Morphic Resonance

by Unbekoming | Feb 13, 2024

The first time I came across Rupert Sheldrake was when TED cancelled him.

Even then I didn’t pay attention, as I didn’t understand there was such a thing as The Science, and I certainly didn’t conceive of TED as a platform of Empire’s orthodoxies. I used to enjoy TED once upon a time, but they have also been captured, twisted and distorted to the point of repugnancy.

This is going to be a long one, as it’s both a new person, Rupert Sheldrake, and a new subject, Morphic Resonance.

Let’s have a quick look at what The Establishment has to say about Rupert.

This from CIApedia, here is the opening sentence:

Alfred Rupert Sheldrake (born 28 June 1942) is an English author and parapsychology researcher. He proposed the concept of morphic resonance, a conjecture that lacks mainstream acceptance and has been widely criticized as pseudoscience.

The very first sentence smears him with the language of “parapsychology” and “conjecture”, but most importantly doesn’t say that he is wrong, or that he hasn’t proven his theories by experiment. It simply relies on “lacks mainstream acceptance” and “widely criticized”.

A bit like a doctor that recommends not poisoning your child 72 times “lacks mainstream acceptance” and is “widely criticized”.

If you want to know whether someone is worth listening too, just do the opposite of what CIApedia tells you to do, and you are likely on the right path.

Anyway, I recently decided to invest 2.5 hours into this lecture by Rupert, and I’m so glad I did. Even though I am going to do a thorough outline of the main points in his lecture, I strongly recommend just listening to the man himself. He is one of the special ones I think, and he is funny.

It’s here that I first heard about Morphic Resonance, his field theory, that looks to understand life and the world in a manner that transcends the material limits of The Science and its reductionist world view.

Rupert himself admits he doesn’t have all the answers, but he asks questions others dare not and goes about researching those questions with complete scientific rigor.

Before we get into the weeds of the lecture, I want to focus on one of the experiments he discusses at length in the lecture, and two numbers, 25% and 42%. We will come back to these shortly once you understand how the experiment worked.

The Telephone Experiments

The telephone experiments conducted by Rupert Sheldrake are part of his research into telepathy and the theory of morphic resonance. These experiments aimed to scientifically investigate the common experience of knowing who is calling before answering the phone, a phenomenon that many people report but which lacks a conventional scientific explanation. Here’s a detailed outline of the story behind these telephone experiments:

  1. Background and Hypothesis: Sheldrake’s interest in telepathy—the direct transfer of thoughts or feelings between individuals without using the five conventional senses—led him to design experiments around the telephonic intuition many people claim to have. His hypothesis was that people could identify who was calling them at a rate significantly above chance (25%), which would suggest a form of telepathic communication.
  2. Experimental Design:
    • Participants were asked to provide the names and phone numbers of four individuals they knew well, who would agree to participate in the experiment as callers.
    • The participant, serving as the receiver, was isolated in a room with a telephone without caller ID or any other means to identify the incoming call.
    • A random selection method was used to choose one of the four callers to make the call to the receiver at a predetermined time.
    • Before answering the phone, the receiver had to state who they believed was calling. The guess was recorded, and the call was then answered to see if the guess was correct.
  3. Results: Sheldrake’s experiments, involving various participants and hundreds of trials, yielded an average success rate of 42%. This result was significantly higher than the 25% success rate that would be expected by chance alone, indicating that the participants were able to guess the caller’s identity with a greater accuracy than could be explained by random guessing.
  4. Implications: The findings from these telephone experiments support the idea that a form of telepathic communication might be at play. Sheldrake interprets this as evidence for morphic resonance, suggesting that strong emotional bonds between people create morphic fields through which information can be exchanged telepathically, even at a distance.
  5. Further Research and Developments: Encouraged by the results, Sheldrake has expanded his investigation into telepathy to include experiments involving emails and text messages, aiming to explore whether similar telepathic abilities can be observed with modern communication technologies. These ongoing experiments seek to further understand the mechanisms behind telepathic communication and its implications for our understanding of human consciousness and connectivity.
  6. Conclusion and Continuing Inquiry: Sheldrake’s telephone experiments contribute to a growing body of research suggesting that conventional scientific models may not fully account for all aspects of human experience and cognition. By continuing to explore phenomena like telepathy through rigorous scientific methods, Sheldrake aims to broaden the scope of scientific inquiry and challenge the boundaries of what is considered possible within the realm of human communication.

These telephone experiments represent a pivotal part of Sheldrake’s work on morphic resonance and telepathy, offering intriguing evidence that there may be more to human communication and connection than is currently understood by conventional science.

Let’s pause for a moment.

Sheldrake has done this experiment thousands of times, certainly enough times to arrive at statistical relevance, and what we are left with is 25% vs 42%.

The Science doesn’t know what to do with his 17% discovered discrepancy.

What the hell is that!?

The way my brain works is that I first need to decide for myself whether something “is” or “isn’t”.

Well, I have now decided that the 17% “is”.

What that means I don’t know, and even Rupert cannot answer the million questions that follow this 17% discovery, but I, like Rupert am at peace with the tension that arises out of the unknown, out of mystery.

The Science cannot handle mystery.

Material Reductionism needs black or white. Grey and anyone interested in the grey is cancelled.

Next, let’s dive into Sheldrake’s wonderful lecture.

I have turned it into 20 Q&As, with the answers based solely on material covered in the lecture. By the end of this lecture, and the three chapters from his two books to follow (below), you will have a good grasp of Sheldrake’s thoughts on Morphic Resonance.

Lecture – Fields of Mind and Body – 20 Questions and Answers

1. What is the basic idea behind Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance?

Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance proposes that there is a field within and around every living thing that organizes its characteristic structure and pattern of activity. These fields, or “morphic fields,” are shaped by past forms of similar systems through a process called morphic resonance, essentially meaning that patterns of energy from past organisms influence the development and behavior of present ones in similar species. This theory suggests that there is a collective memory upon which all natural systems can draw, influencing their development not just through genetic inheritance but through a kind of invisible environmental influence that transcends time and space.

