(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
This book offers an easy-to-read introduction to
formative causation and morphogenetics, the topics discussed in
Rupert Sheldrake's A NEW SCIENCE OF LIFE,
and outlines consequences for psychology.
The fundamental claim is that memory is inherent in nature. Natural systems inherit a collective and cumulative memory from all previous systems of their kind, regardless of time and space separation; and natural systems in turn contribute to the growth of this collective and cumulative memory. Habits are inherent in the nature of all organisms because of the memory that organisms inherit from previuos organisms of the same kind. Not only genes are inherited, but also habits, which include development habits such as morphogenesis (the growth of form).
Each natural system has its own morphic field that shapes its behavior. There is a morphic field for pears, whales, crystals, etc. There is a nested hierarchy of fields within fields Morphic fields evolve by natural selection.
Morphic resonance is the process by which the past becomes present and it is the process of transmitting formative-causal information across space and time.
Sheldrake offers a critique of the foundations of modern science, a science that is often in conflict with the experimental findings of pervasive evolution of nature. Physicists do not wonder about the evolutionary origins of atoms and molecules, the way Biologists do with living organisms. They take for granted that reality is eternally constant.
Biological inheritance is about both genes and fields. Fields allow for Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics. Inheritance of acquired characteristics occurs not because of transmission of genes but because of the effects of morphic fields, which are modified by individuals "learning" something and then influence the development of future individuals of the same species
Memory is not stored in the brain but it resonantes with the organism's own past. A collective memory underlies our mental life (Jung's collective unconscious)
Habits acquired by some organisms can facilitate acquiring the same habits by other similar organisms. Learning a skill (including language) is facilitated by all the people who have already learned that skill before.
Sheldrake also examines societies of animals and humans: patterns of organization in societies of animals are inherited but not through genes. Myths, rituals, traditions: morphic fields organize social and cultural patterns. Through morphic resonance, rituals bring the past into the present, connect past individuals with present individuals.
The main problem with Sheldrake, besides the lack of experimental evidence, is that his attacks against "orthodox science" sound odd. He begins the book by stating that Physics wants us to believe in a "static" universe whereas Biology shows us "evolution". But both statements are false: Physics believes in an evolving universe (as in the big-bang model), and Biology believes in evolving life forms. No Physicist in recent memory has claimed that the universe is static, that stars and planets are eternal and never change. Then Sheldrake frames the problem more correctly by accusing "orthodox science" of believing in eternal laws (not in a static universe). That is correct. But he forgets to add that biological evolution too is based on eternal laws. Darwin never said that the laws of evolution change, nor has any modern genetic biologist. Biology believes that there are laws of evolution, including the genetic code, and those are always the same. Their product is evolution. Just like Physical laws are believed to be the same, and their product is an ever-changing universe. So the contrast between Physics and Biology, while popular with many readers, is totally unfounded. But, then, this premise is not really important for the rest of Sheldrake's argument.