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Rupert Sheldrake

theoretical work, can you briefly define for us the basic intention behind, and the basic elements of, the theory of formative causation?

RUPERT: The theory of formative causation is concerned with how things take up their forms, or patterns, or organization. So it covers the formation of galaxies, atoms, crystals, molecules, plants, animals, cells, societies. It covers all kinds of things that have forms, patterns, structures, or selforganizing properties.

You see, all these things organize themselves. An atom doesn’t have to be put together by some external agency. It organizes itself. A molecule and a crystal are not assembled by human beings bit by bit, they spontaneously crystalize. Animals spontaneously grow. All these things are different from machines, which are artificially put together by human beings.

So, what my theory is concerned with is self-organizing natural systems, and it deals with the cause of form. And the cause of all these forms I take to be organizing fields, form-shaping fields, which I call morphic fields, from the Greek word for form. The original feature of what I’m saying is that the forms of societies, ideas, crystals and molecules depend on the way that previous ones of that kind have been organized. There’s a kind of built-in memory in the morphic fields of each kind of thing. So the regularities of nature I think of as more like habits, than as things governed by eternal mathematical laws that somehow exist outside nature.

RMN: Could you give a specific example of, and describe the morphogenetic process in terms of, the development of a well-established species, like a potato, for example?

RUPERT: Well, the idea is that each species, each member of a species draws on the collective memory of the species, and tunes in to past members of the species, and in turn contributes to the further development of the species. So in the case of a potato, you’d have a whole background resonance from past species of potatoes, most of which grow wild in the Andes. And then in that particular case, because it’s a cultivated plant, there’s been a development of a whole lot of varieties of potatoes, which are cultivated, and as it so happens potatoes are propagated vegetatively, so they’re clones.

So each clone of potatoes, each variety, each member of the clone will resonate with all previous members of the clone, and that resonance is against a background of resonance with other members of the potato species, and then that’s related to related potato species, wild ones that still grow in the Andes. So, there’s a whole kind of background resonance, but what’s most important is the resonance from the most similar ones, which is the past members of that variety. And this is what makes the potatoes of that variety develop the way they do, following the habits of their kind.

Usually these things are ascribed to genes. Most people assume that inheritance depends on chemical genes and DNA, and say there’s no problem, it’s all just programmed in the DNA. What I’m saying is that that view of biological development is inadequate. The DNA is the same in all the cells of the potato, in the shoots, in the roots, in the leaves, and the flowers. The DNA is exactly the same, yet these organs develop differently. So something more than DNA must be giving rise to the form of the potato, and that is what I call the morphic field, the organizing field.

An example of how you’d test the theory would depend on looking at some change in the species that hadn’t happened before, a new phenomenon, and seeing how it spreads through the species. So, for example, if you train rats to learn a new trick in one place, then rats of that breed should learn it more quickly everywhere in the world, just because the first ones have learned it. The more that learn it, the easier it should get.

RMN: What about how the morphic field develops in a new system, like a newly synthesized chemical, or a drug? How would the field evolve around that?

RUPERT: Well, the first time the chemical is crystallized, there won’t be a morphic field for the crystals, because they would not have existed before. As time goes on, it should get easier to crystallize, because of morphic resonance from previous crystals. So, however the first pattern is taken –this is a question of creativity, but assume, for example, it’s random–whenever the first lot of crystals crystallize that way, out of the other possible ways they could have crystallized, then that pattern will be stabilized through morphic resonance, and the more often it happens, the more likely it will be to happen again, through

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