2. How does the concept of “nature’s memory” fit within Sheldrake’s theories?

In Sheldrake’s framework, nature’s memory is encapsulated in the concept of morphic fields and resonance. These fields are informed by previous structures and behaviors, creating a cumulative “memory” of species-specific forms and behaviors. This memory influences how individual organisms develop and behave, suggesting that traditional genetic inheritance is supplemented by this trans-temporal and spatial exchange of information. For example, the way animals instinctively know migration paths or survival behaviors without having been taught could be explained by tapping into a shared memory bank of their species.

3. Can you describe a simple experiment that illustrates the concept of morphic resonance?

One simple experiment that Sheldrake uses to illustrate morphic resonance involves the recognition of previously unseen patterns, such as Greek words. Participants are shown a list of words and later asked to recall or recognize them. Sheldrake posits that if morphic resonance is at play, individuals might better recognize or recall words that have been frequently used or thought about in the past by others, tapping into a collective “memory” or resonance, even if they have not encountered these words themselves before. This experiment aims to show that our abilities to recognize or learn may be influenced not just by our direct experience but by the accumulated experiences of others before us.

4. How do morphic fields challenge the traditional understanding of how species inherit characteristics?

Traditionally, it’s believed that genetic inheritance is the primary means by which organisms inherit characteristics from their predecessors. However, morphic fields challenge this notion by introducing the idea that there’s also a non-genetic form of inheritance through morphic resonance, where patterns of behavior, structure, and learning are transmitted across generations outside of DNA. This means that certain traits or behaviors could emerge not solely from genetic codes but from a kind of informational field that influences development based on the historical experiences of past generations.

5. What role do habits play in the theory of morphic resonance?

In the theory of morphic resonance, habits play a central role. Sheldrake suggests that the laws of nature may be more akin to habits than to fixed rules. As species repeat certain behaviors or growth patterns, these become more entrenched and likely to occur again, not just because they are genetically programmed but because they have become habitual through morphic resonance. Over time, these habits become so established that they form the “memory” within the morphic fields, making certain behaviors or characteristics more likely to appear in future generations, thereby reinforcing these habits across time.

6. How does Sheldrake’s theory suggest crystals can help demonstrate the existence of a collective memory in nature?

Sheldrake points to the formation of crystals as a key example of morphic resonance at work. He suggests that when a new chemical compound is first crystallized, it might form crystals slowly or with difficulty because there is no existing “habit” for this configuration. However, once it has formed crystals in one location, the theory posits that it should become easier for the same compound to crystallize elsewhere due to the morphic field generated by the first crystallization. This implies that the crystal formation is influenced by a kind of collective memory or field created by previous instances of the same action, supporting the idea of non-genetic forms of inheritance and influence.

7. What implications does morphic resonance have for our understanding of animal behavior, such as pets sensing their owners’ return?

Sheldrake uses the phenomenon of pets seemingly sensing their owners’ return to illustrate the implications of morphic resonance on animal behavior. He proposes that animals can tap into morphic fields, allowing them to sense events beyond their immediate sensory perception, such as an owner deciding to return home. This suggests that animals’ behaviors might be influenced by connections within morphic fields that enable them to access information not directly available through physical senses, challenging conventional explanations of animal behavior that rely solely on observable stimuli.

On Cats and Vets

The story regarding veterinarians and cats in London, as highlighted in Rupert Sheldrake’s exploration of morphic resonance and telepathy, presents a compelling case of animals’ sensitivity to their owners’ intentions, possibly through non-physical, telepathic communication. Here’s a detailed outline of the narrative:

  1. Background: Sheldrake’s research into morphic resonance and telepathy extends to the behavior of pets, particularly focusing on how animals seem to perceive their owners’ intentions beyond the scope of conventional sensory information.
  2. The Phenomenon: Among the various behaviors observed, one striking pattern emerged with pets, especially cats, seemingly anticipating their owners’ intentions to take them to the vet. Many cat owners reported their pets hiding or becoming conspicuously absent when it was time for their veterinary appointment.
  3. Investigation: Intrigued by these anecdotal reports, Sheldrake decided to investigate further to understand if there was a pattern to this behavior that could be indicative of a deeper, non-physical form of communication between pets and their owners.
  4. Methodology: The research approach involved contacting veterinary clinics across North London to gather data. The inquiry focused on whether the clinics experienced a notable number of missed appointments or last-minute cancellations attributed to pet owners’ inability to locate their cats at the appointed time for their visit.
  5. Findings:
    • Survey of Veterinary Clinics: Sheldrake and his team contacted 65 veterinary clinics in the North London area. The overwhelming majority of these clinics confirmed that missed appointments due to pet owners being unable to find their cats were a common occurrence.
    • Statistical Significance: Out of the 65 clinics contacted, 64 reported frequent instances where appointments for cats were missed because the animals had disappeared or hidden, making it impossible for their owners to bring them in for their scheduled check-ups or treatments. One clinic even mentioned they had abandoned the appointment system for cats due to the unpredictability of such occurrences.
  6. Interpretation: Sheldrake interprets these findings through the lens of morphic resonance theory, suggesting that cats, like many animals, may possess a telepathic sensitivity to their owners’ intentions. This sensitivity could enable them to anticipate events that they perceive as unpleasant or stressful, such as a visit to the vet, leading them to hide or disappear.
  7. Broader Implications: This phenomenon contributes to a body of evidence that Sheldrake uses to argue for the existence of telepathic communication between animals and humans. It challenges conventional understandings of animal behavior and cognition, suggesting that pets can pick up on their owners’ intentions even when no obvious physical cues are given.
  8. Scientific and Cultural Impact: The story of vets and cats in London not only adds to the intriguing evidence supporting Sheldrake’s theories but also resonates with pet owners’ experiences worldwide. It opens up discussions on the depth of the bond between humans and animals, encouraging a reconsideration of the mechanisms underlying such connections.

