In this book the
British philosopher and biochemist
Rupert Sheldrake put forth his
controversial hypothesis of formative causation and morphogenetics.
Sheldrake believes that the physical sciences will not solve the riddle of life because life is due to a holistic property that eludes the physical sciences.
In particular, formative causation solves the problem of morphogenesis.
The foundation of Sheldrake's concept of formative causation is the idea that
there is a memory inherent in nature (an idea borrowed from the
nineteenth century biologist Samuel Butler).
Then memory expresses itself through "morphic fields".
A morphic field is a field (or pattern or order or structure) of form.
Such fields have a kind of built-in memory derived from previous forms of a similar kind.
Morphic fields are an organizing principle of nature.
Sheldrake's morphic fields would explain the problem of the origin of biological form.
Sheldrake believes that each species has its own fields, and within each
organism there are fields within fields. Within each of us there is the field
for the brain and the heart; within are fields for different tissues inside these
organs, and then fields for the cells, and fields for subcelluar structures, and so on.
Such fields organize not only the fields of living organisms, but also the forms of crystals and of molecules. Each kind of molecule has its own kind of morphic field. So does each kind of crystal, each kind of organism, and each kind of instinct of pattern of behavior. These fields are the organizing fields of nature. There are many kinds of them, because there are many kinds of things and patterns in nature.
Morphogenetic fields carry information only (no energy) and are available throughout time and space. They are created by the patterns of physical forms and they help guide the formation of later similar systems.
The development of organisms is regulated by such morphic fields, and so is the organization of behavior. Genes carry only a minuscule part of the biological information in nature. Most of inheritance depends on
the memory which is carried within the organizing fields of an organism.
You his memory is a kind of cumulative memory which is constructed
through a pool of species experience, depending on a process that he
calls "morphic resonance".
Morphic resonance is the process by which the form of a system is influenced by the forms of past similar systems through the morphogenetic field. The morphogenetic field influences the form of a system, and, in turn, the form of the system influences the field and thus any future form of similar systems.
Sheldrake's theory somehow mimicks field theories of Quantum Physics.
His theory would also substantiate Jung's idea of a collective unconscious.
Sheldrake approach is that all of nature may be viewed as a living organism.
In nature, there are two processes at work. One is the principle of habit, based on
morphic fields, through established patterns of activity. The more often they are repeated,
the more probable they become. Nature is essentially "habit-forming", and all aspects of
nature are regulated by the priciple of habit. The "laws of nature" are therefore better described as "habits of nature". The habits of animals and plants give them their habits of growth and
their habits of behavior, or instincts. The other process is expressed by a principle of creativity.
Sheldrake applies the theory to life, behavior, free will behavior, free will.
For example, genes do not carry all the information needed to shape an organism. Genes interact with the morphic fields of previous organisms of the same species
Memories are never completely private. In principle, anybody could tune into our "private" memories and "read" our mind.