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A New Science of Life

The idea of natural laws is embarrassingly anthropomorphic; it's time for a rethink.

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The hypothesis of morphic resonance proposes that memory is inherent in nature. The laws of nature are more like habits. Each species has a collective memory on which all individuals draw and to which they contribute.

My interest in evolutionary habits arose when I was doing research at Cambridge on developmental biology, and was reinforced by reading Charles Darwin, for whom the habits of organisms were of central importance. As Francis Huxley has pointed out, Darwin’s most famous book could more appropriately have been entitled The Origin of Habits.

 

Morphic fields in biology

Over the course of fifteen years of research on plant development, I came to the conclusion that genes are not enough for understanding how plants grow. Morphogenesis, literally meaning the coming-into-being of form, depends on organising fields. The same arguments apply to the development of animals. Since the 1920s many developmental biologists have accepted that biological organisation depends on organising fields, variously called biological fields, or developmental fields, or positional fields, or morphogenetic fields.

Many organisms live as free, individual cells. Some form complex mineral skeletons, as in diatoms and radiolarians, spectacularly pictured in the nineteenth century by Ernst Haeckel. Just switching on the right genes at the right times cannot explain the complex skeletons of such structures without many other forces coming into play, including the organising activity of cell membranes and microtubules.

Morphogenetic fields work by imposing patterns on otherwise random or indeterminate patterns of activity. For example, they cause microtubules to crystallise in one part of the cell rather than another.

Morphogenetic fields are not fixed forever, but evolve. The fields of Afghan hounds and poodles have become very different from those of their common ancestors, wolves. How are these fields inherited? I suggest they are transmitted from past members of the species by morphic resonance, the influence of previous self-organising patterns of activity on subsequent similar patterns of activity. Morphic resonance also underlies the formation of crystals. Each kind of crystal embodies a crystal habit.

The fields organising the activity of the nervous system are also inherited through morphic resonance. Through morphic resonance, animals take up the habits of their species; these are their instincts. Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory. 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 my book 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 memories to be stored inside the brain.

Social groups are likewise organised by fields, as in schools of fish and flocks of birds. Human societies have cultural memories that are reinforced by morphic resonance. Language learning is facilitated by morphic resonance with previous speakers of the language.

 

The memory of nature

From the point of view of morphic resonance, there is no need to suppose that all the laws of nature sprang into being fully formed at the moment of the Big Bang, like a kind of cosmic Napoleonic code, or that they exist in a metaphysical realm beyond time and space.

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. Many kinds of organisms have habits, but only humans have laws.

 

Evolutionary creativity

But evolution depends on more than habits; otherwise nature would be entirely repetitive. New things happen. Long ago, the first stars and galaxies appeared. On this planet the first living cells arose, then plants and animals appeared, eyes arose independently in several different kinds of animals, including vertebrates like us, and cephalopods, like the octopus. Some plants started flowering, and all kinds of flowers evolved from them. Animals invented many new ways of behaving, like spiders spinning webs, or bats flying by echolocation. Among humans, creativity has been expressed in every area, including music, agriculture, gastronomy, language, architecture, physics, computing, games, engineering and religion.

We are now at a new stage of human and Gaian evolution. We too are creatures of habit, and some of our habits must change if we are to survive. We need to do things in new ways. Our creativity, like all other creativity in nature, is subject to natural selection.

Mechanistic, reductionist science is a major cause of the ecological crisis. More of the same cannot possibly make things better. Only by recognising our connections with the rest of nature can we find a vision that can inspire us. We are part of a process of creative evolution in which old habits die hard, but in which new patterns of behaviour can spread much faster than ever before.

 

More from Rupert Sheldrake on IAI TV
Beyond the Machine Metaphor
The Science Delusion

 

     

 

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binra 25 September 2014

I appreciate the 'both and' approach of exploring different facets of points of view.
A truly non mechanistic approach would be one that emanates from/within Consciousness Itself.
An Idea that manifests as Universe and/or indeed Multiverse, is that of experiencing existence in infinite ever new perspectives. relations, and reflections.
The 'process' of such manifestation not really being a process in or over time so much as a focusing within the definition of self-differentiation so as to have a 'point of view' to experience which contains all the time and space within its moment to be experienced fully.
The term Creation is associated with external god fashioning or setting in motion only at a superficial level of spiritual thought. There is nothing external to the process of Creation and that is something science is stumbling upon - but within a framework of thinking that presumes itself to observe Creation (or at least that aspect manifest to be tangibly quantifiable) from a perspective that itself must be included in the totality.
Not that the experience of living AS IF one were a separate agent from Creation (as the extension of Idea through self reflection as experiencing/knowing Itself) is to be denied as part of the totality of the experiencing of all that one is.
Such perspective as I sketch cannot be opened to while identifying exclusively with the thinking of the persona in its self-defined experience of existence through the lens of segregative consciousness. There is only one way to seem to separate or disconnect consciousness from Universal Mind, and that is to project it within a body - or rather the energy thought-field blueprint of a body. The totality of the body form is the Universe that the life-focus beholds, yet the personality structure serves as a kind of spacesuit or indeed a space-time suit through which to create/explore the themes and relational dynamics of any and all aspects of whatever creative freedom moves to focus upon.
Infinite Consciousness (for it has no edge/other/limit) steps itself down in ways that might be seen as hierarchical fields of energy frequencies, whilst not actually leaving its unified wholeness. Thus the wave or field and the particle or particular moment in form BOTH AND.
So the uncovering of fields of communicating and interacting resonances is in a sense beneath the appearance of objects persisting to an awareness of them - that can become conditioned to believe it is one of them.
Descartes asserted that thinking proved HIS existence. Idea and awareness are not in fact separable but are ONE event. It is only a particular kind of dissociative thinking that posits a thinker apart from and to some degree directing and controlling the thought. Science has in some sense de-Souled its sense of existence and posited a godless model of 'self-evolving' systems, yet it doesn't own that the 'self' is identical in its abstraction as is God and Soul. To recognize there is no self but a construct of ideas, definitions emotions and sensations that operates as a device for experience, is to recognize Only Self, or one in all and all in one. Self awareness is in fact self-less until an otherness is defined in relation to a self. Self and other are of one Source as facets of one Creation of infinitely rich reflection.
But in general, the conscious (sic) aspect of humanity is distracted, engaged and identified in dissociative thinking - that is, thoughts of ego-centricity in which the laws of causation are reversed, so that the defined experience of physical or external world, conditions and limits the consciousness that defined it as material and existing of itself as if a thing in 'space' (presumed/defined as no thing). Without recognizing it as an intimate and integral event within the Field of Existence or 'All That Is'.
As we see ourself, so we see all things. As we see conditioned mechanism, so do we as a society become, but the notion of 'playing god' or becoming a power in and of oneself, presumes to control it - whilst actually generating an increasing sense of 'out of control' confusion thereby.

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