This narrative, woven into Sheldrake’s broader research on morphic resonance, illustrates the potential for animals to communicate in ways that science is only beginning to understand, urging a reevaluation of the limits of animal cognition and interspecies communication.

8. In what way does Sheldrake propose that the laws of nature are more like habits than fixed rules?

Sheldrake proposes that what we consider the laws of nature may not be immutable, universal truths but rather habits that have formed over time through the process of morphic resonance. This view suggests that the regularities we observe in nature, from the behavior of particles to the formation of galaxies, are the result of repeated patterns of activity solidifying into habits. These habits could, in theory, change over time as new patterns emerge and resonate across the morphic fields. This dynamic view of nature’s laws as evolving habits challenges the classical notion of fixed natural laws, suggesting a more fluid and interconnected universe.

9. How does the experiment involving Greek words support the idea of morphic resonance?

The Greek words experiment supports the idea of morphic resonance by demonstrating that participants might have an enhanced ability to recognize or recall words that have been used or thought about by others in the past. According to Sheldrake, if people can better remember or recognize words with a history of use, it suggests that individuals can tap into a collective memory or resonance from previous exposures to these words, even if those exposures were by others. This phenomenon implies that our cognitive processes might be influenced by a shared field of information, beyond our direct personal experiences or genetic inheritance.

10. Why is the concept of memory being stored outside the brain controversial, and how does Sheldrake address this?

The concept of memory being stored outside the brain is controversial because it challenges the deeply ingrained scientific belief that memories are encoded and stored within the brain’s neural networks. Sheldrake addresses this by proposing that the brain may function more like a receiver or tuner, accessing memories stored in morphic fields rather than housing them internally. This idea implies a radical shift in understanding cognition, suggesting that memory, learning, and consciousness could extend beyond the physical limits of the body. Sheldrake uses evidence from phenomena that are difficult to explain through conventional theories, such as telepathy and the sense of being stared at, to support his argument for an external memory field.

Crossword Puzzles

Rupert Sheldrake discusses the phenomenon of people being able to solve crossword puzzles more easily the day after they are published, suggesting this as evidence supporting his theory of morphic resonance. According to Sheldrake, once a large number of people have solved a particular crossword puzzle, the solutions become more accessible to others through a collective memory or field, even if they have not seen the answers themselves. This phenomenon implies that information or knowledge can be shared non-locally through morphic fields, beyond the conventional understanding of learning and information transfer. Sheldrake uses this example to illustrate how collective memory works and how morphic resonance could explain such shared knowledge and abilities across distances without direct communication.

11. How do morphic fields relate to the phenomenon of telepathy, according to Sheldrake?

According to Sheldrake, morphic fields are directly related to the phenomenon of telepathy by providing a medium through which information can be transmitted beyond the traditional senses. He suggests that telepathic communication is a natural aspect of the interconnectedness facilitated by morphic fields, allowing individuals to exchange thoughts or feelings across distances without the need for physical interaction. This implies that telepathy is not a paranormal anomaly but a normal function of life’s interconnected fabric, mediated by morphic resonance within the fields that connect all living beings.

12. What evidence does Sheldrake present for telepathic communication between animals and humans?

Sheldrake presents evidence for telepathic communication between animals and humans through experiments and anecdotal reports, such as pets anticipating their owners’ return at non-routine times, or animals reacting to their owners’ distress even when they are far apart. He argues that these behaviors cannot be fully explained by sensory cues or learned associations alone and suggests that they might be mediated by morphic fields that enable a telepathic connection. This evidence challenges conventional understandings of animal behavior and supports the broader implications of morphic resonance for understanding interspecies communication.

13. How does Sheldrake’s work challenge the conventional scientific paradigm?

Sheldrake’s work challenges the conventional scientific paradigm by questioning foundational assumptions about the nature of reality, inheritance, and consciousness. His theories of morphic fields and morphic resonance suggest that the universe is more dynamic and interconnected than the mechanistic model allows. By proposing that memory and learning transcend individual organisms and even species, and by suggesting that the “laws” of nature are more like evolving habits, Sheldrake invites a reevaluation of the nature of scientific inquiry and the limitations of our current understanding of the world.

14. What are the potential educational implications of accepting morphic resonance as a valid scientific theory?

Accepting morphic resonance as a valid scientific theory could have profound educational implications, suggesting that learning and knowledge acquisition might be facilitated by tapping into collective fields of information. This could lead to innovative teaching methods that emphasize connectivity and interaction with the collective human knowledge base, rather than solely focusing on the transmission of information from teacher to student. It might also encourage a more holistic approach to education, recognizing the interconnectedness of all subjects and the potential for students to access knowledge and skills in ways that extend beyond traditional learning mechanisms.

15. How does Sheldrake explain the sensation of being stared at through morphic resonance?

Sheldrake explains the sensation of being stared at through morphic resonance by proposing that when someone is staring at another person, a connection is established between them via morphic fields. This connection allows the person being stared at to sense the attention directed towards them, even without visual or auditory cues. According to Sheldrake, this phenomenon is an example of how morphic fields enable non-local communication between individuals, supporting the broader theory that our minds and perceptions extend beyond the physical confines of our bodies.


Rupert Sheldrake has conducted experiments on the sense of being stared at to explore whether individuals can detect when someone is looking at them, even without any visual cues. These experiments are designed to test the hypothesis that there is a perceptible connection or field between the observer and the observed, which can be sensed by the latter.

