Morphogenetic fields is a biological term adapted by the English biochemist Rupert Sheldrake to suggest that evolution is a transference of past habits to present ones.¹
Sheldrake says morphogenetic fields have “physical effects” but “are not made of matter.” In contrast to the idea of morphic resonance, which deals with chemical and species behavior over a distance, morphogenetic fields are localized and refer to the development of chemical and biological forms.
When I last wrote this entry, the morphic field was described as a larger family of morphogenetic fields. But today the line seems blurred. Sheldrake himself says that morphic fields are hierarchically nested. So it seems that the two terms are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable. Most likely he is streamlining his terminology to make his ideas more accessible.
Sheldrake has gathered archival and previously ignored “anomalous” scientific data that he believes supports his theories. He says morphogenetic fields may explain Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious but does not consider the possible influence of the future on the present, as Jung would.² Also, his theory does not consider possible spiritual influences from heavenly and hellish realms.
In Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home he adapts mathematician Rene Thom’s notion of the “attractor” and says habits “come only from the past, not from the future.”³
If we look at Aristotle‘s view of causality within the time frame pertaining to evolutionary theory, Aristotle’s thinking is not entirely unlike Sheldrake’s. Aristotle outlines four interrelated causes: material, formal, efficient and final. However, Aristotle includes a “prime mover” which exists outside of space and time. In Wim Kayzer‘s A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle (1993), it’s clear that Sheldrake is not antagonistic to divine ideas. But he doesn’t seem to fully integrate all that theology has to offer within his scientific theories.
Although Sheldrake’s concepts have caught on within some New Age circles, to some paranormal investigators they seem limiting. Conversely, not a few scientists and skeptics, alike, say his theories are too general or paranormal (connoting “unfounded” or perhaps “speculative”).
To his credit, Sheldrake does advocate a scientific approach to parapsychology. But just what type of science is most appropriate to the study of parapsychology remains debatable. After all, science is variously defined. And those who favor and, perhaps, benefit from a given scientific approach usually champion that approach as if it were the gospel truth. And their own human limits probably prohibit them from seeing things differently.4
¹ Rupert Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, New York: Crown, 1999, p. 305.
³ Sheldrake, Dogs That Know, pp. 304, 306.
4 When I was even more of an unknown than now, I wrote Dr. Sheldrake via snailmail with images of some Indian dogs (taken during my M.A. in India). These dogs seemed to know when challenger dogs were going to invade their turf, well beyond the range of sight, scent and sound. Dr. Sheldrake replied cordially, which was surprising given his stature. So I can see why he has a considerable youth following. He seems like a decent person who cares about the advancement of knowledge—and not just a paycheck, like some professors I’ve known.
On the Web
- “Morphic Fields and Morphic Resonance” by Rupert Sheldrake