Morphic field is a term introduced by British biologist Rupert Sheldrake, the major proponent of this concept, through his Hypothesis of Formative Causation in the early 1980s. It is described as consisting of patterns that govern the development of forms, structures and arrangements. Sheldrake's theories have been considered to be nonfactual by most members of the scientific community, received criticism by some due to its inability to be proven by science and have been taken as a possible new line of research by a scant handful.
Morphic field Edit
Sheldrake proposes that there is a field within and around a morphic unit which organizes its characteristic structure and pattern of activity. According to this concept, the morphic field underlies the formation and behavior of holons and morphic units, and can be set up by the repetition of similar acts and/or thoughts. The hypothesis says that a particular form belonging to a certain group which has already established its (collective) morphic field, will tune into that morphic field. The particular form will read the collective information through the process of morphic resonance, using it to guide its own development. This development of the particular form will then provide, again through morphic resonance, a feedback to the morphic field of that group, thus strengthening it with its own experience resulting in new information being added (i.e. stored in the database). Sheldrake regards the morphic fields as a universal database for both organic (living) and abstract (mental) forms.
In layman terms, the theory proposes that any form looks always alike because it "remembers" its form through repetition and that any new forms having similar characteristics will "use" the pattern of similar forms already existing as guide for its appearance.
That a mode of transmission of shared informational patterns and archetypes might exist did gain some tacit acceptance, when it was proposed as the theory of collective unconscious by renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung. According to Sheldrake, the theory of morphic fields might provide an explanation for Jung's concept as well. Also, he agrees that the concept of Akashic Records, term from Vedas representing the "library" of all the experiences and memories of human minds (souls) through their physical lifetime, can be related to morphic fields, since one's past (an Akashic Record) is a mental form, consisting of thoughts as simpler mental forms (all processed by the same brain), and a group of similar or related mental forms also have their associated (collective) morphic field. (Sheldrake’s view on memory-traces is that they are “non-local”, and not located in the brain  ).
Morphic resonance Edit
Essential to Sheldrake's model is the hypothesis of morphic resonance. This is a feedback mechanism between the field and the corresponding forms of morphic units. The greater the degree of similarity, the greater the resonance, leading to habituation or persistence of particular forms. So, the existence of a morphic field makes the existence of a new similar form easier.
Sheldrake proposes that the process of morphic resonance leads to stable morphic fields, which are significantly easier to tune into. He suggests that this is the means by which simpler organic forms synergetically self-organize into more complex ones, and that this model allows a different explanation for the process of evolution itself, as an addition to the Darwin's evolutionary processes of selection and variation.
Morphogenetic field Edit
- For the mainstream developmental biology concept, see Morphogenetic field.
Morphogenetic fields are defined by Sheldrake as the subset of morphic fields which influence, and are influenced by living things.
- “The term [morphic fields] is more general in its meaning than morphogenetic fields, and includes other kinds of organizing fields in addition to those of morphogenesis; the organizing fields of animal and human behaviour, of social and cultural systems, and of mental activity can all be regarded as morphic fields which contain an inherent memory.” — Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past (Chapter 6, page 112)
Morphogenetic fields contain the information necessary to shape the exact form of a living thing, as part of its epigenetics, and may also shape its behaviour and coordination with other beings. The term morphogenetic field has also been used in a different sense by mainstream developmental biologists, as regions within a developing embryo that will subsequently develop into particular structures or organs. Since 1920's, mainstream biology has used the term morphogenetic field to mean "that collection of cells by whose interactions a particular organ formed". This usage is distinct from Sheldrake's in that nothing external to the cells themselves is implicated. Sheldrake proposes that his ideas of morphic fields and resonance can give a better account of embryological development in terms of fields acting upon the embryo to give it the characteristic form of the organism.
The morphogenetic field would provide a force that guided the development of an organism as it grew, making it take on a form similar to that of others in its species. DNA, in this view, is not itself the source of structure, but rather a "receiver" that translates instructions in the field into physical form. The principle of morphic resonance implies that the new individuals imprint upon the field, and the field then causes subsequent generations to tend to show that form.