One basic format of Sheldrake’s experiments involves two people: one is the “starer” and the other the “subject.” The subject sits with their back to the starer or is otherwise not able to see the starer using normal sensory means (for example, through the use of closed-circuit television or one-way mirrors). During the experiment, the starer either looks intently at the subject’s neck for a fixed period, trying to make them feel stared at, or refrains from looking, focusing their attention elsewhere. The subject then records their feelings or guesses about whether or not they are being stared at during those periods.

The trials are randomized, and neither the subject nor the starer knows in advance when the staring or not staring will occur, to eliminate any biases or cues. The results are then statistically analyzed to determine if subjects can detect being stared at significantly above chance levels, which would be 50% in a two-choice test (stared at/not stared at).

Sheldrake’s research in this area has found that subjects often do detect being stared at significantly more often than would be expected by chance, suggesting the presence of an unseen connection or field between individuals. These findings are used by Sheldrake to support his theory of morphic resonance and the extended mind, proposing that minds can extend beyond the brain and affect or connect with others in non-physical ways.

16. What does the hothead mutation in plants reveal about genetic expression and morphic fields?

The hothead mutation in plants reveals that genetic expression can be influenced by factors beyond the DNA sequence itself, potentially involving morphic fields. The unusually high rate of reversion to the wild-type phenotype among hothead mutants suggests a mechanism of inheritance or correction that cannot be explained by conventional genetics alone. Sheldrake might interpret this as evidence for morphic resonance, where a morphic field shaped by the historical norm of the species influences the genetic expression to revert to its typical form, highlighting the dynamic interaction between morphic fields and genetic material.

17. How do Sheldrake’s theories redefine the relationship between individual consciousness and the external world?

Sheldrake’s theories redefine the relationship between individual consciousness and the external world by suggesting that consciousness is not confined to the brain but extends into the world around us through morphic fields. This view posits that our minds are interconnected with the larger web of life, influencing and being influenced by the collective memory and experiences of our species and others. It challenges the notion of individual isolation and opens up a more holistic understanding of consciousness as a participatory process in the fabric of reality, blurring the boundaries between the internal and external worlds.

18. What are the main criticisms of Sheldrake’s theories, and how does he respond to them?

The main criticisms of Sheldrake’s theories come from skeptics who question the scientific validity of morphic resonance, arguing that it lacks empirical support and contradicts established principles of genetics and physics. Critics often label his ideas as pseudoscience for proposing mechanisms that cannot be directly observed or measured by conventional means. Sheldrake responds to these criticisms by highlighting the limitations of current scientific models in explaining various phenomena, such as telepathy and the sense of being stared at. He advocates for an open-minded scientific inquiry that transcends materialistic constraints and embraces the possibility of discovering new principles that could expand our understanding of the natural world.

19. How might morphic resonance influence our approach to solving scientific mysteries currently deemed paranormal?

If morphic resonance were widely accepted, it could radically change our approach to scientific mysteries currently deemed paranormal, framing them instead as natural phenomena that existing scientific paradigms cannot yet explain. This perspective would encourage scientists to explore these phenomena with the same rigor and openness applied to more conventional subjects of study, potentially leading to breakthroughs in understanding consciousness, telepathy, and other areas. By integrating the concept of morphic fields into scientific inquiry, researchers could develop new methodologies and theories that bridge the gap between the physical and the psychic, transforming the paranormal into a recognized aspect of the natural world.

20. What future experiments could further test the validity of morphic resonance and expand our understanding of it?

Future experiments to test the validity of morphic resonance could include more sophisticated studies on the telepathic abilities of animals and humans, using controlled conditions to rule out conventional explanations. Additionally, longitudinal studies on the crystallization rates of new chemical compounds could provide further evidence for the influence of morphic fields on physical processes. Experiments that explore the transfer of learned behaviors across separate populations of the same species without physical contact could also shed light on the mechanisms of morphic resonance. By expanding the scope and scale of these experiments, scientists could explore the boundaries of morphic fields and their impact on evolution, development, and consciousness, providing new insights into the interconnected fabric of life.


Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments with a talking parrot named N’kisi represent a fascinating foray into the study of animal telepathy, particularly focusing on the potential for interspecies communication between humans and animals through non-physical means. N’kisi, an African Grey parrot with an extensive vocabulary of over 1,000 words, provided a unique subject for these experiments. Here’s a detailed outline of the experiments conducted by Sheldrake with N’kisi:

  1. Background on N’kisi: N’kisi is known for not only his extensive vocabulary but also his ability to use words in context with apparent understanding. His owner, Aimee Morgana, noted his seeming ability to comment on her thoughts and feelings, sparking interest in testing these observations under controlled conditions.
  2. Initial Observations: Before the formal experiments, Morgana reported instances where N’kisi would make relevant comments about things she was silently reading or thinking, suggesting a telepathic connection between her and the parrot.
  3. Experimental Design: The experiment aimed to test N’kisi’s ability to telepathically pick up on images Morgana was viewing in another room. The setup involved:
    • Selection of Images: A set of digital images was prepared, each depicting different subjects that N’kisi could potentially recognize and comment on.
    • Isolation: N’kisi was placed in a room separate from Morgana, ensuring no physical or sensory communication could occur between them.
    • Randomization: Images were randomly selected for Morgana to view during the experiment to eliminate any bias or pattern recognition.
    • Monitoring: Both N’kisi and Morgana were filmed separately to record Morgana’s silent viewing of the images and N’kisi’s verbal responses during each session.
  4. Conducting the Experiments: During each trial, Morgana silently viewed an image, and researchers observed whether N’kisi made any comments relevant to the image being viewed by Morgana. This process was repeated across multiple trials with different images.
  5. Results: The experiments showed that N’kisi made comments relevant to the images Morgana was viewing at a rate significantly above what would be expected by chance. For example, if Morgana was looking at a picture of a flower, N’kisi might say the word “flower” without having any normal way of knowing the content of the image.
  6. Interpretation: Sheldrake interpreted these results as supportive of the hypothesis that N’kisi could telepathically communicate with Morgana, picking up on her thoughts or visual impressions through a form of morphic resonance. This suggested a profound potential for telepathic communication between species, challenging existing paradigms of animal cognition and communication.
  7. Significance and Follow-up: Despite criticism, the N’kisi experiments stand out as some of the most intriguing and detailed investigations into animal telepathy, significantly contributing to the dialogue around the capabilities of non-human species to communicate through non-conventional means. Sheldrake’s work with N’kisi continues to inspire further research and discussion on the potential for deeper interspecies connections.

