finally come to rest at the bottom of the basin. The bottom of the basin is the attractor, in what mathematicians call the basin of attraction.
The basin is, in fact, their principal metaphor. So the ball rolls down to the bottom. It doesn’t matter where you throw it in, or at what speed you throw it in, or by what route it takes–what this model does is tell you where it’s going to end up. This kind of mathematical modeling is extremely appropriate, I think, to the understanding of biological morphogenesis, or the formation of crystals or molecules, or the formation of galaxies, or the formation of ideas, or human behavior, or the behavior of entire societies. Because all of them seem to have this kind of tendency to move towards attractors, which we think of consciously as goals and purposes. But, throughout the natural world these attractors exist, I think, largely unconsciously. The oak tree is the attractor of the acorn. So the growing oak seedling is drawn towards its formal attractor, its morphic attractor, which is the mature oak tree.
RMN: So, it is like the future in some sense.
RUPERT: It’s like the future pulling, but it’s not the future. It’s a hard concept to grasp, because what we think of as the future pulling is not necessary what will happen in the future. You can cut the acorn down before it ever reaches the oak tree. So, it’s not as if its future as oak tree is pulling it. It’s some kind of potentiality to reach an end state, which is inherent in its nature. The attractor in traditional language is the entelechy, in Aristotle’s language, and in the language of the medieval scholastics. Entelechy is the aspect of the soul, which is the end which draws everything towards it. So all people would have their own entelechy, which would be like their own destiny or purpose. Each organism, like an acorn, would have the entelechy of an oak tree, which means this end state–entelechy means the end which is within it–it has its own end, purpose, or goal. And that’s what draws it. But that end, purpose, or goal is somehow not necessarily in the future. It is in a sense in the future. In another sense it’s not the actual future of that system, although it becomes so.
RMN: Perhaps the most compelling implication of your hypothesis is that nature is not governed by eternally fixed laws but more by habits that are able to evolve as conditions change. In what ways do you think the human experience of reality could be affected as a result of this awareness?
RUPERT: Well, I think first of all the idea of habits developing along with nature gives us a much more evolutionary sense of nature herself. I think that nature-the entire cosmos, the natural world we live in–is in some sense alive, and that it’s more like a developing organism, with developing habits, than like a fixed machine governed by fixed laws, which is the old image of the cosmos, the old world view.
Second, I think the notion of natural habits enables us to see how there’s a kind of presence of the past in the world around us. The past isn’t just something that happens and is gone. It’s something which is continually influencing the present, and is in some sense present in the present.
Thirdly, it gives us a completely different understanding of ourselves, our own memories, our own collective memories, and the influence of our ancestors, and the past of our society. And it also gives an important new insight into the importance of rituals, and forms through which we connect ourselves with the past, forms in which past members of our society become present through ritual activity. I think it also enables us to understand how new patterns of activity can spread far more quickly than would be possible under standard mechanistic theories, or even under standard psychological theories. Because if many people start doing, thinking, or practicing something, it’ll make it easier for others to do the same thing.
RMN: And the way different discoveries are found simultaneously.
RUPERT: Yes. I mean, that’s another aspect. It will also mean things that some people do-will resonate with others, as in independent discoveries, parallel cultural development, etc.
RMN: When you were talking about the individuals’ destinies being ruled by some kind of morphic field of their own. Individuality–does that resonate through their ancestral heritage and their environment?
RUPERT: Well, it was in a quite limited sense that I was using the term. When you’re an embryo there’s a sense in which the destiny of the embryo is to be an adult human being. There’s a sense in which the growth and development of an embryo and a child are