In Sheldrake's theory, since humans have a different form to plants (for example) they do not "pick up" the pattern of plants during development.
Rupert Sheldrake trained as a plant physiologist and became interested in the way that living things took on their form. In particular, he was interested in how what began as a single cell that split into identical copies eventually changed to take on specific characteristics such as leaves or stems in a plant. He posited a theory of morphogenetic fields that has become well-known for the criticism and skepticism directed towards it by some prominent members of the scientific community.
At the time of his research in the late 1960s and 1970s, the mechanisms for such development were unclear. In the 1920s, embryo regeneration and the ability of willow shoots to grow whole new trees implied to some researchers the possibility of some influencing field. The later discovery of DNA appeared at first to offer a clearer explanation, but since the DNA remains largely identical throughout an organism, it was thought that DNA could not explain form. Subsequent research postulates that DNA controls the form of a creature through the complex mechanism of cellular differentiation. Such a mechanism is, at present, defined but not explained.
- "The instructors [at university] said that all morphogenesis is genetically programmed. They said different species just follow the instruction in their genes. But a few moments' reflection show that this reply is inadequate. All the cells of the body contain the same genes. In your body, the same genetic program is present in your eye cells, liver cells and the cells in your arms. The ones in your legs. But if they are all programmed identically, how do they develop so differently?"
Sheldrake developed a theory to explain this problem of morphology, with its basic concept relying on a universal field encoding the "basic pattern" of an object. He termed it the "morphogenetic field".
The reception of many scientists to Sheldrake's theories was of skepticism. In his words, describing biologists' use of them as a heuristic device, (m)ost biologists still regard morphogenetic fields simply as a way of thinking about morphogenesis rather than something that really exists. John Maddox, editor of Nature wrote : "Sheldrake's argument is an exercise in pseudo-science. — Many readers will be left with the impression that Sheldrake has succeeded in finding a place for magic within scientific discussion — and this, indeed, may have been a part of the objective of writing such a book.".
On the other hand the concept of morphic fields became an idea popular with the new age thinkers, attracting the attention from movements such as neurolinguistic programming; chiefly due to its view of the "connectedness" of the world. In 1988 Sheldrake followed up his earlier book with The Presence of the Past: A Field Theory of Life. These ideas have also received a positive review by some spiritually oriented philosophers and theoreticists such as physicist Amit Goswami, who relates them to his own views.
In Popular Culture Edit
- In the comic book series Y: The Last Man, a plague of unknown origins simultaneously decimates the world's population of life forms carrying a Y chromosome. The phenomenon of morphogenetic resonance was posited as an explanation for the mysterious "gendercide".
- The DC Comics superhero Animal Man receives his power by tapping into the morphogenetic field and choosing the characteristics of a nearby animal.
- In the television series Doctor Who, the Time Lords are stated to be the first sentient beings in the universe, and most humanoid races evolved with humanoid characteristics because of their first imprint on the field.
- Shermer, Michael. "Rupert's Resonance". Scientific American, Nov. 2005, p. 19.
- Freeman, Anthony (editor). Sheldrake and his Critics: The Sense Of Being Glared At, Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 12, no. 6 (June 2005).
- Sheldrake, Rupert (1995). Nature As Alive: Morphic Resonance and Collective Memory. Source:  (Accessed: Thursday, 1 March 2007)
- Rupert Sheldrake (Homepage)
- Co-Intelligence Website: More on Morphogenetic Fields
- Sheldrake introduces 'The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence' (Video at Microsoft Research)
- "morphic resonance" The Skeptic's Dictionary article on Morphic resonance.
- Rupert Sheldrake: The delightful crackpot - November 1999 article in Salon magazine
- Article on Pseudo-randomization
- Edge. The World Question Center: Rupert Sheldrake
- The Scientific and Medical Network: Articles mentioning Rupert Sheldrake