These experiments with N’kisi highlight the broader implications of Sheldrake’s work on morphic resonance and telepathy, pushing the boundaries of how we understand communication and consciousness across different forms of life.

In the lecture, Rupert Sheldrake references three of his books:

“A New Science of Life”: This book lays the foundation for Sheldrake’s hypothesis of formative causation and the concept of morphic fields and morphic resonance. It discusses how each species has its own morphic field, which influences the development, behavior, and even the mental processes of the members of that species through a kind of inherent memory.

“The Sense of Being Stared At”: This book expands on Sheldrake’s investigation into the extended mind, specifically focusing on the phenomenon where individuals can sense when they are being looked at, even if they can’t see the observer. It delves into various experiments and collected data supporting the idea that minds can extend beyond the physical brain, influencing and interacting with the world directly.

“Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home”: In this book, Sheldrake explores various unexplained phenomena that suggest animals have abilities extending beyond the current scientific understanding of animal behavior. It includes detailed accounts of dogs and other animals exhibiting behaviors that imply they can sense their owners’ intentions or presence telepathically, even from a distance. The book compiles numerous case studies and experimental data to support the idea of animal telepathy and the extended mind.

But next I want to focus on Sheldrake’s book, Morphic Resonance (2009), and Chapter 1 – The Unsolved Problems of Biology.

Focusing on this first chapter, here are a further 20 questions and answers.

Book – Morphic Resonance – Chapter 1

1. What is the mechanistic theory of life, and how does it view living organisms?

The mechanistic theory of life posits that living organisms are essentially biological machines, which can be fully explained through the laws of physics and chemistry, without recourse to any notion of a soul or vitalistic forces. This perspective dates back to the Enlightenment, notably to philosopher René Descartes, who argued that animals are like automata, their physical processes akin to mechanical operations. According to this view, biological phenomena, from the cellular level up to the functioning of entire ecosystems, are the result of chemical reactions and physical interactions. The theory has been significantly bolstered by advances in molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry, which have elucidated many of the molecular mechanisms underlying life processes.

2. Who was René Descartes, and what was his contribution to the mechanistic theory?

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, active in the 17th century, who is often considered the father of modern philosophy. His contribution to the mechanistic theory of life is foundational; he posited that animals (and the human body, excluding the mind) operate like machines, their physical and biological processes governed by the laws of nature. Descartes’ dualist separation of mind and body laid the groundwork for the mechanistic approach to understanding biological phenomena, emphasizing that physical and biological processes could be explained without invoking metaphysical concepts like the soul or vital essence.

3. What role do physics and chemistry play in understanding biological processes according to mechanistic biology?

In mechanistic biology, physics and chemistry are central to understanding biological processes because they provide the laws and principles that explain how biological systems operate. For example, the movements of ions across nerve cell membranes that generate nerve impulses can be explained by the laws of physics governing electrical charge and diffusion. Similarly, the intricate dance of enzymes and substrates in cellular metabolism is governed by chemical principles. This approach assumes that all biological phenomena, from the molecular to the organismal level, can be explained by the same physical and chemical laws that govern the non-living world.

4. How has molecular biology confirmed the mechanistic approach to understanding life?

Molecular biology has provided profound evidence supporting the mechanistic theory of life by elucidating the molecular mechanisms that underpin biological functions. The discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, the cracking of the genetic code, and the detailed understanding of protein synthesis are all landmark achievements that fit well within the mechanistic framework. These discoveries have shown that the processes of life can be understood in terms of molecular interactions and chemical reactions, effectively demonstrating that biological systems operate according to the principles of physics and chemistry.

5. What are vitalist and organismic theories, and how do they differ from the mechanistic theory?

Vitalist and organismic theories offer alternative views to the mechanistic explanation of life. Vitalism posits that life cannot be fully explained by physical and chemical laws alone and that living organisms possess a non-physical “vital force” that animates them. Organismic theories, on the other hand, emphasize the holistic nature of living organisms, arguing that the properties of life emerge from the complex interactions within the whole organism, which cannot be fully understood by examining parts in isolation. These theories contrast with the mechanistic view by suggesting that life involves more than just mechanical processes and chemical reactions, incorporating elements (whether forces or holistic properties) that transcend the purely physical.

6. How is the genetic material, DNA, central to the mechanistic explanation of life?

DNA is central to the mechanistic explanation of life because it serves as the molecular blueprint for the synthesis of proteins, which are crucial for virtually all biological processes. The discovery that DNA carries genetic information, and how this information is transcribed into RNA and translated into proteins, provides a clear molecular mechanism for heredity, variation, and the functioning of living cells. This understanding supports the mechanistic view by showing how complex phenomena, like inheritance and development, can be explained by the interactions and behaviors of molecules according to physical and chemical laws.

7. What is the significance of enzymes in the metabolism of an organism?

Enzymes are crucial for the metabolism of an organism because they act as biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions without being consumed in the process. These reactions include the breakdown of nutrients for energy, the synthesis of cellular components, and the regulation of metabolic pathways. Enzymes enable these reactions to occur at rates that sustain life, functioning under the precise conditions of the cellular environment. Their specificity and efficiency exemplify the mechanistic principles at work in biological systems, where complex, regulated processes can be explained by the actions of these protein molecules.

