Rupert Sheldrake maintains that species and organisms can learn, develop and adapt

through a process which he calls morphic resonance. After rats have learned a new

trick in one place, other rats elsewhere seem to be able to learn it more easily. Many

animals and plants show remarkable abilities to regenerate after damage. When the

nests of termites are broken open, they quickly rebuild the damaged structures.

When new chemical compounds are made for the first time they are difficult to

crystallize, but the more often they are made the more readily their crystals form - all

over the world. Why? How?

Rupert Sheldrake's answers provoked a furore when the first edition of A New

Science of Life was published. He infuriated the old guard and was welcomed by the

new. He debated his hypothesis all over the world and addressed Congress in

Washington. Experiments are being carried out to test for the effects of morphic

resonance; some have involved millions of people through the medium of television.

These developments are fully recorded in this second edition of A New Science of Life.


A summary of the hypothesis of formative causation


(i) In addition to the types of energetic causation known to physics,

and in addition to the causation due to the structures of known

physical fields, a further type of causation is responsible for the

forms of all material morphic units (sub-atomic particles, atoms,

molecules, crystals, quasi-crystalline aggregates, organelles, cells,

tissues, organs, organisms). Form, in the sense used here, includes

not only the shape of the outer surface of the morphic unit but also

its internal structure. This causation, called formative causation,

imposes a spatial order on changes brought about by energetic

causation. It is not itself energetic, nor is it reducible to the

causation brought about by known physical fields.


(ii) Formative causation depends on morphogenetic fields, structures

with morphogenetic effects on material systems. Each kind of

morphic unit has its own characteristic morphogenetic field. In the

morphogenesis of a particular morphic unit, one or more of its

characteristic parts - referred to as the morphogenetic germ -

becomes surrounded by, or embedded within, the morphogenetic

field of the entire morphic unit. This field contains the morphic

unit's virtual form, which is actualized as appropriate component

parts come within its range of influence and fit into their appropri-

ate relative positions. The fitting into position of the parts of a

morphic unit is accompanied by a release of energy, usually as

heat, and is thermodynamically spontaneous; from an energetic

point of view, the structures of morphic units appear as minima or

'wells' of potential energy.


(iii) Most inorganic morphogenesis is rapid, but biological morpho-

genesis is relatively slow and passes through a succession of

intermediate stages. A given type of morphogenesis usually follows

a particular developmental pathway; such a canalized pathway of

change is called a chreode. Nevertheless, morphogenesis may also

proceed towards the final form from different morphogenetic

germs and by different pathways, as in the phenomena of regulation

and regeneration. In the cycles of cell growth and cell division and

in the development of the differentiated structures of multicellular

organisms, a succession of morphogenetic processes takes place

under the influence of a succession of morphogenetic fields.


(iv) The characteristic form of a given morphic unit is determined

by the forms of previous similar systems which act upon it across

time and space by a process called morphic resonance. This influence

takes place through the morphogenetic field and depends on the

systems' three-dimensional structures and patterns of vibration.

Morphic resonance is analogous to energetic resonance in its

specificity, but it is not explicable in terms of any known type of

resonance, nor does it involve a transmission of energy.


(v) All similar past systems act upon a subsequent similar system

by morphic resonance. This action is provisionally assumed not to

be attenuated by space or time, and to continue indefinitely;

however, the relative effect of a given system declines as the

number of similar systems contributing to morphic resonance



(vi) The hypothesis of formative causation accounts for the rep-

etition of forms but does not explain how the first example of any

given form originally came into being. This unique event can be

ascribed to chance, or to a creativity inherent in matter, or to a

transcendent creative agency. A decision between these alternatives

can be made only by metaphysical grounds and lies outside the

scope of the hypothesis.


(vii) Morphic resonance from the intermediate stages of previous

similar processes of morphogenesis tends to canalize subsequent

similar morphogenetic processes into the same chreodes.


(viii) Morphic resonance from past systems with a characteristic

polarity can only occur effectively after the morphogenetic germ of

a subsequent system has been suitably polarized. Systems which

are asymmetrical in all three dimensions and exist in right or left

'handed' forms influence subsequent similar systems by morphic

resonance irrespective of handedness.


(ix) Morphogenetic fields are adjustable in absolute size and can

be 'scaled up' or 'scaled down' within limits. Thus previous systems

influence subsequent systems of similar form by morphic resonance

even though their absolute sizes may differ.


(x) Even after adjustment for size, the many previous systems

influencing a subsequent system by morphic resonance are not

identical, but only similar in form. Therefore their forms are not

precisely superimposed within the morphogenetic field. The most

frequent type of previous form makes the greatest contribution by

morphic resonance, the least frequent the least: morphogenetic

fields are not precisely defined but are represented by probability

structures which depend on the statistical distribution of previous

similar forms. The probability distributions of electronic orbitals

described by solutions of the Schroedinger equation are examples

of such probability structures, and are similar in kind to the

probability structures of the morphogenetic fields of morphic units

at higher levels.


(xi) The morphogenetic fields of morphic units influence morpho-

genesis by acting upon the morphogenetic fields of their constituent

parts. Thus the fields of tissues influence those of cells; those of

cells, organelles; those of crystals, molecules; those of molecules,

atoms; and so on. These actions depend on the influence of higher-

level probability structures on lower-level probability structures and

are thus inherently probabilistic.


(xii) Once the final form of a morphic unit is actualized, the

continued action of morphic resonance from similar past forms

stabilizes and maintains it. If the form persists, the morphic

resonance acting upon it will include a contribution from its own

past states. In so far as the system resembles its own past states

more closely than those of other systems, this morphic resonance

will be highly specific, and may be of considerable importance in

maintaining the system's identity.


(xiii) The hypothesis of formative causation is capable of being

tested experimentally.


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