formation of later similar systems. And finally, a newly forming system "tunes into" a previous system by having within it a "seed" that resonates with a similar seed in the earlier form. Thus, from this perspective, the DNA in the genes of a living system (like an oak tree) does not carry all the information needed to shape that system, but it can act as a "tuning seed" that tunes in the morphogenetic fields of previous systems of the same type.

Morphogenetic fields are thus the repository of what might be described as genetic habits. In addition, these same concepts can be used to explain some of the mysteries about human memory. In effect, our brains are not so much libraries as they are sending and receiving stations that leave a continuous trail of experience imprinted in morphogenetic fields and then "recall" previous experiences by tuning into that trail. If these ideas are correct, then the "storehouse of memory" is not the least bit private since morphogenetic fields are universally available and continue to exist regardless of what happens to their original source. The only thing that makes our mental processes seem private is that we naturally resonate most strongly with our own past mental states. In other words, each of us broadcasts on a unique channel to which, generally, no one else listens. Yet in principle, someone else could tune into "your" memory and thoughts, and indeed, in practice, we do - as the common experience of "reading" another person's mind attests. These ideas can be carried further to consider what happens when many people have a similar thought. The information stored in the morphogenetic field should then be stronger and accessible over "more channels." In that case we would expect it to be easier for new people to also "have" that thought (or skill, insight, or whatever).

One aspect of this would be the creation of what Jung called the collective unconscious. What proof is there that these ideas have any validity? One of the most intriguing involved teaching rats to run a particular maze. Each new generation of rats learned it faster even though there was no direct physical way for any generation to pass its learning on to the next. Since then, a variety of new experiments have been performed.

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