8. How does the mechanistic theory explain the development and differentiation of organisms?

The mechanistic theory explains the development and differentiation of organisms through the concept of genetic programs and regulatory networks. According to this view, the information encoded in DNA directs the synthesis of proteins that control cellular processes and responses to environmental signals. Differentiation, the process by which cells become specialized in structure and function, is understood as the result of different genes being expressed in different cell types, guided by a complex network of regulatory molecules. This framework provides a clear mechanism for how a single fertilized egg can develop into a complex organism composed of many different types of cells.

9. Can the mechanistic perspective account for the purposiveness observed in living organisms? How?

The mechanistic perspective accounts for the purposiveness observed in living organisms through the principles of natural selection and genetic programming. Behaviors and structures that seem purposeful are explained as the result of evolutionary processes where genetic variations that enhance survival and reproduction are selected for over time. The genetic “programs” that guide development, behavior, and physiological responses can be seen as the cumulative result of this evolutionary process, encoding solutions to environmental challenges that have been honed over generations. This approach explains purposiveness without invoking any teleological (purpose-driven) forces beyond the natural selection of advantageous traits.

10. How do advances in neuroscience and computer modelling contribute to our understanding of the mind and consciousness?

Advances in neuroscience and computer modelling have significantly enhanced our understanding of the mind and consciousness by providing tools to study the brain’s structure and function in unprecedented detail. Neuroscience uses techniques like brain scanning to explore how different areas of the brain contribute to various aspects of cognition and behavior, linking physical structures to mental functions. Computer modelling offers insights into how complex information processing tasks can be accomplished by networks of simple units, drawing parallels between the operations of neural circuits and computer algorithms. These approaches support a mechanistic view of consciousness, suggesting that mental phenomena emerge from the physical interactions of neurons and can be modelled by computational principles.

11. What challenges does morphogenesis pose to the mechanistic theory of biology?

Morphogenesis, the process by which organisms develop their shape and structure, poses significant challenges to the mechanistic theory of biology because it involves complex patterns of growth and differentiation that are not fully explained by current models. The emergence of specific forms, the regulation of development to achieve functional structures, and the ability of biological systems to recover from perturbations and maintain consistent outcomes are all aspects of morphogenesis that require explanations beyond simple genetic determinism. These phenomena suggest the existence of organising principles or systems-level dynamics that are not yet fully accounted for within the mechanistic framework.

12. How do living organisms demonstrate the ability to regulate and regenerate, and why is this significant?

Living organisms demonstrate the ability to regulate and regenerate through processes that allow them to maintain homeostasis and recover from injury. Regulation involves the ability of organisms to adjust their internal environment to maintain a stable condition, essential for survival. Regeneration, the ability to regrow lost or damaged parts, is evident in a wide range of organisms, from the regrowth of limbs in amphibians to the healing of wounds in humans. These abilities are significant because they challenge the mechanistic view to explain how complex systems can self-organize and repair, suggesting a level of systemic integration and adaptability that goes beyond simple molecular interactions.

13. What is the concept of a genetic program, and how does it relate to development and differentiation?

The concept of a genetic program refers to the idea that the development and differentiation of organisms are directed by information encoded in their DNA. This program consists of a sequence of genetic instructions that guide the process by which a single cell divides and differentiates into the specialized cells, tissues, and organs that make up an organism. The genetic program controls the timing and expression of genes, which in turn determine the production of proteins responsible for the organism’s development and function. This concept is central to the mechanistic theory, as it provides a framework for understanding how complex biological patterns and structures emerge from the activities of genes and molecules.

14. How does the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution address the complexity and diversity of life?

The neo-Darwinian theory of evolution addresses the complexity and diversity of life by combining the principles of natural selection with Mendelian genetics. It posits that genetic mutations introduce variability into populations, and natural selection acts on this variability, favoring traits that enhance survival and reproductive success. Over time, this process leads to the adaptation of organisms to their environments and the emergence of new species. The theory provides a mechanistic explanation for the evolution of complex traits and the vast diversity of life, attributing them to the cumulative effects of small, gradual changes shaped by environmental pressures.

15. What are some of the limitations and challenges of the mechanistic theory in explaining the origin of life?

One of the main limitations and challenges of the mechanistic theory in explaining the origin of life is its inability to fully account for how non-living chemical precursors spontaneously organized into living systems. While theories such as the “RNA world” hypothesis provide plausible mechanisms for the emergence of self-replicating molecules and metabolic networks, the transition from chemical complexity to the simplest forms of life involves steps that are not yet fully understood. This gap in understanding highlights the difficulty of explaining the emergence of life’s defining characteristics—such as replication, metabolism, and cellular organization—solely through mechanistic principles.

16. How does the mechanistic view approach the problem of consciousness and the mind-body relationship?

The mechanistic view approaches the problem of consciousness and the mind-body relationship by positing that mental phenomena, including consciousness, emerge from physical processes in the brain. According to this view, the brain’s complex network of neurons and their interactions give rise to thoughts, emotions, and consciousness itself, in a manner analogous to how the properties of water emerge from the interactions of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. This perspective seeks to explain mental experiences in terms of brain activity, suggesting that the mind is the product of physical processes and can, therefore, be studied and understood using the principles of biology, chemistry, and physics.

17. What are some psychological theories that challenge the mechanistic view of the mind?

Some psychological theories that challenge the mechanistic view of the mind include those that emphasize the role of subjective experience, intentionality, and the unconscious. For example, Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious posits that there are aspects of the mind that are shared among humans, containing archetypes and memories inherited from our ancestors, which cannot be fully explained by mechanistic principles. Similarly, phenomenological approaches in psychology focus on the first-person experience and the intrinsic meaning of psychological phenomena, challenging the notion that mental states can be fully reduced to physical states or processes.

