The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Memory of Nature and Morphic Fields

The British philosopher and biochemist Rupert Sheldrake offered a neo-Aristotelian view of life and nature.

Sheldrake views the growth of form as one of the fundamental processes of Nature. The foundation of Sheldrake's concept of "formative causation" is the idea that memory is inherent in Nature (an idea borrowed from the nineteenth century biologist Samuel Butler).

Natural systems inherit a collective and cumulative memory from all previous systems of their kind, regardless of time and space separation; and natural systems in turn contribute to the growth of this collective and cumulative memory.  Habits are inherent in the nature of all organisms because of the memory that organisms inherit from previous organisms of the same kind. For living organisms, not only genes are inherited, but also habits, which include development habits such as morphogenesis (the growth of form).

The universal memory expresses itself through "morphic fields". Morphic fields are an organizing principle of Nature. A morphic field is a field  (or pattern or order or structure) of form. Such fields have a kind of built-in memory derived from previous forms of a similar kind.

Each natural system has its own morphic field that shapes its behavior.  There is a morphic field for pears, whales, crystals, etc.  There is a nested hierarchy of fields within fields. Morphic fields evolve by natural selection.

 Morphic fields are responsible for form and organization (in biological as well as material systems).  The morphic field of a system derives from morphogenetic fields associated with all previous similar systems (across both space and time).

"Morphic resonance" is the process by which the past becomes present, i.e. it is the process of transmitting formative-causal information across space and time. "Morphic resonance" is the process by which the form of a system is influenced by the forms of past similar systems through the morphic field. The morphic field influences the form of a system, and, in turn, the form of the system influences the field and thus any future form of similar systems. The more similar an organism is to previous organisms, the stronger it “resonates” with (learns from) them. Individual memory is simply self-resonance: an organism resonates with its own past, i.e. it “remembers” it. Conversely, there is a universal memory that all forms share, the form of all forms (which he compares to Bohm’s “implicate order”).

The persistence of the material form of a system depends on the continuous application of the morphic field on that system, which is, in turn, continuously recreated by morphic resonance.

By "form" Sheldrake means more than just shape: spatial order, including the internal structure. He points out that form is not matter/energy: the total amount of matter/energy in the universe is the same before, during and after the existence of an organism, but the existence of the organism causes a change in the way matter/energy is organized.

Form and energy are inversely proportional: energy expresses a principle of change, whereas form expresses resistance to change.

Formative causation implies, for example, that a new pattern of behavior should be transmitted across space and time to individuals of the same species: as individuals of the species learn something somewhere, other individuals of the same species, no matter where they are located, should be learning it too (to some extent).

Sheldrake believes that each species has its own fields, and within each organism there are fields within fields.

Within each of us there is the field for the brain and the heart; within are fields for different tissues inside these organs, and then fields for the cells, and fields for sub-cellular structures, and so on.

Such fields organize not only the fields of living organisms, but also the forms of crystals and of molecules. Each kind of molecule has its own kind of morphic field. So does each kind of crystal, each kind of organism, and each kind of instinct or pattern of behavior. These fields are the organizing fields of nature. There are many kinds of them, because there are many kinds of things and patterns in nature.

The development of organisms is regulated by such morphic fields, and so is the organization of behavior. Genes carry only a minuscule part of the biological information in nature. Most of inheritance depends on the memory which is carried within the organizing fields of an organism. This memory is a kind of cumulative memory which is constructed through a pool of species experience, depending on morphic resonance.

Genes do not carry all the information needed to shape an organism. Genes interact with the morphic fields of previous organisms of the same species.

Biological inheritance is about both genes and fields. Fields allow for Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics. Inheritance of acquired characteristics occurs not because of transmission of genes but because of the effects of morphic fields, which are modified by individuals "learning" something and then influence the development of future individuals of the same species.

Memory is not stored in the brain but it resonates with the organism's own past. And a collective memory underlies our mental life (similar to Jung's collective unconscious).

Myths, rituals, traditions are expressions of that collective memory: morphic fields organize social and cultural patterns and through morphic resonance, rituals bring the past into the present, connect past individuals with present individuals.

Memories are never completely private. In principle, anybody could tune into our "private" memories and "read" our mind.

Sheldrake views all of Nature as a living organism. Nature is essentially "habit-forming", and all aspects of Nature are regulated by the principle of habit. The "laws of nature" are therefore better described as "habits of nature". The habits of animals and plants give them their habits of growth and their habits of behavior, or instincts.

(Sheldrake’s theory, alas, flies against the evidence: children still need to re-learn how to walk and speak, despite the thousands of generations and billions of humans who did that in the past, a fact that sounds like overwhelming evidence that there is no morphic field for common behavior).


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