18. How does parapsychology challenge the mechanistic view of life and consciousness?

Parapsychology challenges the mechanistic view of life and consciousness by investigating phenomena that, if validated, would suggest the existence of mental capabilities beyond the physical processes of the brain. This includes telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis, which imply the possibility of mind-matter interactions or the transmission of information in ways not accounted for by known physical laws. If such phenomena were conclusively demonstrated, they would challenge the foundational assumptions of the mechanistic theory, suggesting that consciousness and mind may operate according to principles not yet encompassed by current scientific understanding.

19. What are the philosophical implications of attempting to explain all aspects of life mechanistically?

The attempt to explain all aspects of life mechanistically has significant philosophical implications, particularly in the realms of free will, consciousness, and the nature of reality. If all aspects of life, including human thought and decision-making, can be reduced to physical processes, this raises questions about the autonomy of the individual and the existence of free will. Additionally, if consciousness is purely a product of neural activity, this challenges traditional dualistic notions of mind and body and prompts reevaluation of the nature of subjective experience. These considerations touch on deep philosophical questions about the essence of human nature and the limits of scientific explanation.

20. Considering the challenges outlined, what might the future hold for the mechanistic, vitalist, and organismic theories of biology?

Considering the challenges outlined, the future of mechanistic, vitalist, and organismic theories of biology may involve a more integrative approach that combines elements of each perspective. While the mechanistic theory has been incredibly successful in explaining a wide range of biological phenomena, its limitations in addressing questions of consciousness, the origin of life, and the complexity of morphogenesis suggest the need for additional explanatory frameworks. Vitalist and organismic theories, while not widely accepted in their traditional forms, highlight the importance of considering life as more than the sum of its parts and the potential existence of emergent properties or principles. Future advances in biology and related sciences may lead to a synthesis of these perspectives, incorporating new discoveries and theoretical innovations to provide a more comprehensive understanding of life.

Lastly, I want to look at two chapters from Sheldrake’s book, “Dogs that know when their owners are coming home”.

Chapter 10 – Incredible Journeys

Chapter 11 – Migrations and Memory

Book – Dogs that know when their owners are coming home

  1. What are morphic fields, and how do they relate to animal behavior? Morphic fields are hypothetical fields proposed by Rupert Sheldrake, which organize the structure and behavior of biological systems, including animals. These fields are said to contain an inherent memory, transmitted through a process called morphic resonance, allowing species to inherit behaviors and instincts from their predecessors. In the context of animal behavior, morphic fields could explain how animals exhibit complex navigational abilities and homing instincts without prior experience, suggesting a non-physical, interconnected memory or guidance system that spans generations.
  2. How do animals recognize their home or familiar places? Animals recognize their home or familiar places through a combination of sensory inputs and, according to the concept of morphic fields, an intrinsic connection to these places. Traditional explanations focus on physical senses like sight, smell, and sound, enabling animals to identify landmarks or scents associated with their home. However, the theory of morphic fields adds another dimension, proposing that animals are also drawn to these places through a field-based memory or resonance with past experiences of their species or individual life, transcending mere sensory recognition.
  3. What is the significance of animals’ attachment to specific locations? Animals’ attachment to specific locations is crucial for their survival and reproductive success. This attachment ensures that animals can find their way back to places that offer safety, food, and opportunities for mating. For migratory species, such attachments are vital for the continuation of lifecycle events, such as breeding in optimal environments. The theory of morphic fields suggests these attachments might also be reinforced by non-physical, field-based memories, guiding animals back to these significant locations.
  4. Can you explain the phenomenon of animal migration and its underlying biological mysteries? Animal migration is the seasonal movement of species between habitats, driven by factors like food availability, breeding needs, and environmental conditions. Despite extensive study, the precise mechanisms enabling precise navigation over vast and often unfamiliar distances remain a biological mystery. Traditional explanations involve sensory cues and internal biological clocks, but the concept of morphic fields introduces the idea of an inherited, field-based guidance system, potentially explaining how animals navigate with such accuracy without prior experience of the route.
  5. How do domestic animals like dogs and cats find their way home over unfamiliar terrain? Dogs and cats can find their way home over unfamiliar terrain through a combination of sensory cues and possibly an intrinsic sense of direction, as suggested by the morphic fields theory. Sensory cues might include smells, sounds, and visual landmarks, while morphic fields propose a deeper, resonant connection to their home, enabling navigation beyond the limits of their immediate sensory inputs. This explains cases where pets return home over distances and terrains they have never encountered before.
  6. What role do morphic fields play in the navigation and migration of animals? Morphic fields are theorized to play a crucial role in animal navigation and migration by providing a non-physical, memory-based map drawn from the experiences of previous generations. This concept suggests animals are guided not just by their senses but by a field that connects them to their destination through inherited patterns of behavior and direction. This could explain how animals undertake complex migrations and homing behaviors without prior knowledge of the terrain.
  7. How is the sense of direction developed in animals, according to the concept of morphic fields? According to the concept of morphic fields, the sense of direction in animals is developed through a combination of individual learning and inherited field-based memories. Animals inherit a sense of direction that has been fine-tuned by the experiences of their ancestors, encoded within morphic fields. This inherited guidance system is then potentially adapted or reinforced through personal experience, allowing animals to navigate and migrate effectively.
  8. What are some real-life examples of incredible journeys made by animals? Real-life examples include the migration of monarch butterflies, which travel thousands of miles from North America to specific wintering sites in Mexico, and the homing of pigeons, capable of returning to their loft from distant and unfamiliar locations. Another remarkable example is the navigation of sea turtles, like those from Ascension Island, which travel across vast oceanic distances to return to the beaches where they were born. These journeys, often spanning huge distances and requiring precise navigation, hint at the existence of complex internal or external guidance systems, potentially explained by morphic fields.
  9. How do homing instincts compare between wild and domestic animals? Homing instincts in both wild and domestic animals showcase the ability to return to familiar locations, but the distances and contexts can vary widely. Wild animals, such as migratory birds or sea turtles, often travel vast distances between breeding and feeding grounds, guided by innate behaviors possibly rooted in morphic field memories. Domestic animals, like dogs and cats, demonstrate homing instincts over shorter distances, which may also be influenced by morphic fields, reflecting a blend of learned experiences and inherited navigational abilities.
  10. In what ways have researchers attempted to study and understand animal navigation and homing abilities? Researchers have employed various methods to study animal navigation and homing abilities, including displacement experiments, where animals are moved to unfamiliar locations and their ability to return home is observed; tagging and tracking technologies, such as GPS, to monitor migrations and movements; sensory deprivation experiments, to determine the role of specific senses; and observational studies of migratory patterns and behaviors. The concept of morphic fields adds a theoretical approach to understanding these abilities, suggesting a field-based memory or resonance might guide animals.
  11. How do morphic fields propose an explanation for animals navigating back to their homes without prior knowledge of the route? Morphic fields propose that animals can navigate back to their homes without prior knowledge of the route through a form of inherited memory or resonance with the destination. This theory suggests that animals are not just relying on their immediate sensory inputs but are also guided by a non-physical, field-based connection to their home, which directs them across unfamiliar terrains. This connection is built on the accumulated experiences of previous generations, encoded within the morphic field associated with their home or species.
  12. What challenges do scientists face in explaining animal migration and homing through traditional senses like sight and smell? Scientists face significant challenges in explaining animal migration and homing solely through traditional senses like sight and smell, particularly when animals navigate over distances beyond the range of these senses or in conditions where such cues are minimal or absent. For instance, migratory birds or sea turtles traveling vast distances across open water or deserts cannot rely solely on visual landmarks or olfactory cues. This has led to the exploration of additional mechanisms, such as geomagnetic orientation and potentially the influence of morphic fields, to account for such precise navigation.
  13. How do morphic fields and ancestral memory contribute to the migration patterns of species? Morphic fields and ancestral memory contribute to the migration patterns of species by providing a non-physical guide across generations, allowing animals to access navigational and behavioral patterns inherited from their ancestors. This concept suggests that migration routes are not just learned or encoded genetically but are also remembered within a species’ collective field, enabling even those with no prior experience or direct learning to undertake complex migrations successfully.
  14. Can you discuss an example of a species that has changed its migratory patterns recently, and how this change is understood through morphic fields? The European blackcap’s recent change in migratory patterns, with some populations now wintering in Britain rather than Africa, exemplifies rapid changes in behavior that traditional genetic explanations struggle to account for. Through the lens of morphic fields, this shift can be understood as a modification of the species’ collective migratory memory, influenced by changing environmental conditions and new feeding opportunities. This adaptation suggests that morphic fields can quickly integrate new navigational experiences, facilitating rapid changes in migratory behavior across generations.
  15. How do young animals that have never migrated before find their way to ancestral breeding or feeding grounds? Young animals that have never migrated before are believed to find their way to ancestral breeding or feeding grounds through a combination of innate behaviors and, potentially, guidance from morphic fields. These fields carry the memory of past migrations, providing a form of inherited navigational map. This enables young migrants to embark on precise routes without prior experience, suggesting a deep, non-physical connection to the pathways traversed by their ancestors.
  16. What evidence exists that animals can navigate using more than just their physical senses? Evidence for animals navigating using more than their physical senses includes instances of animals returning home or migrating accurately under conditions where sensory cues are minimal or misleading, such as overcast skies, open oceans, or unfamiliar territories. Experiments showing animals’ ability to orient and navigate despite sensory deprivation or displacement also suggest the involvement of additional, non-sensory mechanisms, potentially aligning with the concept of morphic fields and inherited navigational memories.
  17. How might the concept of morphic fields change our understanding of animal behavior and evolution? The concept of morphic fields could significantly change our understanding of animal behavior and evolution by introducing the idea of inherited memories and behaviors not strictly encoded in DNA. This theory suggests a more fluid, interconnected basis for evolutionary changes and adaptations, emphasizing the role of collective memory and field-based guidance in shaping species’ behaviors. It challenges conventional views on how animals learn, navigate, and adapt, proposing a broader, more interconnected model of biological inheritance and evolution.
  18. What implications do morphic fields have for the study of animal cognition and consciousness? Morphic fields have profound implications for the study of animal cognition and consciousness by suggesting that animals can access a collective memory and are guided by influences beyond their immediate sensory perception. This concept expands the scope of animal cognition to include non-local, field-based forms of knowledge and orientation, potentially offering new insights into the nature of consciousness itself. It invites a reevaluation of the boundaries of individual and collective minds in the animal kingdom.
  19. How do morphic fields challenge or complement traditional explanations for animal navigation and migration? Morphic fields challenge traditional explanations for animal navigation and migration by proposing a mechanism for inherited knowledge and direction that does not rely solely on genetic programming or sensory cues. This theory complements existing models by offering an explanation for phenomena that remain unexplained, such as precise navigation over vast distances by animals with no previous experience. Morphic fields introduce a paradigm where physical and non-physical influences coexist, enriching our understanding of animal behavior.
  20. What future research directions could further explore the role of morphic fields in animal behavior? Future research directions could include experimental studies designed to isolate the influence of morphic fields from sensory cues and genetic factors, perhaps through controlled displacement experiments or cross-generational studies of navigation and behavior. Advances in technology and methodology could allow for more precise tracking and observation of migratory patterns, potentially revealing patterns consistent with field-based memory. Additionally, interdisciplinary approaches combining biology, physics, and cognitive science could offer new insights into the nature and operation of morphic fields in animal behavior.

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